Scotland’s cinematic landscapes and ancient towns have served as the setting for innumerable on-screen stories, and there’s no better way to commemorate its Year of Stories 2022 than with a visit of these real-life locales.
Scotland has long been a source of inspiration for filmmakers all around the world, who use the country’s vast landscapes and distinctive history to help them tell their stories. Scotland has played a vital part in innumerable films on both the big and small screens, whether it’s tales of love and passion or epic conflicts based on true events.
The Scottish Highlands are one of the most famous filming locations for magnificent landscape vistas, and will certainly conjure up images of Thomasina the cat, William Wallace in Braveheart, Harry Potter, and even James Bond. The West Highland line’s Jacobite steam train, which runs from Fort William to Mallaig, stars as the Hogwarts Express in all eight Harry Potter films, due to famous scenes of the magical train crossing the majestic Glenfinnan viaduct. Meanwhile, Skyfall, directed by Sam Mendes, sees 007 return to his Scottish origins, with much of the action taking place in Glencoe, where Bond grew up. The film’s scenes were shot in striking locales such as Glen Etive.
Glencoe also serves as a prominent backdrop in the television series Outlander, which is based on Diana Gabaldon’s fantasy-romance novels, with the opening titles of the first episode displaying its sweeping mountains. Kinloch Rannoch, on the tip of Loch Rannoch in Perthshire, as well as Tulloch Ghru in the Cairngorms national park and the Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore, appear in the first season. This is the journey to take if, like many of us, you want to picture yourself as the lead in a film classic.
Scotland’s unique and gorgeous islands are next on the list of great movie locations, from Barra, which hosted the 1949 comedy Whisky Galore!, to Skye, which received Michael Fassbender during the filming of Macbeth in 2015. A particular favourite is Loch Airigh on Harris’ rugged east shore, which acted as Jupiter’s surface during the filming of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. More recently, the 2021 comedy-drama Limbo, which tells the story of refugees waiting for asylum on a fictional Scottish island, uses both North and South Uist as its setting, and many key exterior shots in the stirring BBC crime drama Shetland are shot on the main island of Shetland and its capital, Lerwick.
Returning to the mainland, Aberdeenshire is generally linked with the quirky 1983 film Local Hero, with much of the Ferness hamlet scenes shot near Pennan on the region’s shore. Similarly, the 2015 adaption of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song was shot in scenic Aberdeenshire, including the little town of Fettercairn and the Glenmuick and Glen Tanar estates. If you’re looking for another round of Whisky Galore!, you can also find it in Aberdeenshire – the town of Portsoy was one of the sites used in the Eddie Izzard-starring 2016 adaptation of the film.
The film Outlaw King, which follows the life of 14th-century King of Scotland Robert the Bruce, was shot all around Scotland, but Edinburgh’s late-medieval Craigmillar Castle stands in for Bruce’s castle and village. On a beautiful day, it’s a terrific area to visit, especially if you climb the tower house to get a bird’s-eye view of the city and its many natural wonders, such as Holyrood Park.
Much of Mary Queen of Scots, starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, is set in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, but it is actually the commanding Blackness Castle, on the south side of the Firth of Forth, that stands in for Holyrood in the film. Furthermore, much of the beach scenes were shot on the East Lothian beaches that surround Edinburgh, such as Seacliff, which gives stunning views of Bass Rock and Tantallon Castle.
Rosslyn Chapel, with its magnificent architecture and gothic brickwork, is located about seven miles south of Edinburgh’s city centre. The chapel is well-known for its significance in the 2006 adaptation of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and it welcomes tourists on a regular basis who want to follow in the footsteps of Tom Hanks’ character Robert Langdon.
However, Edinburgh is not the only significant Scottish city to have been on television; Inverness will be recognisable to Outlander fans as the backdrop for many of the 1940s sequences. The beauty of Loch Ness has been brought to life in films such as The Water Horse, based on Dick King-fascinating Smith’s book.
Of course, Glasgow has had its fair share of movie cameos, from 2022’s The Batman to Scarlett Johansson’s cult favourite Under the Skin. Glasgow, the United Kingdom’s first Unesco City of Music, has also served as a popular location for stories about music and culture, such as Wild Rose, a 2018 musical drama about rising country singer Rose-Lynn Harlan. Rose-Lynn is shown in the video playing at the city’s annual Celtic Connections at the prestigious Old Fruitmarket venue, as well as at Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry. Another example is Beats, based on Kieran Hurley’s award-winning play, which uses a black and white Glasgow as its location while thoroughly immersing you in the highs and lows of Scottish rave culture.
It’s hard to walk around Glasgow without being taken in by the heritage of its culture and nightlife, which spans decades, numerous narratives, and an ever-changing cast of personalities.