Cape Wrath casts its spell on Harry Potter film-makers

ONE has the 900ft cliffs usually only frequented by gannets and gulls, the other has 365 stone steps meticulously carved out of the headland by herring fishermen in the 18th century.

But the spectacular rocks and caves of the far north of Scotland are in the running to become locations for the next Harry Potter blockbuster film.

Warner Bros, which is preparing to shoot Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, has sent an executive to the cliffs and caves around Cape Wrath, and also to a sea cave close to the Whaligoe Steps near Wick, and has been in talks over filming in the north.

Businesses in Caithness and Sutherland believe the shooting of the multi-million-pound movie will bring a major boost for tourism in the area. It is due to be screened in November 2008, with filming expected to start later this year. The last Potter blockbuster, Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, cost 75m to make.

The producers are interested in using the caves and cliffs as part of the dramatic climax of the new film - the sixth in the series - in which the heroes wind their way along a sea-lashed coastline in search of the soul of the evil Lord Voldemort.

Sue Quinn, a London-based locations manager with Warner Bros, travelled to Scotland last month, taking a boat trip from Lochinver around Cape Wrath towards Durness, and then heading to Wick to check out the shore and caves at Whaligoe, near Lybster.

The main locations she checked out were:

• Smoo Cave, near Durness, which is 200ft long, 130ft wide, and 50ft tall at its entrance;

• Clo Mor, near Cape Wrath, which at 921ft, are the highest cliffs on the UK mainland;

• The arches under Cape Wrath, which contain a string of long caves;

• Stac Clo Kearvaig, a tower of rock that rises 130ft above the waves near Cape Wrath;

• The cave at the Whaligoe Steps, which lies in a bay enclosed by two large sea cliffs.

The locations are thought to be in competition with similar settings in the Leinster and Munster provinces of Ireland, and with New Zealand, where Lord Of The Rings was filmed.

Jimmy McIntosh, the former Kinlochbervie harbour master who took Quinn out on his boat, said: "She was taking thousands of photographs of the cliffs, caves and rocks. She seemed to be very interested in Smoo Cave and the stacks in particular."

Along with other areas of the Highlands and Islands, tourism has grown to be the biggest industry. Fishing, the traditional mainstay of both the Sutherland and Caithness economies, has dwindled as a result of swingeing cuts in quotas.

Colin Coventry, who also organises boat tours from Durness, added: "It would be a great thing if the film were to come here. We rely a lot on tourism here, especially since the fishing has gone down so much. We certainly have the capacity for more tourists here."

Debbie Dixon, the manager of the Waterline visitor centre in Lybster, near the Whaligoe Steps, said: "I know that they would probably only be filming a short section here, but that kind of thing can make an area better known. I'm sure a lot of people would come here to see where a part of the film was made."

In recent years, Scottish Enterprise and tourism chiefs have stepped up efforts to attract film-makers. In addition to the 35m a year that the filming brings to Scotland, tourists are attracted by the chance to visit locations featured in films - a phenomenon known as set-jetting.

Previous Potter films that included Scottish scenes have already featured in VisitScotland marketing, including iconic shots of the Hogwarts Express near Glenfinnan.

Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian, which featured in the film of Dan Brown's blockbuster novel The Da Vinci Code, is attracting 120,000 visitors a year - four times the number who visited annually in 2000.

And the Aberdeenshire village of Pennan, which featured in the 1983 film Local Hero, still attracts visitors more than 20 years later. The iconic phone box is the most phoned one in Scotland, despite not being the one featured in the film.

It is understood Warner Bros has been in talks with the public agency responsible for attracting film-makers to the Highlands. Trish Shorthouse, the film commissioner of the Highlands and Islands Film Commission, said: "We have dealt with Warner Bros over the past few years and hope they will film in the Highlands again. We are ready to compete with other locations and have unique features, including spectacular scenery and lots of daylight."

A VisitScotland spokeswoman said: "It would be great if filming for the next Harry Potter movie took place here. 'Set-jetting' is an increasingly popular trend."

A source at the public film development agency Scottish Screen said: "We would be happy to have them here. It would be a real boost for film-making."

A spokesman for Warner Bros said they would not comment on possible locations at this stage.