How have the original locations of Local Hero changed since 1983

The village of Ferness in Scottish film Local Hero was portrayed as the perfect Highland utopia: wonderful views, wonderful people, wonderful sense of place.

The Macaskill Arms. Picture: Rex
The Macaskill Arms. Picture: Rex

But in reality, Ferness was the fictional sum of many parts of Scotland, as director Bill Forsyth connected the east coast to the west coast to create a kind of somewhere that many of us hanker to call home.

Local Hero at the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh 14 March – 4 May 2019. To book tickets:

Pubs and harbour locations to the east were used, alongside beaches and landscapes to the west, and merged to create a setting so divine that the viewer could well believe it was able to turn the ambitions of a US oil company to dust as the Local Hero story unfolded.

The cast and creative team of Local Hero outside the Ship Inn Banff. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic

The film, which pits the values of community, environmentalism and heritage against the workings of Texan executives, has long resonated since the classic movie was released in 1983.

More than 30 years on, fans of the film take pleasure from touring the different spots that came together to create this very special piece of celebrated celluloid.

In Pennan, on the north coast of Aberdeenshire, there is anticipation that the new musical production of Local Hero will serve up a fresh wave of interest in the village.

Peter Simpson, owner and landlord of the Pennan Inn, which doubled as the MacAskill Arms in Forsyth’s film, claims that people have dropped in from all over the globe to see where some of the vital film scenes were shot.

The Pennan Inn as it appears today. Picture: TSPL

He says: “Recently, there has been more interest in Local Hero again given the musical. People are talking about the film again.

“It is mainly people coming from overseas who show interest in Local Hero - mainly Americans but lots of Germans too as well as other places. You would be astounded where people come from because of the film.”

“And they go mad for the red telephone box - even though the one now in the village is not the one used in the film.”

Apparently, tourists from as far away as Japan and Australia are known to have made a pilgrimage to the telephone box to make or await a call.

Cast member Scott Ainslie in Pennan's phone box. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic

Visit Pennan for yourself and you will find the phone box - which was made a listed structure in 1989 - sheltered modestly behind a shed down by the village’s waterfront.

And indeed, it is not the one where Local Hero protagonist Mac battled the pips by pouring in 10p pieces. A replica telephone box was made out of wood by the film’s crew and placed right on the harbourside to make the most of the beautiful setting.

While the MacAskill Arms was shown as a lively pub full of cigarette smoke and banter, the real-life hostelry is different today - and not just because of the smoking ban. The Pennan Inn has long changed its business model, given that the village is now home to no more than a dozen permanent residents. Food and rooms are now the prime offerings at the Inn.

However, interior shots of the MacAskill Arms were actually shot at another pub entirely - The Ship Inn in the village of Banff, some 20 miles along the coast.

Camusdarach Beach. Picture: Geograph

This pub has also enjoyed interest down the years from Local Hero fans, who sometimes get behind the bar for a quick photo or pose by the film memorabilia that decorates the walls of The Ship.

The wooden bar was redesigned for filmic purposes when Forsyth’s cameras moved in during the early 1980s. In fact, the pub’s distinctive “ship” shape was created as part of the pre-shoot makeover.

While The Ship’s role was little known until a few years ago, one of the iconic scenes of the film was shot amongst the beer pumps and optics of this Banff boozer.

As oil executive Mac is shown reassessing his life following his brief but enlightening time in Ferness, he asks the pub’s landlord, Gordon Urquhart, if he fancies a life swap. “I’d make a good Gordon, Gordon,” the American says.

The film crew headed west across the country to shoot much of the rest of Local Hero, stopping off at Fort Augustus on the way to shoot some of the first scenes of the film.

This is where Mac and his Scottish colleague, Danny Oldsen, get stranded in the fog and pick up an injured rabbit on the road in what is the oil executive’s first brush with the Highlands.

The Ship Inn in Banff was used as the interior of the Macaskill Arms. Picture: Rex

The mesmerising seashore scenes which became so central to the Local Hero story were actually filmed at Camusdarach Beach, an arc of white sand and clear water just south of the River Morar estuary.

Camusdarach is one of the finest beaches in Scotland, boasting views of the Cuillins on the Isle of Skye and the peaks of Rum and Eigg. It is totally believable that this beach managed to work its special magic on the toughest of oil tycoons.

The stretch of sand seen in the film is nowadays sometimes referred to as Ben’s Beach, in honour of the fictional beachcomber, Ben Knox, who built his home among the rocks. Spend any length of time here, and you’ll be wishing for a shack of your own.

From the coast, turn back on to the famous Road to the Isles to find more Local Hero locations. Around 20 miles inland lies the hamlet of Lochailort where the church of Our Lady of the Braes sits in a spectacular hill top setting.

It was here that Local Hero landlord Gordon Urquhart stood up in the pulpit to address the Ferness community as the oil men arrived.

Our Lady of the Braes was built in 1872 to serve the now deserted townships of Ardnish and Polnish. Sadly, today it sits on the Buildings at Risk register but plans have been lodged with the local authority to transform the ailing property into a home.

Our Lady of the Braes overlooks the main A830 road to Mallaig but in Local Hero the magic of cinema relocated it to overlook the bay at Ferness.

Staying in Lochailort, the Lochailort Inn dates back to the 1870s and lies between Fort William and Mallaig. The Inn also sits just 300 metres from the local train station on the renowned West Highland Line. It was here the interior shots of the Ferness Hotel were filmed, where Mac and Oldsen stayed as guests of Urquhart and his partner Stella.

And a few more tricks were required to bring together the disparate locations of Pennan and Camusdarach. At the latter, a house with a commanding view of the beach was disguised as the church in Ferness with the aid of a plastic facade courtesy of the props department.

As a result, the fictional formation of the mythical village of Ferness became the embodiment of all that is good in Local Hero - if only it did exist.

The final piece in the Local Hero locations jigsaw relates to Felix Happer, the boss of the fictional Knox Oil and Gas and avid stargazer, who is regularly on the phone to Mac during the film demanding updates on how negotiations with villagers are going. The office however is not based in downtown Houston, Texas but instead in a whisky warehouse at the Ben Nevis Distillery in Fort William.

The distillery is still very much in production today in the shadow of its towering namesake.

Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and The Old Vic presents the world premiere of Local Hero, written by Bill Forsyth and David Greig with music by Mark Knopfler.

Local Hero at the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh 14 March – 4 May 2019. To book tickets:

Happers office at Knox Oil and Gas staged in Houston, Texas was actually filmed in Fort William at the Ben Nevis distillery. Picture: Rex
Ben Nevis distillery. Picture Geograph