Scotland’s landscape: See the film, visit the set

James Bond (Daniel Craig) visits the Highlands in Skyfall. Picture: AP
James Bond (Daniel Craig) visits the Highlands in Skyfall. Picture: AP
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The Scottish landscape’s starring role in movies inspires viewers across the world to come here, says Mike Cantlay

When asked what had most appealed to Disney about Scotland’s countryside during the making of Brave, Tia Kratter, the film’s artistic director, said it was its “magnificent chaos”. It is a poetic and entirely apt description of those stunning landscapes that have been attracting filmmakers, and ultimately visitors, to Scotland for years.

Bill Forsyth's Local Hero. Picture: Complimentary

Bill Forsyth's Local Hero. Picture: Complimentary

“Set-jetting”, which sees film fans visiting the locations of their favourite movies, is a popular pastime, with one in five visitors to Scotland inspired to come here after seeing the country on screen.

Scotland’s eye-catching roles in some of the world’s favourite movies means that this country is a prime location for film tourism. In the Year of Natural Scotland, which celebrates our wonderful natural environment, what better time to reflect on our country’s status as a bona fide star of the silver screen?

When watching the hugely successful James Bond adventure Skyfall last year, cinema audiences could only gaze in wonder at the magnificent surroundings of Glencoe as the secret agent speeds towards his childhood home in the Highlands. And no wonder: the striking Buachaille Etive Mor must be one of the few things in the world capable of upstaging the secret agent’s iconic Aston Martin.

The Dark Knight Rises

Of course, it’s not just cinema’s heroes that come to Scotland. Arch Batman villain Bane’s daring escape from a prison plane in another of last year’s releases, The Dark Knight Rises, was executed in the skies near Inverness Airport. And, reinforcing my firm belief that a holiday on Skye is an out-of-this-world experience, Sir Ridley Scott shot parts of his Alien prequel Prometheus in the shadow of the Old Man of Storr. Like Glencoe, the Old Man of Storr also features in our television advertising campaigns.

Stanley Kubrick, one of Sir Ridley’s illustrious predecessors in the sci-fi genre, was unable to persuade studio bosses to finance a filming excursion to the far reaches of the solar system when making 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1967. Instead, the legendary director had to opt for somewhere slightly closer to home for his closing scenes of Jupiter. You may not be aware that astronaut Dave Bowman, played by Keir Dullea, actually learned the secrets of the creation of the universe on the Isle of Harris.

On the subject of beaches, even the half-dozen people in the world who have yet to watch Chariots of Fire (you know who you are) must surely be familiar with its famous opening scene: when Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) and chums run in slow motion to Vangelis’s unforgettable score across the West Sands of St Andrews. With a total of four Oscars, including Best Picture of 1981, it is one of the most decorated movies ever shot on Scottish soil (or should that be sand?) Little wonder, then, that one will rarely visit the Fife beach without seeing at least one person running in pretend slow motion as they attempt to recreate Liddell’s heroics. Today, one of the activities available on the West Sands is land yachting. Who knows how much faster Liddell might have crossed the finish line if he’d been strapped into one of those?

Vote for your favourite

Due to the fact it was shot almost entirely on location in Argyll, one film that encapsulates Scotland’s great outdoors perhaps more than any other is Ring of Bright Water (1969). Based on Scottish author and naturalist Gavin Maxwell’s best-selling, semi-autobiographical tale of a writer who brings his pet otter to the west coast of Scotland, the film is a traditional bank holiday family favourite, with visitors to the region easily able to follow in the footsteps of Graham Merrill and Mij. What better place to enjoy peace and tranquility and get the creative juices flowing?

Alongside the golden eagle, red squirrel, red deer and the harbour seal, the otter is one of Scotland’s “Big Five”. Make sure you vote for your favourite at

The natural beauty of Scotland is something that resonates with visitors throughout the world. In cinema parlance, Scottish scenery is regarded as a timeless classic.

Many visitors to Scotland will surely empathise with the character of Mac MacIntyre in Bill Forsyth’s classic feel-good film, Local Hero (1983). Sent to the picturesque village of Ferness (which was actually Pennan in Aberdeenshire) to persuade its locals to sell their land to a Texas oil baron, Mac instead falls in love with the village and its inhabitants, his pining call to a red phone box at the film’s conclusion symbolic of Scotland’s eternal hold on all who come here. Who needs blue screens and special effects in a country that always turns in an Oscar-winning performance?

• Mike Cantlay is chairman of VisitScotland

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