A weekend spy adventure – touring Scottish film locations

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This blog is quite topical as there has been a lot of recent press and hype surrounding the launch of the latest 007 film Spectre. As an ex-Royal Navy Officer, I have always had an interest in 007 films and the creative treatment scriptwriters often give to reality.  Since returning to Scotland last year, I’ve wanted to visit the  Skyfall location where Daniel Craig and Judy Dench stop for a chat in the Highlands during their escape from the evil Silva….

It was easy to find out where this was – and I discovered that several 007 and spy films have scenes filmed in Scotland. I also consulted Edinburgh resident and film journalist Brian Petheridge.  He has published a couple of books on film locations and has appeared on the UK quiz show Eggheads as a James Bond expert.  Soon I had a couple of weekend road trip routes planned, focusing just on spy films.

Day 1

First stop after leaving my Edinburgh home was South Queensferry and the iconic Forth Rail Bridge. This has appeared in James Buchanan’s The Thirty Nine Steps – both the 1935 and 1959 versions. The bridge recently received UNESCO world heritage status due to its fine Victorian architecture.

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Photo Credit: VisitScotland

Next I headed on the M8 towards Glasgow and A82 to Loch Lomond. A more scenic route is through though the Southern Trossacks via Drymen. The next stop was the Clyde Naval Base at Faslane …

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This was the closest I could get to a brief scene in the 1971 Bond film “The Spy that Loved me” (1977). Roger Moore appeared on the conning tower of a submarine. I took this at the viewpoint on the A817 between Loch Lomond and Garelochead.  My first communications job in the  Royal Navy was here when it was still only a submarine base.   As I can’t find an image of the scene filmed here, an old picture of me in a submarine looking through a periscope as an alternative.

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I then took the wibbily wobbly A814 from Garelochead that hugs the coast of Loch Long. Whoever classified this as an A road must have done it on April Fools day! After joining the A83 at Arrochar, I headed south and had a coffee stop at the Loch Fynne Oyster bar.  This is an old favourite from my Faslane days. This is also a great place for seafood (obviously!) and other goodies to take home …

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Continuing down Loch Fynne on the A83 and passing through Inveraray, I headed for Lochgilphead. In 1963, the makers of the second 007 film From Russia with Love (1963) used the cinema to view the daily rushes from the scenes filmed in the area.  The cinema is now the Empire Hotel – great name …

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The boat chase was originally scheduled to be filmed off Turkey, but due to rough weather conditions at the time, it was eventually filmed in Scotland.  From Lochgilphead, I headed to Crinan on the A816, then B841.  In From Russia with Love, James Bond is chased by Spectre boats.  The chase itself took place in Loch Craigneish, close to the entrance to the Crinan Canal.  I didn’t have a boat to explore, so this is as close as I got.  Stunning!

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The boat chase – which is supposed to be off the coast of Turkey …

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For die-hard Bond fans, there are other scenes filmed in the area, including a helicopter chase over Barrachuile Hill, north of Lochgilphead. After Crinan, I took a very pretty little shortcut on the B8025 to rejoin the A816.  My next stop was the Lunga pier, where James Bond made his escape by boat with Russian double agent, played by Daniela Bianchi …

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You can see it has had a few repairs since …

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To get to Lunga, take the Craobh Haven turn left, off the A816 a few miles north-west of Lochgilphead.  After my walk to the pier I was happy to call it a day and stayed at Lunga House – which was very beautiful and peaceful.  Lunga House is a party/wedding venue, but there are several accommodation options if you are not there for a house party.  I stayed in one of the small self catering cottages which was perfect – and I slept so soundly ….

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Day 2

The next morning I was up bright and early heading to my next film location – the Loch Awe Hotel.  I headed back towards Lochgilphead for about 10 miles, then took a left on to the B840 towards Ford and Loch Awe.  This is a minor B road and takes about an hour to reach the A85, but it is well worth it for the views and tranquility.  Loch Awe ought to be re-named Loch Awesome …

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Once I joined the A85, I was soon at Loch Awe village and the Loch Awe Hotel.  This was a main location for “To Catch a Spy” (1971), a quirky films that has a loose spy/romance theme playing to the cold war paranoia of the era. Kirk Douglas is the leading man.  The Loch Awe Hotel hasn’t changed much at all – inside and out …

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Non-residents are welcome to come and have a look in the hotel, but the only way to stay here is to take an organised coach holiday with Lochs and Glens Holidays.  Loch Awe really is awesome and was also used in another scene in To Catch a Spy …

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I rejoined the A85, heading towards Oban, then the A828 north to Ballahulish, passing over Connel Bridge.  This bridge was used for a brief scene from “The Eye of the Needle” (1981) – a spy thriller set in WW2 …

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The scenery along this stretch of road heading towards Ballahulish is incredibly beautiful.  I spent three wonderful childhood sailing holidays around these waters . This is looking over Loch Lynne towards Loch Chorie and  Ardnamurchan …

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My next planned stop was the famous Skyfall spot, but I decided to take a scenic detour around Loch Leven on the B863 to Kinlochleven, where my grandfather and his family spent a few years in the late 1900’s.  Before the Ballahulish bridge was built, this was the main road to Fort William, so it is a nice road to drive, as well as extremely beautiful.  Well worth the extra effort if you have time  …

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I rejoined the A82 at Glencoe village, then headed east though Glencoe.  This is one of Scotland’s most stunning places and has been used for many film locations, including several scenes from the Thirty Nine Steps and other scenes in Skyfall.  You could spend at least a couple of days checking out film locations in just Glencoe and the surrounding area.  My goal however was only Glen Etive – the very famous Skyfall scene.  This is on the Glen Etive road, which is marked on the A85 with just Glen Etive on a small signpost.  I dont’t have GPS and the spot isn’t marked, but I knew it was near a road bridge, with another bridge ahead.  After about four miles and the second road bridge, I recognised the spot and amazed myself I found it – …

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This spot, I have since discovered, is on googlemap, but  getting a signal in the Highlands is patchy.  I had limited mobile overage most of the day.

At this point it felt like I had accomplished my mission for the entire trip,  However, I had another couple of hours driving ahead and two more locations to visit. I rejoined the A82 to Crainlarich, then took the A85 north, heading towards the Trossachs.  I took a short detour to Killin on the A827, where David Niven makes a brief appearance in the first 007 Casino Royale (1967).  This Bond film is very entertaining and shows how far 007 scriptwriting has come since  …

Photo Credit: Scotland the Movie

Photo Credit: Scotland the Movie

Photo Credit: VisitScotland

Photo Credit: VisitScotland

Back on the A85, I headed south, joining the A84 and passed a few more locations from the 1959 version of the Thirty Nine Steps, including the tranquil Loch Lubnaig.  I turned off the A84 on to the A841 heading towards Aberfoyle and passed a few more locations form the Thirty Nince Steps – Balquhidder, the Trossachs Hotel (now a time share) and the Dukes Pass.  This is another very scenic road, but it does have many twists and turns!

Altskeith House on Loch Ard, close to Aberfoyle, appears in the 1959 version of the Thrity Nine Steps.  It was the location for Glenkirk House – where Richard Hannay meets with Professor Logan in his search for answers to who killed the mysterious woman in his London flat. Outside Altskeith House appears just the same – just a new conservatory ….

Photo Credit: Scotland the Movie

Photo Credit: Scotland the Movie

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Altskeith House is now a venue for weddings and special events run by a lovely couple Alison and Yas. They do bed and breakfast if they have no events booked and luckily for me, I was able to stay. My niece Isla joined me for the night and we had a very nice dinner cooked by Yas.

Day 3

Although there were many other film locations in the Trossachs, I decided not to bore Isla with too many locations, opting to only go to Inversnaid and Loch Lomond – location of yet another scene from The Thirty Nine Steps. This was my final film location of the trip.

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The West Highland Way passes though Inversnaid and Loch Lomond so we took the opportunity too have a nice little walk along the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond …

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We also had a brief stop at Stronachlachar on Loch Katrine, which is gorgeous.  Here is the pier and the very nice tea room. The pier is still in use and is part of the Sir Walter Scott steamship route …

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Finally, we visited one of the many forest trails in the Trossachs, which also home to the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park and the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.  Isla and I walked the Lochan Spiling trail, which was one of several park walks in the Loch Ard area.  All paths are well-marked with colour coded posts, so you can’t get lost …

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This trail is also part of the Loch Ard sculpture trail and we had a few moments admiring this sculpture, which was beautifully mirrored by the water …

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After lunch in Aberfoyle I headed home.  I had covered over 400 miles, which was enough driving for this trip.  Choosing a theme to explore Scotland is a lot of fun.  It doesn’t need to be limited to films, but I have to admit, I did get a buzz finding these film locations and wondering what Sean Connery, Kirk Douglas and the other great actors and actresses thought of Scotland and their temporary work locations. The rest of the time I found myself seeing some old haunts, some entirely new places and some of Scotland’s hidden gems. I have not finished with Spy films though – there are even more film locations in Scotland, but that trip will need to wait until Spring.

Useful planning resources

Scotland the Movie – a website that doesn’t seem to be active anymore, but it has lots of details on films and TV series filmed in Scotland.  There are also some useful interactive maps.

IMBd lists all films made.  If you select the film and scroll down, there are location details given, but it isn’t always a 100% validation

VisitScotland is currently promoting various film locations in Scotland and have published three great resources to help plan a film buff’s road trip around Scotland:

Set in Scotland is a fairly comprehensive guide providing details of almost all film locations in Scotland.  This can be downloaded online:  Set in Scotland – A film fan’s odyssey ››

The Highlands Movie Map is also available to download on the visit Scotland website:  The Highlands movie map ››  There is also a movie map of film locations in and around Edinburgh: Edinburgh film map ››

Other useful links to help plan a trip around Scotland can also be viewed in my blog Exploring Scotland – 10 organisations to know about

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