Filming locations for Local Hero in Scotland

Filming locations for Local Hero

by Michael on August 27, 2012

We set off to Scotland to find the filming locations for Local Hero. Along the way we discovered one of the most magical beaches in the world and a mysterious phone booth.

Local Hero is one of our favorite movies. Released in 1983, the quirky film is the story of a Houston oil executive who heads to Scotland to buy an entire fishing village so they can build a refinery there. The reaction he gets is not quite what he expected. The executive, Mac,  is played by Peter Riegert (then riding a modest wave of fame due to Animal House) while the oil company owner, Happer, is the legendary Burt Lancaster.

Directed by Scotsman Bill Forsyth, Local Hero presages the current struggle between the search for energy and the environment. Throw in a mermaid, the mist covered mountains of the Scottish highlands and a moody musical score by Mark Knopfler and the film creates a magical tableau. It went on to win the BAFTA award for Best Director, the British equivalent of the Oscars.

Pennan, Scotland

Filming locations for Local Hero Pennan

The village of Pennan in the northeast coast of Scotland played the part of the fictional village of Ferness. The village is quaint but it’s obvious it doesn’t overlook a long stretch of sandy beach. As we’ll see later the beach scenes were filmed 100 miles to the west.

Local Hero pennan phone booth

The village phone box plays a key role in the film since it’s Mac’s lifeline back to Houston. (Remember, this was before cell phones and Skype.) The phone box in the movie was a prop and later removed. But that doesn’t stop oiks¹ from descending on the wee village to make a phone call from the existing box anyway, oh look, there’s one now!

¹ Oik is British slang for “nit-wit.”

Filming locations for Local Hero Pennan Inn plaque

A plaque is attached to the Pennan Inn to commemorate the filming.

Our Lady of the Braes Church

Filming locations for Local Hero Lady Braes church

The church scenes were filmed on the west coast of Scotland at the deconsecrated Our Lady of the Braes Roman Catholic Church. It occupies a prominent site overlooking Route A830, the main road to Mallaig.

Local Hero Our Lady of the Braes church interior

The church appeared to be abandoned and was unlocked so we went inside. It looks like somebody may be renovating it.

What’s Harry Potter doing here?

Harry Potter Glenfinnan viaduct

The west coast of Scotland is a popular spot for moviemakers. Just before we got to the church we passed the Glenfinnan Viaduct that carries the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films.

Camusdarach Beach, Morar

Filming locations for Local Hero Camusdarach Beach

The beach scenes were shot at Camusdarach Beach on the west coast of Scotland and are quite magical, with even a possible mermaid popping up. Something that always intrigued us about the beach was that mountains can be seen in the distance; growing up on the East Coast of the United States we’re not used to seeing mountains off the beach.

Filming locations for Local Hero Camusdarach Beach

In the background two houses are visible. Since the church scenes were filmed elsewhere, the house on the left was wrapped in a plastic façade to look like the church during the filming of the beach scenes.

Filming locations for Local Hero Camusdarach Beach

Beachcomber Ben Knox lived in his shack in this rocky area of the beach.

Filming locations for Local Hero Camusdarach Beach

Michael’s about to drop his watch in the tidal pool where Mac accidentally left his beeping watch behind. It’s a pivotal scene as it shows Mac’s transformation to the languid rhythms of village life.

Filming locations for Local Hero Camusdarach Beach

The beach scenes were shot in an area known as ‘The White Sands of Morar.” It’s a magnificent beach with the right combination of superfine sand along with rocks that create tidal pools.

The Ship Inn, Banff

Unfortunately, we did missing getting a photo of one place. One of our favorite lines from the film is when Mac wants to change lives with Gordon, the Scottish innkeeper. Mac says, “I’d make a good Gordon, Gordon.”

The scene was filmed in a bar but we didn’t know which one. The evening we left Pennan we stopped at the Ship Inn in Banff asking for directions. A few days later we found out that the Ship Inn was where the scene was filmed. Oh well, maybe next time.

Here’s a link to an interview with director Bill Forsyth on Local Hero’s 25th anniversary.

And due to popular demand, here’s a video of Little Rocky running on the beach from Chariots of Fire, which is also in Scotland. And there’s another connection. Fresh off his success producing Chariots of Fire, David Puttnam decided to make Local Hero.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqnUB4i9HZs[/youtube]

What movies have made you want to visit a place?

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Marcus August 27, 2012 at 10:36 am

Wonderful – great post and images. Speaking of Local Hero, let’s not forget the web footed environmentalist!

Michael August 27, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Can you name the actress?

Alasdair August 30, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Jenny Seagrove.

Manny August 27, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Cinema Paradiso made me hop on a plane for Sicily.

Michael August 28, 2012 at 2:56 pm

It did the same thing for us. We love that movie!

Karen G August 27, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Great article! One of my all time favorite movies. Don’t think I could get my kids to watch it today, though–too quiet, too slow. What about “Chariots of Fire?” Would love to see the beach where they run in the opening credits and the hills where Eric and Jennie walk discussing Eric running in the 1924 Olympics–is that really in Scotland?

Michael August 28, 2012 at 2:30 pm

We thought you’d never ask. Here’s a video of Little Rocky running on the beach from Chariots of Fire. It’s in St. Andrews, Scotland, right next to the fabled Old Course: http://youtu.be/yqnUB4i9HZs

donna August 28, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Little Rocky in the kilt made my day!

Michael August 28, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Glad to do so.

Sam August 28, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Absolutely one of my favorite movies. Thanks for sharing the pics. I never realized it was filmed in two different places.

Michael August 29, 2012 at 3:08 am

Yup, at first Bill Forsythe was skeptical it could be done in separate locations and look seamless.

sammy August 28, 2012 at 7:12 pm

I was born in Scotland but now live, in liverpool England. I visited pennan on monday 20th august 2012 with my girlfriend.I loved this film i was 13 years old when it was made,I had lunch in the pennan inn, and it was very nice, I visited the village hall where they had a craft selling day, i think i will rent a cottage there next year love it so much. I am looking at your web page,and we both love what you are doing,with great pictures and write ups ,well done.
Ps dont forget the scene where Gordon, and Mac, are drunk at the bar ,was filmed in the (SHIP INN) located in banff just down the road from pennan.I think it would be a crime for you both to not visit the INN ,and have your picture taken behind the bar.
Best wishes sam&nicky

Michael August 29, 2012 at 3:10 am

Hi Sammy,

Thanks for the advice. Please see the note I added above. It was a crime beacuse we happened to stop into the Ship Inn without realizing it was where they filmed that scene.

Cheers.

sammy August 28, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Here is the link to the clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Trl499RByEo

Michael August 29, 2012 at 3:11 am

Thanks for the link. “I’ll make a good Gordon, Gordon.” is a line we repeat constantly.

Ana August 18, 2013 at 4:27 am

Thank you Michael for this wonderful work. My husband and I have just finished (re)watching Local Hero. We are going to Scotland (Highlands) in a few months and we are preparing ourselves to visit all these magical places shown in the picture. You helped us to make our itinerary!
Ana

Michael August 18, 2013 at 8:38 am

Hello Ana,

Glad to help. Scotland was one of our favorite places on our round the world trip and Camusdarach Beach is one of the prettiest in the world. If you’ll be in Pennan you won’t be too far from the Scottish lighthouse museum: https://www.changesinlongitude.com/lighthouse-in-scotland-museum-scottish-lighthouses/

Cheers!

Donald Bain March 19, 2015 at 10:32 am

A lot of the Hotel interior scene were actually filmed inside the Locailort Inn I know this as I lived and worked in the area.

Michael March 19, 2015 at 5:33 pm

Thanks for the info.

Dan May 3, 2017 at 3:46 pm

The bar scene was in the Lochailort Hotel just down the road from the church. Possibly there were some other shots in that hotel. However, the hotel scene near the beginning where Gordon is jumping on the bed and yelling for Stella was filmed in the Morar Hotel near Camusdarroch Beach. I have been in that room. Obviously an unforgettable movie!

Michael May 8, 2017 at 11:47 am

Thanks for the update.

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