Last Updated on August 15, 2019 by Michael
Where was the movie Local Hero filmed? We set off to Scotland to find out. The filming locations for Local Hero are scattered throughout northern Scotland; seeking them out makes for a great road trip [be sure to see our tips for driving on the left]. Along the way we discovered charming villages, breathtaking scenery and one of the most magical beaches in the world. We also found a mysterious phone booth.
Read on to learn more about the film, or jump ahead using the quick links below:
- About the Local Hero movie
- Visiting Pennan, Scotland (the fictional village of Ferness)
- Finding the site of the pub (Banff, Scotland)
- Exploring Camusdarach Beach, Morar, Scotland (the fictional Ferness beach)
About the Local Hero movie
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 the company can build a refinery there. The reaction he gets is not quite what he expected. It’s a story whose theme still resonates over 35 years later.
NEWS FLASH: Local Hero is back!!! It was remade into a stage musical and enjoyed a short run in Edinburgh in the spring of 2019 . . . and will premiere in London in 2020-YAY! Scroll down to learn more about Local Hero, the musical.
Peter Riegert plays Mac, the Houston oil exec. He’s perhaps best known as Boon from the classic Animal House. The oil company owner, Happer, is the legendary Burt Lancaster. The film also features a young Peter Capaldi as Mac’s Scottish liaison Danny; his gentle, geeky, multi-lingual character bears little resemblance to future super-strong roles, such as Dr. Who and the ominous Malcom from The Thick of It. Scotsman Bill Forsyth directed the film; Local Hero presages the current struggle between the search for energy and saving 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. Forsyth went on to win the BAFTA (the British equivalent of the Oscars) award for Best Director. And Knopfler’s soundtrack is still one of our favorite albums.
Visiting Pennan, Scotland (the fictional village of Ferness)
The one-street village of Pennan, Scotland is nestled between the cliffs and the water’s edge (note the Pennan Inn on the left of the photo)
The village of Pennan (the fictional village of Ferness in the movie) is perched on the North Sea, about about an hour’s drive north of Aberdeen. Nestled into a small cove and tucked below grassy cliffs that look like something you’d find in Lord of the Rings (or maybe Game of Thrones in the winter), it’s hidden from view until you are nearly upon it. Approaching from the south, you won’t even see it until the last minute—it seems as if you’re driving to the edge of a cliff with a great view. The road makes a few switchback turns downward, and—POW!—there you are, right in the center of the village at the water’s edge!
The Local Hero phonebox
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.”)
The Pennan Inn
The Pennan Inn is the centre (to use the local spelling) of activity in the village—and in the film. It’s where Mac and Danny stay, as well as where they dine on Stella’s delicious cooking.
The great news for fans of the film and visitors to the area is that you can stay at the Pennan Inn! It’s a cosy spot with just a few rooms that have recently been updated to a high standard. We recommend making a night of it, enjoying the quiet pleasure of this lovely seaside village, with a meal in the Inn’s comfy dining room.
Be sure to book ahead, as there are only a few rooms and they fill up! Book a room at The Pennan Inn.
A plaque is attached to the exterior of the Pennan Inn to commemorate the filming. You can see the effects that the salty air has had on it!
If you have some extra time in the area, you might want to visit the historic lighthouse at Kinnaird Head, about 12 miles to the east.
You’ll notice walking around Pennan that there’s no long stretch of sandy beach . . . nor does the interior of the pub look quite like that in the film. Through the magic of cinematography it all flows like one tidy package, but the reality is the site of the famous pub is a few miles down the road in Banff, and the beach is even farther to the west. So let’s drive on . . .
Visiting Banff, Scotland (home to the Local Hero pub)
Banff, Scotland is about 12 miles west of Pennan along the coast, overlooking Banff Bay. Established in the 1200’s with the building of Banff Castle, the town was for centuries an important stopping point on the route between Aberdeen and Inverness. Much of the original castle is now gone, but the town still boasts a pretty center, a nice seafront setting, some great old buildings . . . and the pub from Local Hero.
The Ship Inn, Banff
Photo by Leslie Barrie, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66985935
The Ship Inn in Banff is an unobtrusive pub located on the town’s waterfront. The bar plays the role of the pub in fictional Ferness (where Gordon the innkeeper is the proprietor . . . as he is just about everywhere else in town). It’s the site of one of the most pivotal scenes in Local Hero, where Mac wants to change lives with Gordon. Watch this scene where Mac says our absolute favorite line of the film, “I’d make a good Gordon, Gordon.”
[Full disclosure: While searching for our lodging in Banff we stopped at the Ship Inn to ask for directions–without realizing it was the site of the famous “Gordon” scene. We learned the truth only after we had driven a further 150+ miles to the site of the beach scenes—DOH! Ah well, even travel bloggers make mistakes every now and then 😱.]
Other sights of interest in Banff, Scotland
With Banff’s long history there are other things to see after (or perhaps before) you settle in for a “wee dram” at The Ship Inn. Only a few walls and foundations remain of the original medieval Banff Castle, but you can walk around the grounds. The “newer” Banff Castle on the site (a house that’s over 200 years old itself) is now the home of community arts facilities, as well as The Kelpie Cafe, where you can have a bit of lunch or a freshly-baked snack.
Banff is also the home of Duff House, an elegant 18th century manor house that was once the seat of the Earls of Fife. (It’s no longer in the family.) The house also served as both an Allied Command HQ and POW camp during World War II; there are some intriguing architectural “signatures” from that period. It’s well worth a visit.
Hotels in Banff, Scotland
Banff makes a great spot to stay on your Local Hero road trip—especially if The Pennan Inn is booked. There are several nice inns and bed and breakfasts in town. Consider Carmelite House, and impressive Georgian B Listed structure, or The Country Hotel, owned by a French chef, who also operates a French restaurant and bistro on site.
Visiting Camusdarach Beach, Morar (near Mallaig)
The beach scenes were shot at Camusdarach Beach on the west coast of Scotland, about 175 miles southwest of the village of Pennan, just south of the town of Mallaig. The area around this beach is 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 scenes are quite magical (with even a possible mermaid popping up!)
This beach is significant: it’s the proposed site of the new refinery, yet it’s owned by a wily old hermit named Ben Knox. Ben’s not too keen on this new refinery. In this scene, Mac tries to negotiate with Ben:
[NOTE: While the beach is public, it’s not immediately visible from the road, you must walk a short path over the dunes to reach it. There are no signs pointing the way, but everyone in the area knows it—we got directions from our B&B.]
Our Lady of the Braes Church
The church scenes were filmed on the west coast of Scotland at the (deconsecrated) Our Lady of the Braes Roman Catholic Church. Although in the film the church appears to stand guard over the beach, in reality it occupies a prominent site overlooking Route A830, the main road to Mallaig. Here’s a scene you can see the church from the beach:
And here’s our view of the church from the roadside (no beach in sight!):
When we visited the beach we were surprised to see two houses . . .where was the church??? (see below). The film crew wrapped the house on the left in a plastic façade to look like the church during the filming of the beach scenes.
At the time of our visit the church appeared on Historic Environment Scotland’s Buildings at Risk list. It looked abandoned, so we went inside. It appeared that somebody might be renovating it.
Bonus sighting: location of The Hogwarts Express
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 is a lovely area to spend a few days, letting the area’s natural beauty soothe your soul (just like it did for Mac in Local Hero!). Perhaps while there you can even try some haggis. The nearest town is Mallaig (about 5 miles north). There are some nice small hotels and B&B’s in the area. Following is a listing of some recommended Mallaig accommodations:
- Braes Bed and Breakfast offers beautifully decorated, upscale rooms (some with sea views)
- The Marine Hotel is a traditional family-run hotel with restaurant, located right in the small waterfront town of Mallaig, near to the ferry terminal (convenient for ferries to the Isle of Skye)
- Arisaig House is a gorgeous country house hotel and restaurant for when you really want to splurge. It’s located just south of Camusdarach Beach.
Below, Michael is about to drop his watch in the tidal pool where Mac accidentally left his beeping watch behind. The scene demonstrates Mac’s transformation to the languid rhythms of village life. It was a fitting end to our road trip.
Local Hero, the musical
According to The Guardian, Local Hero might be “what is possibly Scotland’s best-loved film.” Now, over 35 years after the film’s release, there’s a new musical based on Bill Forsyth’s original screenplay. Mark Knopfler again did the music, writing several new songs for the story’s characters. After a brief run in Edinburgh in the spring of 2019, the show will premiere in London in June of 2020. Libby Brooks of The Guardian wrote a great overview of what to expect from Local Hero, the musical.
And this brief video by the producers give us an idea of what we can expect:
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We’re Larissa and Michael: a typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011. We seek off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.