The Battle of Stirling Bridge

The Battle of Stirling Bridge

The 11th September 1297 was a major turning point in Scottish history due to the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Ever since 1286 with the death of Alexander III, Scotland had been left without strong leadership. Initially, Alexander’s granddaughter and only heir Margaret was to return from Norway to take up the throne. But sadly she died on the journey over to Scotland.

Numerous Scottish nobles claimed their right to the throne but without collective agreement no one could be chosen. Edward I of England was invited to arbitrate over the proposed contenders. Seizing his opportunity, he declared himself overlord of Scotland. At the same time he chose John Balliol to become king but only because he would be “his puppet.”

Balliol only remained King for a few years before Edward returned to Scotland in 1296 and forced him to abdicate. Edward took control of all of the major strongholds in Scotland and placed his trusted nobles in charge. This set Scotland on a path that would lead to the Battle of Stirling Bridge. 

However, Scotland had struggled for centuries to stand up to its much larger and more powerful neighbour. There was simply a lack of belief that they had the will, the manpower and most important of all a strong leader.Now the facts of William Wallace are difficult to establish with any sense of conviction. Much of Wallace’s story is provided by the 15th century poem written by Blind Harry. Bear in mind that this was written almost 160 years after Wallace’s death, much of its content would have been passed down by word of mouth. 

The Life and Heroic Actions of the Renowned Sir William Wallace, General and Governor of Scotland.

Blind Harry

This 12-volume work became the key reference to the life and times of Wallace and most significantly his greatest victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

By the time the Battle of Stirling Bridge took place, William Wallace had been slowly building his army. It was not a conventional army in terms of its size. It certainly wouldn’t have been capable of fighting a full-scale battle on the battlefield against Edward’s army. Instead, Wallace resorted guerrilla-style warfare. With much smaller groups of fighters, he would lay traps and ambush English convoys. He and his men became the proverbial “thorn in the side” of the English army. 

The increasing uprising suffered a blow when many of the Scottish nobles submitted to the English in the July of 1297. But Wallace joined forces with another rebel, Andrew Moray, and together they achieved their first victory at the siege of Dundee. 

Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle

This victory gave them the impetus to challenge for the “jewel in the crown.”  Stirling Castle was strategically important for any army if it wanted to control the gateway to the north of Scotland. The Castle itself, like Edinburgh Castle, towered over the surrounding area and was easily defended. More importantly, it controlled the bridge that allowed access over the River Forth. 

The only problem for Wallace and Moray was even with their combined forces, they were still vastly outnumbered by the English army at Stirling. Timing was key. Wallace somehow had to entice the English army from the Castle down onto the plain below. This would mean that the English army would need to cross over the bridge. It was not substantial, barely able to allow two cavalrymen to cross side by side. 

Abbey Craig

However, from the vantage point of the Abbey Craig (the location of the Wallace Monument), Wallace was able to monitor English movements. Over a period of several hours, the English moved their cavalry and infantry over the bridge.  Seizing the moment, Wallace and Murray then brought out the rest of their army and charged at the English. In a panic, the English turned tail despite being trapped in the loop of the river. At the same time, Wallace and Murray sabotaged the bridge.

It was a major defeat for the English, with many being killed on the battlefield, and the remainder drowning in the river. The remainder of the English army back in the Castle immediately retreated back to Berwick. This left the Castle back in Scottish hands and was to instil a new-found confidence in the Scots. Wallace and Murray were appointed Guardians of Scotland. Sadly, Murray died only a few months later from wounds sustained at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. And within a year, Edward I brought an even larger army to Scotland and defeated Wallace’s forces at Falkirk.

Edinburgh Cab Tours provide tours of Stirling Castle and the surrounding areas. Alternatively, let us know what you wish to visit and we will tailor the tour to your requirements. For further details go to our TOURS page.

Riddle’s Court

Riddle’s Court

Anyone visiting Edinburgh will automatically be drawn to visiting iconic locations such as Edinburgh Castle. If you want to avoid the crowds, however, take a stroll 400 metres down the Royal Mile to Riddle’s Court. There you will find a true historic jewel in Edinburgh’s crown. 

This short video gives you a little taster of why you should visit Riddle’s Court.

Short Video of Riddle’s Court

Why visit Riddle’s Court

So why would we encourage you to visit Riddle’s Court? Well there are a whole host of reasons but let’s start with the fact that it was built in the 1590s. It’s first owner was Baillie John McMorran who was a wealthy merchant in the city. He purchased it in 1587 but with his considerable wealth he was able to create a stunning courtyard residence. 

Baillie McMorran was only to benefit from the property for five years. Unfortunately for him in 1595 he was called to a riot by schoolboys at the Royal High School. The pupils had effectively gone on strike in protest at not being given enough holiday time. McMorran was called to bring the riot to an end. However, one of the pupils was in possession of a musket and remarkably fired an accurate shot that killed McMorran. The perpetrator, William Sinclair of the highly influential Sinclair family, was cleared and incredibly avoided prison. 

The property in the meantime changed hands and it received a number of visitors over the years. The most notable visitor would have to be King James VI who hosted a banquet there in honour of his wife’s brother who was visiting. 

During the 1600s, whilst in the possession of the Sir Roderick Mackenzie a number of upgrades were carried out. An ornate plaster ceiling was added in 1684 which has survived to this day. 

The property acquired its name when it was purchased by George Riddell in 1726. Again like Mackenzie, thanks to his considerable wealth, he was able to reconstruct much of the people that faces onto the Lawnmarket. 

However, in 1837 the rerouting of the link road between the Grassmarket and the Royal Mile resulted in some very serious remodelling of the south face of Riddle’s Court. By the mid to late 1800s, Riddle’s Court was a shadow of its former self. The 1881 census records that there were 247 people living in the building. But this was far too overcrowded and like many other parts of the Old Town the building had become a slum. 

Patrick Geddes – A Man of Vision

If it were not for one man, Patrick Geddes, like many other buildings that had fallen into disrepair it would have been demolished. Geddes was a man of vision and well ahead of his time. He can truly be described as a conservationist, long before it became fashionable to be one. 

Geddes purchased the property and carried out a “root and branch” restoration of the building. By the time it was completed, it became one of the first Halls of Residence for students at the University of Edinburgh. Some buildings had to be demolished either side of the passageway to form a courtyard. The aim was to provide more light and fresh air into the building and improve the conditions for the inhabitants. 

A new staircase was added to the outside of the building to enable access between the first and second floors. This can be seen more clearly in the video. Geddes held the first University Summer schools here. The entrance to what is now the Geddes Centre has an inscription on the lintel above the gated entrance – ‘Vivendo Discimus.’ This is the Latin for ‘By Living we Learn.’

Further limited restoration was carried out in the twentieth century after it was taken into the care of Edinburgh City Council. However, huge investment was needed to carry out the thorough restoration that it truly required. 

Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £2.4 million and further total funding of £5.8 million, the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust was able to commence a stunning restoration. The restoration commenced in 2016, using only the most skilled tradesmen in their field. The project was finally completed in 2019. 

Riddle’s Court is Open to the Public

It is now open to the public. As well as being able to take a tour, it can also be booked for educational events, weddings, corporate events, parties and fine dining. For further details, visit Riddle’s Court website.

Riddle’s Court can be easily missed as it is set back from the main thoroughfare of the Lawnmarket. It is almost directly opposite the more prominent Gladstone’s Land. So use that as your point of reference. Here is an image of the entrance to Riddle’s Court from the Lawnmarket. 

Riddle’s Court entrance

Arniston House

Arniston House

Arniston House is one of those stately homes that you either know about or come across it by accident. If you are staying in Edinburgh, or in the Midlothian area, then Arniston House should be added to your “to-do” list.

We spent a fantastic couple of hours at Arniston House near Gorebridge.  It is about a 40 minute drive from Edinburgh city centre to Arniston House. If you plan to travel to the Scottish Borders or to visit Rosslyn Chapel then this is a great addition to any tour day. 

Origin of Arniston House

Arniston House sits in the heart of its 6,000 acre estate surrounded by numerous working farms. The property has been in the Dundas family ever since 1571. The year before, James was born to George Dundas and his second wife Katherine Oliphant. They visited the area with a view to purchasing some land for their baby son.

Having purchased the land, they set about making making the fine tower house habitable. The tower house is sited in what is now Arniston House. Not far from the main house it is believed that the Knights Templar had one of their bases there. When the Templars were eventually outlawed it then passed to the Knights of St John. It is quite possible that the original tower house may have been built by the Knights of St John. But with no records this cannot be substantiated.

Along with the tower house, George Dundas purchased the land surrounding it known as Arniston Mains. Initially, an extensive garden was created around the tower house. To protect the tower house from the prevailing winds, a very high wall was built. It was perhaps not the most aesthetically pleasing feature of the estate but certainly protected the house from the bitter winds.

William Adam’s Vision

However, in 1726 Robert Dundas, a rising star in the legal profession felt that his family home should be more befitting of his status. So he commissioned William Adam the famous Edinburgh architect to start work on expanding the property. Robert lived and worked mainly in his Edinburgh townhouse and this effectively gave William Adam free rein to do as he saw fit.

William Adam had a very clear vision of what he wanted to achieve at Arniston. The tower house was one of the first things to be changed. Most of the tower was reduced to ground floor level. This enabled William Adam to then build around this centrepiece his palladian vision. Unfortunately, by 1732 the family had run out of money and the project came to an abrupt halt which was disappointing for Adam to say the least.

Fortuitously the young heir to the estate, another Robert married into money and was able to recommence the work on the property. Tastes and styles had changed in the 20 years since the construction had come to a halt. Nevertheless, William Adam’s son John was commissioned to carry on his father’s work. The building today is the result of the Adam vision of the 1700s. 

One Hour Tour

There is much to see at Arniston House, although because of COVID-19, only the ground floor level is open to the public during the tour. It is hoped that when circumstances return to normal, the tour will again include the upper floor. However, when you walk into the main hallway, you are immediately struck by the fine detail of William Adam. The stucco work around the ceilings and cornices are of the highest standard and can be compared favourably with those at Holyrood Palace.

Looking down from the first floor is the Hall Clock which was originally the courtyard clock. Adam shrewdly had it incorporated into the hall design. The clock can be dated back to the 1590s. Adam had a custom made frame constructed around the original clock. The frame was made by Francis Brodie, an eminent cabinetmaker in Edinburgh, and father to the notorious Deacon Brodie. There are portraits and paintings of previous generations of the Dundas family by artists such as Sir Henry Raeburn and Alexander Naysmith.

From the hallway, you proceed into the Dining Room which was extensively restored by the present owners back in 1993. Dry rot had caused extensive damage, so it required a considerable investment to make good the damage. But it is bright and airy with fine geometric designs in the ceiling.

Leading off from the Dining Room is the John Adam Drawing Room and this really is a splendid room. The wallpaper was specially commissioned on a silver background and follows a trail of branches, plants, flowers and birds. It really is so tasteful and just makes the room so much more brighter.

The Oak Room is the only part of the building which is the original part of the tower house. It is immediately recognisable as the design of William Adam with its wood panelling. It also has fantastic views north towards the Moorfoot Hills. Althea, the present owner explained that many an evening of drinking would have taken place here back in the 1700s and 1800s. Sir Walter Scott was a regular visitor to Arniston House because of his involvement in the legal profession.

The only addition to the building since then is the porch that was added to the front of the building in 1877. The sunken garden to the south of the property, as with all of the grounds, is stunningly peaceful and tranquil. You are allowed access to the sunken garden and is well worth a walk down there. On the way back to the house, you cannot help but be awestruck by the view of the house.

We highly recommend taking the tour of Arniston House. It is conducted by mother and daughter, Althea and Henrietta, present owners of Arniston House. Their knowledge of Arniston House is phenomenal and is backed up by their extensive family records. If you require further information or want to book tickets for one of the tours then you should visit the Arniston House website.

Outlander Film Location

As a footnote, for any Outlander fans, Arniston House was used as the entrance and lobby of the theatre in Wilmington attended by Claire and Jamie with Governor Tryon (in Season 4). If visitors want to include this in one of our Outlander tours, please choose the Customised Outlander Tour listing the locations that you would like to visit.

Victoria Street

Victoria Street

If you are not familiar with Edinburgh, one particular street that you must visit is Victoria Street. It is no exaggeration to say that Victoria Street is one of those places that has a charm all of its own. Victoria Street connects the Grassmarket with George VI Bridge which in turn leads to the Royal Mile.

Victoria Street was constructed in the 1820-30s to replace its predecessor the West Bow. The West Bow was a very steep zig-zag lane from the Grassmarket to Castlehill and the top of the Royal Mile. This was not a route for the faint of heart particularly if you were trying to negotiate a heavily laden cart or wagon up the steep hill. But as the population of the Old Town and more importantly, the vehicular traffic grew, so the West Bow became an inconvenient obstacle. Carts, carriages and wagons simply struggled to negotiate this tricky route. 

1827 Improvement Act

It is no wonder as part of the city’s 1827 Improvement Act that Johnston Terrace was constructed as a matter of priority. Johnston Terrace is much further west of the Grassmarket. In fact it originates at the south western edge of the base of the Castle. This road enabled traffic to make its way to the top of the Royal Mile from the west. Carts and wagons were able to avoid the busy Grassmarket and precarious West Bow.  

However, Thomas Hamilton who was responsible for Johnston Terrace was also tasked with replacing the West Bow with a more accessible route. Thus, he created Bow Street which was renamed Victoria Street when Queen Victoria took the throne in 1837. 

Photographic Gem

Presently, it is one of the most visited streets in Edinburgh. Its array of vibrantly coloured shop fronts, arches and cobblestones easily entice the visitor to come and take a look. The street itself is topped off with an additional terrace above with yet more shops and restaurants. For photographers, you can pick your vantage point anywhere on the street and capture that perfect photo.

Take a look at our 1-Minute Snapshot of Victoria Street to see why it is so popular.

For photographs, stand by the novelty/joke shop and you will snap that perfect shot as the street curves round to the right. Alternatively, walk three quarters of the way up the street and stop by the Walker Slater Menswear shop for a view back down the street. And for that aerial shot, walk up the street past the Cuttea Sark shop. Then take the first left up some steps leading onto Victoria Terrace. From here you can take a great photo looking down onto the street from above.

Shopper’s Paradise – Diagon Alley

One of the unique features of Victoria Street is that it arguably has more independent shops per square foot than any other part of the city. For the shopaholic this has to be as good a reason as any to visit Victoria Street. The small independent traders of this street will be grateful for any footfall here after the impact of COVID-19 on trade.

The range of shops include the Old Town Bookshop, a tea shop, a cheese shop, a tweed shop, a novelty and fancy-dress shop and a number of restaurants. However, all of these take second place to one particular shop…..that is, if you are a Harry Potter fan.  

No.40, about a third of the way up the street, was previously a city institution known as Robert Cresser’s Brush Shop. It had been in existence from as far back as 1873. It is only in the last few years that it has changed its role to that of the ‘go-to’ place for all things Harry Potter. The sign on the front says Museum Context but it is more commonly referred to as Diagon House. This is because it is alleged that Victoria Street was J K Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley. 

Pedestrian Friendly

It is normally a busy little street with visitors, workers and cars making their way up from the Grassmarket to George IV Bridge. The great news is that with effect from July 2020, Victoria Street is now completely pedestrianised during the hours of 10.30am – 06.00am. Edinburgh Cab Tours include Victoria Street on both of our vehicle and walking tours. For further information visit our TOURS page.

So, whether you are a “Potterhead,” a shopaholic, or someone who loves to admire the architecture, then you must put Victoria Street on your list of ‘things-to-do.” And if at the end of your shopping, you are in need of liquid refreshment, then make your way to the Bow Bar. This is one of Edinburgh’s few remaining traditional pubs.

WE’RE GOOD TO GO

WE’RE GOOD TO GO

Edinburgh Cab Tours – “We’re Good to Go”

In partnership with the National Tourist Organisations of Great Britain and Northern Ireland we have been certified that “We’re Good To Go.”

Here at Edinburgh Cab Tours we have always placed the safety of both our clients and our guides at the top of our priority list. 

This certification recognises that we are following government and industry COVID-19 guidelines, ensuring that processes are in place to maintain cleanliness and aid social/physical distancing. 

At the time of writing, Scotland is still in Phase 3 of lockdown measures. However, it is expected that the Scottish government will carry out a formal review on 30 July. At this time they will report whether lockdown restrictions in Scotland will be relaxed further as we move towards Phase 4.

Ms Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland has resolutely aimed to manage the expectations of the public. She has suggested that phase three may last longer than the first two phases of the phased strategy.

According to a Scottish Government document detailing the move out of lockdown, Scotland will move to phase four when the “virus is no longer considered a significant threat to public health”.

Edinburgh Cab Tours – Covid19 Measures

As the guidelines will gradually change over the coming weeks and months, we will advise our clients at the time of:

  • The appropriate social distancing measures
  • The provision and use of hand sanitisers
  • The use of face masks (where appropriate and recommended)
  • The cleaning and sanitising protocols that we use before, during and after every tour

Private Tours Only

Because we only provide private tours, we can reassure you that on our tours we do not combine our groups with visitors from other groups. We will always aim to avoid areas where there is a high footfall, or large groups of people. Similarly, we ensure that our guides observe correct social distancing and where appropriate the wearing of face masks.

Because we offer both vehicle-based tours AND walking tours, we can cater to the requirements of any visitor to Edinburgh and Scotland. Normally, our vehicles have a seating capacity for 7/8 passengers. In order to observe social distancing measures between the driver and passengers we will carry a maximum of four passengers.

According to government guidelines for public transport vehicles, we have adopted a minimum 1-metre social distancing within the vehicle. We also request that both passengers and the driver wear a face mask.

Presently we believe that the seating arrangement as shown in the image below follows the correct guidelines and allows up to 4 passengers.

Contact us for Further Details

We would welcome any and all questions from visitors planning to visit Edinburgh or Scotland generally. You can raise your questions through our CONTACT US page or call us directly at:

  • From Scotland or the UK – 07734 331425
  • From the USA or Canada – +01144 7734 331425
  • From the Rest of the World – +44 7734 331425

Your safety, satisfaction and most of all enjoyment are our priorities.

We look forward to seeing you in the future.

Comedy in the Movies

COMEDY IN THE MOVIES

If you ever speak to someone from outside of Scotland, they will generally comment on how as a nation we are always so friendly. They will then say that they love our sense of humour. But that will generally be followed by “But I couldn’t understand half of what you say!” So, this the last of our series looks at Comedy in the Movies.

All five of the movies that I have chosen were filmed entirely in Scotland. Four of them display how humour and poking fun at ourselves is inherently written into our DNA. If you’re not from Scotland but love our quirks, customs and traditions, then chances are you are descended from a Scot somewhere along the way.

I think that this is why Comedy in the Movies of a typically Scottish flavour goes down so well, just like a smooth single malt whisky. You don’t have to be Scottish to enjoy it.

In each of the movies below you will recognise some of the actors and others you won’t. The Angel’s Share for example, and my personal favourite, uses all relatively unknown actors. The dark humour shines through and has you rooting for the underdog.

Whereas ‘What We Did on Our Holiday’ has a fantastic ensemble cast who provide the humour, while Billy Connolly who is regarded as one of the best comedians to come out of Britain takes a more understated ‘back seat’ role.

The only one that is not based on Scottish humour is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I have included this because it was filmed entirely on location in Scotland. It has remarkably stood the test of time. It never ceases to amaze me when I take one of my American groups to Doune Castle where much of it was filmed and someone in the group is able quote word for word, lines from the movie!

So I hope that you enjoy my selection for Comedy in the Movies.

THE ANGEL’S SHARE

This has to be my favourite Scottish comedy-drama. My wife and I went to watch this at the cinema when it was first released back in 2012 and the cinema was packed. You know that you are watching a great film when the whole audience spontaneously laugh at some truly comedic scenes. 

The lead character is Robbie who is serving 300 hours community payback service to avoid going to prison. The supervisor takes Robbie under his wing because he sees potential in him. During this time Robbie becomes a father so Harry invites Robbie back to his place to toast the birth with a vintage Scotch. It transpires that Robbie has a “good nose.” This means he can differentiate a great Highland whisky from an even better Speyside and learns about the “Angel’s Share.”

The movie follows Robbie and his little group of followers’ attempts to acquire three bottles of a single malt that are going to be auctioned. This is a belter of a movie ably directed by Ken Loach and takes in some great locations in both Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Naturally, a movie about whisky takes in the Highlands and a couple of great distilleries. Watch it – you won’t be disappointed. If you struggle with the accent, it might be an idea to switch on the subtitles!

WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAY

Here is another movie that I didn’t hold high expectations for. However, the story combined with the cast and the beautiful scenery of the Highlands made for a fun movie. It is a story of family dynamics and relationships amongst the three generations.

Bill Connolly, diagnosed with terminal cancer, plays the cantankerous 75 year-old patriarchal grandfather. David Tennant and his estranged wife Rosamind Pike come together with their three kids for the long journey from London to the Highlands for his father’s last birthday. Then we have the added complexity of Tennant’s wealthy millionaire brother whom he resents organising the birthday celebrations. 

If you have never seen a “Viking” funeral, this is your opportunity to see one. But this might be a Viking funeral that even a Viking might chuckle at. This is an otherwise feel-good movie that will leave you with a smile on your face.

THE LEGEND OF BARNEY THOMSON

For me this is a film which on the face of it I didn’t expect much but it exceeded my expectations. It has a great cast including Robert Carlyle (Full Monty) who also directs, Emma Thompson and Ray Winstone. 

It is set in Bridgeton, a district just to the east of Glasgow city centre. The film follows a period in the life of 50 year-old Barney Thomson who leads a mundane existence as a barber. This all changes when his manager gives him the bad news that he has to let him go because he basically “disnae have any patter wi the customers.” Barney begs for his job but accidentally stabs his boss in the chest with a pair of scissors. And so begins a sequence of events that embroil his mother Cemolina played by Emma Thompson.

She helps to cover up his mishap by chopping up the manager’s body and putting inside her freezer. Coincidentally, there is a manhunt in progress because a serial killer is on the loose. Barney finds out by accident that his mother is the serial killer. 

If you like your comedy dark, you’ll enjoy this. The pace of the movie flags in a couple of places but they are outweighed by the great comedy dialogue between Barney and his mother and Barney and the police.  

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL

It has never ceased to amaze me just how many of my American tour groups are big fans of Monty Python. This movie released in 1975 was a comedy loosely based on the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. 

So, if you like your comedy movies that take the word “bonkers” to a new level then this is the one for you. Be ready for God to be portrayed as W.G.Grace, Knights who say “Ni,” a Trojan Rabbit, Knights with no horses but a set of coconuts. If none of that makes sense, then watch the film and hopefully it will. 

Almost the whole of the movie was filmed in Scotland. Having been promised that they could use a cross section of castle throughout Scotland, they were let down at the eleventh hour and were only permitted the use of Doune Castle and Castle Stalker. Through some very ingenious filming most of the castles that appeared in the movie were filmed at Doune. 

Both before and after the filming of this movie, Doune Castle has been extensively used for film and TV productions. The most notable production to date has been Outlander which has seen the footfall to Doune increase by over 100%. If this is somewhere you MUST visit why not take our Outlander Tour to experience ‘Castle Leoch.’

The premise for the movie was given a second life when it was adapted for the Broadway stage in 2005 to become the critically acclaimed Spamalot.  

RESTLESS NATIVES

This low budget adventure comedy released in 1985 performed well at the box office in Scotland but didn’t achieve the same level of success overseas. A lack of a big budget shows through but I think ultimately gives the movie it’s charm.

The story follows two youths from the working class area of Wester Hailes on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Disaffected by their grey and mundane lives, they follow the British Government advice to the millions of unemployed to “get on their bikes.” They acquire a Suzuki GP 125 motorbike, don masks and head out onto the tourist trails of the Highlands holding up tour buses. Instead of keeping the money, they become modern day Robin Hoods releasing it to the public as they race around the streets on their bike. 

There are plenty to feast the eyes on with locations in and around Edinburgh all the way up into the Highlands. For those that like 80s music, the movie soundtrack is provided by Scotland’s own home-grown Big Country.

Sport in the Movies

SPORT IN THE MOVIES

For a country that is fanatical about sport, I was hard pushed to find enough choices to include an article about Sport in the Movies. However, here are my five that are either about sport in Scotland or were filmed partly or entirely in Scotland. Out of the five profiled, I have watched all of them apart from A Shot at Glory. I have included this one because being a nation of fanatical football supporters, it would have been remiss of me not to include it in Sport in the Movies. 

So, out of the five chosen, two have a connection to athletics, one to golf, one to cycling and one to football. Something there for most people.

CHARIOTS OF FIRE

Even now 39 years later when the opening sequence of this movie explodes on to the screen I always get goose bumps. With the British Olympic athletes running along the sands at St Andrews to the stirring music of Vangelis, you know this is going to be something special.

It won four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Music Score. The scenery is stunning and includes the beach scene at the beginning and locations in Edinburgh. It follows the story of two athletes in particular, the Englishman Harold Abrahams and the Scotsman Eric Liddell. They were scheduled to compete against each other in the 100 metres at the 1924 Olympics in Paris. However, as a staunch Church of Scotland missionary, when he finds out that his heat is on the Sunday, Liddell refuses to run. 

This enrages the British Olympic Committee. But Liddell is thrown a lifeline by one of his teammates who has already won a silver medal in the 400 metres hurdles and offers him his place in the 400 metres. It is not his distance, but he takes it and then……..well, you’re just going to have to watch it now to find out what happens. 

TOMMY’S HONOUR

Tommy’s Honour, released in 2016, is one of those movies that is beautifully filmed. It allows the viewer a chance to experience what it must have been like to be a golfer in the 19th century. However, you don’t have to be a golfer to enjoy this. It also throws a spotlight on the complex relationship between a father and son. Added to that it shows the class divide that was so prevalent in Victorian Britain.

The father and son in this case only happen to be two of the great golfers of the 19th century, Tom Morris Snr and Tommy Jnr. Tom Snr had established himself as one of the greats of golf. He was also the greenkeeper for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. He won the British Open four times, holding the record as the oldest player to win at age 46. Incredibly, the following year Tommy Jnr won at the age of 17 making him the youngest ever. He also went on to win the British Open four times but unfortunately met an untimely death at the age of 24. One can only surmise just how many more times he might have won the British Open had he not died. 

All of the filming took place on location in Scotland. There were over 50 locations including St Andrews, Edinburgh, Musselburgh, Peebles and Falkland. The shoot lasted six weeks and remained on schedule as there was only one day of rain. That in itself is remarkable for Scotland. 

If you want a taste of Edinburgh AND St Andrews, why not book our Edinburgh & St Andrews Tour?

THE FLYING SCOTSMAN

Yet another movie based on a true story, this time following the cycling career of Graeme Obree. Jonny Lee Miller played the part of Obree to perfection. In true underdog fashion the movie sets the scene with a flashback to Obree’s childhood. He was continually bullied while at school which left lifelong mental scars. However, as an outlet for the youngster, his parents bought him a bike and he began to cycle everywhere.

In adulthood he started to compete in cycle races at which he excelled. Part superhuman training rides, part masochistic personality propelled him to the top as a cyclist. He decided that he wanted to break the one-hour cycle record, but he didn’t have the right bike. Instead he constructed his own bike from scrap metal and components from a washing machine. His design was revolutionary and eventually secured him the record. The governing body, the UCI, took the decision that the bike did not conform to international rules and he was banned from using his bike in competition.

Most of the movie was filmed in Galston in Ayrshire and has a real gritty down to earth feel to it. Be warned that Obree was later diagnosed with a crippling bipolar disorder and the movie does explore his battles with his mental health issues. A “feel-good” and “feel-bad” movie in equal measure. 

GEORDIE

I first remember watching this when I was about ten years old. It was first released on the big screen back in 1955 but is shown from time to time on terrestrial TV. It is an entirely fictional story about a wee (small) lad called Geordie MacTaggart. Because of bullying due to his diminutive size, he enrols for a bodybuilding correspondence course.

By the time he turns 21, he has grown into a tall well-built young man. At the suggestion of the course trainer, he takes up hammer throwing. Unfortunately, he almost takes out not just the local laird but also the local minister. Fortunately for him, the minister knows a bit about the intricacies of throwing the hammer and starts to train him and he wins at his first Highland Games. Geordie turns out to be really good and is invited to compete for Great Britain at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.  

This is an all-round feel good movie. Bill Travers plays the part of the adult Geordie and the Laird is played by that stalwart of 50s movies, Alastair Sim. 

A SHOT AT GLORY

I felt almost duty-bound to include this one. It is the only one that is solely about our top national sport, football. Or for my American readers, soccer. Here is the crazy thing, I have asked around some of my football buddies if they had ever heard of this movie and all of them said no. Or perhaps they just didn’t want to admit that they had watched it. The movie is a bit of a stinker. 

The story follows a fictional Scottish football club who are attempting to reach their first ever Scottish Cup Final. The club is owned by an American businessman (Michael Keaton) who has threatened to move the club to Dublin in Ireland……go figure.

Even more weird than this is that we have Robert Duvall playing the club manager with a Scottish accent that is all over the place. And to cap it all we have a real star of Scottish football, Ally McCoist,  playing the part of the team’s striker who is on the verge of retiring. He is a former player in his heyday with Scotland’s top team Celtic. In reality McCoist played for Rangers and had always vowed he would never wear a Celtic strip, but he did for this film. He claimed afterwards that he had a Rangers strip on underneath so that his skin didn’t come out in a rash!

 

Science Fiction in the Movies

SCIENCE FICTION IN THE MOVIES

In this latest post we are going to take a look at Science Fiction in the Movies. This category also includes the Fantasy genre of movies. Because of Scotland’s abundance of mountainous terrain and desolate craggy features, it has been used for short clips in movies like Prometheus and Stardust. However, I would put good money on very few people being even remotely aware that part of Avengers – Infinity War was filmed in Edinburgh’s very own Old Town.

So, here are our five movies that fit the category of Science Fiction in the Movies that were filmed partially or entirely in various parts of Scotland.

HARRY POTTER (all eight movies…..yes, eight!)

The Harry Potter series of movies are the most successful movie franchise that have used Scottish locations. Some of the locations are ‘blink and you’ll miss it.’ However, there are some great backdrops from the Highlands of Scotland that really fit in well. I don’t think that I need to explain what the premise of the movies are but here are some of the standout scenes that involve Scotland:

Glenfinnan Viaduct is one of the most iconic scenes in the Harry Potter movies. The most memorable scene is where Harry and Ron are chased across the “bridge” in the flying car. As locations go it is breath-taking so if you get the chance, head there whether you are a HP fan or not. If you watch this clip fast forward to 1:25. You will see the scene with the flying car and the Hogwarts Express making their way over the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct.

Loch Shiel also gets a shout out. It normally appears in the scenes involving the Glenfinnan Viaduct because of its proximity.

Steall Falls in Glen Nevis is another stunningly beautiful location which can only be reached with a 45-minute walk from the nearest road. The waterfall is the second highest in Scotland. It generally appears as a backdrop during the Quiddich matches and also in the Triwizard Tournament. 

Rannoch Moor features in the scene when the Death Eaters board the train looking for Harry in Deathly Hallows Part 1. Not too much further from here, you come to Glencoe. It was in Glencoe that the production team built a full set for Hagrid’s Hut. Glencoe itself has fantastic views looking down the Glen from opposite the Three Sisters.

HIGHLANDER

Now for some readers this might be a little before your time. Highlander was released in 1986 and I would like to say to critical acclaim but sadly not. It only grossed $12 million worldwide despite heavily investing £19 million into the production. However, it did have the last laugh as it acquired a major cult following and as a result inspired film sequels and TV spinoffs. 

Not only did it secure its legacy through its cult following. The music of Queen provided the perfect soundtrack to the film with the tracks, “A Kind of Magic,” “Princes of the Universe” and “Who Wants to Live Forever.” 

Most of the filming took place in New York but there are plenty of scenes that were filmed throughout Scotland  including Eilean Donan Castle, Glencoe, Glen Nevis, Loch Shiel and more. 

UNDER THE SKIN

This is one that slipped under the radar as opposed to under the skin. However, if you want to get a feel for the landscape of Glasgow this is a good movie to watch. The premise is that a woman (Scarlett Johansson) plays the part of an out of this world woman, possibly an alien. She spends most of the movie abducting men for what purpose we are not entirely sure. However, they generally come to a pretty sticky end.

Apart from the main characters, most of the people that appear in the movie were non-actors. Some of the outdoor sequences were unscripted and were filmed with hidden cameras. That was quite a risky route to take particularly when you consider that Johansson is so well know. After filming a sequence, the production team would need to ask those that appear in it for their permission to use it in the film. 

AVENGERS – INFINITY WAR

Avengers Infinity War used a number of film locations. However, it was the turn of Edinburgh’s Old Town to be the victim of some serious collateral damage. I remember at the time of filming they closed off a number of streets around the Old Town for almost a month, normally during the hours of darkness. 

If you want to see some destruction of St Giles Cathedral and the the Royal Mile then fast forward to 3:14 on the clip above. The action then moves to the interior of Waverley Railway Station. 

WORLD WAR Z

World War Z, a zombie apocalyptic action movie was released in 2013 and starred Brad Pitt. The opening sequence of the movie saw Glasgow yet again taking star billing. Doubling as Philadelphia, the opening sequence of the Zombie attack is based in and around the city centre. George Square and the surrounding streets had to be closed off for over a week. 

This movie grossed $500 million so was an unexpected success. Considering that it is seven years since it was released, it has been perplexing that a follow-up has not been made. There have been talks to do so but things like Brad Pitt working on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and COVID-19 halting all projects. Added to that, because China has a ban on Zombie movies, Hollywood may decide it is not financially viable if they can’t show the movie in one of its biggest markets.

OTHER MOVIES IN THIS CATEGORY

  • The Little Vampire – filmed around Fife and the Scottish Borders
  • Prometheus – filmed on Isle of Skye
  • Stardust – filmed on Isle of Skye

Remember that Edinburgh Cab Tours include most of the locations above in their range of tours. So, if film locations are “your bag” then let us take you to them.

Popular Fiction in the Movies

Popular Fiction in the Movies

In this post we are going to highlight Popular Fiction in the Movies. This does not necessarily mean that the story in the movie is a Scottish story. Popular fiction in the movies can mean the story uses the fantastic backdrops solely for dramatic emphasis. The one that immediately springs to mind is James Bond’s Skyfall. In this movie Bond is being pursued by his enemy. He makes his way back to his childhood home in the Highlands of Scotland. Who cannot help but be bewitched by the moody atmosphere of Glen Etive?

Some movies surprisingly didn’t make it into our Popular Fiction in the Movies category. Despite the name of a movie suggesting that it should appear, we have omitted it simply because most of the scenes filmed weren’t actually filmed on location, but in a studio. The Da Vinci Codes is a perfect example. At the time of filming Rosslyn Chapel was entirely covered by scaffolding and a steel canopy as it underwent restoration. Exterior shots were recreated digitally. There was only the briefest of interior shots also. When Robert Langdon finally enters the Chapel, he descends the steps to the Crypt which indeed was filmed at the Chapel. But when he walks through the doorway at the end of the steps he enters a mockup of a room full of archives. This was a recreation in a film studio in London!

However, all of that aside, Rosslyn Chapel and Glen Etive have benefited from the increased footfall from visitors to Scotland. And so far, no complaint from the visitors. If anything, you will often hear visitors say, “It is even better in the flesh!” We include both of these locations and so many more in our selection of tours.

So, here we go……let’s see what you think of our selection of Popular Fiction in the Movies.

THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE

This film, released in 1969, was adapted from the stage play which in turn was based on the novel of the same name written by Muriel Spark. Unlike the play which only had moderate success, the film was a box office hit making a profit of $831,000 within a year of its release.

The standout performance was by Maggie Smith who played Jean Brodie. She went on to win not just an Oscar but also the BAFTA award for Best Actress, only losing out in the Golden Globes. Events are set in the 1930s and Brodie is a teacher at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh. She is a teacher who doesn’t follow the school’s strict curriculum. She prefers to indulge “her girls” in the arts and culture as well as encouraging them to question the status quo. 

However, Miss Brodie blots her copybook by carrying on an affair with the male music teacher/church choirmaster while keeping her ex-lover dangling. A few years later just as Brodie reaches the peak of her powers at the school, one of her former “girls” turns on Brodie and betrays her to the Headmistress. 

Apart from the stellar performances from the ensemble cast, it is great fun to try and spot the locations dotted around Edinburgh that appear in the movie.

THE 39 STEPS

There have been different versions of this movie all based on the book by John Buchan. The first to be produced in 1935 was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and was a sign of what he would achieve in the future.  Then there is the 1959 version starring one of Britain’s leading men of the time, Kenneth More. Then yet another remake in 1978 with Robert Powell before one last attempt with a feature length “made for TV” version in 2008.

Take a look at this trailer from the 1959 movie and see if you can identify any of the locations used in Scotland.

Most movie critics and fans point to the 1935 version being the best of the bunch. However, for me the 1959 movie beats the others purely on the number of locations that they manage to squeeze into 91 minutes. Perhaps you are wondering what the premise of the movie is. If so, it’s a good old-fashioned spy thriller with Kenneth More stepping in to save the day when the female spy is killed.

His journey takes him throughout Scotland to such locations as the Forth Rail Bridge, South Queensferry North Queensferry, Loch Lubnaig, Brig O’Turk, the Dukes Pass, Killin, Balquhidder, Dunblane Trossachs Hotel, Kinlochard, Loch Lomond. What’s not to like about that?

SKYFALL – FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE – THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH

The James Bond franchise is such a well-known brand that not much needs to be said about this. They are all fantastic movies and it is unfortunate that Scotland hasn’t managed to secure itself a bigger part in any of them. 

Skyfall gets to showcase Glen Etive at its dark and moodiest best when Bond and M stop to look down the glen. It is even more breath-taking in person and I have taken numerous groups to Glen Etive in order that they can see it for themselves. Click on the trailer and fast-forward to 1:59 where Bond stops at Glen Etive and looks down the valley towards his destination. Breathtaking scenery.

At the end of Russia with Love, the final part of the movie involves a boat chase scene that was filmed off the west coast of Scotland. And Eilean Donan Castle manages to get a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment when Pierce Brosnan drives across the bridge in his Aston Martin. 

GREYSTOKE: LEGEND OF TARZAN

The main reason for including Greystoke, apart from it being an excellent movie, is that a large part of it was filmed at Floors Castle in the Scottish Borders. If you watch the clip above, you can understand why they chose this as the location for the Greystoke estate in the lowlands of Scotland. Floors Castle is stunningly beautiful and is well worth a visit if you plan to tour around the Scottish Borders.

It clearly struck a chord with the general public as it grossed $45.9million and was the 15th most popular film at the box office in 1984.

KIDNAPPED

The book of the same title was written by Robert Louis Stevenson was almost required reading for any Scottish youngster. It was filmed a couple of times, once in 1960 and the other 1971. The clip below shows the opening scene to the movie. It is supposed to depict the end of the Battle of Culloden when the Jacobite rebels were defeated by the British government forces. 

The movie itself is based on the 1886 novel by Robert Louis Stevenson and manages to include Argyll, Mull, Culross and Stirling Castle. The main character David Balfour played by Michael Caine is betrayed by his uncle and has him kidnapped and sent off to the Carolinas. The story follows Balfour’s adventures in his attempts to get back to Scotland and to claim his rightful inheritance from his uncle. 

Other movies in this category:

  • The Da Vinci Codes
  • The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
  • The Master of Ballantrae
  • Loch Ness
  • Young Adam

Scottish Music in the Movies

Scottish Music in the Movies

Considering we are generally a nation of music lovers, I struggled to find much to choose from for Scottish Music in the Movies. We are proud of our traditional music using the bagpipes and drums. But we have produced numerous pop groups over the years such as Texas, Wet Wet Wet, Bay City Rollers, Deacon Blue and The Proclaimers. We’ll come back to the Proclaimers in just a minute. Yet it is rare to see any of them appear under the category of Scottish Music in the Movies.

Therefore, I must stress that I have only been able to find three movies whose whole pretext was to build a story around the music. If anyone knows of any others please let me know. With that in mind, at the end of this Blog post, I have also included a short tribute to Bollywood in Scotland.

BRIGADOON

First of all, I should just explain that the definition of Brigadoon is ‘a place that is idyllic, unaffected by time, or remote from reality.’ For the film, Brigadoon is the story of a mythical village in the Scottish Highlands which appears for only one day in every 100 years. Though it is fictional and is most likely named after the bridge Brig O’Doon located in Ayrshire and appears in the final verse of Robert Burns’s poem Tam O’Shanter. 

The movie was actually a Broadway show before it was eventually transferred onto the big screen. Directed by Vincente Minelli and starring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse it was guaranteed to be a huge box office hit. The plan was to originally film it in a suitable location in Scotland. But after the locations crew carried out their advance recce in Scotland, they decided that the weather conditions simply were not good enough for a production of this magnitude. So, the entire production was shot on a sound stage at MGM studios back in the US!

For most Scots, if not all Scots watching this movie, they would most likely cringe. Scots would be “greetin” (crying) into their porridge, lamenting that this is not in any way shape or form Scottish music in the movies. It is our worst nightmare if this is how others see us. The movie was awash with tartan and faux Scottish accents. But if you like your musicals big and brash, then this will be just your cup of tea……or should that be just your glass of Scotch? Perhaps this was the start of America’s love affair with Scotland?

SUNSHINE ON LEITH

Now I am a sucker for a really good musical movie. Ask my wife – I thought that La La Land was the dog’s, yet it left her completely cold.

So for me Sunshine on Leith ticks all the boxes. It has a storyline that explores the full range of emotions involving relationships among family, friends and lovers. The director Dexter Fletcher and his locations team could not have squeezed another iconic site into this movie. And holding the whole movie together is the music of The Proclaimers sung by the actors themselves. For those who may not be familiar with the Proclaimers, you’ll know their keynote song “I’m Gonna Be (500 miles).”

It was originally a stage musical which was finally adapted for the big screen and was released in 2013. The gross receipts of $8, 780, 874 belie just how good a movie this is. George MacKay, the lead actor, has gone on to shine in the blockbuster “1917.” But his performance aside, the other actors who are all familiar faces on the Scottish scene put together a superb ensemble performance. 

If you want a real top-notch feel-good musical, watch this. And if after watching this you have a hunger to visit some of the locations in Edinburgh or further afield, visit our TOURS page for further information on the locations that we visit.

WILD ROSE

It is fair to say that the Scots have had a long term love of country music. If you go far enough back in time, some of the earliest settlers in the Appalachians were Scots, Irish and Northern English whose only form of entertainment was music with fiddles, guitars, flutes and possibly the occasional bagpipe. Over time “Hillybilly” music evolved to become Country music. Let’s not forget that Johnny Cash was and still is a big favourite with us Scots. After all, his ancestry can be traced back to Scotland.

Anyway, back to Wild Rose. This movie, released in 2019,  follows Rose-Lynn Harlan played by Jessie Buckley recently released from prison for drug smuggling. Even her first name conjures up the image of a country singer. She returns to live with her mother who has been looking after her young children while she has been in prison. Failing to get back her job as singer with the house band at Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry she resorts to getting a cleaning job. 

While cleaning in the house where she is employed, her employer’s children overhear her singing and tell their mother. With a desire to go to Nashville, she asks her employer if she would pay for her to go there. She declines but instead her boss gets her a lead to a music pundit in London. If you want to find out what happens next, then you’ll just have to watch the movie. Be warned, however, that Rose-Lynn is not the most likeable of characters…..at least to begin with.

Most of the locations are based in the Glasgow area.

BOLLYWOOD

Bollywood, or Hindi cinema to give it its correct title is the Indian Hindi-language film industry predominantly based out of Mumbai. The name Bollywood was coined as a combination of Bombay and Hollywood. Indian cinema produces over 2,000 feature films every year, with Bollywood the largest of the film producers with over 350 films in 2017 alone.

They incorporate many genres within a single movie including action, comedy, romance drama along with musical numbers. Because of Scotland’s stunning locations, the Indian movie industry has fallen in love with filming here. So, here are two of the most successful Bollywood movies that were filmed here in Scotland

KUCH KUCH HOTA HAI

This is a 1998 Indian Hindi romantic drama filmed almost entirely in Scotland, Mauritius and India. This was the fourth film together for the very popular Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. 

MAUSAM

Released in 2011 it is a love story spanning 10 years from 1992 to 2002. Due to uprisings in Kashmir the lead female character Aayat is forced to flee as a young girl eventually meeting Harinder. They fall for each other but eventually Aayat moves on again without telling Harinder. 

They eventually meet again in Edinburgh where they rekindle their relationship. Much of the filming took place in Edinburgh, the Highlands and India.