Setting The Scene: UK Locations Featured In Films
Some of the most striking scenes in the Harry Potter films relied not on fantastical creatures, but on fantastic locations in Britain: the Hogwarts Express chugging along the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland, or the Death Eaters tearing up the slender scimitar of London’s Millennium Bridge. With JK Rowling’s wizarding world relocating to New York for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Britain is out of the picture, right? Wrong. Some of the most spectacular scenes were actually filmed in the grand arts venue of St George’s Hall in Liverpool.
Many of the places you have seen on screen and assumed were dreamed up in CGI or made by set-dressers are real, and places you can visit. Outside London lies a land of spectacular landscapes, stately homes and fairytale castles. Taking just films that were released in the past few months, or are due out soon, the Lake District seen in Swallows and Amazons stands out as an idyllic place of tranquil beauty. (In fact, its lakes and mountains were also swooped over by TIE Fighters in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.)
Just a three-hour train journey from London, Lake District locations from the film include Derwentwater, with its eight-mile walk round the lake – it has a spectacular viewing point, Friar’s Crag. Coniston Water, the main location used in the original book, with its pretty town overlooked by the imposing Old Man of Coniston, has a popular walk passing through old quarry workings with views over the lake. However, you’ll search in vain here for the fictional Wild Cat Island. That’s actually Plumpton Rocks in North Yorkshire, one of Britain’s finest 18th-century landscapes, which has recently undergone a three-year, £700,000 restoration. You can also see fantastical landscapes in Guy Ritchie’s reboot of the King Arthur myth, out in May.
In real life, North Cornwall is home to a number of locations associated with the legend. Chief among them are the atmospheric ruins of Tintagel Castle, said to have been built on the site of a previous castle that was Arthur’s birthplace. You can visit Merlin’s Cave nearby, too. The new film makes spectacular use of mountainous Snowdonia, in North Wales; locations include the Nant Gwynant area near Beddgelert; the little town of Capel Curig; the rugged crags of Tryfan; and Vivian Quarry near Llanberis, with its sheer rock face plunging into a deep lake popular with scuba divers. Other mountainous scenes were filmed in the even wilder and more remote Scottish Highlands, as well as on the Isle of Skye off the northwest coast.
In a more accessible part of Scotland is Edinburgh, just four hours by train from London. T2: Trainspotting, the recently released sequel to the 1996 cult comedy, might not sound like the best advertisement for the city, continuing as it does the misadventures of a group of junkies, pub brawlers and other loveable rogues, but Edinburgh’s almost other-worldly beauty shines through. The scene in which they climb up to Arthur’s Seat, a viewpoint overlooking the city is mesmerising. Other scenes include the modern Scottish Parliament building, and the central Princes Street. Scotland also features heavily in The Crown, Netflix’s sumptuous £100 million series about The Queen’s early life. The Queen’s favourite home, Balmoral, was not available, so Ardverikie House stands in for it. Balmoral’s grounds and gardens are, however, open to the public between April and July. Slains Castle, now semi-ruined and used as an inspiration by Bram Stoker for Dracula, stands in for the Castle of Mey, with the popular sands of nearby Cruden Bay used in place of Castle of Mey’s beach.
As for the scene in which the young Elizabeth walks down the aisle of majestic Westminster Abbey, you can truly see why this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in London. Except for one thing: this scene was actually filmed in Ely Cathedral, in Cambridgeshire – it is well worth a visit. It’s not the first time Ely has impersonated Westminster on film, either: it did the same in The King’s Speech. The fairytale palace in Disney’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, which stars Emma Watson and opens this month, was created in Shepperton Studios. Fans can still visit Winterfold Hill and the Hurtwood, within the Surrey Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, where some scenes were shot. A circular walk of 4.5 miles takes in pine woods, ponds and heathland, with stunning views from the top of the hill. That’s a wrap!