Britain crams an impressive array of landscapes, historical sites and urban environments into a relatively small area, making it a popular location for a wide range of films. Here’s a selection of well-known film locations that also make for a great day out, whether you want a relaxing walk or a session in the surf.
Gladiator: Bourne Wood, Farnham, Surrey
The savage battle scene in “Germania” was shot in Bourne Wood, a somewhat unlikely location in the heart of the genteel Home Counties. However, visit on a damp and misty autumn day to enjoy one of the easy walking trails and it’s not that hard to imagine yourself in the remote forests of central Europe some 2000 years ago. Director Ridley Scott obviously has a thing for Bourne Wood since he also used it as the location for “Castle Chalus” in Robin Hood, shot here nine years later.
Monty Python and The Holy Grail: Doune Castle, Stirling
Doune Castle was built in the late fourteenth century by Robert Stewart, earl of Albany and ruler of Scotland from 1388 to 1420, and makes for a great day out with its mix of stately rooms, interconnecting passageways and impressive fortifications. You may also recognize it as the castle upon which King Arthur and his men approach, coconut shells in hand, in Monty Python and the Holy Grail; it also stands in for Camelot, Swamp Castle and Castle Anthrax in the same film.
Hitchcock in London
Hitchcock may have set his most famous films in the US, but the Leytonstone-born master of suspense always remained a true Londoner. Classic early thrillers such as Jack the Ripper-influenced The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927) and Blackmail (1929), which reaches its grisly denouement among the mummies of the British Museum, show him revelling in the macabre long before Psycho. Guided walks by Hitchcock expert Sandra Shevey explore the locations of three later films: courtroom melodrama The Paradine Case (1947), which features the Old Bailey’s still bomb-damaged exterior; The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934; re-shot in colour in 1956), which moves from a Camden Town taxidermist’s to its suspense-laden final scenes in the Royal Albert Hall; and gruesome serial murder thriller Frenzy (1972), set around Covent Garden. Filmed just before the fruit and veg market closed (where Hitchcock’s dad had been a greengrocer), it’s a typically dark love letter to a London on the verge of disappearing.
The Railway Children: Haworth, West Yorkshire
This kids’ favourite from 1970 made effective use of the Victorian towns and villages around Haworth, with all the train scenes shot on the Keighley & Worth Valley Steam Railway which runs through the area. Haworth’s cobbled main street features heavily in the film, as does Brontë Parsonage where the eponymous authors lived. Take a trip on the train, a stroll through the village then a hike across the surrounding moors.
Breaking the Waves: Lochailort, Highland
Not the cheeriest of films, Lars von Trier’s 1996 production did at least locate itself amongst some of the most exhilarating landscapes in Scotland. The film’s church scenes are shot just outside Mallaig at Lochailort, with further filming taking place in the town and at Neist Point, the most westerly location on the Isle of Skye. There’s some fine easy walking around Lochailort and Mallaig, such as the stroll along the lovely white-sand beach of Camusdarach, while Skye’s Cuillin Ridge offers some of the most spectacular and exciting hiking in Britain.
Robin Hood: Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire
Robin Hood features another spectacular battle scene from Ridley Scott, shot on the wide expanse of golden sands at Freshwater West in Pembrokeshire, one of Wales’s best surfing beaches. This didn’t go down too well with local surfers, who were banned from riding the waves for the period of filming. The waves caused some problems during the shoot with boats being swamped and both actors and extras being buffeted about in the swell – but if you’re here with your surfboard this is, of course, exactly what you want.
The French Lieutenant’s Woman: The Cobb, Lyme Regis, Dorset
The image of Meryl Streep draped in a large black cloak on the film’s promotional poster was taken on The Cobb, a thirteenth-century breakwater built under the instruction of Edward I. This in itself makes for a fine albeit brief stroll, but you could also take a longer walk along the almost tropically dense Undercliff (which also appears in the film) to the west of The Cobb, or wander along the seashore to the east which is part of the famous Jurassic Coast.
The Libertine: Tretower Court, Crickhowell, Powys
Several major scenes from The Libertine were shot at Tretower Court, a finely renovated late medieval mansion and courtyard located a couple of miles from Crickhowell and tucked beneath the dramatic dark ridges of the Brecon Beacons’ Black Mountains, which rise steeply to the north. During filming Johnny Depp was a regular at the lovely old Bear Hotel in Crickhowell, also well worth a visit.
Harry Potter: Alnwick Castle, Northumberland
The magnificent bulk of Alnwick Castle – the second largest inhabited castle in Britain – was the setting for the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, for broomstick flying lessons and for Quidditch matches. The imposing 700-year-old pile is everyone’s idea of what a medieval castle should look like, hence its starring role in the first two Harry Potter films as well as Elizabeth and Robin Hood Prince of Thieves among others.
Withnail & I: Sleddale Hall, near Shap, Cumbria
The remote Crow Crag farmhouse where bibulous, out-of-work actors Withnail and narrator “I” find themselves “on holiday by mistake” is set on the side of the Shap Fells on the eastern edge of the Lake District. The farm, which makes for a pleasant half-day walk from the nearby village of Shap, has become a place of pilgrimage for fans of the film – and is a good place for escaping the busier fells and footpaths in the heart of the Lake District.