Finding Local Hero I'd make a good Gordon, Gordon

Being a Scotsman living in Houston, Texas, there is a 1980’s light comedy movie that resonates with me on many different levels. ‘Local Hero’ is set in a small coastal village in Scotland, whose residents are captivated by the idea that an oil executive from Houston will make them rich by purchasing the village lock, stock, and barrel to build an oil refinery. ‘Mac’, the American protagonist, becomes enamored by the glorious Scottish landscape and the eccentric and uninhibited nature of the Scottish villagers. Convincing himself he’d “make a good Gordon”, he suddenly finds himself whisked back to Houston before he was ready or willing to leave; and the movie closes with him wistfully longing to be back in Scotland.

Bill Forsyth’s masterpiece resonates with me, not only because I too find myself in Houston, and often longing to be back in Scotland, but also because of the soundtrack. Dire Strait’s Mark Knopfler wrote the music, and much of it appears on their early 80’s live album, ‘Alchemy’, which is music that I listened to over and over again as a boy. This included the signature themes ‘the Rocks and the Thunder’ and ‘Going Home’, and the more haunting ‘Stargazer’ music. This apparent personal connection to the music lead to find some of the filming locations for the movie, which were actually scattered across the west and and north east coasts of Scotland.

The village of Pennan stands in for the fictional village of Ferness. The drive down into the village is a nervy one; down a very steep and winding narrow road. It sits below a very steep sided bluff on the north east coast of Scotland, about a 30 minute drive west of Fraserburgh. It was a complete joy to find this site and wander around on the distinctive harbour wall and around the smattering of houses that serve as the location for Urquhart’s bed and breakfast. I spent some time skimming pebbles into the surf on the beach, just as Mac and Danny did (the latter played by Peter Capaldi, who would go on to become Dr. Who), and after a few moments of taking in the atmosphere in this magnificent little cove, I got down to business taking some photographs. Long exposures were the order of the day; with 30 seconds being a suitable shutter speed. Opening up the shutter like this enabled me to capture a more eerie and serene shot of the incoming waves, offering a more gentle representation of the angry North Sea.

In one scene, Gordon Urquhart (who also played Wedge Antilles piloting Red Two in the attack against the Death Star) notes that the villagers have taken the coastal road to get to Ben’s Beach. In reality, this would have been an awful long walk, as the beach in question was filmed 200 miles away in Camusdarach, on Scotland’s west coast. If you want to get there, Camusdarach is located on a secluded beach road between Mallaig and Arisaig, an hour’s drive north of Fort William. The crystal clear waters and white sandy beaches are a rarity in Scotland, and the views out to Eigg and Rum are glorious. Mark Knopfler’s compositions capture the beauty of this place perfectly.

Walking around Ben’s Beach was similarly a joy. The weather did not really hold for us on this visit, but I did spend some time sitting by the spot where Burt Lancaster and Fulton Mackay (who also played the ruthless Officer MacKay in ‘Porridge’) negotiated the sale of the site. My photographs here were fairly simple, as the light did not provide any significant opportunities. Although it is somewhat secluded, the landscape here probably demands that I come back one day, as the stretch of coastline up towards Mallaig and the Isle of Skye is probably one of the most beautiful in Scotland.



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