Simply spellbinding! The Scottish Highlands is the place to be if you're a movie buff
24 April 2019, 14:39 | Updated: 12 August 2019, 10:58
The beach was the last place I expected to end up on a mini break to the Scottish Highlands.
Lying on sand, we had the place to ourselves as we watched the water glistening as the glorious sunshine shone over Rannoch.
Perhaps we got lucky, avoiding any of the famous April showers on our trip to Perthshire.
Or maybe there was a just a little magic in the air as we were only a stone's throw from locations featured in the Harry Potter movies.
Few people know that this area of North West Scotland is a hub for film production, with the dramatic scenery taking centre stage in many well-known movies and TV shows.
The stylish Dunalastair Suites has looked after some of the visiting talent and provided the perfect base for my family and I.
Located in the remote village of Kinloch Rannoch, two hours from Edinburgh, you won't find much in the way of facilities, shops or restaurants.
It’s an hour to Perth to find a big supermarket, while a mobile library, bank and fish and chip van visit once a week.
However anyone wishing for a luxury five-star hotel, with great food and top class service in the middle of nowhere are in luck.
Starting life as a village inn 200 years ago, the hotel has recently been transformed with a multi-million-pound refurbishment.
In stark contrast to its Victorian exterior, inside you will find the most beautiful contemporary decor, filled with expensive velvet chairs, sleek furniture and local monochrome artwork.
We stayed in an immaculate one bedroom suite which had a separate lounge with a convenient mini kitchen. The chef’s homemade shortbread and bottles of Irn Bru were a nice touch.
Michelin-trained chefs serve up delicious, hearty food using local ingredients in the hotel’s restaurant Edina's.
They also offer a packed lunch service and happily loaded us up as we set off on our Potter mission - to track down The Hogwart's Express!
A car is a must to get around with young kids as the key locations vary in distance, from five minutes to three hours away.
Departing from Fort William or Mallaig, the Hogwarts Express is an actual train that you can ride across the stunning Scottish Highlands.
In muggle speak, it is a steam train called the Jacobite which operates from April to October.
Said to be the greatest train journey in the world, it definitely does not disappoint.
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We also visited the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Lochaber which is home to the instantly recognisable Victorian arch bridge Harry and his friends cross to get to Hogwarts school.
In another memorable scene Harry is seen hanging from a magic blue car (which randomly is now owned by One Direction star Liam Payne!) above the train.
At Glenfinnan, Loch Shiel or ‘The Black Lake’ was also used in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to shoot scenes for the Triwizard Tournament. It was also the setting of the underwater section of the event.
It features several other times in the background of the films too, including a fan favourite scene between Harry and Hedwig in The Chamber of Secrets where Harry asks: “Who am I, Hedwig? What am I?”
On the edge of the loch, the towering Glenfinnan monument, which you can climb up, also featured in Rob Roy.
You won’t want to miss this view of the lake.
Nearby Rannoch Station might seem like any other rural connection.
But stepping onto the platform in the middle of boggy Rannoch Moor, it has now become a tourist attraction.
It is near here that the Deatheaters halt and board the train to look for Harry Potter in The Deathly Hallows - Part 1.
Mark Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie also travelled through the station in the Trainspotting movies.
There is a delightful tea room and owner Jenny Anderson fondly recalls movie star Ewan McGregor's (Mark Renton) visit as we tuck into a slice of her delicious Guinness cake.
Delivering fresh scones through a train window, she told us how she greeted him with a kiss.
Although it sounds like he didn't get much choice in the matter!
Such is the growing popularity of the area for filming, Jenny also helps put together a guide for visiting film crews.
Thankfully there were no Death Eaters in sight as we enjoyed one of several walking routes across the moor to Loch Laidon’s surprise stretch of sand.
You may remember one of Rob Roy’s houses was burnt down in the 1995 historical drama movie, featuring Liam Neeson. That was filmed here.
BBC3 comedy-drama series Being Human was also part-shot nearby.
Meanwhile Outlander fans will find a very iconic location just minutes from the hotel at Craig na Dun in the middle of farmland.
A mound with a near-perfect circle of trees was used in the very first episode of the American-British TV series, where Claire Fraser (Caitriona Balfe) is thrown back in time to 1743.
While the stones are added in by the props team, the area still feels pretty magical due to its neat dimensions and layout of trees.
Further away Glen Coe, which in Scottish history is known as the 'Glen of Tears, is another popular filming location.
A full set was built here, complete with a surrounding pumpkin patch, gate house and bridge, to film scenes at Hagrid’s Hut in Harry Potter.
Daniel Craig’s James Bond and M are also seen admiring the view in 2012 movie Skyfall while more Outlander and Rob Roy scenes were filmed there too.
Liam Neeson gifted The Dunalastair Suites his famous kilt as a memento from his stay while Outlander star Sam Heughan (who plays Claire’s husband Jamie) has said Rannoch is his favourite place to film.
With memorable views around every corner it’s clear why Rannoch is popular with walkers and cyclists.
Queen’s View, which is said to be named after Queen Victoria who visited the area in 1866, is a stunning place for a hike.
Carie Wood, with its mystical Caledonian pine trees and waterfalls had a fairy-tale feel, while adjacent to the hotel lies Loch Rannoch which was so clear it acted like a mirror to the neighbouring mountains.
With a fine-dining restaurant featuring a seven-course tasting menu opening this summer and plans in the pipeline for a spa, it’s an exciting time for The Dunalastair Suites.
Sometimes the middle of nowhere is the place to be!
Prices at The Dunalastair Suites start from £99. For more information visit https://www.dunalastairhotel.com