A PICTORIAL TOUR OF THE WICKER MAN LOCATIONS.
We all know the story of the Wicker Man, the 1973 Robin Hardy film which Christopher Lee called the best British horror movie of all time, but where was it filmed and can you still visit the locations?
Yes, you can, and nothing much has changed in the past 45 years. If you base yourself in or near Newton Stewart, the majority of the locations can be toured in two leisurely days and fans can immerse themselves in Wicker Man nostalgia. For the full immersion experience, you can take a Christian along and kill them before heading home, first ensuring they’ve paid for their share of the petrol money.
I think most fans are aware that Summerisle is a fictitious island and, with the exception of the aerial views of Skye during the title sequence, the film locations are all on the Scottish mainland. The opening, where Sergeant Howie lands his seaplane, was shot in Plockton off the A890 next to the Isle of Skye, a village that was also used as the setting of Hamish Macbeth, but the remainder was shot in southern Scotland, mostly in the county of Dumfries and Galloway.
The cast stayed in the Kirroughtree House Hotel. The address is Newton Stewart, but this palatial manor house is actually just north of Creebridge off the A712. There are far more economical options in the small town, but the most obvious place for a fan to stay is south of Newton Stewart just off the A75 in the Ellangowan Hotel on St John Street, Creetown.
This is where Sergeant Howie stays, although the name was changed to the Green Man Inn. If you can put up with the naked girls singing and slapping the wall in the next bedroom, it’s a nice little place and nothing has been altered in the bar. There are photographs of the filming on the wall and some of the older locals were extras in the pub scenes. Apparently, they still sit in the same seats.
The Green Man Inn is actually two locations combined. Inside it’s the Ellangowan, but the exterior is the Calley Estate office building in Gatehouse of Fleet a few miles to the east. Go along the main street until you reach the clock tower and it’s opposite the Masons Arms pub.
Many scenes were filmed in Kirkcudbright, southeast of Newton Stewart. In the centre on the A711 you’ll find the High Street Gallery, which was May Morrison’s post office and sweetshop.
The alleyways around the gallery were used in many scenes where Howie follows the hobby horse.
The Harbour Cottage Gallery by the River Dee is the bakery and appears in scenes when Howie first arrives after leaving his seaplane and later when he’s searching for May’s daughter Rowan.
The maypole dance, the little school, and the old deconsecrated church with its graveyard are in the tiny village of Anwoth, west of Gatehouse of Fleet. From the A75 drive through Anwoth and the locations are found at the far end of the village.
The lawn where the maypole dance took place is surprisingly small and the school straight opposite is now a holiday cottage.
Nothing has changed inside or out – the shutters are still in place and the open staircase is still there, although the desks, kids and attractive teacher are nowhere to be found. The ruined church is quite atmospheric and you can see the spot where the fake altar was set. The skull and bones motif seen in the film was real and is still there on the side of an ancient tomb.
Ayrshire was used for the brief scene of Lord Summerisle’s castle. Culzean Castle, just off the A719 southwest of Ayr, was used for these exterior shots, although the grounds around Summerisle’s home are back in Dumfries and Galloway.
From Stranraer take the A75 east, then the minor road to New Luce and Castle Kennedy. These castle grounds are open to the public and the landscaped terraces are instantly recognisable as the locations of the Mayday procession and the naked stone circle dance.
The standing stones were fibreglass props but the raised plateau of grass where they stood is easily identified. Lochinch castle stands at one end of the gardens with the ruins of Castle Kennedy at the other. The ruins are visible behind Edward Woodward in one of the scenes.
The Machars Peninsula extends into the sea south of Newton Stewart and terminates in Burrow Head. Howie finally tracks Rowan Morrison to St Ninian’s Cave off the A747, near the tip of this peninsula.
The shingle beach scenes with the barrels of ale on the cart were also filmed outside the cave.
From Newton Stewart, follow the B7004 south and pick up the signs to St Ninian’s, where a path leads from the car park to the beach and cave. The cave is a monument protected by Scottish Heritage because of its connection with the Saint who brought Christianity to Scotland in the 5th century. Seven crosses can be seen scratched on the wall from the 6th and 7th century. It’s still a place of pilgrimage and there are always many other crosses that visitors have left on the floor of the cave.
Using a little poetic license, Howie and Rowan exit St Ninian’s Cave through a hole on Burrow Head to the east which, unbelievably, is in a caravan park (signposted from Isle of Whithorn). They burnt two Wicker Men here on the rugged headland and the remains are still visible. The location where Howie is met by Summerisle and prepared for sacrifice is easily found and not as large as you remember. The smaller wicker man was filmed in a dip, with the wooden remains of the legs set in concrete and the date 1972 can be seen etched into this.
Very little of these railway sleeper legs remain, but if you’d like a souvenir from the film, you can break off a piece with your fingers before it all rots away. This smaller prop was used for the final scene where the blazing head falls sideways to reveal the setting sun behind.
The metal girder support legs of the larger animal-filled prop still stick out from the grassland and the circular area where the pagans dance is quite obvious in front of them.
I met a woman here walking her dog who was pleased to talk about the film. Her farmer father supplied all the sacrificial livestock that were caged inside the wicker man.
Good luck on your tour and remember, since 1994 British Health and Safety legislation insists that all wicker men now have to be fitted with an adequate fire escape.