Tuesday, 28 July 2015


The Wicker Man is sometimes described as a horror movie, but in reality it is a weird and idiosyncratic tale of pagan rites and strange inbred folk covering up the disappearance of a girl. However, for all its oddball qualities it acquired something of a cult status.  The film tells the story of a police sergeant called Howie (Edward Woodward) who is sent to a Scottish island called Summerisle to investigate the case of a missing girl only to be confronted with strange, uncooperative islanders.  During his time on the island Howie witnesses the bizarre pagan rites practised by the locals, such as toads placed in the mouth to cure whooping cough.  Not to mention a considerable amount of open nudity.

Most of the locations used in the film are in Dumfries and Galloway, but the filming starts further north.  In the opening credits Skye puts in an appearance as Howie is seen flying in a boat plane over Summerisle, with the Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing visible from the plane.  Howie lands his plane offshore from the lovely village of Plockton in Ross and Cromarty, where he is greeted by a none too welcoming group of locals who try to make out that he can't come ashore because it is private property.

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Plockton. Photo by wfmillar, via Wikimedia Commons

During his stay, Howie stays at an inn called The Green Man, where the landlord's daughter (Britt Ekland) tries and fails to seduce him, Howie being a strict believer in no sex before marriage.  The exterior of the inn was shot in Gatehouse of Fleet using a building which was not a pub but a grade B listed building called the Cally Estate Office.  The interior shots, meanwhile, were done inside the Ellangowan Hotel in Creetown, which keeps the memory alive to this day in the form of photographs of the 'Green Man' scenes on the walls.

Much of the film's action is set in the fictional Summerisle, a community led by Lord Summerisle (the recently departed Christopher Lee). The mansion he lives in is actually Culzean Castle near Maybole, South Ayrshire.  The castle, run by the National Trust for Scotland and former home of the Marquess of Ailsa, chief of the Kennedy Clan, was completed in the late 18th century with Robert Adam as its architect and occupies a dramatic clifftop setting.  

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Culzean Castle. Photo by Jamesx12345, via Wikimedia Commons
Various scenes were filmed around the Isle of Whithorn in the far south-west of Scotland, in reality a village rather than an island.  The ruined St Ninian's Chapel lies in the 'Isle', but it was St Ninian's Cave, a sea cave 4 miles from Whithorn Abbey, which featured in The Wicker Man.  The cave is where Howie discovers the disappeared girl, Rowan.  Summerisle School is represented by a cottage in Anwoth, about a mile west of Gatehouse of Fleet.  The cottage is available to rent as a  holiday let.  Anwoth's Old Kirk and its graveyard also feature in the film, the latter being where Rowan's body is meant to be buried.  A few miles to the south-east is the county town of Kirkcudbright, where the picturesque streets and alleys form the backdrop for a number of scenes.  A shop near the police station is used as Rowan's mother's shop. 

But it is back in the Isle of Whithorn area that the film's dramatic finale was filmed, on a clifftop at Burrowhead near Cutcloy, a former hotbed of smuggling from and to the Isle of Man.  The islanders decide to make a sacrifice to the Sun God following a poor harvest the previous year, and the unfortunate Howie is the chosen victim, evidently due to his virgin status.  The scene shows Howie stripped naked and placed inside a giant wicker man statue, which is then set alight.  Animal lovers might be distressed at the sight of animals in the cage with Howie.  However, the production team insisted at the time that no animals were harmed in the making of the film, that they were repeatedly put inside the cage and then taken out again for different shots so that they did not succumb to the flames.

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Burrowhead. Photo by Gordon Elliott, via Wikimedia Commons

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