Ayrshire Film and TV locations

Shot in The Shire

David Milloy

There’s no question in my mind that Ayrshire is underused as a filming location. It can muster castles, harbours, hills, lochs, beaches, islands, an airport, historical sites, ruins, monuments; indeed, it has pretty much everything a filmmaker might want, save for a city and, er, a desert.

That said, ‘underused’ doesn’t mean ‘never used,’ so for this edition of Ayrshire Magazine, we’ve decided to take a virtual tour of a few filming locations throughout Ayrshire. So without further ado, lets head to South Ayrshire and…

Dunure Harbour

The popular US TV series Outlander tells the story of a nurse transported back in time from 1945 to just prior to the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Soon to go into its eighth and final series, the show has used locations throughout Scotland, including both Dunure harbour and Dunure Castle in series three and four. The harbour received an extensive makeover to turn it into an 18th century port whilst the castle was digitally detached from the land and set on an island.

We shall, however, stay on the mainland in order to travel to our next location, a mere seven miles away:

Culzean Castle

Situated on the site of an older, more basic structure, Culzean Castle was built between 1777 and 1792. It has appeared on screen many times but perhaps its most notable role was in the classic 1973 horror film, The Wicker Man – a film in which the tension just keeps building up until it reaches a horrifying climax.

Most of the filming for The Wicker Man took place in Dumfries and Galloway, with Culzean being the sole location in Ayrshire to appear in the film. The exterior of the castle was used to represent the home of Lord Summerisle, played by Christopher Lee, with the garden and interior shots being filmed elsewhere.

Culzean Castle is owned by the National Trust for Scotland, so bear in mind that an admission charge will apply if you visit it, unless of course you’re an NTS member.

And with that, we’re heading inland, where we’ll visit an old friend from issue 52:

The Black Bull, Straiton

With The Black Bull’s exterior having featured heavily in The Match, the filming of the TV film, A Risk Worth Taking, a romantic drama dealing with love, terminal illness and temptation, offered parts of the inn’s interior the chance to appear on screen. It was the only Ayrshire location used in the film, which was, like The Wicker Man, primarily filmed in Dumfries and Galloway.

If you wish, you can drink, eat and even stay at The Black Bull before hitting the trail once more and heading to East Ayrshire and:

Ballochmyle Viaduct

Chances are that you’ll have seen the 1996 film Mission Impossible, the first of a series of films starring Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt. If so, you’ll probably remember the scene involving a fight on the roof of a Eurostar train hurtling towards the Channel Tunnel.

In reality, part of that sequence was filmed in Ayrshire using a diesel train made up to resemble an electric Eurostar. The reason why the producers chose Ayrshire was because of the Ballochmyle Viaduct; at 169 feet high, it is the highest railway viaduct in the UK, thus making the ideal location on which to shoot a dramatic fight scene, which it certainly was.

You can’t walk across the viaduct but you can pass over it on a train: it’s on the main Glasgow to Carlisle railway line. But we’ll skip the train for now and head back to the coast and our next stop at:

Prestwick Airport

Prestwick Airport (or, if you insist, Glasgow Prestwick Airport) is something of a veteran when it comes to film and TV appearances. It has enjoyed screen time in a 1990 episode of Rab C. Nesbitt (‘Holiday’), the 2003 film American Cousins, and the 2023 film, Tetris, in which it was made up to look like a Russian airport from the 1980s. Although filming has mostly taken place in and around the airport’s terminal, the smaller of its two runways has also featured in an episode of Top Gear.
Much as we’d like to stay and check out the duty free shop, it’s time for us to make a departure of our own. Next stop:

Saltcoats and Ardrossan

Two of the Three Towns appear in the the 2001 film, Late Night Shopping, a comedy about four friends who each work the night shift in their jobs in a city. Much of the film was shot in Glasgow, but it’s never named in the film. It’s not even clear that the film is set in Scotland, as few of the characters have Scottish accents. The film sees the main characters head to the fictional seaside town of Light Haven, which looks remarkably like Ardrossan and Saltcoats. Indeed, the map on which Light Haven is named places it close to Seamill and West Kilbride.

However, the cast’s return trip to the city somehow manages to take them via Forton services near Lancaster! Hmmm, perhaps their satnav wasn’t working…

The last leg of our road trip will, however, be a very short one, for we’re about to catch the ferry from Ardrossan to Arran and make tracks for:

Brodick Castle

The history of Brodick Castle and the land on which it stands is colourful, to say the least, what with Vikings, the Scottish Civil War, the Roundheads, and an adopted daughter of Napoleon Bonaparte all playing some part in its story.

That story includes being one of the locations for the 1998 film, The Governess, a period drama starring Minnie Driver. [Hang on, shouldn’t she be in the motoring section?] The castle was used mostly for exterior shots in the film, which was set (but not filmed) on Skye.

Like Culzean Castle, Brodick Castle is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and also charges an entry fee for non-members.

And that’s it for this trip. It’s time to find a cosy pub that serves a nice dram, and we know just the very place…

All of the aforementioned films and shows are available on DVD and/or streaming services such as Netflix and Prime. The exception is Tetris, which can currently only be seen on Apple TV+.