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In search of Ferness

February 13, 2017

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Regular readers of this blog will know that if we’re not sailing, fixing, or fettling our yacht, we’re typically checking out possible cruising destinations.

Early in February we set off on a road trip with an aspiration of seeing the Northern Lights, but predominantly to find ‘Ferness’; a fictional fishing village that was the setting for Bill Forsyth’s 1983 film Local Hero. As it turned out, there was nowhere to actually stay in Ferness (a.k.a. Pennan) as the Pennan Inn was closed until March and there was no availability at any of the rental properties, so we rented a small cottage in Seatown; the oldest part of Gardenstown just a couple of miles west of Pennan.

We arrived in Seatown well after dark. The photograph above shows the shore-front road to the small car park, 100 precarious metres beyond our cottage [to the left of shot]. The dark area to the right is the North Sea.

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When we eventually made it out of bed the following morning, we were surprised at just how good the weather was. Yes it was cold, but it was very bright. As the forecast wasn’t amazing for the next few days, we headed directly over to Pennan, and we did all the things that tourists do on arrival. We took photographs of each other in the phone box where ‘Mac’ called ‘Happer’, took photographs outside the Pennan Inn, and also down at the harbour steps where the Russian character ‘Victor’ arrived by rib.

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Later that day, we walked to Crovie which proved to be a hidden gem [above]. Crovie feels like it hasn’t changed much over the last two or three hundred years; for example Crovie doesn’t have a traffic problem – as there is no road. Again the weather was fab, in fact it was so bright that all of the photographs I took were bleached out, so the shot above was taken a few days later when the sun was less generous with its rays.

The weather on Saturday was poor. We headed over to nearby Portsoy in the morning, but didn’t stay long as the crew wasn’t enjoying the freezing, blustery wind. The inner harbour was calm, but it was lumpy out on the open water. Days later, we realised that the helicopter that woke us up in the middle of the following night (Sunday night) was searching for a missing kayaker that set off from Portsoy late Saturday morning; precisely the same time that we were there. Unfortunately it’s not possible to wind the clock back.

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The weather improved again by the time Sunday rolled around. We were compelled to return to Ferness/Pennan as, having re-watched Local Hero the night before, we realised that although we had taken photographs outside the Pennan Inn, and in the Pennan phone box, these were not in the same places as the hotel and phone box in the movie. It turns out that the Ferness phone box was a prop, and the hotel was two houses joined together with some add-ons to make it look like a hotel. The real phone box is now a listed building (despite not being in the film), while the Pennan Inn is actually fifty metres to the right of the shot above, which shows the two houses that were used for the hotel exterior shots in the film.

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With this in mind we took lots of photographs of us outside the film set hotel and in the non-existent film set phone box. The top photograph of the pair of images above shows Pennan, and the image below shows the fictional Mackaskill Arms of Ferness, that I’ve roughly reconstructed (digitally) for no good reason that I can think of as I type.

Before we left Pennan, I abandoned the crew in the general vicinity of the phone box and headed off by car in search of a signal for my mobile. I drove for miles, and miles, and then even more miles. Eventually I found a signal and speed-dialed 01346 561 210 [‘Ferness 261’ in the movie].

At the very end of Local Hero, ‘Mac’ calls the Ferness phone box from the US but poignantly there’s no answer. When I called the phone box, the crew let it ring for a while and then we talked for a moment or two.

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With the exception of the wet and windy Saturday, we ventured outside every night at twilight and had a couple of drinks while the coal fire was warming-up our wee cottage, and the waves were doing their best to soak us. Our rental cottage was the pale blue one to the left of the shot above. It’s just possible to make out the livingroom window that faces north – the waves were bouncing off that on the Saturday night. In fact, a local told us that the waves were crashing over the roof tops just a week or so before. We were spared such excitement.

We had a great time in a lovely part of the world. If like us, you’re a fan of Local Hero, then Pennan should be on your bucket list. If we find ourselves up in that neck of the woods onboard our Macwester Malin over the coming years, we’re definitely going to spend a night or two in the harbour. Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to see the Aurora Borealis next time.

Right, I’m off to call 01346 561 210!

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2 comments

  1. You two are MENTAL…..

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    • Possibly …nonetheless, if you haven’t been up to that neck of the woods mate, you should. It’s only 45 miles north west of Aberdeen, so you could make a long weekend of it via Pittodrie.

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