Last Saturday VisitScotland ran their biggest press junket ever, ferrying some 150 international media on a private Scotrail train to Perthshire to promote the Disney Pixar Brave film, hitting our cinemas later this summer.
The scene was set by VisitScotland’s Chairman Mike Cantalay with a short welcome speech at the Balmoral which managed to namecheck most of Scotland’s recent cinematic blockbusters, from Rob Roy to Highlander and Braveheart, and though Trainspotting was conspicuous by its absence.
Disney Pixar Brave
Brave has its European premiere as the grand finale to this month’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, and will be shown in over 70 countries. It features homegrown vocal talent from the likes of Billy Connolly, Kelly MacDonald, Robbie Coltrane and Kevin McKidd, keeping it free of any questionable Hollywood accent issues, although it is being dubbed for certain countries, which should be interesting.
The animated feature was peiced together after many weeks spent on location in the Highlands and features an imagined landscape very much inspired by it, drawing on an amalgam of Scottish locations, including the Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis and various castles, such as Edinburgh Castle, Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness, and Eilan Donan Castle, near Kyle of Lochalsh.
The train didn’t quite make it up to the Highlands though, for obvious pragmatic reasons Dunkeld in Perthshire was as close as we’d get. For the purpose of our visit, VisitScotland had, somewhat creatively, re-branded Perthshire as the ‘gateway to the Highlands.’
The Brave Express looked very much like an ordinary Scotrail commuter train at first glance, but once we were on board there were a few surprises in store.
Instead of heading over the Forth Bridge, the train went west on the Edinburgh – Glasgow line for a two and a half hour journey which took in many of the Central Belt’s iconic landmarks: Linlithgow Palace, the Falkirk Wheel, the Wallace Monument, eventually drifiting north through Stirling and the ‘big tree country’ of Perthshire, whose ancient woodlands are said to be another source of Brave inspiration.
All this gave distraction enough, but VS were clearly not taking any chances, delivering a whistlestop tour of Scottish culture and umm, magic.
Suu of Rabbies’ Trailburners really looked and sounded the part as she performed some impassioned Scottihs storytelling, while an excellent band of traditional Scottish musicians gave a stirring, syncopated performance. We were treated to so some close up magic at our seats from Lewis Barlow, while representatives from Scotland’s People also came round to weave a little family history magic of their own.
Piper Lorne Macdougall (far left) who greeted us at the station, features on the official Brave film soundtrack.
Loch of the Lowes Nature Reserve
Our destination at Dunkeld was the Loch of the Lowes Nature Reserve, run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. As wildlife sightings can’t always be gauranteed, nature reserves can sometimes be disappointing to visit, but within 10 minutes of arriving I’d already spotted a number of birds feeding outside the Visitor Centre observation windows, including some Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, a pair of Siskins and Coal Tits, along with all the more common garden birds you’d expect. There’s also a pair of Greater Cressted Grebes on the Loch, very elegant diving birds who are famous for their dramatic mating dance.
While I didn’t see any myself, Red Squirrels are also regular visitors too. The Trust is currently working on a major programme to protect the reds from their more dominant grey cousins who pass on the lethal squirrelpox virus to their tufty eared rivals. There are only some 120,000 red squirrels left in Scotland, so strict monitoring and regulating of population areas is taking place.
The reserve’s main draw however are a pair of nesting Ospreys, which we watched from the crannog across the loch. The birds had recently laid a few eggs. The eggs at this very site are part of the reason why Scottish Wildlife Trust Chief Executive Simon Milne got involved with the organisation.
He had been working as a volounteer when in his teens and found himself back at the Loch later in life when he was called to defend the nest from egg thieves when serving as a Royal Marine. This was around the time of the first Gulf War and apparently he still has a copy of a satirical newspaper cartoon which poked gentle fun at this use of military resources. Sadly egg theft is still a problem which requires constant vigilence. Nowadays there are a team of volounteers who sleep in bothies on site and watch the nests round the clock.
Getting to Loch of the Lowes by Train
The Brave Express was a one-off, but of course anyone can get to the Loch of Lowes nature reserve by train. There are frequent services from Edinburgh (90 minute journey) and Glasgow Central (80 minute journey) to Dunkeld & Birnam. It’s an especially scenic route in autumn, when the treeline bursts into spectacular colour. The reserve is about 2km walk from the station.
See Scotland the Brave!
Fancy seeing more of the film’s inspiration? VisistScotland are running a Brave competition to win a 5 night break staying at Edinburgh’s Balmoral Hotel, with visits to Stirling and Urquhart Castles, plus archery lessons, and a seaplane trip over Loch Lomond.
Brave opens on August 3 in Scotland and nationwide on August 17, 2012 in Disney Digital 3D™.