Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Travel’ Category

Where Malaysian Rom-Com Autumn in Wales was Filmed

Eyka Farhana and Jaa Suzuran sitting on bench beside river while filming Autumn in Wales
Eyka Farhana and Jaa Suzuran filming Autumn in Wales in Beddgelert

From Sleepless in Seattle to Notting Hill, there’s a long tradition of romantic comedies referencing the locations they are set in in their titles. The latest is Autumn in Wales, a Malaysian film starring Eyka Farhana, Jaa Suzuran, Keith Foo and Wanna Ali and currently streaming on Astro First and Astro Go in Malaysia.

The film, directed by Rahila Ali, follows pampered Aira (Eyka Farhana) deciding to surprise her suave fiancé, Darwish (Keith Foo) by travelling from Malaysia to Wales, United Kingdom after he suddenly breaks off their engagement. 

On arriving in Wales, Aira finds Darwish smitten with the sophisticated Marissa (Wanna Ali). Aira subsequently teams up with the quirky Jaka (Jaa Suzuran), working in a local café, to find out why Darwish has dumped her, seemingly falling in love with him in the process. The Philipino café owner, Mickey Bosstos, played by Amirul Haswendy who also wrote the script, adds another comic twist. 

Ex lovers Keith Foo and Eyka Farhana in a sombre discussion in Autumn in Wales
Keith Foo and Eyka Farhana, Autumn in Wales

In typical rom com style nothing runs smoothly or as Suzuran puts it, “everything goes wrong”. The plot unfolds against a backdrop of bucolic riversides, stone walled cottages, colourful seaside houses and ruined castles. 

Writer Amirul Haswendy told me over email, “The idea of setting the film in Wales came from the director, Rahila Ali, who used to study in the UK and fell in love with certain parts of it especially Wales. She likes to travel and the places that we shot in Wales were some of the places she’d been to.”

Ali previously filmed two movies in Wales one of which, Aku Bukan Gila, (meaning I’m Not Crazy) was also written by Haswendy. It was set and shot in Llandudno, a seaside resort in North Wales, most recently made famous for the goats overrunning the town during the pandemic lockdown. 

Wanna Ali in front of a stone arched bridge in the film Autumn in Wales
Wanna Ali, Autumn in Wales

For Autumn in Wales Haswendy says, “[Ali] asked me to write a rom com so we sat down and shared some ideas. We went to Wales for a recce and found so many beautiful places for the movie.” 

These beautiful places include Aberaeron and Aberystwyth on the coast of Mid Wales and Beddgelert in North Wales. The latter is a picture perfect village of stone buildings with a river (in actuality the confluence of two) running through it, crossed by a double arched, stone bridge. 

Much of the drama takes place in this small village in Snowdonia National Park where Jaka works as a waiter at a café, the real life Caffi Colwyn with its pretty riverside tea garden. 

The cast and crew of the film Autumn in Wales pose in front of the Caffi Colwyn
Cast and crew of Autumn in Wales

Legend has it that the name of the village, which means Gelert’s Grave, derives from a faithful hound, Gelert, that belonged to Prince Llewelyn the Great in the thirteenth century. There is even a “grave” for the dog which even though most probably mythical is a pretty spot, reached along a riverside path. The village also has a “Rupert Bear Garden” in honour of the cartoon ursine as the illustrator who created him, Alfred Bestall, lived here. 

There are a number of guesthouses and B&Bs in the village and nearby is Llyn Gwynant campsite. Based beside a lake and a river, the campsite is at the foot of mount Snowdon (Yr Wddfa in Welsh) – you can climb the mountain, the highest in Wales, directly from there. This serene setting was a location for Tomb Raider 2, starring Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft, transformed into a Chinese village (with the help of some CGI).

It was not the first time the area was been depicted as China by the film industry. Back in 1958, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness starring Ingrid Bergman was partly filmed in the environs near Beddgelert. Bergman played the real life Gladys Aylward, a missionary and an inn keeper in Yangcheng, China. When the second world war breaks out Aylward volunteers to lead a group of a 100 orphans to safety across the mountains, helped by Chinese officer, Lin Nan. 

Jaa Suzuran takes a selfie with Wanna Ali in Autumn in Wales film
Wanna Ali and Jaa Suzuran, Autumn in Wales

A little further south in the county of Cardigan are Aberaeron and Aberystwyth. Both are on the Wales Coast Path, a scenic 870 mile (1,400 km) walking trail running the entire coastline of Wales. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Path, one of a few continuous walking routes along a country’s coastline in the world. For the energetic, the distance between Aberaeron and Aberystwyth is 18 miles with some of the terrain designated “moderate to hard”. 

Cardigan Bay, which Aberaeron and Aberystwyth overlook, is one of only two spots in Britain that have a resident bottle nose dolphin population. The dolphins may be spotted all year round with peak viewing opportunities from June to October. 

The fishing village Aberaeron is a cinematography dream of brightly coloured cottages and Regency houses based around a small harbour. It’s here that Wanni Ali says she filmed her favourite scene (no spoilers) on the harbour bridge. The largest of the houses is the Harbourmaster boutique hotel, painted a vivid blue. Inside, the interiors combine traditional coastal wainscotting with contemporary furniture and Welsh textiles and the inviting restaurant serves locally sourced food. 

Up the coast the larger Aberystwyth, known locally as Aber, is a university town – glimpses of the Old College can be seen in the film. In another movie link, the town is where Taron Egerton star of Kingsman and Rocketman was brought up. The British actor’s earliest performances were at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, a thriving theatre, concert hall and gallery space which also houses cafes, bars and shops. 

Eyka Farhana and Jaa Suzuran in castle ruins in Autumn in Wales movie
Eyka Farhana and Jaa Suzuran, Autumn in Wales

Aber’s sweeping promenade flanked by pastel painted Victorian town houses, many of which are now guest houses, feature in the film. During autumn and winter the spectacular sight of starling murmurations can be seen over the pier. Thousands of the birds gather at dusk, flying in a remarkable shape-shifting mass.

Close by, and also in the movie, are the ruins of Aberystwyth Castle, dating back to the thirteenth century. Originally commissioned by King Edward 1st, it switched hands between the English and Welsh many times over the centuries as war between the two raged and fell into disrepair in the early 1400s after peace was brokered.

Aberystwyth is also home to the Michelin Guides’ UK Opening of the Year 2022 – a restaurant named SY23 (the town’s post code). The Guide notes that chef Nathan Davies and his team have “created a fun, lively spot in this quaint Welsh seaside town.”

The tasting menu revolves around charcoal grill cooking and locally sourced produce that’s “foraged, farmed or fished from the sea shore to the rolling mountains”. The restaurant is based just off Great Darkgate, a shopping street where many of the Autumn in Wales scenes were filmed. 

Eyka Farhana and Jaa Suzuran run through the streets of Aberystwyth while filming Autumn in Wales
Eyka Farhana and Jaa Suzuran, Autumn in Wales

Producer Dato’ Normashayu Puteh says she hopes the movie will give viewers “respite from their daily stresses.” Puteh adds, “The enchanting cinematography showcases the beauty of Wales that is rarely captured in local Malaysian films. We believe that this film will be able to inject audiences with a sense of wanderlust and the thrill of travelling overseas during this ‘new normal’”. 

The Bridgerton locations you can actually visit

Dearest Readers, As we countdown to Bridgerton season 2, here’s a look back at the filming locations from the first season that you can visit in real life…

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Regency period drama must be shot on location in the English city of Bath. And so in opulent new Netflix series, Bridgerton (the name of a family not a place), Bath’s picturesque Georgian architecture stands in for London in 1813. All the exterior shots of “Mayfair” were actually filmed against the honey stone facades of Alfred, Bath and Great Pulteney Streets as well as Beauford Square and Royal Crescent.

Based on the popular romance novels by Julia Quinn, the television series centres around two high society families, the sophisticated Bridgertons and the gauche Featheringtons, as their daughters aim to find eligible husbands during the London Season. Described as Jane Austen meets Gossip Girl, the show is an over the top extravaganza of ultra bright colours, sumptuous costumes, steamy sex scenes and stunning locations.

As well as Bath, various historic buildings around England, many designed by England’s first starchitect Inigo Jones, were used as locations. The interiors are 50 per cent real, 50 per cent set design, Bridgerton’s production designer Will Hughes-Jones told me via email. Some of the real life locations are not open to the public, for instance *that* staircase scene with the anti-hero, Simon, the Duke of Hastings and Daphne Bridgerton was filmed is a private house on Queen Anne’s Gate, London. Below though are the locations you can visit when the lockdown is lifted. 

Bath, Somerset

Bridgerton, Netflix, Royal Crescent Bath

The grand exterior of No 1 Royal Crescent, a Georgian era museum, is the Featherington’s Grosvenor Square house (the interiors are set designs). Holburne Museum of Art at the end of Great Pulteney is the exterior of the Duke’s godmother Lady Danbury’s mansion while the Bath Assembly Rooms, the scene of many real life Georgian balls, was the setting for Danbury House’s ballroom. Double bay windowed Pickled Greens café on Abbey Green is the location of Modiste couture dress maker while 12 Trim Street (in reality a hair salon) is Gunter’s Tea Shop, both featured throughout the series.

Ranger’s House, London

The exterior of Bridgerton House, also supposedly in Grosvenor Square, is this eye catching building in Greenwich, south east London (the interiors were shot at RAF Halton House, not open to the public). This Palladian style villa which the production team bedecked with wisteria now houses The Wernher Collection, an impressive range of artworks collected by Sir Julius Wernher in the 19thcentury. 

Wilton House, Wiltshire

Bridgerton, Netflix, Wilton House
Bridgerton Netflix

When the debutantes including Daphne and the Featherington sisters are presented to Queen Charlotte at St James’s Palace it’s in Wilton House’s stunning Single Cube Room, so called because of its dimensions of 30 ft long by 30 ft wide and 30 ft high. And when the displeased Queen confronts her nephew Prince Friedrich of Prussia at her home, Buckingham House, it’s in the even more splendid Double Cube Room. 

The house multi tasks as the exterior and interiors of the Duke’s London residence, Hastings House, too. The Cloisters features in several corridor stomping scenes and that fabulous ariel shot of “Hastings House” with is courtyard garden in the series finale of Bridgerton is Wilton. 

The Queen’s House, London

Also in Greenwich, this impressive Classical building – the first of its style in the UK – stands in for Somerset House where the debutantes flock around Prince Friedrich. The house was originally built for King James 1’s bride in the early 1600s and now houses an art gallery (though not the one seen in Bridgerton which was filmed inside Somerley House, a private events venue).

Painshill, Surrey

BRIDGERTON (L to R) NICOLA COUGHLAN as PENELOPE FEATHERINGTON, POLLY WALKER as PORTIA FEATHERINGTON, HARRIET CAINS as PHILLIPA FEATHERINGTON, BEN MILLER as LORD FEATHERINGTON and BESSIE CARTER as PRUDENCE FEATHERINGTON in episode 102 of BRIDGERTON Cr. LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX © 2020

The 18th century landscaped gardens in Cobham appear in the “Botanical Gardens” scenes where London society meets to picnic and promenade. The lake and both the Chinese and Five Arch bridges feature prominently – with the Netflix design additions of gazebos and a profusion of flowers. 

Syon House, London

While several of the Buckingham House interiors were shot at Lancaster house (owned by the British Government and not open to the public), some were also filmed inside this 16th century house in west London. The neo classical gem also serves as the location of the Duke’s Hastings House study and dressing room. And the distinctive neo classical Great Hall is where the Duke’s belongings are packed up before he intends to leave England. Syon House’s garden courtyard inspired the set design for the London Season’s final ball.

Hatfield House, Hertfordshire

Bridgerton Netflix, Hatfield House

Lady Trowbridge’s Ball, featuring pivotal scenes for all the major Bridgerton characters, was filmed at this country house just north of London. As well as shots of the Jacobean exteriors and the ornamental East Garden, the Marble Hall with its black and white checked floor and wood carved walls features as the ballroom. The house has links with Queen Elizabeth 1 and a portrait of her circa 1600 hangs in the Marble Hall. 

Castle Howard, Yorkshire 

Bridgerton, Netflix at Castle Howard

Both the magnificent exterior and interiors, including the centrepiece dome, of Castle Howard were shot for the Duke’s country seat, Clyvedon Castle. The Temple of the Four Winds in the grounds is the setting for another passionate scene between Simon and Daphne. Clyvedon’s dining room was actually filmed at Wilton House though and if you’re looking for the library – setting of yet another steamy encounter – you’ll need an invite to The Reform Club in London.

This article was originally published in January 2021

The Egyptian Locations that inspired Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile

Armie Hammer as Simon Doyle and Gal Gadot as Linnet Ridgeway in 20th Century Studios’ DEATH ON THE NILE, a mystery-thriller directed by Kenneth Branagh based on Agatha Christie’s 1937 novel. Photo by Rob Youngson. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

“When I read it now I feel myself back again on the steamer from Assuan to Wadi Halfa,” Agatha Christie wrote of her novel Death on the Nile published in 1937. Christie was inspired by a holiday in Egypt, escaping the British winter, and observed that the resulting book “is one of the best of my ‘foreign travel’ ones… the reader can escape to sunny skies and blue water in the confines of an armchair.” Kenneth Branagh’s lavish new film version of the murder mystery will likely also have viewers vicariously visiting Egypt. 

Like Agatha Christie and her Death on the Nile characters, I stayed in Aswan and travelled by boat to Abu Simbel several winters ago. And like them I checked into the Old Cataract Hotel which felt like stepping into an Agatha Christie novel. The writer not only stayed at the grand hotel, she partly set Death on the Nile there. At the “Cataract Hotel at Assuan” her fictional detective Hercule Poirot first met heiress Linnet Ridgeway on honeymoon with her husband Simon Doyle, the pair being stalked by Simon’s jilted fiancée, Jacqueline de Bellefort. Along with a cast of other intriguing guests they subsequently took an ill-fated Nile cruise on the SS Karnak.

Branagh shot most of his film at a studio in England (even recreating the Karnak steamer and Abu Simbel temple there) but the equally star studded 1978 movie included extensive shots of the Old Cataract. Though refurbished and renamed the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan, the cocoa powder coloured exteriors adorned with terraces and balconies were kept intact (there’s also now an Agatha Christie Suite).

Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot in 20th Century Studios’ DEATH ON THE NILE, a mystery-thriller directed by Kenneth Branagh based on Agatha Christie’s 1937 novel. Photo by Rob Youngson. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

It was easy to enjoy Aswan without leaving the hotel, dozing on a sun lounger by the pool or sitting on the cool, canopied terrace where there was a bird’s eye view of the Nile, Elephantine Island, and the desert beyond. Like Poirot however I did venture into town to visit the souk (a frenzied experience involving the world’s most persistent salesmen) and took a felucca straight from the hotel’s dock to Elephantine Island. 

Following in Christie and her characters’ footsteps I boarded a boat at Aswan that would take me to the magnificent Abu Simbel temples. In Christie’s day the temple complex was on the Nile but the Aswan High Dam built across the Nile in the 1960s created Lake Nasser and the temples were moved and rebuilt on higher ground. Abu Simbel was the scene of a pivotal part of the plot in Death on the Nile, indicated by the fact that the original UK book dust jacket featured an illustration of a graceful steamer moored in front of the temple. Although the boat I travelled on was not a steamer like SS Karnak it was designed to look like one on the exterior. And the luggage brought up the gangway at Aswan consisted of roll on aluminium suitcases rather than vintage leather trunks.

Ali Fazal as Andrew Katchadourian, Letitia Wright as Rosalie Otterbourne and Sophie Okonedo as Salome Otterbourne in 20th Century Studios’ DEATH ON THE NILE, a mystery-thriller directed by Kenneth Branagh based on Agatha Christie’s 1937 novel. Photo by Rob Youngson. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Our trip had its share of intriguing Christie-esque characters: the eccentric couple in the presidential suite who never mixed with the rest of the passengers, the lone man who bombarded the guide with questions at every temple and tomb and the tall, pale woman permanently dressed in clothes more suited to The African Queen.

We would be taking a gentle jaunt around Lake Nasser, visiting lesser-known temples and tombs rescued from the area flooded by the creation of the High Dam and culminating in a stop at the the massive temple dedicated to Ramses II and the slightly smaller, but no less impressive, one to his wife, Nefertari. 

Annette Bening as Euphemia Bouc and Tom Bateman as Bouc in 20th Century Studios’ DEATH ON THE NILE, a mystery-thriller directed by Kenneth Branagh based on Agatha Christie’s 1937 novel. Photo by Rob Youngson. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Lake Nasser had far fewer boats than the popular stretch of the Nile between Aswan and Luxor. Admittedly, there was a lot less to see than on the river but as Christie said through the caddish Simon Doyle, “It feels, somehow, so much less touristy – as though we were really going into the heart of Egypt.”

Most visitors take a day-trip from Aswan to Abu Simbel by plane but by taking a four night cruise we were truly able to appreciate the temples. We had been told to start looking out for Abu Simbel half an hour before we were due to reach it. Once I spotted the grey hulk on the horizon I looked through binoculars to see four colossal figures hewn from a mountain of rock that marks the main temple’s entrance. I was hooked, keeping my focus on them until we disembarked to see them up close.

Staying overnight we visited the temples in both daylight and darkness, the latter including a light and sound show. And by staying aboard a boat rather than at a hotel, we were treated to dinner on deck with the floodlit temples as a back drop. Just as Christie had done in the 1930s, it felt wonderful to escape the winter weather back home.

Eternals filming locations you can visit in real life

(L-R): Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Gilgamesh (Don Lee), Thena (Angelina Jolie), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Ajak (Salma Hayek), Sersi (Gemma Chan), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) and Druig (Barry Keoghan) in Marvel Studios’ ETERNALS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Marvel Studio’s film sets usually have more to do with special effects than real life destinations but that’s about to change with its newest blockbuster, Eternals, streaming on Disney Plus from January 12th. “Director Chloé Zhao employs a naturalistic style of location-based filmmaking, so she wanted the filming to take place at practical locations, as much as was feasibly possible,” a Marvel Studios spokesperson said.

Eternals centres on a group of eponymously named, other worldly superheroes with a cast led by Gemma Chan (who starred in Crazy Rich Asians and whose parents are from Hong Kong) and including Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kumail Nanjiani and Don Lee (Ma Dong-seok). 

The story flits between the past and present covering the group’s back story and visiting each character in their now disparate homes across the world as they live among mortals. Chan’s character, Sersi, travels between the modern day locations attempting to get the gang back together in the face of a resurfacing threat from old enemy, The Deviants.

(L-R): Gemma Chan and director Chloé Zhao on the set of Marvel Studios’ ETERNALS. Photo by Sophie Mutevelian. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

“We shot mainly on location,” the Oscar winning, Chinese born Zhao confirmed. “The visual experience of this film must feel immersive and interactive enough for audiences to believe that these characters have walked the earth for 7,000 years. It’s not possible to do that on a [sound] stage.” 

And so the cast and crew headed to the Canary Islands and England. Zhao needed locations to stand in for both ancient and contemporary settings spanning from Mesopotamia, Babylon and the Gupta Empire to South Dakota, Alaska and the Amazon rainforest and felt she found them in Fuerteventura and Lanzarote in the Canaries and parts of southern England. 

“It was great to be able to actually shoot on location rather than shoot on a lot of green screens or blue screens,” said Richard Madden who plays Ikaris, Sersi’s on off boyfriend of several thousand years. “We’ve got these great sequences on black sand beaches and volcanic islands. We shot in the streets of London. We shot in forests and woods. All of that really helps make this movie more grounded in reality than just if we’d purely shot it all in a studio.” 

(L-R): Richard Madden and director Chloé Zhao on the set of Marvel Studios’ ETERNALS. Photo by Sophie Mutevelian. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.m=

While an early scene shows Gemma Chan in Piccadilly Circus and her character works at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, a lot of filming took place in north London between Camden High Street and Hampstead Heath.

Chan and Kit Harington (who plays Dane Whitman a Natural History Museum colleague and boyfriend of Sersi) were spotted being filmed on the Parliament Hill area of Hampstead Heath. At one point Chan was seen suspended by a crane and wires, “flying” above the Hill which is known for its view of the City of London. 

Sersi (Gemma Chan) in Marvel Studios’ ETERNALS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
(L-R): Dane Whitman (Kit Harington) and Sersi (Gemma Chan) in Marvel Studios’ ETERNALS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

A night shoot in nearby Camden involved Chan and Harington along with the latter’s former Game of Thrones co star, Madden. Scenes took place on the bridge at Camden Lock, a scruffy yet unfathomably popular tourist haunt, where Ikaris “flies” and Sersi turns a red double decker into poppies; as well as Regent’s Canal and towpath beneath.

Further scenes were shot in the Belsize Park neighbourhood that sits between Camden and Hampstead. Specifically in front of a run of shops and restaurants on Belsize Lane where Chan was filmed with Harington again as well as Kumail Nanjiani (Kingo, an Eternal turned Bollywood star) and Lia McHugh (Sprite, a 7,000 year old in a 12 year old girl’s body). 

The English countryside also stood in for other locations. Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, was the setting for Ajak’s (played by Salma Hayek) South Dakota ranch. Swinley Forest in Berkshire, substituted for Alaska while Black Park near Pinewood Studios was the setting for an Aztec pyramid. 

Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) in Marvel Studios’ ETERNALS. Photo by Sophie Mutevelian . ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
(L-R): Ikaris (Richard Madden) and Sersi (Gemma Chan) in Marvel Studios’ ETERNALS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

In warmer climes, the subtropical, volcanic islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura were the settings for ancient Mesopotamia and Babylon as well as the present day Australian outback. Locations included the Cuervo Volcano one of the most accessible to visit volcanos on Lanzarote with an easy guided pathway around its perimeter and even inside the crater. Filming was also thought to have taken place at Charco de los Clicos, a startlingly green lagoon in a volcanic crater alongside a black sand beach, and the red hued Rodeos Mountain inside the Los Volcanes Natural Park with many walking trails.

On Fuerteventura the Penitas Gorge, a popular hiking spot through a ravine, and Buen Paso palm groves feature as well as La Solapa Beach with its distinctive rocky coastline and black sand beach and Corralejo sand dunes. Angelina Jolie was photographed with her children and Lia McHugh visiting Corralejo’s well known kite flying festival that takes places every November.

Eternals producer, Nate Moore, said, “To shoot in those locations, in those environments with real desert, with real ocean, with real volcanoes was something we don’t always get to do, and I think the film will feel richer for it.” 

A Castle is not just for Christmas – You Can Stay at A Very British Scandal’s Inveraray

Paul Bettany and Claire Foy in A Very British Scandal – BBC

It was love at first sight when glamorous Margaret Sweeny the future Duchess of Argyll set eyes on Inveraray Castle on the west coast of Scotland. Understandable, despite the castle’s neglected state, given the romantic looking conical roofed turrets and glorious position in vast parkland edging Loch Fyne.

Rich and spoilt Margaret, debutante of the year in 1930 and the “Mrs Sweeny” namechecked in the Cole Porter song You’re The Top, is said to have become enamoured with restoring the castle inherited by her married lover, Ian Campbell, the eleventh Duke of Argyll.

In the new BBC and Amazon Studios drama series, A Very British Scandal, Ian (played by Paul Bettany) is depicted taking Margaret (Claire Foy) to Inveraray and dismissing it as “a plague pit” and “a pile”. But Margaret responds, “You didn’t tell me it was so beautiful. It just needs love and attention”.

Inveraray Castle

And that’s what Margaret gave it, investing a small fortune of her father’s, self-made millionaire George Whigham, money in restoring it. There was not to be a happy ending for the couple who married in 1951 (his third, her second). The duke was debt ridden, alcoholic and seemingly fond of marrying heiresses, the television drama reveals. When Margret’s father cuts off the money supply he moves to divorce her.  The series shows eyebrow raising behaviour from both the duke and duchess though Margaret’s step daughter in law and royal biographer Lady Colin Campbell says on her youtube channel that the actions attributed to the duchess are erroneous.

An ugly divorce case spanned the late 1950s and early 1960s resulting in Margret being dubbed “the dirty duchess” on account of her diaries and love letters supposedly showing her promiscuity and infidelity. Not to mention an infamous Polaroid showing Margret, recognisable by her trademark pearl necklace, engaging in a sexual act with a “headless man” the identity of who she refused to reveal. In recent years (Margaret died in 1993) Lady Colin Campbell has said the duchess told her it was the Pan Am Airlines executive Bill Lyons.

Inveraray Castle

Today there is no mention of Margaret on the castle’s website. The current duke, Torquhil Campbell, however allowed the cast and crew to film at Inveraray which is about 60 miles from Glasgow. 

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s an important part of our family history. I’m not sure my grandfather will come out of it in the best light, but what happened, happened,” he told the UK’s Telegraph newspaper. 

The story of Inveraray Castle begins well before the eleventh Duke and “Marg of Arg”. An earlier castle on the site was built in the 1400s by the Campbell Clan who date back to 1260. The existing castle was commissioned in 1719 based on a sketch by John Vanbrugh who designed Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard in England. The latter was the filming location for the Duke of Hastings’ fictional Clyvedon Castle.

Armoury Hall, Inveraray Castle

Inside, the striking Armoury Hall has the highest ceiling in Scotland and a staggering display of ancient weapons at every turn. Both the State Dining Room and the Tapestry Drawing Room have walls hand painted by French artists. Behind a secret door is the China Turret featuring a collection of Eastern and European porcelain. The relaxing Saloon includes a Gainsborough and a grand piano on which songs for the musical My Fair Lady were composed. Downton Abbey fans may recognise Inveraray as the fictitious “Duneagle Castle” from the 2012 Christmas Special currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

It was Margaret who first opened Inveraray to the public in 1953 to raise funds. The castle and its grounds will be open to the public from March 28th to October 31st this year with private tours available. Or you can hire the place for an exclusive stay through Scottish castle specialist Loyd & Townsend Rose with use of the State Dining Room for which you can engage a chef, and the Saloon which I can vouch for being a splendid place for a nightcap.

State Dining Room – Inveraray Castle

The six bedrooms all have en suite bathrooms (thanks to Margaret, Torquhil says). I have stayed in the exquisite, Duchess’ bedroom – in a turret complete with floral designs, four poster bed and a view of the grounds from its many windows. As well as the formal gardens, there’s 60,000 acres of estate for stalking, shooting or just walking. And the loch is famed for its oysters which you can sample at the nearby Loch Fyne Oyster Bar.

Margaret was not the first famous chatelaine. Princess Louise, one of Queen Victoria’s daughters, married the future ninth Duke of Argyll. The elaborate covered entrance was said to have been created for her wedding to shield the princess and the monarch from the elements and a writing desk given by Victoria on her daughter’s marriage can still be seen here. 

The present day duke and duchess and their children live in the castle but in an apartment tucked away in the former servants’ wing. They are a personable couple, magnanimous about opening their home to around 100,000 paying visitors a year. As the duchess has said, “Thanks to them, I’ve got a roof above me.”

%d bloggers like this: