Scottish fling: Tourism expected to increase in Loch Ness region where movie 'Water Horse' was filmed

Published: Sunday, Jan. 6 2008 12:29 a.m. MST

Urquhart Castle, a ruin dating from the 16th century, has a commanding view of Loch Ness. The fortress is a reflection of Scotland's turbulent past.

Linda Lange, Knoxville News Sentinel

LOCH NESS, Scotland — The Christmas Day release of the film, "The Water Horse," is likely to spark a storm of renewed interest in the Loch Ness monster. The legendary sea creature, known affectionately as Nessie, is said to swim the depths of Scotland's fabled lake.

Officials of Visit Scotland expect Nessie-mania to create a tourism surge in the Loch Ness region, similar to what was seen in the country after the release of "Braveheart" and "Rob Roy," two other movies filmed in Scotland.

Aimed at family audiences, "The Water Horse" tells the story of a little boy who finds a mysterious egg on the shore of a loch. When the egg hatches, a mythical water horse emerges. The beast grows rapidly and becomes difficult to conceal. The boy must find ways to protect it. He is torn between keeping it safe or setting it free. The movie is an adaptation of a critically acclaimed novel by Dick King-Smith about the Loch Ness monster.

In August 2006, film crews descended into verdant valleys in the Scottish Highlands to capture images that speak of adventure and wonderment. For the residence of the movie's family, director Jay Russell picked a 100-year-old estate on the shores of Loch Fyne, a short distance from Loch Ness. Several major scenes were shot at Ardkinglas, including the night that the boy goes out to his father's workshop and discovers the creature emerging from the egg.

Looking at lochs

I visited Ardkinglas and had tea with estate manager Jean Maskell during a September trip.

"An artificial door was constructed, enclosing the porch to the main door," she explained as we entered the 50-room manor house. Movie viewers will appreciate the Edwardian craftsmanship of this stone house designed by renowned Scottish architect Robert Lorimer. Stained glass, crystal chandeliers, oil paintings, Oriental rugs and carved oak furnishings harken to a past era of comfortable wealth. The family crest bearing three bay leaves is carved into a handsome mantelpiece.

Maskell ushered her guests into the boy's bedroom on the second floor. The windows facing the driveway are recognizable in the scene in which the army sets up tents on the lawn. Across the hall from the bedroom, the bathroom contains the tub used to sustain the little sea creature.

While sitting in the wood-paneled dining room, Maskell explained that this room served as the mother's bedroom for the film. Sunlight poured through the windows. We overlooked terraced gardens, the shimmering loch and woodlands.

Estate owner David Sumsion and his family remained in Ardkinglas while film crews did their work. He is a descendant of Andrew Noble, the original owner of the house. Daily life became a bit hectic, but the family grew accustomed to the assistant directors' cries of "Quiet, please." Occasionally there were slipups, said Maskell. An actor unintentionally interrupted a family member's bath. Berry, the Sumsions' pet dog, moseyed into a few scenes.

The woodland gardens surrounding Ardkinglas also play a role in the film. Audiences may focus on action on the bridge and not notice the champion trees. The tract contains one of the finest collection of conifers in Britain, including the "Mightiest Conifer," with a girth measuring more than 31 feet. Trails that are open to the public weave through masses of rhododendrons and azaleas and carpets of bluebells. The estate borders Loch Lomond National Park.

While Ardkinglas, known as Killin Lodge in the film, is key to setting the scene, this story of fantasy relies on computer animation. Special effects were completed by New Zealand's WETA, best-known for other supernatural films such as "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and "The Chronicles of Narnia."

The phantom beast