Finding a local hero

Published 10:26 am Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Ben’s Beach, as was seen in the movie “Local Hero.” Ben’s cave is at center. -- SUBMITTED | ARCHIE HOWELL

Ben’s Beach, as was seen in the movie “Local Hero.” Ben’s cave is at center. — SUBMITTED | ARCHIE HOWELL

by James D. Harrell

The train rumbles to a stop; we collect our bags and head for the exit. We step down the Britrail steps onto an apparently deserted platform. There’s us. Nobody else. The train rumbles off toward Fort William; we stand and look around. There is one car parked next to the station house. It’s not a large building. The station sign says Arasaig.

A moment or two passes and we are considering our next move, when a lone figure emerges from the station and walks our way.

I can tell that he’s thinking, ”Just how did these people find their way to this outpost in the Scottish highlands?” We have answers, but he does not vocalize the question.

Archie, Emy and their son Barry overlooking the beach that was featured in “Local Hero.”

Archie, Emy and their son Barry overlooking the beach that was featured in “Local Hero.”

After some brief hellos, he agrees to pack us into his car and deliver us down the hill to the village. We hope to spend a few days here, and the village inn seems to be a likely place to stop. Inquiries reveal that the inn is full for the weekend. We didn’t realize that it was a weekend. Some more helpful discussion points us to Mrs. McKenzie’s house a few doors down. She is still closed for the season, but may accommodate us, if she has no other plans. A phone call confirms the Mrs. McKenzie is up to the task, and the driver/stationmaster helps by delivering us the short distance.

The McKenzie’s is a lovely, stone walled free-standing house. Our hostess greets her unlikely guests warmly and sets a tea for refreshment. We will have the two rooms upstairs on the front, set aside for guests, and the use of the front parlor during our stay. It’s bed and breakfast and a daily tea. A short walk around the village and we are ready for bed. Sleep comes easy.

Barry Howell on the Camusdarach Road.

Barry Howell on the Camusdarach Road.

Back in Houston, we saw a movie titled “Local Hero.” It starred Burt Lancaster and Peter Riegert, and was set somewhere around this remote village in the western highlands of Scotland. The movie was a sleeper, not garnering national acclaim, but the setting was wonderful. Part of our mission is to find the setting, to walk on the beach, like Peter’s character, and share the ambience of our imagination. It’s a worthy cause.

Mrs. McKenzie remembers the shooting of the film and points us toward a place named Camusdarach.

According to her it is a campground and it’s just a “wee bit” up the road. We set out on foot; our trip this time uses all public conveyances and there are no busses here. A stop by the local store for picnic supplies, and we are off for the movie set. It can’t be far.

The Sgurr of Eigg, visible far to the west watches over us. The day is bright, the air clean and we are pilgrims on a quest. It does seem a little more than “a wee bit,” but our spirits are high and it’s early in the day.

Alongside the road, on a stone fence, a sign reads Camusdarach with an arrow pointing down a paved path that leads around a corner. We turn, follow the path round the curve and stop in an obvious campground. A few tents and cars indicate that prime camping time has not yet arrived.

We approach a couple outside a tent and relate our goal. Amazingly, they are frequent visitors to this area and had been here when “Local Hero” was being filmed. They gave us a good overview where things occurred, what was permanent and what was temporary. Most was built specifically for the movie, A little disappointed, we head for the beach.

From atop a ridge on the south end of the long, beautiful, curving beach, we catch the full impact of the movie setting. It’s striking, as it was in the movie. We stop, set out lunch and enjoy the cool breezes. There at the far end stood the church of many scenes. It was a prop, a façade, built in front of an existing house.

The house is still there. Down on the beach, all traces of a movie set are long gone, but our vision is clear. There, about halfway down was Old Ben’s cave. Over there is where the helicopter landed.

We finish the lunch break and venture down to the beach for a short walk. I remove my shoes and socks, roll up my pants and wade into the clear, cold water. Peter Riegert is right beside me.

With our memories and my camera loaded, we return the four miles to Arasaig. At tea, Mrs. McKenzie tells us about the road to Rhu, just a wee bit in the opposite direction. We put it on the schedule for tomorrow.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at