The Wicker Man's Legs, Burrowhead
A dingy campsite in a forlorn corner of south-west Scotland isn't the sort of place you'd expect to find immortalised in film, but then, The Wicker Man is no ordinary movie. The bizarre tale of pagan rites in a backward Scottish island hit the screens in 1973 and was promptly forgotten, but now its sinister bent, great cast and a groovy soundtrack put it right up there as one of the great cult movies. So much so that it has spawned a Hollywood remake, although the less said about that the better.
The original is set in Summerisle, a fictional island in the north of Scotland, but a tight shooting schedule meant the weather up north would have been too severe in October. Dumfries and Galloway had to make do. Not that it was exactly warm - the cast had to suck ice cubes to stop their breath showing in the supposed "summer" scenes. It's certainly not the place to be wandering around in your nightshirt, even beside a roaring fire.
Past the caravans of Burrowhead Holiday Village near Isle of Whithorn on the edge of the Irish Sea, the Wicker Man took shape. At the time, the Galloway Gazette reported that its construction was shrouded in secrecy lest “provoked by crowds of sightseers, the monster might break free of the scaffolding which imprisons him, devastating the surrounding countryside and terrifying the locals”1. Two men were built - a larger one for the main shots, and a smaller one 500 yards away for the close-ups of Howie (Edward Woodward) and the final dramatic shot of the head tumbling into the sunset. [I'm not going into any more detail here in case you haven't seen the film]. The remains of the main man, as it were, have been destroyed by over-zealous visitors over the years but the stumps of the smaller one remain cemented into the cliff-top with the initials “WM” and the date 1972 carved into the base.
Once you're there there isn't really much to do except pay quiet homage to a great piece of British cinema. An awkward drive miles away from anywhere, it's for enthusiasts only. The area was chosen because it could easily muster the atmosphere of a backward community, like a sort of Scottish Deliverance. Anyone visiting today will realise it hasn't changed much. To be honest, we only went looking for the Wicker Man because there isn't much else to do round these parts. However if you do make the trip there is a whole Wicker Man trail to follow with numerous locations in and around the south-west. By the sound of the remake it's lucky the legs are cemented down, otherwise he'd be spinning in his grave.
The Wicker Man's legs were removed by vandals in November 2006.
How to get there
From Dumfries follow the A75 west. Turn left onto the A714 towards Whithorn at Newton Stewart. Head out of Whithorn on the B7004 towards Isle of Whithorn. Take the first right as you reach the village towards Burrowhead Holiday Village. Follow the road round towards the cliffs and as you walk down from the car park you should be able to see the Wicker Man's legs. Google map.
- Quote taken from Inside the "Wicker Man" by Allan Brown. Sidgwick & Jackson (2000). A must for all fans.