How Skye Upstaged Macbeth

Discover the wilds of Skye, the staggeringly beautiful backdrop to the latest Holywood adaptation of Macbeth.

River Sligachan and Sgurr nan Gillean Mountain of Cuillin Range, Isle of Skye, Scotland, United Kingdom. (Photo by: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)


Stella performances by Michael Fassbender and Oscar-winning Marion Cotillard in Justin Kurzel’s new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, are reported to have been “upstaged” by their “far moodier and more tempestuous co-star: the Scottish Highlands” (Laura Latham). 

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And indeed it’s hard to compete against epically dramatic Skye, the largest and northernmost islands of the Inner Hebrides. Macbeth’s producer, Iain Canning, told Empire magazine that he chose Skye because, “It’s almost an otherworldy place, and you imagine witches could come out of that landscape.” What better setting for a tragedy that pitches moral willpower against wily political and pagan powers?

If Skye isn’t already high on your holiday wishlist it will be after you’ve watched Macbeth

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You might start with a 4.5 mile walk with an ascent of 340m around the Quiraing, the extraordinary landscape through which Lady Macbeth travels to visit her home village, and where Macbeth’s army returns from battle. A local bus will drop you 3km away at Brogaig near the village of Staffin, and you go on to discover the extraordinary jagged rock formations of The Needle, The Table and The Prison – an eery ridge appropriately resembling a castle with corners like guard towers.

Whatever season you visit, be sure to go prepared. The weather was so bad during filming near the Quiraing at Trotternish that some Macbeth cast members suffered from hypothermia. Deadline reported Michael Fassbender saying, “It was pretty much horizontal rain, there was sleet and I think we had a bit of snow as well. So all weathers.”

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Another option in the area takes in what is claimed to be “one of the most-photographed landscapes in the world” – the Old Man of Storr, the spacey backdrop to a scene where Macbeth rides to battle. From the peak of the walk near this spindly, rocky pinnacle you can take in a panoramic view which spans sea, islands, loch, and the high mountains of the mainland.

Despite a couple of steep sections the terrain consists mostly of good paths, but watch out for boggy ground on the descent. Leading actress Marion Cotillard fell up to her neck in a hidden patch of watery bog during filming!

Fairy pools waterfalls, isle of Skye, Scotland

If invisible bogs and stormy weather seem a little daunting, try a 40-minute walk by Glenbrittle forest and absorb the tragic backdrop where poor Banquo is murdered on Macbeth’s orders in the film. If you’re feeling brave, you can take a wild dip in the magical Fairy Pools of the River Brittle at the foot of the Black Cuillins. Picturebook waterfalls and a crystalline oval pool set against a backdrop of misty mountains are sure to recharge even the most rusty romantic imagination.

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Words by Agnes Davis