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‘Braveheart’ Leads Tourists To Scotland’s Historic Highlands

March 27, 1996

STIRLING, Scotland (AP) _ On a clear day from the William Wallace monument, a panorama of mountain, castle and water unfolds before the viewer _ but these days, it seems, you can see all the way to Hollywood.

A mile away on the plain stands a bridge on the spot where Wallace ambushed the English seven centuries ago, long before American novelist Randall Wallace thought to call him Braveheart.

``Braveheart,″ Mel Gibson’s epic about the triumph and tragedy of the warrior Wallace, topped the Oscar ceremonies Monday night with five awards. It’s also bringing a golden era of tourism to this stunning and monument-studded corner of Scotland.

``We’ve become dubbed Braveheart Country. We feel like we’ve won an Oscar for best-supporting country,″ said Gillian Taylor, spokeswoman for the local tourist board.

Scottish tourism had one of its best years ever in 1995, thanks partly to international curiosity on the heels of ``Braveheart″ and ``Rob Roy,″ the 1994 epic starring Liam Neeson about the 18th-century Highlands clan leader Rob Roy MacGregor.

The Wallace Monument, a 220-foot tower atop a rock north of the ancient fortress town of Stirling, offers a breathtaking view.

Stirling Castle on another, bigger outcropping watches over the town opposite; the River Forth winds through marsh and banks of heather; seven historic battlefields stretch below the Ochil Hills and the Trossachs, the southern Highlands approach from where Rob Roy MacGregor assailed the English.

After ``Braveheart″ had its European premiere in Stirling last September, admissions to the monument tripled, and for the first time it’s been kept open during the winter.

Elizabeth Duffy, a worker at the monument, said U.S. and Canadian tourists told locals what ``Braveheart″ was like, since the film had been released months earlier in North America. ``It’s amazing how a film can mobilize people’s imagination,″ she said.

Tourist officials are investing $450,000 to revamp facilities at the monument, built in the 1850s during a fever of Scottish nationalism, in expectation of a fresh flood of travelers this summer.

Sharon Smith, a 23-year-old backpacker from Portland, Ore., sitting on the ledge and savoring the view, said ``Braveheart″ inspired her trip to Scotland _ although she was surprised to learn much of the film actually was shot in the Wicklow mountains in Ireland.

``This is more beautiful than the movie anyway,″ Smith said. ``Lot colder, too!″

The tiny museum inside the tower includes what’s supposed to be Wallace’s broadsword, a hall of Scottish heroes sculpted in marble, and a hammy audio-visual presentation of Wallace in court, defiantly telling the English where to go before they execute him.

Scotland’s retooled tourist literature now features copious pictures of Gibson and Neeson and references to the area’s two famed rebels.

Several bed-and-breakfasts in the area have been renamed the Rob Roy Inn.

The region of remote lochs and mountains north of the Trossachs has long been marked on maps as Rob Roy Country. It became one of the first great tourism regions in the 1820s following the publication of Sir Walter Scott’s novel, ``Rob Roy.″ The 1990s has seen a similar pattern driven by romanticism of Scotland’s rugged beauty, this time by Hollywood.

The Rob Roy Center at Callander, 30 miles northwest of Stirling, is due to reopen April 1 after a $600,000 expansion intended to help it cope with the doubled tourist traffic since that film.

Midway between Callander and Stirling lies Doune Castle, one of the best-preserved 14th-century castles in Britain and a monument in another film, the cult comedy ``Monty Python and the Holy Grail.″

Scotland’s cinematic luck seems to have run dry on the latest local attempt, however.

The low-budget ``The Bruce,″ telling the tale of Wallace’s successor in smiting the English, King Robert the Bruce, premiered in Stirling this month in hopes of following in the footsteps of ``Braveheart.″

It stars Oliver Reed, Brian Blessed and a star of the British version of ``Gladiators,″ but their cumulative girth failed to disguise some comically undermanned battle scenes.

``Unfortunately, the way `Braveheart’ ends,″ said the tourist board’s Taylor, ``I don’t think we’re going to get a sequel.″

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