Kiran Mehta hires an Aston Martin and gets on the trail of 007, visiting his headquarters, his preferred ski slopes, and even his school.
At the dawn of the commercial jet age, Ian Fleming’s most famous creation, Bond, James Bond, asked audiences to fasten their seat belts, as he took them on exciting journeys across the globe. We lived vicariously and experienced the ultimate hedonistic fantasy of shaking it up in classy casinos and stirring things up in lavish hotels. From Paradise Island in the Bahamas to the opulent palaces of Udaipur, Bond took us to every exotic part of Earth, and even beyond in Moonraker.
This year, as the iconic series touches the half-century mark, the spy will be taking us to his Scottish roots, where, predictably, he will be toying with bullet-bearing baddies and uncovered undercover beauties. While those lethal feats are best left to those on her majesty’s secret service, I decided to spy on James Bond, right on his home turf. From the Eilean Donan Castle that appears as the headquarters of MI6, to the school that Bond attended, right down to the Balmoral that bears the seal of the original James Bond, I unearthed a lot about the secret agent. Here’s more from my 007 mission.
My Bond trail begins with me hiring a sleek, silver, two-door Aston Martin. But unlike Bond’s speed machine, mine doesn’t come with added extras such as an ejector seat or a hidden hold for machine guns. Without Q to come to my rescue, a DB5 with enviable horsepower is all I get. I push on the pedal, and take the road that leads to the Isle of Skye. The views en route are simply spectacular, with green and yellow fields meeting clear blue skies. This entire scene comes framed within a magical mountain range.
I enter the village of Dornie and perched there, right at the meeting of three different lochs, is a mysterious stone structure. Floating in the midst of deep, blue waters, with jarring hills in the distance, the fortress looks intimidating, yet inviting. Much like the Bond women, it has that little something that makes it seem a menacing beauty. This is the Eilean Donan castle.
I’ve never visited this castle before but I know it inside out, because it appeared as the headquarters of MI6 in the Bond film The World is Not Enough. I step inside and I know instantly why the castle was perfect for the job — narrow passageways, shrouded cellars, and one-too-many spy holes.
Over the centuries, the castle changed many hands, as a result of being violently seized by different Scottish clans. It was also partially destroyed in the Jacobite Uprising of 1719. And it lay in ruins for about 200 years until Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap restored the castle to its former glory. After years of toil it was finally reopened in 1932. Today, visitors can walk almost every inch of the castle and take in its rich history.
As I step into the castle, I can sense Pierce Brosnan turn a corner. I can hear his voice reverberating through the corridors. But Brosnan is now passé, and I want to get up close and personal with Daniel Craig, so I head to the mountains of Glen Coe in the Scottish Highlands.
Most Bond fans vividly remember the scene in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service where Bond took audiences atop Schilthorn in the Swiss Alps, only to dramatically ski down the slippery slopes at breakneck speed, with a villain in pursuit.
The just-released Skyfall features scenes shot in Glen Coe. I gaze at the majestic peaks, and I am convinced that on screen, once again, it’s the mountains that will steal the show. This site too is rich in history. I feel a sense of sorrow knowing that this was once the site of a tragic event — the massacre of Glen Coe, where men, women and children lost their lives. I hope that Bond, who survives every attempt on his life, will have these mountains etched in my memory as a tribute to man’s ability to make it through any adversity.
What is it about Bond’s own past that gives him such tenacity. To find out more, I turn the clock behind and head down to his school.
Back to school with Bond
I stop outside the gigantic cast-iron gates of Fettes College and it seems like any other school with children playing football on the grounds, while the studious scurry to class. But what put this school on the map were the words of Ian Fleming. He wrote in You Only Live Twice that Bond had attended Fettes College. “By the time [Bond] left, at the early age of 17, he had twice fought for the school as a light-weight and had, in addition, founded the first serious judo class at the British Public School.”
I get a glimpse into Bond’s boyhood and try to understand the psyche of the character a little better. And just as I am admiring the building, a chirpy local passes by and immediately reads into my motives. In characteristic Scottish style, he informs me that apart from the fictional character a flesh-and-bones James Bond — a man from a naval background — attended this very same school. The local explains that a plaque bearing Bond’s name was once framed for all to see in the main corridors, but that a few years ago, it was removed. With no pictures as proof, I take the stranger's word for it. I think it’s now time for me to tail the original Bond, Sean Connery.
The Balmoral, in Gaelic, literally means “The majestic dwelling”. To refer to The Balmoral merely as a hotel would be sheer sacrilege. Located in the heart of Edinburgh, the building can be spotted miles away, thanks to its vertiginous clock tower. Sir Sean Connery had re-opened the Balmoral in the 1990s, when it was rechristened after being brought over by The Balmoral International Hotels. Within this property stands the only Bollinger bar in all of Scotland.
Bollinger has remained the choice of James Bond over many decades. In Live and Let Die, Roger Moore, asks for a bottle after entering his hotel. In Die Another Day, Pierce Brosnan asks for a bottle after being released from a North Korean prison, and there’s a bottle in his car at the end of the car chase in Golden Eye. And in Casino Royale, Daniel Craig requests a bottle.
I walk into the Bollinger bar, an intimate bar that’s opulently done, and like Bond I get a taste of the good life. As I bite into succulent oysters, and wash them down with Bond’s choice of champagne, my mission is complete. I bid farewell to Mr. Bond.