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November, 1997

My Bit of Britain

Actor Ciaran Hinds talks about his love for his childhood home of Northern Ireland and the parts of Britain he has discovered while on film location

I was born in north Belfast, the youngest of five and the only son of a doctor. Dad wanted me to follow him into medicine but I couldn't stand blood and was hopeless at science at school. I was introduced to the world of acting by my mother, Moya, who was an amateur actress. I did a lot of Irish dancing as a child: Irish dance drama, we call it, like flamenco but only half as exciting or sexy.

As children, we used to spend our summer holidays at Cushendall on the beautiful Antrim coast. The beach there is rocky and dramatic which I like, while on the other side is Cushendun with its nice swimming beach, surrounded by the glens and mountains - so we had the best of both worlds. Cushendun is a lovely little village at the foot of Glendun, with cottages, designed and built by the architect Clough Williams Ellis, who designed Portmeirion in north Wales. They are now owned by the National Trust. The Cushendall area is so beautiful and had such happy memories for my parents, they actually retired there. My mother's now a widow but Cushendall remains her home and I love visiting her there.

Nowhere could be as beautiful as northern Ireland or the west of Ireland around Connemara and Kerry - or so I thought until I discovered the west coast of Scotland. I was working at Glasgow's Citizen Theatre and, on a rare week off, my partner Helene and I hired a car and just headed north to discover the "other Scotland" we'd never had time to visit. One of the places we stayed in was Plockton, about 200 miles from Glasgow and seven miles from the Kyle of Lochalsh. Plockton is the real-life Lochdub of the television series Hamish Macbeth and was just as idyllic as it appears on screen. When Helene and I visited in spring there was hardly any traffic or tourists, the air was crisp, the skies blue and lambs skipped around in the fields. Neat, picture-postcard stone cottages are clustered around the edges of a sheltered bay of Loch Carron.

After we managed to drag ouselves away, we drove all the way up to Ullapool, on to Lochinver before driving back down to catch the then ferry over the sea to Skye. Ullapool has been a fishing village since the 18th century and is a good base for boat trips and sea fishing expeditions. If Lochinver is often described as rather ordinary, the surrounding country makes up for it.

As you can see, I have a habit of falling in love with places and, luckily, acting has taken me to some of the best bits of Britain. After filming Persusion in Bath, I wanted to move there. Of course its formal Georgian architecture is very beautiful but I liked even more the relaxed ambience and a lovely little pub I found tucked away near the university.

For the filming of Jane Eyre we were based in Penrith, Cumbria. With only one day off in a tight shooting schedule, there was too little time to explore the Lake District properly, although what I saw was so lovely that I'd like to return with Helene and my daughter Aiofe.

In Jane Eyre, Knoworth House in Cumbria was chosen for the exterior of Rochester's home, Thornfield Hall, but to shoot the interior scenes we had to travel 300 miles to Knebworth in Hertforshire and Dorney Court in Berkshire. And the church where the wedding of Jne and Rochester didn't happen was in Oxfordshire. When it was filled with lights and cameras, the calm atmosphere quickly evaporated. But to be there quietly by yourself is quite something.

Rochester is a character a lot of women hold dear in their earts, though, for the life of me, I can't understand why. He is self-centred, rrogant, haughty - a driven man. I'm not totally unromantic - though perhaps verging on cynical - but I suspect that once they were married Jane would have soon had him under her thumb. But then Rochester certainly deserved it!

I've never set my heart on playing particular roles, let alone romantic leads in costume dramas - my only worry is having the nerve to take them on. As I've played several historical roles now, it could seem that I'm stuck in the past. At least there's a decent gap between their general release but on occasions I've gone straight from one costume role to another.

Conveniently I was allowed to keep my Ivanhoe sideburns for Mr Rochester. I actually offered up my full Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert beard but was told not to be ridiculous.

In total contrast, appearing in Dennis Potter's last play Cold Lazarus gave me the chance to go forward in time. But then it was back to the 19th century when Stephen Frears offered me a small part in the film Mary Reilly. I breezed in and did a scene with Julia Roberts and Glenn Close and was then clubbed to death.

Australia in the 1840s is the setting for my latest film role, an adaptation of the Booker Prize novel Oscar and Lucinda. We filmed right out in the bush on the border of Queensland and New South Wales. The scenery was beautiful - I loved it, except being surrounded by the most lethal snakes in the world. I got a bit phobic about that - Balham, in south London, where I've lived for six years is bit less exciting but safer!

Peter Brook's production of The Mahabharata took me to New York. There's no denying the buzz of that city but it took me two and a half months to get used to the continual noise. When you've spent your childhood surrounded by the hills, mountains and water of Northern Ireland, the memory of their importance for you remains.