An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, Part 1

It has been said that the super fans of the Outlander book and TV show series are defined by their actually going all the way to Scotland to experience the setting and history first hand. But that notion sounds more than a little classist to me. You don’t have to spend the money for air travel or go super far to be a super fan, especially in this digital age. Yet, if you do take the journey, you will be hard pressed to experience Scotland, even if your trip is driven mainly by the Outlander obsession, without becoming a super fan of the country.

You may know of my growing fondness for Scotland, along with my love of Outlander, enough to have read about our plans for the trip we recently took there in mid-September 2016. In that planning post, one of the last in my Five-Phrase Friday series, I laid out our tentative list of sites and sights, guessing at what we would manage to accomplish. Thanks to good weather, healthy travelers, and having had ample time to plan, I wasn’t far off in my estimates.

I had begun to fall in love with Scotland the place upon reading about its physical beauty as author Diana Gabaldon describes it in the series’s first book, Outlander. Then, actually getting to see the country’s splendor on screen, enhanced by the romance and adventure of the story—as well as its mind-bogglingly photogenic co-stars Caitriona Balfe (as Claire Fraser) and Sam Heughan (as Jamie Fraser)—made visiting Scotland almost a requirement. At first, the plan was to visit both England and Scotland, but with everything I wanted to see in each place, that vacation would have been impossibly long.

As it was, we took 14 days in Scotland alone, and I’m not at all sure my first choice for a next trip won’t be some combination of the Isle of Skye, a repeat of some Scottish sights already seen, and capturing the ones we missed on the first round. This is not to say that we squandered our time there, just that we so thoroughly enjoyed it, and, I suppose, because we have been on relatively few such trips otherwise, it is difficult to imagine a more enjoyable alternative.

So far since our return, I’ve written and shared pictures focusing on the aesthetics of the overall experience, certain mountain-sea and mountain-loch vistas, an Edinburgh restaurant we loved, a nature poem by beloved Scot, Robert Burns, and the singular, marvelous attraction of a well-preserved castle ruin.

Now, I think it’s time to expound upon Outlander tourism in Scotland, in posts that will discuss our options and goals, share what we did and how we liked it, and provide some advice and resources for planning your own Scottish Outlander tour.

My coverage will focus on series 1 and 2, but especially series 1, or season 1, and some book sites not used in filming the show. I’ll also share sites of important historical and cultural context that made the saga possible, and then offer additional options I wasn’t aware of before traveling.

There are limits to my knowledge, so bear in mind that not all my statements may be entirely accurate. They’re just my nearest understanding of the facts up until this fall, based on personal research.

Sources include Diana Gabaldon’s novels, her website, her Outlandish Companion, volume 1, various online fan comments, fan blogs, broadcast media articles, and some sleuthing to find visual matches between viewing the show and seeing different places in the flesh. I think I found the site of at least one scene without learning its exact location in advance. So that’s a sample of my due diligence.

Since there’s so much to share, I’m spreading the information across more than one post.

Disclaimer: It’s ultimately up to each of you as travel planners to verify details to make your trip go as smoothly as possible, details such as which sites are open to the public (not all are), how, and when, especially if you intend to take the DIY approach for all or part of your trip. I’ll provide some resources to get you started, but information and access can change, and the location property owners and stewards have the final word, so be sure to do your own homework, too.

First, where to go?

One thing that may surprise some new and devoted fans of the series is the number of sites used in filming that are not located in the Scottish Highlands. Although most of the first book is set in the Highlands, which covers quite a large area of the country, the highest concentration of outdoor (and some indoor) scene locations can be found either reasonably close or very close to the capital city, Edinburgh. These locations include:

The Kingdom of Fife (at least 5), Stirlingshire (2), the counties of Midlothian (1), West Lothian (3), Edinburgh City (3), and East Lothian (1), the Borders and Southwest of Scotland (at least 4), and the Glasgow area (at least 7 but probably as many as 10).

For context, the official Scottish Tourism Board website VisitScotland.com has several maps of the country’s different regions, including “Edinburgh and the Lothians” at the bottom of that page.

All told, Central Scotland boasts around 25 locations, perhaps half of all those used. Various legal, logistical, historic preservation, and budgetary reasons for this exist. As one producer said, it’s “a beast of a show” to produce (Ron Moore or Maril Davis, I think).

So, theoretically, you could experience a nearly complete Outlander tour without ever ascending north of Central Scotland, but it’s worth the effort and time to make sure you do venture into the Highlands.

The Central Sites: Show Filming and Book Story by Region or County

Stirling, Fife, Falkirk, West Lothian, Midlothian, Edinburgh, East Lothian

Stirlingshire           →           Outlander Settings

Doune Castle, located in Doune, not far north from Stirling Castle → Castle Leoch, episodes eps101-104, ep109, both 18th– and 20th-century scenes

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Doune Castle, Highlanders arrive at Castle Leoch with Claire, end ep101. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television

Touch House, Touch Estate, west of Stirling, southwest of the intersection of A811 and M9 → Culloden House exterior, ep213 – in a room here (filmed separately), Claire and Jamie consider a final option for stopping the Battle of Culloden.

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Touch House, Stirlingshire, as Culloden House. Claire and Jamie confer. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television

Kingdom of Fife       →         Outlander Settings

Culross – authentic 17th– and 18th-century look; Mercat area, Mercat Cross → Village of Crainsmuir, Geillis Duncan’s home, ep103; witch trial procession, eps 110, 111; behind Culross Palace, herb garden for Castle Leoch grounds, with lawns, herbs and vegetables of the period

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Culross, Mercat Cross and town square, men ready the pyre for the conclusion of the witch trial. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television

West Kirk – “The ruins of West Kirk lie in rural isolation near Culross in Fife. Built around 1500, it used to be the parish church.” No roof, unmaintained graves, vegetation → The Black Kirk, ep103 – Claire and Jamie visit these ruins to uncover the source of a boy’s mysterious illness, widely attributed to the Devil and his demons that roam the kirk grounds.

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West Kirk ruins, Claire and Jamie share a laugh at the Black Kirk during ep103. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television

Falkland – The Covenanter Hotel; the Bruce Fountain; Campbell’s Coffee Shop → 1940s Inverness, ep101 – Claire and Frank’s second honeymoon at Mrs. Baird’s Guesthouse; where Frank sees a Highlander watching Claire; Farrell’s Hardware and Furniture Store where Claire sees a vase she likes

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Falkland town centre: site of the Highlander watching Claire brush her hair, ep101. Image by C. L. Tangenberg

Aberdour Castle, Aberdour → Scottish abbey of Jamie’s convalescence in ep116

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Aberdour Castle: Willie arrives after scouting the area around the Scottish abbey. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television

Dysart Harbour, Kirkcaldy → Port of Le Havre, France, 1740s part of ep201

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Dysart Harbour with CGI creating busy port of 1740s Le Havre, France. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television

Falkirk      →        Outlander Setting

Bo’ness and Kinneil Rail Station, Union Street, Boness, Falkirk → 20th-century train platform where Claire and Frank say good-bye during World War II, ep103

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Bo’ness & Kinneil Rail Station, flashback that starts ep103. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television

West Lothian      →         Outlander Settings

Midhope Castle, Midhope House, Hopetoun Estate, Abercorn, South Queensferry, West Lothian → the Fraser estate of Lallybroch, eps 112, 113, 114, 208, 213

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Families gather at Midhope Castle, location used for exteriors of Lallybroch estate. Image by C. L. Tangenberg

Linlithgow Palace, Kirkgate, Linlithgow, West Lothian → Wentworth Prison exteriors and corridors, eps 115 and 116

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Linlithgow Palace winding staircase and landing. Image by C. L. Tangenberg

Blackness Castle → exteriors and courtyard of Fort William

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Blackness Castle balcony and railing, escape from Fort William, ep109. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television

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Blackness Castle, alcove where Jamie questions British soldier during Fort William rescue. Image by C. L. Tangenberg

Midlothian          →           Outlander Setting

Glencorse Old Kirk, Milton Bridge near Penicuik, Pentland Hills, Midlothian → interiors and exterior of church where Claire and Jamie get married, ep107

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Glencorse Old Kirk outer wall and graveyard. Jamie joins Claire before wedding procession, ep107. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television

Edinburgh region      →       Outlander Settings

Hopetoun House, Hopetoun Estate, South Queensferry, Edinburgh → Duke of Sandringham residence 1

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Hopetoun House. Opening shot for scene where Claire visits Duke of Sandringham for the first time, ep109. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television

City of Edinburgh     →        Outlander Setting

Palace of Holyroodhouse → in the second book Dragonfly in Amber, it is here where Jamie and Claire try to convince Bonnie Prince Charlie to abandon his cause

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Palace of Holyroodhouse, inner courtyard. Image by C. L. Tangenberg

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Palace of Holyroodhouse, fountain and front entrance. Image by C. L. Tangenberg

East Lothian      →         Outlander Setting

Preston Mill & Phantassie Doocot, East Linton, East Lothian → Lallybroch mill, ep112

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Preston Mill & Phantassie Doocot; Jamie’s about to take the plunge to fix the mill. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television


In Part 2, we continue our look at Central Scotland with a shift to the west for Glasgow area filming sites.

Stay tuned!


Sources:

All STARZ/Sony images courtesy of Outlander-Online.com‘s collection of episode screen captures.

About West Kirk, Culross: http://www.zazzle.com/outlanders_black_kirk_film_location_church_ruins_card-137365438944710596

About Falkland: http://www.travelchannel.com/interests/arts-and-culture/photos/get-inside-outlander-on-a-tour-through-scotland/page/2

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Five-Phrase Friday (38): Scotland

So here’s the state of the art on my painstaking vacation planning. Gee, I thought vacation was supposed to be fun. . . . Huh.

Despite (or because of) all the great things to see, despite my fondness for Shakespeare and English literature, and despite a long process of selecting favorite English regions, cities, and sights, England, let alone London, has not made the cut.

Scotland is now our sole target country for this first dedicated family trip of some length.

I feel kind of foolish because I’m not Scottish and neither is my husband. It feels illegitimate somehow, like we’re imposters or something. Since we aren’t going to an extremely different climate and culture as would be the case on an African safari or in other seemingly more exotic locales like the Tropics or Tokyo or Tasmania, I feel compelled to be very selective about the part of Europe we explore together. It feels as if we should have some personal connection, relatives, work purpose, or people we know there.

He’s Slovenian (Italian-ate) and Latvian; I’m Irish, English, German, and Dutch. I travelled France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and the Netherlands (where some known cousins live) almost 20 years ago during college, and he’s been to the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and France on business. I speak French; he speaks (a little) German, understands some French.

So why Scotland?

It’s really all down to Outlander and my obsession therewith. Through the journey of the story, Scotland has become personal. Scottish Gaelic is even becoming my third language. Visiting does seem full of purpose. I feel as though I do know the people, at least more than I did before my deep and abiding interest in the book and TV series set there.

No apologies, no excuses, no misgivings, no sheepishness, but maybe some sheep, and maybe for dinner . . . mmm, haggis (?!). Research, plan, prepare, go, enjoy, and remember. And be grateful for the chance. And remember, the best laid schemes . . .

Five Scottish regional destinations for a 2-week visit, clockwise order from the south-west: Most preferred sights are listed for each area, though we may will not make it to all of them.

  1. Glasgow and environs (4 nights Glasgow) – Glasgow Botanic Gardens, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Park, City Chambers, Glasgow Cathedral/Necropolis, a play, boat ride on the river Clyde; Cumbernauld (Outlander studios drive-by), Falkirk Wheel, Stirling Castle, Doune Castle (Monty Python, Castle Leoch), Wallace Monument
  2. The Trossachs, Argyll, and Central Highlands – Loch Lomond (and maybe Loch Katrine) in Trossachs National Park; Loch Awe, Inveraray Castle; Glencoe
  3. The Great Glen, Highlands, and west coast (2 nights Fort William) – Fort William, Glenfinnan Monument (Jacobite Rebellion launch), Jacobite Steam Train to Mallaig, lochs and walks in the Great Glen; Eilean Donan Castle
  4. Inverness and environs (3 nights Inverness) – Inverness Visitors Centre, excursions to Foyers Falls, Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle (maybe a boat ride), Cawdor Castle (Macbeth), Culloden Moor (Jacobite Rebellion), Clava Cairns (standing stones with split rock), Cromarty, Black Isle, Moray Firth
  5. Edinburgh and environs (4-5 nights Edinburgh) – Edinburgh Castle, National Museum of Scotland, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Calton Hill, The Royal Mile main street, which includes Writers’ Museum, Greyfriars Kirk (“Bobby” the Westie), St. Giles’ Cathedral, Scott Monument, and more; Southern Uplands including Rosslyn Chapel and maybe Abbotsford House (Sir Walter Scott) and Melrose Abbey
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Glencoe & the West Highland Way. Image by ScotlandNow, The Daily Record online

The above sites are separate from several specific towns and rural locations where the Outlander TV series has been filmed. After some consideration, I’m inclined to skip a packaged Outlander tour in favor of making our own. I know enough about the books, TV series, and show creators that information won’t be lacking, and we need not be further restricted in our movements or schedule.

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Eilean Donan Castle, W. Highlands. Image by ScotlandNow, The Daily Record online

Outlander-related locations, many of which we can catch en route to others, include (my preferences in bold):

  1. Culross, Fife, between Edinburgh and Stirling (Crainsmuir, the Black Kirk)
  2. Falkland, Fife, with the Covenanter Hotel (Mrs. Baird’s B&B, 1940s Inverness)
  3. Pollok Country Park, Glasgow (Castle Leoch grounds, Paris woods duel)
  4. George Square, Glasgow (Frank’s wedding proposal to Claire)
  5. Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore, Highlands (wool waulking, rent collection)
  6. Loch Rannoch/Rannoch Moor near Glencoe (backdrop for Craig Na Dun)
  7. Tulloch Ghru, Highlands, near Cairngorms National Park (opening credits and hilly woods between Craigh Na Dun and Leoch)

Those near Edinburgh are:

  1. Blackness Castle, on Firth of Forth (Randall’s Fort William, of Jamie’s flogging)
  2. Linlithgow Palace, West Lothian (Wentworth Prison exterior, corridors, eps 115-116)
  3. Hopetoun House, West Lothian (Sandringham’s stately home in ep109)
  4. Glencorse Old Kirk, Glencorse House grounds, Pentland Hills, Midlothian (Jamie and Claire’s wedding, ep107)
  5. Midhope Castle/House, a private residence, Abercorn, Hopetoun estate, South Queensferry (Lallybroch)

I’d also like to visit the Southwest/Borders region closest to England–including Caerlaverock Castle and Caerlaverock Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre, Dumfries, and Robert Burns sights–as well as the Isle of Skye, but there won’t be time. At some point, we’ll need to sample the peaty whiskey (whisky) among the many distilleries.

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Caerlaverock Castle, Borders/Southwest. Image by ScotlandNow, The Daily Record

Life is large and detailed, as is the world. I relish details, the worlds within worlds on this planet. I like to get lost in them, as must be obvious by now from my blog. For two weeks, we’ll get lost, and be found driving on the wrong side of a single-track road along a beautiful loch in the Highlands of Scotland. Details.