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
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.
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
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.
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
Aberdour Castle, Aberdour → Scottish abbey of Jamie’s convalescence in ep116
Dysart Harbour, Kirkcaldy → Port of Le Havre, France, 1740s part of ep201
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
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
Linlithgow Palace, Kirkgate, Linlithgow, West Lothian → Wentworth Prison exteriors and corridors, eps 115 and 116
Blackness Castle → exteriors and courtyard of Fort William
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
Edinburgh region → Outlander Settings
Hopetoun House, Hopetoun Estate, South Queensferry, Edinburgh → Duke of Sandringham residence 1
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
East Lothian → Outlander Setting
Preston Mill & Phantassie Doocot, East Linton, East Lothian → Lallybroch mill, ep112
About West Kirk, Culross: http://www.zazzle.com/outlanders_black_kirk_film_location_church_ruins_card-137365438944710596