"It's not good enough for anything Scottish to be just an option that pupils or teachers can choose if they like or if they have time. In what other country of Europe would you find such a state of affairs?" #ScotsLanguagehttps://t.co/8MgV9cbA3g
— Àdhamh Ó Broin (@Gaeliconsultant) November 27, 2017
Last updated March 17, 2017
My previous posts in this series collected and presented the vast majority, a total of 37, of the options for Outlander tourist attractions in Scotland: book- and film-related sites numbering 15 in Part 1, 11 in Part 2, and 11 in Part 3.
This post tells the story of my planning process for our own Outlander-themed Scotland trip, complete with changes in scope, backtracking, enlisting outside help, comparing and revising itineraries, and reflecting on the choices we made. Next time, I’ll provide a review of our Outlander tour experience and of the tour company we went with for our day tour.
Also in my final post in this travel guide series, I will list and discuss Outlander tour companies and tour options, including additional film locations not covered in my first 3 posts, compile a list of all the resources linked and discussed in the first 4 posts, and run down a list of websites and apps I used and loved but didn’t mention here. I’ll also provide some final thoughts on travel for Outlander, in Scotland, and generally. A sign-off of sorts with directory, closing credits, and bibliography.
Other Scotland trip posts down the road will add to the trail of breadcrumbs I’ve laid down since last October, to highlight specific sites visited, services engaged, adventures experienced, and images captured. Be glad you weren’t subjected to a slide show at my house; you have the privilege to take in these servings in digestible portions. In case you missed the first several, see the list at my introductory post “Scotland Ventured, Scotland Gained.”
It was about this time last year when I began my months’ long planning process for a UK vacation with an Outlander focus. I don’t recommend spending as much time as I did—even if you have it; I simply have an obsessive, high-maintenance approach to project planning. I “just want it the way I want it.”
Still, as with many transcontinental excursions, for travelers from outside the UK going there for the first time, there are some things you should consider and do several months in advance of your departure. The most obvious include booking airfare, lodging, and, of course, your dream Outlander tour. In most cases, it will be wise to book the tour first of all.
Where I Started
My first phase involved researching England and Scotland for places and attractions I would most like seeing. In addition to doing online research, I purchased a set of travel guides and magazines at the bookstore instead of from online, where I previewed them and their reviews, so I could flip through the pages of the options, get a feel for each one’s layout, focus, ease of use, size and weight before buying. These included a combination of books and magazines:
- the pocket guide DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 London 2016, filled with best-of lists
- the full guide books DK Eyewitness Travel Great Britain (2016) and Fodor’s Travel Essential Great Britain with the Best of England, Scotland, and Wales (2015)
- Discover Britain magazine (Apr 2016)
- London 2016 Guide from Britain magazine
- Scottish Life magazine (Winter 2015) focusing on Orkney
- Scotland Magazine (Mar 2016) featuring “Best of Argyll”
I had enjoyed the color illustrations, digestible organization, and other features of DK’s guide to Provence when I traveled for study abroad in college, and I was not disappointed in any of the DK products I bought for this trip. Fodor’s turned out to have a valuable alternative perspective along with stellar regional maps and recommended sites labeled by “Fodor’s Choice” in each region.
Curse of Abundance
In addition to taking notes on the overall highlights of each major city, I compiled lists of attractions from different regions of England and Scotland into groups. After a few weeks of attempting to narrow the list down to a reasonable set of regions and sights, I then used the suggested itineraries in the guide books to draft a few possible trip outlines. The shortest trip I could stand to plan under these constraints was 16 days, and that turned out to be too long for us due to the budget and timing of our trip.
To solve this problem, I took a different tack: First I created a checklist of steps to consider taking to strategize our tourism.
- Hire a travel agent!
- No more than 1 of each of these types of attractions per day in regional, smaller towns and countryside. Countryside:
- castle & historic home
- museum & castle
- home & museum
- < 2 castles
- 2 historic homes & 1 home’s grounds
- < 2 larger museums
- shopping (1 street or 1 famous shop)
- art gallery/antiques/architecture walk
- Travel by train or car only; buses take too long (this would later turn out to be a false assumption). Again, for smaller towns and the countryside, unless otherwise advised.
- Choose 2-3 regions of England plus London, maximum.
- Choose 2-3 regions of Scotland plus Edinburgh (or Glasgow?), maximum.
- Plan a trip that lasts more than 14 days (a fortnight). Otherwise, you won’t even squeeze in 2 regions per country beyond the major city.
- Choose a theme of types of places to focus on, especially in smaller towns & countryside, one theme per region or town. Possible themes:
- history – range of periods for greatest variety
- literature – there are lots of literary tours and trails highlighted in guide books, and I took special interest in crafting some possible versions of literary tours in both England and Scotland, focusing naturally on Shakespeare, as well as Burns, Scott & Stevenson, among others.
- sports/contemporary culture
- nature walks
- Consider avoiding longer ( > 1 day or ½ day) scheduled tours, being locked into those.
From this process, I color coded my previously handwritten notes, highlighting preferences and categorizing attractions by type. Fodor’s and the top 10 guides were particularly helpful to this end in their category pages by type of attraction or experience. These included castles, palaces & historic homes, villages & towns, cities small & large, gardens by season, and things like parks, mountains, lakes, and walks.
To narrow further, I even created a Must-NOT-See list of things to avoid because either I did not care about them, they seemed overrated or tourist trappy, or they might even disgust, offend, or otherwise dampen our adventure.
The Must-Flee List
My must-not-see list included things easily captured in online pictures or video and grandeur for its own sake. Between college visits, study abroad, and post-college travel, I had already been to Paris, Normandy, the Loire Valley, Provence, the Riviera, Venice, Florence, Rome, Vienna, Salzburg, and Holland, as well as Utah, Colorado, New York City, Washington, D.C., Virginia Beach, western Massachusetts, upstate New York, and several parts of California. My husband had already been to Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ankara, Istanbul, and Paris.
And together we’d been to Chicago, Wisconsin, Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower and the Badlands, the Great Plains, Denver and the Rockies, Northern California, Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, North and South Carolina, Orlando and the Florida coast, and on a western Caribbean cruise for our honeymoon. With everything we’ve been blessed to see, we didn’t need to be dazzled by immensities.
Other no-nos included shopping meccas (not my thing); Wales which has lots of cool castles (plenty of those in Scotland) but not much else of obvious interest; places too far out of reach, such as the Outer Hebrides, Ireland, Northern Ireland, East Anglia, Cambridge, and the Orkney Islands (though I might make a beeline for Orkney next time for all its uniqueness); gardens best seen in other seasons; famous sites too far off our “circuit” unless personal meaning demands it; too many churches; and too many castles. In London, I discarded Buckingham Palace, Westminster Cathedral, and anything focused solely on the Royals. I just didn’t care.
When all that was said and done, even with all that trimming and relinquishing, I finally realized and admitted to myself that we couldn’t do both England and Scotland in a feasible amount of time without feeling rushed and disappointed by what we would miss. Over the years, my vacation philosophy has evolved to a preference for more in-depth exploration of a smaller territory over the impulse to cover as much mileage as possible before throwing your exhausted carcass back on the plane or in the car home.
At that point, I asked my husband if he would object to visiting only Scotland this time around, and to my surprise, he agreed. I had been laboring under the assumption that he would very much prefer England due to his greater familiarity with it, his frequent exposure to English Premiere League football matches, his Manchester City fandom, and, frankly, his lesser interest in Scotland and Outlander compared to mine.
I was so relieved to gain this freedom of focus, to be able to plan a trip that wouldn’t be the typical whirlwind tour of a vast region that goes by in a blur and becomes more stressful than the everyday work situation your vacation is meant to offset.
Scotland it would be.
To adjust to this change in plans, I purchased the DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Scotland pocket guide and a used 2011 edition of Peter Irvine’s Scotland the Best, touted as the guide preferred most by Scots. The top 10 guide provided the same format of best-of lists in various categories—some regional, some interest based—found in the London version.
I would have purchased a more current edition of Scotland the Best, but the best option would not be released until October, after our trip would have ended. I felt the older edition served its purpose and did not regret buying it. Without illustrations or photos, Irvine’s guide focuses on providing comprehensive best-of lists in a broad range of categories and subcategories.
Certain of Irvine’s preferences I found surprising compared to those in the other guides that seemed more in agreement with each other. As a later purchase following so much in-depth research, Scotland the Best turned out to be less useful than the collected wisdom from the other guides, but I was still glad to compare viewpoints and learn about some attractions beyond the beaten path.
With these new tools, some of my more intensely focused additional considerations consisted of narrowing down options among types of attractions found in abundance, such as castles, to only the very best, those nearest along our natural circuit through the country, or those with special literary, historical interest, or film association. For instance, having traveled in Europe and to several major U.S. cities with rich arts scenes, I already knew which types of art I preferred and what kinds of activities my husband and I leaned towards.
I also felt the need to mix in a variety of activities requiring different levels of energy, foot travel distance, and other demands on the human body or mind, spread across several days with rests or natural lulls built in. Thus, an all-day Jacobite Steam Train ride after several days of hoofing it to cover our bases. Hubby slept a total of at least an hour on that West Highland line while the spectacular countryside meandered by, but he had the very legitimate excuse of having been the designated driver of the previous week, adapting to opposite sides of car and road, as well as single-track, stone-sided, and winding roads, for the first time. I was just the navigator.
As for factoring Outlander in with all of these guidelines, I had already begun screening the other guides for popular Scottish sightseeing and scanning Google maps to locate as many Outlander-related sites as possible. I had also oriented myself to some of the better, recommended Outlander tour companies, using Diana Gabaldon’s website as my starting point.
Newly applying the Scotland focus to the Outlander tour search, I then began narrowing down those options to find one that would be more than a half-day but less than 3 days in length so we wouldn’t overdo Outlander at the expense of classic Scotland and an overall varied set of experiences.
I settled on Inverness Tours early on, but as the timing and focus of our trip evolved and solidified, I lost my window of opportunity to book a day tour during the dates we had selected. My second choice became Slainte Scotland, but I hesitated, corresponding with the company to gather more information to clarify exactly which sites the tour would include.
Although it might not seem like we needed it, I did end up hiring a great travel agent, Chima Travel in Akron, Ohio, which helped with reality checking, pre-packaged tour awareness, and eventually discounted airfare and hotel package booking. However, our agent was impressed by my prior homework, to be sure.
“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.
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
The Trossachs, Argyll, and Central Highlands – Loch Lomond (and maybe Loch Katrine) in Trossachs National Park; Loch Awe, Inveraray Castle; Glencoe
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
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
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
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. ”
What I ended up doing is splitting the difference and combining self-guided Outlander tourism with a single day’s guided Outlander tour, taking the official tour early on and scooping up the remainder once we obtained our rental car on day 4.
Another part of reaching out came to me around this time. My friend and fellow Outlander fan called to tell me she and her husband would be going to Scotland in July with another couple for 10 days and that they had booked with Inverness Tours. She thought I’d be jealous, but I told her about my planned trip too, and we ended up sharing in each other’s excitement. She agreed to help with recommendations after her trip to inform mine, and she even looked at my itinerary to weigh in on its feasibility. I’ll share their circuit and some of her tips in my final post in this series.
Our Scotland Trip
Next is a look at our two-week trip overview and a comparison between the planned and actual itinerary of the first two days. While day 1 turned out quite different from its plan, day 2’s plan came to fruition, except for the Real Mary King’s Close, which was our last major Edinburgh attraction on the 19th. Note the bit about where we dined and what I ate.
And the rest of our itinerary . . .
We flew in overnight on September 15, arriving September 16 late morning in Edinburgh, and used a taxi from the airport to our hotel, the Residence Inn south of Old Town. After sleeping very little on the plane, we snoozed in the restaurant of our hotel waiting for our room to open up, then slept the rest of the afternoon and had a late dinner at Vittoria, which serves up-scale Italian food.
We then used a combination of buses, trains, a tour van, and our unaccustomed feet to explore the hilly, cobbled Edinburgh and surrounding areas over the next three days.
Outlander Tour of 5 filming sites. A 9-hour tour with Slainte Scotland, led by Managing Director of Clyde Coast Tourism Ltd., proud Scot, and Outlander STARZ TV series extra, the lively, lovely, and knowledgeable pro tour guide Catriona Stevenson: Midhope Castle (Lallybroch), Blackness Castle (Fort William), Falkland (1940s Inverness), Doune Castle (Castle Leoch) including whisky tasting, Culross (Crainsmuir and Castle Leoch herb garden).
That evening at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, we attended a vibrant performance by the Dundee Rep Theatre of the ceilidh-style historical and political play The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black, Black Oil, which kept us awake even after an all-day tour and with jet lag setting in from the day before. Seeing this play early in the trip provided essential perspective on the past 200 years of Scottish-English relations and politics, which we could then reflect on as we traveled the country.
Sept 18, 19
Edinburgh city tourism, including book sites Palace at Holyroodhouse and walks through Old Town, setting for the printer’s shop and smuggling outfit of A. Malcom, Jamie’s alias in book 3, Voyager. The main focus on these days, though, was catching some of Edinburgh’s major attractions, including Edinburgh Castle, the Writers’ Museum, the Real Mary King’s Close, and Scott Monument on Princes Street—well worth it!
We picked up our car on the evening of September 19, our last night in the capital before heading north to the Trossachs and Argyll early on Tuesday morning.
All-day personalized journey through Argyll & Bute’s vistas and sites of ancient Scots roots and a Gaelic kingdom’s medieval hillfort, with the delightful Àdhamh Ò Broin, Gaelic Language Consultant for the Outlander STARZ show. We hired him for a day of his time to share his love and knowledge of the endangered Dal Riata Gaelic dialect, the wonders of Argyll, the region of his upbringing, and insights into the everyday lives of Scots from the past and today.
We managed to fit in views of island mountains, croft ruins, standing stones, ancient hill fort, cairns, sheep, a few castles and ruins, lochs and hills, bagpipes, singing, cattle, jokes, supernatural stories, local color tales, coffee, lunch, two churches, and a night view over the Kyles of Bute. We even took a close look at a caterpillar (in Àdhamh’s hand on this blog’s recent header image) at the Kilmory Oib Township ruins.
Phew! What a day. By far superior to anything we could have done on our own. As a result, we skipped visiting Inveraray Castle and the Auchindrain Museum village, though we passed by both. The richness of our experiences made those omissions irrelevant.
Sept 21, 28
Combined with unrelated but great attractions in the vicinity, we selected additional Edinburgh-area Outlander options among Glencorse Old Kirk (visited, film), Linlithgow Palace (visited, film), Hopetoun House (skipped, film), and Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot (skipped, farther east, film). Upon returning to Seabank B&B at the end of day 2 in Argyll, the Trossachs, Stirlingshire, and Midlothian, we encountered our previous day’s guide Àdhamh Ò Broin at the Drover’s Inn, on the north end of Loch Lomond! Well, it is a small country, after all.
Drove through Glen Coe—an absolute must for any first-time visit to Scotland—on our way northward up the Great Glen toward Inverness. Parts of Glen Coe were used for long shots during Outlander‘s credits.
Sept 22, 23
Made sure we passed Loch Ness (book) to and from other adventures, such as our Jacobite Steam Train ride from Fort William (book) to Mallaig on the western coast and back. The train passes and stops at Glenfinnan after crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which was used in the filming of Harry Potter. The Glenfinnan Monument is the site where the standard for the Jacobite Rising of 1745 was raised by Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Drove to Loch Rannoch area, Perthshire, sort of hunting for the site of Craigh na Dun‘s filming, surmising also about the location of the Mackenzie rent party’s rides on the way for Jamie to meet Horrocks through the forest near Aviemore, along the way to and from Rannoch Forest, Loch Rannoch, Rannoch Moor, and Kinloch Rannoch. It was actually somewhere on the nearby Dunalastair Estate where the Craigh na Dun set was created and filmed.
Sept 25, 26
Identified Inverness (book)-area Outlander filming and book sites to choose from, visiting the gorgeous Beauly Priory (book), mysterious Clava Cairns, and humbling Culloden Battlefield (book & film), as well as Cawdor Castle (the Macbeth castle), while skipping Loch Garve (book), Falls of Rogie, and Castle Leod (book) in Strathpeffer.
Sept 27, 28
Scouted and targeted Glasgow city centre and metro-area filming sites, including George Square, Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis, Pollok Country Park, and the Outlander studios in nearby Cumbernauld. On our last day of sightseeing, we visited Linlithgow Palace, used to film the exteriors and corridors of Wentworth Prison in the last episodes of series 1, and finished the day at Hampden Park, home of the Scotland National Football Team, of the Celtic Rangers, and of the Scottish Football Museum. We ate a fabulous lunch at The Cotton House, in Longcroft, Bonnybridge, Stirlingshire (http://cotton-house.co.uk/).
Some days fulfilled the carefully assessed, vetted (by recent Scotland traveler friend), and revised plan, but most deviated quite a bit, and some plans were totally replaced. Overall, we managed to meet our priorities, fit in some spontaneity, and get sufficient rest to keep going.
End of the Tourist Season
One thing that really helped us was favorable weather for outdoor activity during the whole first half of the trip, including our day-long Outlander tour on the 17th. A mixture of sun and clouds with highs in the mid 50s to low 60s held strong through most of each day from September 16 to 23. From all I had heard, this was like winning the lottery. Actually, my research showed September to be generally drier than late summer, but we were lucky, too.
Before making final reservations at B&Bs, and for the Outlander and train tours, and before purchasing tickets for the play, I asked my husband whether he would prefer a train trip or a boat ride on Loch Ness. He chose the train. I originally preferred the boat cruise, but a train excursion turned out to be the wiser choice, as it rained the whole day of the 23rd and the train offered shelter and the occasion to nap, which hubby really needed at that point.
We had a rainy afternoon in Perthshire on the 24th while the west coast got hammered (we were lucky to miss the really bad stuff in Mallaig the day before), but we enjoyed a beautiful sun and clouds Culloden visit that morning. Then, the daylight hours of the last two days in the Highlands—25 and 26 in Inverness, Moray Firth coast, Beauly & the Black Isle—were uniformly gorgeous.
Once we got to Glasgow, our last leg of the trip, the rain mixed with the cloudy skies more often, but shelter was easy to come by and most of the 27th was conducive to picture taking at Glasgow Cathedral and around town. Finally, the 28th provided steady light rain throughout our visits to Linlithgow Palace (castle ruins), Outlander studios (front gate), Pollok Park (driving around), and Hampden Park (indoors).
My experience of this trip was so absolutely positive, I don’t hesitate to call it the best trip of my life, and my husband is nearly in agreement on that score. Thorough, careful planning surely played a key role in increasing the chances of such an outcome, but we must also give proper credit to the place, the sights, and the people.
What we might have done differently if we had a do-over
Top changes I would have made to smooth out the schedule, without looking at weather:
- Limit the 17th to only the 9-hour Outlander tour to reduce exhaustion for subsequent days. If possible, schedule our viewing of the play’s performance for the evening of the 16th instead.
- If possible, avoid scheduling exploration of Inverness-shire for Loch Ness Marathon weekend, for greater flexibility.
- Travel earlier in the tourist season to increase Jacobite Steam Train scheduling options.
- Book lodging at three major bases instead of four, to allow more time to explore and spend less time packing and unpacking, as well as adjusting to a new home base.
- Allocate sufficient time each evening to literally map out the next day’s specifics.
- Skip the interior of the Palace at Holyroodhouse, or reduce the time spent, in keeping with my lesser interest in pomp, circumstance, and royalty. Focus solely on its abbey ruins, and then climb Arthur’s Seat instead.
- Visit a local pub for a pint or a dram and strike up a conversation with a native.
- Walk less and see fewer sights during one of our packed days to make doing #5 and #7 more plausible.
Top changes I would have made if I were in better shape, without looking at weather:
- Add a whisky distillery tour in the Highlands or a whisky tasting experience in Edinburgh.
- Make the effort to climb up Arthur’s Seat near Holyroodhouse and take in the view of Edinburgh and environs.
- Climb all 237 steps to the top of Scott Monument, the tallest monument to a writer in the entire world.
- Visit Calton Hill for more views of the city from the opposite end nearest Edinburgh Castle.
- Do more hill walking among the lochs in the Trossachs, at Schiehallion near Rannoch, or around Loch Ness.
- Walk up and through the Necropolis path (also if I hadn’t been so fixated on capturing every last nook and cranny of the Cathedral) in Glasgow.
Top changes I would have made if we had had more time, without looking at weather:
- Spread out our Edinburgh sightseeing across 4 full days instead of 2.5 (18, 19, and only a bit of 17 and 16). Our last day in Edinburgh was a bit stressful as we tried to cram in all the best of the rest, including The Real Mary King’s Close (accomplished) and the Scottish Whisky Experience (skipped).
- Visit Gladstone’s Land and Georgian House for the Old Town-New Town classes comparison in Edinburgh.
- Make sure to enter a bookshop dedicated to selling books. This notion ended up on the chopping block, but I did purchase a National Trust Scotland book on Culloden, and Historic Environment Scotland books on Cairnpapple Hill near Edinburgh and on Linlithgow Palace.
- Go back to Culross to see West Kirk (the Black Kirk) and visit Hopetoun House (Sandringham) and/or spend more time at each stop of the Outlander tour, including Culross Palace and Falkland Palace.
- Go back to the National Museum of Scotland to take in more of its numerous galleries.
- See more waterfalls, try harder to see wildlife, and make a point of seeing sea wildlife, especially otters.
- Spend some leisure time enjoying the amenities and luxuries of Daviot Lodge, including the garden, the living rooms, and the huge bear-claw tub!
- Take a ferry to the Isle of Skye and explore it for at least a day, including the Fairy Pools and the Cuillin Mountains.
- Make a more concerted effort to find the Craigh na Dun set at Dunalastair Estate, Rannoch.
- See the Burrell Collection and/or Pollok House at Pollok Country Park, Glasgow.
Top changes I would have made to lighten the luggage load and save time, without re-considering weather:
- Pack fewer jeans and more leggings and light-weight, comfortable pants to reduce laundry needs and vacuum bag compressibility.
- Pack fewer toiletries and over-the-counter medical provisions, allowing occasions to purchase them as needed in Glasgow, Edinburgh, or Inverness areas.
- Pack no reading materials for leisure that were not directly related to the current trip; have audio books available instead.
What you can do
While careful, refined planning can have positive outcomes, as you have gathered by now, it’s no quick or easy process. I had to contact multiple service providers directly, exchanging emails with our tour guide at Glencorse Old Kirk and hosts at Daviot Lodge and Seabank B&B, arranging Alamo/Enterprise car hire (I was more successful at finding good rates than my travel agent was!), and booking the Jacobite Steam Train excursion, our viewing of the Lyceum Theatre play, and our Outlander tour directly from across the pond.
All of this was of course predicated on gaining intimate knowledge of distances and durations of travel between key towns and cities and spatial relationships among sites on our must-see list. I spent countless hours just perusing Google maps, creating personalized travel guides including a chart of distances between cities, and bookmarking and starring favorites toward making this a great trip.
Then, I familiarized myself with money-saving strategies such as purchasing Historic Environment Scotland’s Explorer Pass and National Trust Scotland’s membership to reduce costs at individual sites. In the end, it was cost effective to buy the Explorer Pass but not the NTS one in our particular case. I oriented myself to banking, traffic, and other infrastructural systems, often trying out apps for satnav/GPS, bus systems, and rail networks. I even had my husband program our Garmin Nuvi GPS with Scotland maps, which became indispensable when trying to save mobile data with phone satnav.
Glimpsing all the detail, reading, rehashing, clarification, and direct booking that went into my process should tell you one of a few things about your own planning. It may tell you either that:
- You had better get cracking and start planning well in advance if you insist on a DIY experience of some duration and are a first-time traveler to Scotland or the UK.
- This self-tailoring is not for you; your best bet is to trade flexibility for a pre-packaged set of experiences where the details are out of your hands and you can just relax and enjoy. Or,
- If you do like the idea of going it alone for whatever reasons and you’re confident you can take a much simpler approach than I did, perhaps in part because you don’t mind healthy doses of spontaneity, you can separate which factors are deal breakers and which ones you’re happy to leave to chance.
You may discover that you couldn’t care less about Scotland itself (or at least cared less than you thought you did) and are only interested in the Outlander attractions, or heaven forbid, vice versa. If so, more power to you, but if you can stomach the stress of it, I recommend splitting your focus between the two.
The good news is that Outlander‘s growing popularity continues to boost Scotland tourism (confirmed by both my own travel agent and Scottish news sources). As a result, more and more travel companies and touring services have added Outlander to their repertoire in one way or another or enhanced the offerings they already had.
Just remember for me in reading this post, the previous ones or the next, that . . .
(Disclaimer) It’s ultimately up to each of you as trip planners to verify details to make your stay 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 have and will continue to 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 verifications.
Remember, for details about Outlander book and filming locations we personally sampled, see the start of An Outlander Tourist in Scotland series, sorted by region:
- in part 1, Edinburgh, Palace at Holyroodhouse, and Glencorse Old Kirk
- in part 2, Glasgow Cathedral, Pollok Country Park, and Outlander studios
- in part 3, Loch Rannoch, Clava Cairns, Culloden, Beauly Priory, and bits about Inverness, the River Ness, and Loch Ness (Highlands)
I also provide insights with photo captions at Scottish Color: A Photo Essay.
In the next part of this travel guide series, we’ll focus on Outlander tour companies and tour options, along with film locations not covered in my first 3 posts, and bring together all the shared and unshared resources I used and liked. I’ll close with some thoughts on Outlander, Scotland, and general travel.
But wait! There’s more. In future posts, I’ll continue to highlight specific sites visited, services engaged, adventures experienced, and images captured during our trip. Keep coming back to my introductory post “Scotland Ventured, Scotland Gained.” to get the full scope of available bits from just after our trip last fall through the rest of this year.
I hope all this helps you get through Droughtlander, at the very least. Thanks for reading.
In Part 2, we explored the western central and southern sites of Outlander TV series filming, focusing on the Glasgow area and Ayrshire. This time, we head north into the Highlands, starting with Perthshire, also a central region. In an upcoming post, I’ll present our particular trip itinerary for your consideration and discuss existing Outlander-dedicated tours you can book and enjoy in your Scotland travels. To start our journey from the beginning, see An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, Part 1.
As for the Outlander sites, this post will take us full circle so to speak from one version of the story’s central plot mechanism—the fictional standing stone circle of Craigh na Dun—to another, with several essential stops in between. We start north of the main cities Glasgow and Edinburgh and take a gradual north-westerly path from there. The climb begins with a tantalizing mystery of the TV show and ends with a point of resonance for Diana Gabaldon’s creation of the books. You may also learn some history along the way.
Dividing a Nation
One thing I noticed in my tourism research was how inconsistently the areas of Scotland are named from one resource to another and over time. To distinguish areas of north central and northern Scotland for this post, and find current, accurate names for them, I finally found a resource that clarifies how Scottish lands are sliced and how they overlap: UndiscoveredScotland.co.uk.
Fully orient yourself to where’s where on their Councils, Regions, and Counties page, which links to breakdowns of those three different types of division. Or, for the simplified tourism approach, see the official Scottish Tourist Board website mentioned previously, VisitScotland.com. Find out more about how the tourism industry, as well as British and Scottish governments, have labeled things; see the first footnote under the heading “Notes on Area Names.” *
In short, it can be confusing, but with quick look-ups, ready resources, and having precise addresses, you’ll find your tailored trip less daunting to plan. If you’re going far less DIY, it shouldn’t matter. I can nearly guarantee you’ll be well taken care of, at least in country. Choice of travel agent or airline in your home country–and now, perhaps, getting home again–is another matter.
From Here on Up
The Highlands, broadly considered, are sort of a mythical, amorphous landscape in some respects, for a few reasons. For a discussion of this issue, see my second footnote section under “Notes on Area Names.” **
Whatever names the land acquires, one of its most distinguishing features are its diverse, ubiquitous configurations of rock and stone, both geologic—hills, caves, coast lines, mountains, tors, volcanic plugs—and man made—standing stones, stone circles, cairns, brochs, crofts, stone fences, houses, streets, castles, and so on. Stone, loch, and green together mean “Scotland.”
The “Highlands” Sites:
Outlander Show Filming, Book Story, and Scottish History by Region or County
“My heart is in the Highlands, wherever I go” – Robert Burns
Perthshire, Perth & Kinross council area → Outlander film setting
From roughly east to west toward the Great Glen, the areas of general attraction in the glen of Rannoch include Schiehallion, Dunalastair Estate, Kinloch Rannoch village, Loch Rannoch, and Rannoch Moor.
Rannoch. → On a line east of Glencoe and Fort William in the Central Highlands, somewhere on the Dunalastair Estate, they “can’t tell you where,” the Outlander TV production erected their set of Diana Gabaldon’s fictional circle of standing stones called Craigh na Dun. Shown in eps 101, 103, 108, 111, 201, and 213, this set of Claire’s time-travel scenes includes its backdrop—the very real Loch Rannoch and surrounding mountains, including Schiehallion to the southeast.
Lying on a National Scenic Area between the Cairngorms National Park to the north and Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park to the south, Dunalastair Estate sits on 17,000 acres. The village, loch, hills, and moor are accessible to the general public, as are the holiday cottages for booking on estate land. Caitriona Balfe (Claire Randall Fraser) once called this filming location her favorite and noted the magic that seemed to meet the crew each time, and she’s not the only one. Source: Travel+Leisure magazine’s article “The Cast and Crew of ‘Outlander’ Reveal Their Favorite Filming Locations.”
The Dunalastair Estate website features comprehensive details for tourists. It covers area clan history, the estate family, farm, village, wildlife, rare plants, hiking, horse riding, railway, and other recreational options, plus links to websites like that of the Rannoch and Tummel Tourism Association. Source: http://www.dunalastair.com/Dunalastair-Estate
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Argyll (county), Highland council area → Outlander film settings
Glen Coe. This mountain range is in long shots of Scotland. It was all about showcasing Scotland itself. If you’ve seen representative landscape views of Scotland in any form, chances are you’ve seen Glen Coe. One such view has been my blog’s header image in early 2017. The glen is the result of glaciers cutting into extinct volcanoes, creating a broad, sweeping valley of pleasing symmetry from key vantage points.
Glencoe is the name of the village in Lochaber to the west of the picturesque glen, and the two are connected by the umbilicus of the River Coe. Coming from the south, follow the A82 westward from Loch Lomond toward Glencoe Village, Loch Leven, and the Great Glen. There are dedicated viewpoints along the way where you can park and take it all in.
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Cairngorms National Park, Highland → Outlander film settings
“Cairngorms” rather loosely translated means “pile of blue rocks,” or “blue stone heap.” The Gaelic for this mountain range sounds much better, and Gaelic is often helpfully descriptive. There is also a single mountain called Cairngorm. Covering a vast area of natural beauty, rare wildlife (wildcats, capercaillies, and mountain hares in winter, red squirrels, red deer, and others), scenic vistas, castle ruins, pine forests, lochs, burns, and waterfalls, nature-loving visitors can spend substantial time in the Cairngorms National Park year round and not be disappointed.
If you were traveling from Rannoch, you would enter the park from the south, taking the A9 which starts in Stirling and flows through Inverness all the way to the far northwest Highland ferry port of Scrabster. The River Spey chases the A9 along the western boundary of the Cairngorms, and soon both find the small town of Newtonmore, just north of which is the Highland Folk Museum.
Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore, Cairngorms National Park, Highland. Almost due north of the village of Kinloch Rannoch, this historical outdoor museum recreates 18th-century Highland life every day and aids in Outlander storytelling in a few ways → in ep101 for the shelter where Murtagh first takes Claire to meet the other Highlanders, the scenes of village folk around the Castle Leoch area in season 1, and during ep105 for rent collections and wool waulking when the ladies sing “Mo Nighean Donn.”
From their website under the auspices of stewards Highlife Highland, “The Highland Folk Museum sits at the east edge of the village of Newtonmore less than two miles from the town of Kingussie. It lies just off the A9 at the west side of the Cairngorms National Park.”
As a preserved 18th-century village, the attraction has a total of 30 time-period furnished buildings, including a 1700s township of six buildings and a section featured as a working 1930s croft. The whole property, fully active up until the 1960s, spans one mile in length and also contains the Shelter, “Am Fasgadh,” housing 10,000 artifacts, plus a research library, conservation lab, offices, meeting rooms, and more.
The address is Aultlarie Croft, Kingussie Road, Newtonmore, Inverness-shire, PH20 1AY. Currently in winter closure, the site will reopen in April 2017. Visit the official website for more pictures and information.
Tulloch Ghru, Rothiemurchus Forest, near Aviemore and Inverdruie, Cairngorms National Park, Highland, is an area of hilly woodlands spreading north of, but not far from, the Highland Folk Museum. → Featured in the opening credits of each episode and in scenes where Claire and the Highlanders travel from Craigh na Dun to Castle Leoch in ep101, “Sassenach,” it is peppered like Rannoch with ancient Caledonian pines along a western stretch of Cairngorms National Park.
Tulloch Ghru may also serve in parts of ep108, “Both Sides Now,” such as the woods where Claire and Willie wait while Jamie and the others meet Horrocks. (Not sure about this; I cannot find my original source for that idea.) But you won’t find it mentioned on standard tourist websites.
The Outlander filming sweet spot is somewhere between Aviemore and Inverdruie, southeast of both and not far south of the Cairngorms Reindeer Centre. To start the hunt, follow the sleuthing, with information distinguishing place names in the area (Tulloch to the north vs. “Tullochghru” to the south), diligently pursued and shared at Wizzley.com. An old map of the area appears on that site.
Anyway, such pine forests in Scotland, though few compared to their ubiquity in times past, provide similar atmosphere as each other, and wee Tulloch Ghru may not stand out visually to the Outlander tourist. Generally, woodland film locations are notoriously difficult for the mere mortal to pinpoint once the crew cleans up, though some visitors may prevail. Interested in plant succession and vegetation change in the park since the last Ice Age? Knock yourself out at Cairngorms Learning Zone.
Note: Cocknammon Rock, also featured in this portion of ep101, is a fictional rock formation invented by Diana Gabaldon and created by the show with special effects.
The Cairngorms National Park itself boasts several helpful tourist resources at visitcairngorms.com (supported by VisitScotland.com, the official tourist board of Scotland) and cairngorms.co.uk, among other sites. For an outline map of the Rothiemurchus Forest of the filming site, go to the latter website’s Landscape Areas page and select “Rothiemurchus Forest.” Rothiemurchus is also a woodland estate with an island castle. For a beautiful map of the whole park, see the Cairngorms National Park Map.
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Ross and Cromarty → Outlander book and historical settings
To start farther north and work your way southward back to Inverness for the train to Edinburgh or Glasgow and a flight back home, head for Ross & Cromarty. There you’ll encounter the real Mackenzie lands and their seat of power, Castle Leod.
Castle Leod, near Strathpeffer–Easter Ross or “in the east of Ross-shire” (county of Ross) or in the regional district of Ross & Cromarty, i.e., something to do with “Ross”–seat of Clan Mackenzie. → Inspiration for Castle Leoch in the book. The name from the book was then continued by the show. However, shared in Part 1 of my Outlander tourism series, the historical castle itself is played by Doune Castle in Stirling. Castle Leod is a private estate accessed only by prior permission. However, it has been a stop on at least one Outlander tour out of Inverness.
For pictures and official information, see the gallery page at Castleleod.org.uk. This well-preserved Highland castle, billed as one of the most picturesque and romantic by its stewards, can be booked for special events including weddings. The Clan Mackenzie Society of Scotland and the UK was very helpful with information about access and tours involving Castle Leod. The associated Clan Mackenzie Routes also offers tour package options.
Castle Leod will have select open summer days in 2017 in May, June, July, and August, and the grounds also open to the public on August 12th for the Strathpeffer Highland Games, held annually.
In a valley alongside the Peffery Burn, the castle property is NNE of Strathpeffer off the A834, and the closest town immediately northeast is Auchterneed. Bottacks is also nearby. The address of Castle Leod is Strathpeffer IV14 9AA, UK.
Loch Garve, west of Castle Leod, Strathpeffer, Easter Ross → The loch mentioned as the home of the water kelpie (water horse; no, not the same species as Nessie) in the fireside tale Rupert tells before the rent party is attacked by members of Clan Grant in ep 108, “Both Sides Now.”
My online search for “Loch Garve” one day brought up the legend of the water kelpie; the story is indeed a long-held Scottish fixture.
Between Loch Garve and Castle Leod are the Falls of Rogie, a series of sought-after waterfalls on the Black Water River, where salmon can be seen jumping the “ladder” and where you can walk across the river on a suspended bridge. Also within this area is the Strathpeffer Heritage Village and Victorian spa resort.
Down from the Northwest, we reach the Great Glen and Scotland’s most famous loch.
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Inverness-shire → Outlander book, film, historical, and inspirational settings
Inverness is an interesting case for its lack of interest, perhaps. At least that’s what my friend who recommended I read Outlander said about their Outlander tour with Inverness Tours. I’m not sure if it was the pedestrian passerby on the highway shouting up to their double-decker tour bus “Inverness is sh*te!” that influenced her thoughts on this, but she basically told me there isn’t much besides the river views worth seeing in Inverness itself.
To say Inverness has little tourist value is not strictly true, but as a fellow Outlander fan with other priorities, I decided to follow my friend’s lead on this one. As a result, my personal experience of Inverness is limited to navigating traffic, scenes of the River Ness (mainly in pouring rain) and Moray Firth, parking beneath the Inverness Castle hilltop, and eating at two fine city restaurants.
Known as the capital of the Highlands, there are indeed attractions worth visiting in the city. I’ll tell you about a less beaten path we took for ourselves, along with other charms Inverness afforded us, when I share our full itinerary in a future post. Incidentally, my first pick of an Outlander tour was through Inverness Tours, but they were booked for our time frame when I finally made my decision, so plan many, many months ahead! We took instead Slainte Scotland‘s Firth of Forth and Fife area Outlander day tour, which was wonderful.
When you focus on the book and TV show, it is equally true that nothing in particular makes Inverness an Outlander tourism city. Rather, its proximity to sites of story interest is what really recommends it. You may decide it’s a nice central location for lodging. Below are some of those story-related sites around Inverness that complement those in Ross & Cromarty.
Loch Ness (and Urquhart Castle), south of Inverness, connected by the River Ness, extends on a roughly north-south line for more than 20 miles. Featured in the book but not in the STARZ series, Gabaldon uses Loch Ness to bolster the mysterious, supernatural element of encountering a mythic beast, presumably either “Nessie” or one of her ancestors, collectively known as the Loch Ness Monster.
North of Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle and west of Inverness is the town of Beauly, seat of the Fraser clan of Lovat, kin of our story’s hero Jamie Fraser. A distinctive treasure awaits in the heart of town.
Beauly Priory, a truly “beau lieu” (French) or “beautiful place,” presents its ruined self in full splendor and grace. The names Fraser and Mackenzie appear frequently on the tombstones within and around the priory. → In the book, this holy place is where Claire meets Maisri, the seer who works for Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, infamously known as “the Old Fox.” Both the clan chief and his wise woman appear in ep208, “The Fox’s Lair.”
Technically not in Inverness-shire but also not far from Inverness to the west, Beauly Priory is free to enter and open 1 April – 30 September. Check for closures at all Historic Environment Scotland sites: https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/check-for-closures/. The address is Beauly IV4 7DY, UK.
After Beauly Priory’s enchantment (all above images by C. L. Tangenberg), last and perhaps best are two very important sites just a short trip east of Inverness.
Culloden Battlefield, aka Culloden Moor, Inverness-shire. → “The Outlander action is all leading up to the bloody Battle of Culloden in 1746. More than 1,200 men were killed in the defeat of the Jacobite clans.” Source: photo caption excerpt http://www.travelchannel.com/interests/arts-and-culture/photos/get-inside-outlander-on-a-tour-through-scotland/page/14. This final battle, while not depicted in the book, will be portrayed in the STARZ show during series 3, which is based on the third book Voyager. Culloden visitor centre stewards, battle and Jacobite scholars, descendants of Scotch soldiers and their families, British historians, Outlander fans, Outlander STARZ cast and crew, and Scots citizens–in short, many, many people no doubt all eagerly anticipate this unique project coming to fruition.
I know it will be unforgettable, and I hope it will bring even more people to this historic site that has long been at the center of Scottish cultural identity and its dramatic transformation.
The most prominent inclusion of Jacobite Rising history in the Outlander series comes in the form of weaving its facts throughout the story. To her fans, Diana Gabaldon’s research prowess is legendary, and the show has followed her lead with excellent historical accuracy and detail, in everything from herbs to weapons to period architecture to literal embroidery on costumes (with a few intentional nods to the 1940s in Claire’s 1740s French dresses) and furnishings.
Plot elements such as an inside look at the rebel cause in series 1, discussions and decisions by Clans Mackenzie and Fraser in both series about political loyalties, mention and depiction of the battles of Prestonpans and Falkirk, and Claire and Frank’s talk of Jacobite history both on and off the battlefield in the 1940s all merge into that complex tapestry.
In 1743, smiling after Claire’s joke, Jamie casually mentions the Mackenzie rent party’s approach to Culloden Moor. Triggered by this, Claire suddenly recalls her sad visit there with Frank, circa 1945. “What of these Mackenzie men? How many [would] die on that bloody moor?” Having begun to bond with them over the past few weeks, she now fears for their lives, with a growing sense of helplessness.
The must-see visitor centre combines access to the field with a state-of-the-art, immersion museum experience, complete with dozens upon dozens of primary accounts conveyed in both textual and audio commentary and a four-wall motion picture re-enactment of the battle itself. The museum is designed for the visitor to receive and absorb a robust before, during, and after depiction of Scotland’s last war for freedom, before stepping outside for the most fundamental evidence of its high costs.
Inside, you learn about the Jacobite Rising of 1745 from its inception, with dual-corridor pathways providing both the government and Jacobite perspectives leading up to the war, along with intricate Battle of Culloden statistical and social details, and a comprehensive portrayal of the prolonged aftermath. This is one of the best places to learn a substantial amount about Bonnie Prince Charlie in particular. The centre has also taken pains to ensure Gaelic language representation throughout the museum and on field kiosks.
A dark hallway allows you to hear what each side had to say about the failed Night March before the battle. After viewing the graphic re-enactment film complete with sound effects (think 3D Saving Private Ryan cinematography), don’t miss the excellent aerial-view digital model of troop movements with audio narration. The same room displays artifacts that were found on the battlefield and examples of swords, pistols, rifles, dirks, mortars, and cannons used in the fight.
Next, you can walk the moor, view the memorial cairn, grave stones, flags, and other battlefield features, and better imagine what it must really have been like. Pay your respects at the Clan Fraser memorial stone, which resides directly opposite the memorial cairn, among a series of clan memorial stones. More often than not, many of these will be graced with flowers and other tokens of remembrance.
The land is relatively flat but expansive, so budget your time for the trek. Go early if you intend to add another attraction on the same day, but I recommend light, short, and upbeat follow-up–something purely entertaining and relaxing or mostly physical, such as a beach picnic, river cruise, whisky tasting, tea time, train ride, horseback ride, or bagpipe show.
Actually, you might want to make a firm plan for the whisky. The Culloden historical experience, though fascinating and engaging, is a top-notch example of the ultimate sobering agent. However, despite one myth, birds do indeed sing on the moor–I made a point of listening for them after reading that somewhere. Our visit also featured two beautiful horses grazing the moor and watching over the fallen.
In getting there, keep in mind that several places in the area bear the name “Culloden”: the town of Culloden, Culloden Moor, and Culloden Battlefield, which is technically on Drumossie Moor, as well as the Culloden Inn. The town named Culloden is a bit removed to the northwest, and the namesake moor is immediately northeast of the battlefield. Culloden Inn restaurant is very close to the visitor centre, between Drumossie and Culloden Moors.
Murtagh mentions Kildrummie Moss in ep212, “The Hail Mary,” as well. This is actually farther northeast in Nairn-shire, closer to Nairn, where the British General Cumberland’s camp celebrated his birthday on the eve of their march to Culloden.
Regardless of your degree of interest in Outlander, war, or formal museums, no first visit to Scotland would be complete without at least half a day at Culloden. Be sure to include it.
Address: Culloden Battlefield visitor centre, Culloden Moor, Inverness, Highland IV2 5EU. Tel: 0844 493 2159. Visitor Centre, Restaurant, Shop: open 1 Sept – 31 Oct, daily 9 – 5.30. Battlefield open daily, all year. Price: Adult £11.00. Hire of battlefield tour PDA is included in admission price. NTS members in free.
Clava Cairns, Inverness-shire, is a set of circular piles of stones (chambered and kerb cairns), and standing stone circles (monoliths) around those cairns, along the River Nairn, near Inverness. Perhaps sharing features of the stone circle Gabaldon pictured as Craigh na Dun for her story, “the 3 cairns were burial sites about 4,000 years ago, although the remains have long since been removed. Standing stones surround the cairns, but they haven’t seen any mysterious disappearances or reappearances lately—that we know of, anyway.” Source: photo caption http://www.travelchannel.com/interests/arts-and-culture/photos/get-inside-outlander-on-a-tour-through-scotland/page/5
As part of her answer to the question “Are all the locations used in the books real?”, Diana notes in her website’s FAQs section that she had not been to Scotland when she wrote Outlander but would not be surprised if a place like the one she describes for Craigh na Dun actually existed. She found the standing stones at Castlerigg, Lake District, England, to be “very like” her imagined site once she finally did travel to Britain.
She mentions Clava Cairns and Tomnahurich Cemetery Hill as possibly being similar, but she states she had not been to Tomnahurich, which is supposed to be a “fairy’s hill.” It was not clear whether she had visited Clava Cairns by the time of her answer’s posting on that particular page, but I am fairly certain she has been there since, and I know she has visited Culloden as well.
Remember: Numerous examples of cairns, standing stones, stone circles, brochs, volcanic plugs, glacier-carved valleys, caves, and other spectacular rock formations define the landscape of Scotland’s mainland and islands. You’re likely to find one example to be as interesting as the next. This one is special in part for its very close proximity to Culloden Moor and its being part of Inverness-shire.
Just across the River Nairn to the southeast of Culloden Battlefield and visitor centre, the address of Balnuaran of Clava, or the Clava Cairns, is Inverness IV2 5EU, UK. It is free and open to the public.
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As you have seen through descriptive detail and vivid images, Outlander highlights abound in the Highlands as much as in central and southern Scotland. As I hope you have also seen, Scotland deserves exploring in its own right. Its beauty, culture, history, and adventure are matched by impressive hospitality.
Now that I have oriented you–in part 1, part 2, and part 3 of this series–to the places throughout the land of Scots that can fascinate and delight the Outlander tourist, part 4 will present my specific model for putting it all together. I’ll show you how I approached planning our trip as a do-it-yourself traveler, our full bespoke (that is, “custom-made” for you non-UK folks) itinerary, and how we adjusted it along the way. I’ll also provide further guidance about dedicated Outlander tour options, more filming locations and book story sites, as well as general travel tips and recommended resources.
Footnotes and a list of sources mentioned in this post can be found in the sections below. While I’m on that subject, remember: The information presented in these posts is not exhaustive, errors are possible, and facts change, so be sure to do your own checking when you’re ready to set a Scottish excursion in stone.
I am delighted that you’ve followed me on the journey thus far. Return next time, when I’ll help with some tough choices and prepare you to book transport and more for that Scotland trip you’ve been dreaming about. . . .
Tìoraidh an-dràsta! (CHEER-ee ehn DRAH-steh) Ta-ta for now!
Notes on Area Names
* Go to Council Areas Since 1996 for a numbered map and linked list of all 30 council areas, such as Clackmannanshire, Renfrewshire, East Ayrshire, and Perth and Kinross. The island chains of Orkney and Shetland are listed and linked separately as not shown on the map. Subdivisions into registration counties, used for land registration in Scotland, have persisted since the 1990s.
Regional divisions are a little more complicated and involve subdivision into districts between 1975 and 1996. For that fascinating history, see Regions and Districts of Scotland from 1975 to 1996, the names of which are relevant for the tourist mainly because areas are often still described in these terms.
Finally, counties go back even farther in time and were replaced by the two-tier region-district system. Scottish Counties from 1890 to 1975, like much of Scottish history, retain their footprint on the land.
Beyond these official, politico-historical categories, there appears to be a common understanding among UK and Scottish tourist service organizations and tour guidebook publishers as to which labels are most helpful to tourists. VisitScotland.com, Fodors, DK, Scotland.com, and Scotland.org are among those that blend variations of regions, council areas, and descriptive phrasing to focus tourists on optimal zones for their adventures. Examples include “Aberdeen and Grampian,” “Hebrides” (islands), and “Glasgow and the Clyde Valley.”
** The Highlands, broadly considered, are perhaps a mythical, amorphous landscape in some respects, for a few reasons. For one, this northerly expanse hardly has a monopoly on height and also seems to be synonymous with “the North.” Even the Lowlands are bordered to the south by “Southern Uplands” (Dumfries & Galloway area), and Europe and other continents boast far larger mountains.
Second, culturally and politically, the Highlands were long considered a region of backwardness, even barbarity, by their southern neighbors the English, and sometimes by Lowland or city Scots. The region could in that way be thought of as anything north, island or inland, a certain distance from Edinburgh.
Third, the geological Highland Boundary Fault line has set in stone (sorry) that once vague sense of division, officially distinguishing “up there” from “down here.” This fault zone runs from the isle of Arran and Helensburgh on the west coast, west-northwest of Glasgow, through Loch Lomond and Crieff to the northeast, parallel to the east coast on the North Sea, terminating immediately north of Stonehaven, at Garron Point, just south of Aberdeen. Visual learners, consult the map. 😉
As the line climbs to the northeast, it traverses Stirlingshire, Perthshire, and Angus, southeast of the Cairngorms. To see the topography and current place names, visit Gazetteer for Scotland and zoom out on the map. For geology lovers, here’s George Barrow’s sketch map from 1912.
Key Sources (in order of presentation in this post)
Highland Boundary Fault information was drawn from Wikipedia and Gazetteer for Scotland.
Travel+Leisure magazine’s article about Outlander cast/crew’s favorite filming locations: http://www.travelandleisure.com/culture-design/tv-movies/outlander-cast-and-crew-favorite-locations
Dunalastair Estate: http://www.dunalastair.com/Dunalastair-Estate
Highland Folk Museum: https://www.highlifehighland.com/highlandfolkmuseum/
About Tulloch Ghru at Wizzley.com: STARZ Outlander Scottish Filming Locations
Castle Leod: Castleleod.org.uk
WelcometoScotland.com provided information about Loch Garve and the Falls of Rogie in Ross & Cromarty:
Learn more about Historic Environment Scotland sites including Beauly Priory: https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/check-for-closures/.
TravelChannel.com‘s Outlander sites photo gallery
Culloden Battlefield: Source: photo caption excerpt http://www.travelchannel.com/interests/arts-and-culture/photos/get-inside-outlander-on-a-tour-through-scotland/page/14.
Clava Cairns: Source: photo caption http://www.travelchannel.com/interests/arts-and-culture/photos/get-inside-outlander-on-a-tour-through-scotland/page/5
Diana Gabaldon’s website FAQs: http://www.dianagabaldon.com/resources/faq/faq-about-the-books/#locations
Last time, I showed you Outlander-related tourism destinations in Central Scotland, specifically the Edinburgh and Firth of Forth areas. In that post, I also laid out my plan for this series: (1) introduce the site options, (2) share my husband’s and my Outlander tourism goals and results, and (3) lend some advice and resources for planning your own Scottish Outlander tour. The process continues with (1) site options in Central Scotland.
For Part 2 of this series, we travel to Glasgow and environs, home of the Outlander Studios, and then we’ll dip southward to Ayrshire and then Dumfries and Galloway, birthplace of actor Sam Heughan, our beloved Jamie Fraser. Remember you can go on VisitScotland.com for regional maps to follow for context, including the one for Greater Glasgow & The Clyde Valley.
This collection mixes the easily accessible with the off limits and forbidding. Glasgow is a tourist city, Troon a resort town, the country estate of Drumlanrig Castle visitor friendly, and Dumbarton Castle an underrated attraction. By contrast, Hunterston House is closed to the public, Torbrex Farm is private property, Outlander studios are tightly secured, and the treasures of Finnich Glen are guarded by dangerous pathways.
Tourism can take many forms, however, including the virtual. Therefore, I do not exclude the beautiful and interesting just because they shy before visitors.
The Central Sites (Continued):
Show Filming and Book Story by Region or County
City of Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire, Stirling, and North Lanarkshire
City of Glasgow → Outlander Settings
George Square, in the city centre of Glasgow, saw the filming of Frank’s surprise proposal to Claire → the Westminster Register office, a flash back to the future at the start of ep107, “The Wedding.”
Glasgow Cathedral, on the east side of town, accompanied by its Necropolis, a vast cemetery on a hill. → Interiors served in the scenes at l’Hopital des Anges, the hospital where Claire volunteers her nursing skills in 1740s Paris, eps 203, 204, 206, 207. This beautiful church is a magnificent tourist attraction in its own right.
Pollok Country Park, south of Glasgow’s city centre → The park doubled as the grounds of Castle Leoch and the area where Claire harvested mushrooms when she met Geillis Duncan, ep102, aptly titled “Castle Leoch.” Later, the show used it to stage the duel between Black Jack and Jamie in ep206, “Best Laid Schemes” (an homage to Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse,” which I analyzed in another post). The setting for that was the Bois du Boulogne of Paris. Pollok Country Park was used in episodes 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 107, 109, and 206.
Pollok House and the Burrell Collection are popular tourist attractions on the grounds. There’s a playground, a lake, some sculpted gardens (also used in filming), a golf course, and pasture of Highland cows as well. Several bicyclists roamed the park on the rainy day we went there.
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Stirling (SW) → Outlander Settings
Finnich Glen, a.k.a. the Devil’s Pulpit, near Drymen (pron. DRIM in) just south of the Trossachs National Park in southwest Stirlingshire → St. Ninian’s Spring, a.k.a. the Liar’s Spring, where Dougal takes Claire in ep106 after he stops Black Jack’s brutal interrogation of her. Visitors to the site note that it is difficult to access but worth the effort. For important safety notes about the area as well as directions, see this TravelChannel.com page. For precise location details and map coordinates, go to the Finnich Glen profile at Gazetteer for Scotland.
Torbrex Farm, Stirlingshire. Domick Hill, Stunt Coordinator, says of it, “Being the Stunt Coordinator, my favorite location was a large tent in a very wet field, near Torbrex Farm, which is a few miles from the studio. The reason being that it’s where we filmed the majority of the Battle of Prestonpans—not very glamorous, but we had a lot of fun in that smoke filled, muddy marquee!”
Dunmore Park Falkirk, Stirlingshire → The bombed-out hospital in ep101 where Claire, in flashback, treats the wounded on V-E Day, the end of World War II. Source: http://www.travelchannel.com/interests/arts-and-culture/photos/get-inside-outlander-on-a-tour-through-scotland
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West Dunbartonshire → Outlander Setting
Dumbarton Castle in West Dunbartonshire, overlooking the Clyde River just west-northwest of Glasgow, is a medieval stronghold and center of the ancient Strathclyde kingdom. → “Sam [Heughan] was photographed there on set by Just Jared magazine, published on August 5th 2014.” Source: https://wizzley.com/starz-outlander-scottish-filming-locations/. West Dunbartonshire, a local council area of its own, also “borders onto Argyll and Bute, East Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire, and Stirling.” Source: Wikipedia
The Dumbarton Castle address is Castle Road, Dumbarton, Dunbartonshire, G82 1JJ.
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North Lanarkshire → Outlander Settings
The Outlander studios are situated in the area of Cumbernauld (5th largest town in Scotland) & Kilsyth, North Lanarkshire, to the northeast of Glasgow. The sound studios reside in a warehouse complex where most of the indoor settings and scenes in Outlander are constructed and filmed. The official address of the studios is LBP Outlander Ltd. (Left Bank Pictures), 2 Wyndford Rd, Cumbernauld, Wardpark North, Glasgow G68 0BA, UK. It is the site of the former Isola-Werke factory. Security is tight, but you can drive by and stop briefly at the labeled gate.
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The Southern Sites: Show Filming by Region or County
North Ayrshire, South Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway
North Ayrshire → Outlander Settings
The Hunterston House interiors → the Reverend Wakefield’s Inverness rectory in eps 101, 108, 201, and 213. This is where, in 1945, Frank Randall and Reverend Wakefield talk genealogy; Claire has her tea-leaves and palm read by Mrs. Graham; the Reverend Wakefield, Graham, and Randall convene along with wee Roger to search for the missing Claire; and where Frank and the Reverend discuss matters upon Claire’s return in 1948, including the shot of Frank running down the stairs after hearing her biggest news.
It is, of course, also where we meet adult Roger Wakefield and Brianna Randall at the end of season 2. The site is closed to the public, but they have an ample gallery on their website. Exteriors were filmed elsewhere. Go to the Hunterston House website for more information. Their address is Castle Avenue, Hunterston, West Kilbride, KA23 9QG, Ayrshire.
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South Ayrshire → Outlander Setting
Troon, coast of Kyle, South Ayrshire. Troon is a resort town on a headland at the north end of this council area and of Ayr Bay, about 35 miles southwest of Glasgow. → Coastal shots where Claire, Jamie, and Murtagh depart for France, ep116. You can learn more at VisitScotland.com and Gazetteer for Scotland.
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Dumfries and Galloway → Outlander Setting
Drumlanrig Castle, Thornhill, Upper Nithsdale, Dumfriesshire → Season 2 filming location for the estate at Bellmont, England, the Duke of Sandringham’s last residence. Ep211, “Vengeance is Mine,” script written by Diana Gabaldon.
Contact address: Thornhill, Dumfries & Galloway, DG3 4AQ, Scotland
Come back for Part 3‘s review of Highland tourism sites for Outlander filming, book story, and Scotland fans.
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.
For details about the main Outlander book and filming locations we personally sampled, sorted by region, see posts 1-3 and post 5, titled “Review: Slainte Scotland Outlander Tour + Outlander Tourism Resources”:
- in part 1, Edinburgh, Palace at Holyroodhouse, and Glencorse Old Kirk
- in part 2, Glasgow Cathedral, Pollok Country Park, and Outlander studios
- in part 3, Loch Rannoch, Clava Cairns, Culloden, Beauly Priory, and bits about Inverness, the River Ness, and Loch Ness (Highlands)
- in part “5,” Review: Slainte Scotland Outlander Tour + Outlander Tourism Resources,” Blackness Castle (Fort William), Midhope Castle (Lallybroch), Doune Castle (Castle Leoch), Falkland (1940s Inverness), Culross (village of Crainsmuir), and the wedding church (Glencorse Old Kirk)
I also provide insights with photo captions at Scottish Color: A Photo Essay.
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
Dial up the sun
November 8, 2016
As the year draws to a close, with the loss of late-day light, when holiday sweetness goes, where bright trees slumber nude, so fades a fraught election. If one worse thing eludes, invoke the sun and know: Change is certain. Some things do evolve, and all must end eventually. So after deeply breathing, or sighing deep relief, find a world-class museum, admission free, to nurture the best of humans, nature, and the world. Then become a member, praise and breathe. Peace.
Sundials at the National Museum of Scotland, September 18, 2016
poem and photos copyright © C. L. Tangenberg
Vegetarians beware: Although the featured restaurant has plenty of veggie options, this review unapologetically delights in meat from assorted animals.
Hanam’s in Edinburgh, Scotland: A restaurant review
In a tourist town, most prominent restaurants can’t help but be pretty great. Our recent trip to Scotland is a testament to this trend. We were able to sample the high-quality wares of several Scottish, British, Italian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern establishments from Edinburgh and Glasgow through central Scotland, up the Great Glen, and into Inverness. We even managed to find the occasional suburban jewel.
Hanam’s is a Kurdish and Middle Eastern restaurant in Old Town Edinburgh, a short tumble down the hill from the castle. In keeping with the idea that Edinburgh and Glasgow may be more cosmopolitan than particularly Scottish in population, several of our servers at various ethnic restaurants were transplants from Greece or other countries in the European Union. Our server at Hanam’s was from Romania or Bulgaria, if I recall correctly.
After visiting Edinburgh Castle and the Real Mary King’s Close, among other Old Town attractions, we followed our fledgling fancy for Turkish and Middle Eastern victuals back up that steep hill. Incidentally, walking in Edinburgh is, largely, hill walking. My husband’s mouth watered just knowing there was a Turkish restaurant in town, so what was one more climb after a long day of sightseeing and fetching our rental car for excursions northward, which would start early the next morning?
During several business trips in years past he got to know Turkish culture and cuisine, nurturing what would become a deep, abiding affection for both. Unfortunately, the way things are going in Turkey, they’re unlikely to earn membership in the EU any time soon. The restrictive state of things there after the recent unrest and attempted coup saddens us, but I digress. It doesn’t stop us from celebrating the best of their gastronomy.
The husband has even gone gourmet at home with his own recipe for Turkish chickpea stew spiced with baharat, a special blend of spices the combination of which depends on where you’re from and what you like. Hubby uses black pepper, cumin, crushed mint, coriander, a dash of cinnamon, some cardamom, cayenne pepper, and sometimes AllSpice. Chickpeas, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, onions, garlic, Yukon gold potatoes, and sometimes ground lamb round out the main ingredients.
He has made the stew on several occasions both special and mundane, sometimes with meat, sometimes without. Although I’m not a fan of the cumin or cayenne, generally I like it when he makes this meal, especially since I don’t have to do much of the work!
Thus, among the restaurants we planned to sample in Scotland, we heartily agreed: For our last night in Edinburgh, we would try that Kurdish-slash-Turkish place on the hill.
Soujuk is another one of Hubby’s favorites, which he describes with glee as “spicy, flavorful, cured goodness,” but it’s basically a Middle Eastern and Balkan beef sausage. So there would be Soujuk on the table that night, this time Lebanese style, “sauteed in tomato, green pepper, garlic and chilli, served with naan bread,” which made it very stew like.
His main course was Gosht Kebab, a spiced, minced lamb kebab he thoroughly enjoyed.
The cooking types at Hanam’s also make a mean leg of lamb, which was my main course. It’s called Qozy Lamb on the menu. This magical meat slides off the bone so easily, no edible morsels remain. Ah, tender, juicy little lamb. . . . Accompanying that wonderful meat was a spicier side dish. The menu describes it this way:
For my side dish, I went with the tapsi. It’s a type of Shilla, or shilah, sauce, a “Kurdish favourite of aubergines (eggplant for you non-French speakers), green peppers, onions & sliced potatoes layered with a spiced tomato sauce.” Very tasty–and vegetarian.
Despite its being a Monday night, we didn’t arrive especially early so we were a bit surprised more people weren’t partaking in the wonderfulness. Granted, it was late September, not exactly the height of the tourist season. But take note: This food really is good, people. If you haven’t tried it, make a point of doing so.
Besides housing great food, Hanam’s decor was rich with reds and golds and a few woven tapestry-type wall hangings, fresh yet crisp night air wafted in from a nearby window we could open or close as desired, and the service was friendly and professional.
A terrific dining experience I’m happy to recommend. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
So if you find yourself in Edinburgh and you’re visiting the castle, walk by Hanam’s and take a whiff of their delightful preparations. Chances are, the rest of your body will follow your nose inside, and your palate will thank you.
The sister restaurants of Hanam’s in Edinburgh are Laila’s and Pomegranate.