Review: Slainte Scotland Outlander Tour + Outlander Tourism Resources

I thought I could fit it all in one final Part 5 post, but that proved to be a mighty miscalculation. I had far too much to say about the Outlander tour alone–big surprise!–and I still plan to provide an overall series wrap-up. In fact, this post is so substantial, with pictures and tons of Outlander-related resources, I thought it best to include a table of contents. Get ready for everything (else) you need to know to create the best Outlander adventure for you and yours!

The final post is forthcoming. If you missed any of the first 4 parts of the series An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, you can find them in my blog’s Scotland and Outlander sections, linked through Scotland Ventured, Scotland Gained, or in direct links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. The first 3 parts showcase 37 filming & book locations with several photos. Part 4 details my trip planning process with snapshots of our planned vs. actual itineraries and reflections on the quality of our Scotland vacation experience.

Table of Contents

  1. All Our Outlander Tourist Destinations in Scotland
    • Our Outlander Day Tour Experience
    • Special Visit to Glencorse Old Kirk
    • Other Outlander-Related Sites We Visited
  2. Our Outlander Tour Company: Slainte Scotland
    • Day Tours with Slainte Scotland
    • Outlander Tour with Special Guests
  3. Outlander Tourism Reference – Diana’s Recommendations, Tour Company Pages, Location List, Articles & Resources

    • Tour Companies’ Tour Advertisements, including those of Slainte Scotland
    • List of 40 Filming (NOT book) Locations
    • Articles and Info about Filming Locations
    • Specific Filming Locations in Depth
    • Info about Outlander Book Locations
    • Book and Premise Inspired Outlander Tourism
    • Places Mentioned on Series 1 of the Show
    • Sam Heughan (Jamie) and Laura Donnelly (Jenny) Studied Theatre Here
    • Articles Reflecting Outlander STARZ’s Pop Culture Progress
    • And for Good Measure (surviving Droughtlander)

All images © C. L. Tangenberg

All Our Outlander Tourist Destinations in Scotland
Our Outlander Day Tour Experience

I started my tour search by perusing Diana Gabaldon’s recommended Outlander tour companies, discussed on her website. I sought a company that offered tours of more than half a day but less than 3 days so we could balance official Outlander tourism with exploring Scotland more generally. My first choice was Inverness Tours, but by the time the dates of our trip became settled, there were no tours of the right length available among those led by their four tour guides who work year round. Inverness Tours has long been a popular tour company with Outlander fans.

Moving on to Slainte Scotland, I contacted the company through both email and their website’s chat feature to get details about their 1-day Outlander tour. After a few messages back and forth, and a chat with a very helpful representative, I learned the likelihood of visiting West Kirk (the Black Kirk) in Culross and the all-important Midhope Castle (Lallybroch), and I carefully parsed the schedule of stops to ensure we’d have time to make it to our 7:30pm play showing in Edinburgh that evening.

Satisfied with all the circumstances, I decided to take the plunge and booked our tickets for the tour. Slainte Scotland made a great first impression by being prompt, informative, enthusiastic, and professional in their communications. They provided the detail needed to help make our day flow as smoothly as possible.

The day started on our own with a train ride from Edinburgh to Dalmeny Station, our meeting place for the start of the tour. Slainte Scotland day tours allow travellers from both Glasgow and Edinburgh to converge on a central location for sites in the wider area. Dalmeny is located in South Queensferry, a stone’s throw from the Firth of Forth, about 20 minutes by train northward from Edinburgh’s Waverley Station in the valley opposite the Princes Street Gardens between Old Town (south) and New Town (north).

The Slainte Scotland Outlander Day Tour we enjoyed on September 17th was a 9-hour van tour that guided us and about 8 other people in 2 vans through 5 filming locations:

  1. Midhope Castle (Lallybroch) on the property of Hopetoun Estate, West Lothian,
  2. the fascinating Blackness Castle (Fort William) perched on the coast of the Firth of Forth, in the council area of Falkirk, then across the Forth Bridge north to
  3. Falkland, in central Fife (1940s Inverness), including lunch at the Covenanter Hotel (Mrs. Baird’s B&B), then westward to Stirling for the famous
  4. Doune Castle (Castle Leoch, Monty Python & the Holy Grail castle), including a complimentary Dalwhinnie whisky tasting on the grounds outside the castle, provided by our fun-loving tour guides, and finished as the sun descended, 
  5. in the well-preserved 17th-century style Royal Burgh of Culross, used for Crainsmuir village, Geillis Duncan’s house, and the Castle Leoch herb garden.

Each site’s inherent charms, curiosities, and historical intrigues await your discovery.

Midhope Castle, the exteriors and grounds of which served as the site of the Fraser home of Broch Tuarach, or “north-facing tower” in Gaelic, is known affectionately by those who call it home in the series as Lallybroch. The building itself is hazardous to enter, so the entrance is locked to visitors. The interiors of Lallybroch were constructed and filmed at LBP Outlander, Ltd., the Outlander studios at Wardpark North in Cumbernauld, to the east outside Glasgow.

Visitors may be surprised to find a couple of houses in close proximity to the building, but you might enjoy reading a bit on the way to the castle about the history of the family that used to live in and now cares for the estate. When we visited, it was the last day of public access before a solid month of filming for Outlander series 3 two days later. Preparations were in evidence with the plastic tarp and orange cones covering the threshold, along with equipment set up beside the castle.

Note the electric poles and wires they have to edit out of final shots. Jamie’s ep102 flashback to BJR’s visit to the estate, where it starts on the hill as Jamie sorts the hay, and Jamie’s ep113 confrontation with Tarran McQuarrie’s lackeys of the Watch in the Lallybroch stables were filmed behind the castle and up the hill at this location.

Blackness Castle was one of my favorite attractions in all of Scotland, not just from the Outlander tour. As our tour guide Catriona explained, “Blackness” describes not the mood of the castle but the color of a specific type of land form on which the castle was built, called a “ness,” meaning a “promontory; a cape or headland” (https://glosbe.com/en/gd/ness). With the sun shining down on it, the tide out stranding a smattering of sail and fishing boats, and a view across the shore and the firth, our time at Blackness Castle was nothing but bright and cheerful.

Said to be haunted, the prisoners’ tower I left to my husband’s exploration–I didn’t want to climb all those steps. Our guide Catriona (pictured) showed us where the platform staging Jamie’s flogging by Captain Randall was set up. It was interesting to see how much uplifted rock protruded into the floor of the courtyard of this very intact, ship-shaped castle.

There was much to explore and there were hazards to avoid as we climbed in and out of the corridors and doorways, down steep steps and along the terraces framing the top level. Catriona also showed us the location where Jamie and Murtagh question the English soldier rather rudely as to the whereabouts of the “Englishwoman,” Claire.

Royal Burgh of Falkland, a National Trust Scotland site, offered a little eerie magic at the Bruce Fountain in the town center. Here in ep101, we see the back of Ghost Jamie watching night-gowned Claire through the second-floor window of Mrs. Baird’s B&B as she brushes the tangles out of her hair. Moments later, Frank walks up to him in the rain, and he disappears. I couldn’t resist a little mimicry of the scene.

The lunch at the Covenanter Hotel was simple but acceptable (I had tomato soup and a tuna sandwich), although service was a little slow. They were not particularly expecting us and seemed to accommodate us but grudgingly, based on the comments of our tour guide at the time. This delay may have contributed in part to our skipping West Kirk as the final stop in the tour.

Falkland Palace was visible across the main street from the hotel, and on the opposite end of the town square was the furniture store that served Claire’s window shopping of vases in ep101. Our guide Catriona had the opportunity to be an extra background actor in series 1 and described the freezing cold conditions of working on set that day. We walked a bit through town on our way back to where they had parked the vans after dropping us off in the center of town.

The sunshine enhanced our enjoyment as we passed a tavern where Catriona pointed out a sign outside that Àdhamh Ò Broin had told her misspells a Gaelic word, comically altering the translation from “a thousand welcomes” (ceud mile failte) to “a thousand smells” (ceud mile faile). Whether the proprietors were Scots, English, or other, it proved that even the locals lose themselves in translation sometimes.

Doune Castle first became widely known overseas from its use in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Now, complimentary audio guides at the castle impart insights about filming experiences from both Terry Jones of Monty Python and Sam Heughan, who plays Outlander‘s Jamie Fraser. Castle Leoch’s great hall and some other interiors found form on constructed sets at the studios, but the raw materials at Doune provided the courtyard, steps from the castle, exterior shots of the castle, and scans of the surrounding countryside. Monty Python used the interiors heavily for Holy Grail. Another well-preserved structure, Doune Castle was an impressive element of the tour.

At the close of our Doune visit, Slainte Scotland provided samples of 15-year-old Dalwhinnie (Highland) single-malt Scotch whisky. A little fiery going down, but still smooth and a good introductory single malt, Dalwhinnie became one of two whiskies my husband and I took home with us from duty free.

An unusual aspect of our tour that day was the presence of the tour guides’ three children and their German shepherd puppy (pictured in the Falkland section above). Their arrival in Dalmeny was slightly delayed due to complications in the aftermath of unavailable daycare. The kids were well behaved and charming. One spoke Gaelic from attending a Gaelic school and also sang us a song. It was equally delightful to meet and chat with our fellow Outlander tourists from England, Kentucky, and Germany.

While our van held two of the the three kids and Catriona, the other was driven by her husband with the puppy and the other American group as passengers. While we tasted our whisky, the kids were off running, inducing the dog to whine so as to join in the fun. Overall, from our point of view, the impromptu adjustment worked out well. I’m sure it helped that we love dogs and are perfectly contented with good kids around.

Royal Burgh of Culross. At the witching hour before sunset, we arrived in old Culross, National Trust Scotland site of series filming for exteriors of Crainsmuir village. We drove past the distinctive yellow buildings of the Palace into the square of the mercat cross where the exterior of Geillis Duncan’s house and the pillory were filmed. We stayed only briefly, and driving was particularly tricky in the narrow streets of this well-preserved old village. Cars kept coming down a hill into the village square, forcing our van to back up a couple of different times before successfully making it all the way up the hill. Such is life in old towns with one-track, or one-lane, streets that go both ways.

For Outlander series 1 filming, the Culross Palace Garden doubled as the Castle Leoch herb garden, the Mercat Cross stood in for the village of Cranesmuir, and visual effects fused the Palace Garden with the backdrop of Doune Castle to bring Crainsmuir and Leoch together. The Study building (in white) was Geillis Duncan’s house, and the Culross Palace Withdrawing Room became Geillis’ drawing room. In series 2, the Palace Courtyard provided the main stair where Claire practices dentistry while Jamie meets with Bonnie Prince Charlie, while the Palace High Hall was used for the Jacobite meeting where Jamie swears his oath to the Prince. Then, the Palace’s Kings Room became Jamie and Claire’s bedroom when visiting a village, and the Palace’s Kitchen and Pantry served as the tavern bearing wanted posters, and the Bennet House outside it, in ep211, “Vengeance Is Mine.” See where Jamie & Claire stood: http://www.nts.org.uk/Outlander/Culross-Palace/.

Although I had hoped we would venture nearby to West Kirk (the Black Kirk), time constraints and fading daylight robbed us of the chance, so we worked our way southward again, back across the Firth of Forth, to Dalmeny, South Queensferry, to catch the train back to Edinburgh’s Waverley Station. On our way back to Dalmeny, Catriona played a mix of songs by Scottish artists, old and new, which added to the festive mood.

I took a final opportunity to ask Catriona about Hopetoun House, the estate of which we passed on our return path. She provided the insight that a visit there would require at least 2 hours, whereas one could take in all of Linlithgow Palace in about an hour. These details helped us make decisions about where to go in our trip’s final days.

Summary Review of Outlander Day Tour with Slainte Scotland

This exciting 9-hour tour with Slainte Scotland was led by Owner and 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. Assisted by her husband and fellow driver, the small group experience allowed time and attention for individual questions and interests. Although the tour path altered slightly from the order of advertisement, in the end we had no regrets.

Mirroring positive first impressions, the Slainte Scotland experience met and exceeded all expectations. The tour ran smoothly, and they made it insightful and fun. Visiting time at each site was ample and enjoyable, and Catriona was uniquely qualified to provide glimpses of behind-the-scenes facts about the Outlander TV series, including her encounters with its stars and crew. This tour also served as our official primer on Outlander filming locations, which we further pursued on our own afterwards. *

The sun was setting as we alighted on the train platform in Dalmeny. That evening at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, we attended a vibrant performance by the Dundee Rep Theatre of a 20th-century, 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.


Special Trip to Glencorse Old Kirk

* One particular Outlander visit I arranged directly with the property manager, Sarah Chambers, was to Glencorse Old Kirk, location of Claire and Jamie’s wedding in ep107. Through email and then mobile texting upon arrival on the grounds, we settled on a day and time, around 2:45pm on 21 September, for a brief look through and around the kirk.

We were staying in Arrochar at the time and had just visited the incomparable Stirling Castle that morning. Sarah asked in advance for a donation of 20 pounds, which we gladly provided, and she showed us a scrapbook of filming pictures not seen online. She also pointed out how the grounds and interior were used in the making of ep107, sharing her personal observations of the occasion.

Many visitors and some journalists have mistaken the Glencorse House for the Glencorse Parish Church as the building used for the wedding. The actual site is downhill and behind a gate from the house. It’s a little hidden and difficult to find, even with assistance, and it requires permission to access. But if you’re all about the wedding, Glencorse a great little addition to an itinerary. Incidentally, they also regularly host weddings at the church and receptions at the house. See the Glencorse House facebook page for a flavor of their work.

These were Sarah’s directions, which we had to alter slightly coming from Stirling Castle instead of from Edinburgh:

Directions from Edinburgh: Take A701 toward Penicuik. After you pass the Ikea, continue past the Nissan garage at the traffic lights. Then, there are 2 roundabouts till Gowkleymoss roundabout (very large). Continue on the small dual carriageway w/ Glencorse Golf Club on left, then very shortly Fisher’s Tryst pub on the left. Directly opposite the pub, take the road to the right signposted Glencorse Kirk. The large church on the brow of the hill is NOT us. Continue round the corner, to the bottom of the hill: you’ve arrived! Total of about 2 miles from Ikea.

The property is owned by the McCaig family, and our contact was Sarah Chambers (McCaig), daughter of the owners. Glencorse Old Parish Church, or Glencorse Old Kirk, is located in the foothills of the Pentland Hills south of Edinburgh and north of Penicuik, Midlothian. The address is the town of Milton Bridge, EH26 0NZ. Tel: 01968 676 406. Email: info@glencorsehouse.com. Glencorse House: http://www.glencorsehouse.co.uk/.

After our visit at Glencorse, we enjoyed exploring the iconic Rosslyn Chapel in nearby Roslin, site of key scenes in the filming of The Da Vinci Code.

Other Outlander-Related Sites We Visited

Previous posts have touched on our experiences of Linlithgow Palace (Wentworth Prison) and other Outlander-related sites not included in our guided tour. See the previous parts in the series An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, organized by region, for comments and pictures about the following book and filming locations we sampled:

  • 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.


Our Outlander Tour Company: Slainte Scotland
Day Tours with Slainte Scotland

Slainte Scotland offers several different kinds of their most popular day tours including the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Day Tour, Whisky Distillery Tour, Glencoe Day Tour, Loch Ness Day Tour, South of Edinburgh Tour, and a selection of Outlander Day Tours. However, they are open to interests in other destinations, and some tours can be personalized. Their website’s site map also has sections for Whisky Tours, a Luxury Tour, a Private Tour, Cruise Ship Shore Excursions, and a tour search page.

On TripAdvisor, the management company for Slainte Scotland, called Clyde Coast Tourism Ltd., features over 100 reviews with an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars, and has earned TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence, awarded to attractions that consistently receive great reviews from travelers.

Visit http://slaintescotland.com/ and http://slaintescotland.com/day-tours.html for more information.

Outlander Day Tours at http://slaintescotland.com/outlander-tours-of-scotland.html describes the packages for the Outlander Day Trip, Outlander 3 Day Tour, Outlander 7 Day Tour, and Outlander 5 Day Tour.

Outlander Tour with Special Guests

In addition, a new offering from Slainte Scotland this year is a special Outlander tour featuring actor Scott Kyle (Outlander‘s Ross) and supporting Highlander actors from the show, as well as Outlander‘s Gaelic Consultant Àdhamh Ò Broin, Fraser Murdoch who works on Outlander‘s visual effects, and Gillebride MacMillan who plays Gwyllyn the Bard in series 1. The tour will launch from the 2017 Starfury Convention in Blackpool, England, at which Sam Heughan will appear on Saturday and Sunday. The subsequent Outlander Tour with Special Guests is scheduled for 28th August to 1st September.

Outlander Tourism Reference – Diana’s Recommendations, Tour Company Pages, Location List, Articles & Resources

Outlander-Based Tours of Scotland – DianaGabaldon.com – Herself explains the purpose of her list, provides disclaimers, and describes how the selected companies made the list.

Tour Companies’ Tour Advertisements (text theirs)

Slainte Scotland (Catriona Stevenson and co.)

Slainte Scotland – Outlander Tours | VisitScotland – Are you a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books and the subsequent hit Starz TV show of the same name? Do you want to enjoy the landscape that inspired the books? Join us on our Outlander Tour, visiting some of the main filming locations.

Outlander Day Tours from Edinburgh and Glasgow – Scottish Tours and Private Hire – Slainte Scotland ToursOutlander Day Tours from Edinburgh and Glasgow. Includes Castle Leoch and Fort William.

Outlander Tours, Outlander filming location Tour, Outlander Tour Scotland – Scottish Tours and Private Hire – Slainte Scotland ToursOutlander Tours of Scotland. Be your own Claire Randall searching for your very own Jamie Fraser.

Inverness Tours (Hugh Allison and co.)

Outlander Tours, based on Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series

Outlander – Inverness Tours – All Day Diana Gabaldon Outlander Special Tour (This was the tour my friend took and greatly enjoyed in July 2016. Stops include Clava Cairns, Culloden, Inverness, as well as Beauly Priory, Castle Leod, Rogie Falls, and Loch Garve.)

Clans & Castles (clansandcastles.com/gabaldon.htm) – Clans & Castles – self-guided itinerary for fans of Diana Gabaldon ‘s novels – Clans & Castles itinerary for fans of Diana Gabaldon’s novels. Will you walk through the split stone?

Borders Journeys (bordersjourneys.co.uk) – Outlander – Preston Mill – Outlander Film Set – Borders Journeys – Tailor made private guided sightseeing and ancestral tours of Scotland. Specialising in Dumfries & Galloway and Scottish Borders.

Outlander tour – Rosalyn’s Ancestral & Outlander Tour – Borders Journeys.

Outlander Road Trip – Borders Journeys.

Borders Journeys has also taken tourists to Glencorse Old Kirk, among other southern and central filming locations.

Outlandish Journeys (outlandishjourneys.com) – Outlander – Tour Options – Outlandish Journeys – Tour Options available with Outlandish Journeys

Outlander – TV Series Tour – Outlander Tour (outlandertour.co.uk) – Outlander TV Series Scottish locations tour from Edinburgh

Discovering Outlander – National Trust Scotland

I checked out at least four other companies online last summer, but there are probably dozens. One of those four was Vacation Scotland, included in Diana’s list. Her description was compelling, but I was put off by their outdated website presentation and place name misspellings. Further perusing signaled to me a company I wouldn’t personally pursue. Although I didn’t include them here, you may find expertise and other facets that make up for the shaky first impression. Another company steered me away by their emphasis on Ireland tours.

I recommend finding a company that has specialized in Outlander tours for several years prior to the show’s premier and those that have a genuine special interest in the series, a unique approach, or a special focus. They’re more likely to deliver a bit of the magic viewers and readers receive from the series. For instance, it was very interesting to me to hear about Catriona’s acting and running into the cast on more than one occasion. She also knows Àdhamh Ò Broin, official Gaelic language consultant for the show, with whom we explored Argyll on 20 September, three days after our Outlander tour.

For other tour possibilities, go to Outlander Tour Search Results – VisitScotland.

List of 40 Filming (NOT book) Locations – in rough counterclockwise geographical order (central to south to north)
  1. LBP Outlander Ltd. (Outlander studios), Cumbernauld & Kilsyth, North Lanarkshire, east of Glasgow, central Scotland – all STARZ series interior sets
  2. Torbrex Farm, near Cumbernauld and greater Glasgow – s2 foggy, tent-contained Battle of Prestonpans
  3. George Square, Glasgow city centre – s1 flashback of Claire and Frank marriage, Westminster register office
  4. Glasgow Cathedral, Glasgow east city centre – s2 l’Hopital des Anges, Paris
  5. Pollok Country Park, Pollok, south Glasgow – Castle Leod grounds, s2 BJR-Jamie duel
  6. Hunterston House, West Kilbride, North Ayrshire – Rev. Wakefield house interiors
  7. Dean Castle, Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire – s2 seat of Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, a.k.a. the Old Fox, Beaufort Castle, Beauly, Highlands
  8. Dunure Harbour, Firth of Clyde, South Ayrshire – s3 filming based on Voyager
  9. Troon coast, South Ayrshire – s1 end, departing Scotland for France
  10. Drumlanrig Castle, Thornhill, Mid Nithsdale, Dumfries & Galloway – s2 exteriors, living rooms & bedrooms of Sandringham’s Bellhurst Manor, England
  11. Glencorse Old Kirk, Milton Bridge, near Penicuik, southern Midlothian – s1 Jamie & Claire wedding
  12. Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot, East Lothian – s1 Lallybroch broken mill
  13. Gosford House gardens/woodlands, Gosford Bay, near Longniddry, East Lothian – s2 Stable Building at Palace of Versailles, France
  14. Old Town, Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh – s3 Jamie-Claire reunion, adventures
  15. Bo’ness and Kinneil Rail Station, on Firth of Forth, Midlothian – s1 flashback of Frank-Claire WWII good-bye on train platform
  16. Hopetoun House, near Queensferry, West Lothian – s1 Sandringham residence in Highland, Scotland
  17. Midhope Castle, Hopetoun Estate, West Lothian – Lallybroch estate & grounds
  18. Linlithgow Palace, Linlithgow, West Lothian – s1 Wentworth Prison exteriors and corridors
  19. Muiravonside Country Park, West Lothian & Falkirk, near Linlithgow – s2 Battle of Prestonpans, British encampment, and English countryside
  20. Callendar House, Falkirk – s2 used as part of Sandringham’s Bellhurst Manor
  21. Dunmore Park, Dunmore, Falkirk – s1 Claire and VE-Day, end of WWII
  22. Blackness Castle, Blackness, on Firth of Forth, Falkirk – s1 Fort William
  23. Culross, royal burgh of; southwestern Fife – s1 Crainsmuir village, Geillis Duncan’s house, & Castle Leod herb garden; s2 Jacobite camps and buildings
  24. Aberdour Castle, Firth of Forth, southern Fife – s1 Scottish abbey of Jamie’s convalescence after Wentworth
  25. Dysart Harbour, Dysart, Firth of Forth, Fife – s2 port of Le Havre, where Jamie, Claire & Murtagh arrive in France, 1740s
  26. The Reaper Tall Ship, Anstruther Harbour, Anstruther, near East Neuk, coastal Fife – s2 one of the ships seen in the port of Le Havre, France
  27. Balgonie Castle, near Markinch, central Fife – s1 Eldridge Manor, MacRannoch’s home near Wentworth Prison
  28. Falkland, royal burgh of; central Fife – Inverness 1940s, 1960s
  29. Doune Castle, Doune, Stirling, Perthshire border – s1 Castle Leod castle, grounds & surrounding land
  30. Touch House, NE edge of Touch Hills, Stirling – s2 Culloden House before battle
  31. Finnich Glen, a.k.a. Devil’s Pulpit, near Drymen, Stirling – s1 St. Ninian’s Spring, a.k.a. the Liar’s Spring, where Dougal Mackenzie tests Claire’s veracity
  32. Loch Katrine, Trossachs National Park, east of Loch Lomond, Stirling – s2 Roger Wakefield driving Brianna Randall through countryside around Inverness
  33. Tullibardine Chapel, near Crieff, central Perth & Kinross – s2 Jamie & Claire small group’s hideout chapel after pursuit by Redcoats
  34. Drummond Castle gardens, near Crieff, central Perth & Kinross – s2 park & orchard of Palace of Versailles, France
  35. Deanston Distillery, former cotton mill, Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park, Perth & Kinross – s2 Jared Fraser’s wine warehouse, docks of Le Havre
  36. Tibbermore Parish Church, Tibbermore, Perth & Kinross – s1 Crainsmuir witch trial church interior
  37. Dunalastair Estate, Loch Rannoch, Perth & Kinross – Craigh na Dun standing stones circle through which Claire time travels
  38. Glencoe, Ballachulish, Highland – long shots in credits and transition scenes
  39. Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore, Cairngorms National Park, Highland – s1 Clan Mackenzie rents collection, wool waulking
  40. Tulloch Ghru, near Aviemore, Cairngorms National Park, Highland – s1 Claire & Highlanders travel between Inverness & Castle Leod, & maybe time on road during Clan Mackenzie rents collection
Articles and Info about Filming Locations

Outlander – Filming Locations in Scotland | VisitScotland – includes a link to their pdf (below) with labeled map and site snippets, a section on Outlander book sites including Inverness, highlights of Outlander-related culture and history, and links to other TV, film, and literary tourism opportunities.

Outlander film locations – outlander-film-locations.pdf – a great guide available through the above page at VisitScotland; a full-color map of numbered sites mainly in Scotland’s central belt, each number corresponding to a succinct but helpful blurb about a location accompanied by an identifying picture of the actual site. A total of 29 listed as of this post–vastly updated since summer 2016! Also accessible through Outlander map | VisitScotland

Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander TV series filmed in Scotland – VisitScotland (2013 article)

Outlander – 14 Scottish Places All “Outlander” Fans Must Visit (Buzzfeed.com, 2015) – Never seen Outlander? You should visit these stunning Scottish locations anyway. Warning: Mild Season 1 spoilers ahead… (Episode shots alongside tourism photos of each site.)

Outlander’s Cast and Crew’s Favorite Filming Locations | Travel + Leisure (interview, 2016) – The masterminds behind the Starz hit spoke to T+L the best places they went on the job.

Where is Outlander filmed? Top 5 Scottish locations in season 2 (radiotimes.com, 2015) Gary Rose goes for a spin in the Highlands, taking in the Culloden battlefield, the town that doubles as Cranesmuir and a working medieval village

Outlander – Five must-visit Outlander filming locations – The Scotsman (2016)

7 Outlander sights you need to visit in Scotland this year – Daily Record (2017)

Specific Filming Locations in Depth

LBP Outlander Ltd, Wyndford Road, Cumbernauld, Wardpark North, Glasgow, UK – Google Maps

Pollok Country Park – Glasgow City Council
A Visit to Pollok Country Park
Pollok House

Hopetoun locations map
Outlander at Midhope (Lallybroch) – Hopetoun (hopetoun.co.uk – Hopetoun House and estate includes Hopetoun Farm Shop and Midhope Castle among its properties.)
Midhope Castle, Abercorn – Queensferry – West Lothian – Scotland | British Listed Buildings
You searched for Midhope – Hopetoun
Outlander at Hopetoun – Hopetoun
House and Grounds – Hopetoun
Grounds and Wildlife – Hopetoun
Hopetoun Farm Shop – Butchery, Deli, Bakery near Edinburgh
Hopetoun-Farm-Shop-Broxburn-to-Midhope-Castle-Google-Maps.pdf

Blackness Castle (visitwestlothian.co.uk)
Blackness Castle (historicenvironmentscotland.scot)

Bo’ness And Kinneil Railway – Google Maps

Glencorse House: http://www.glencorsehouse.co.uk/.
Glencorse, Old Glencorse Kirk – Penicuik – Midlothian – Scotland | British Listed Buildings
Glencorse Old Kirk – Outlander Film Set – Borders Journeys – Tailor made private guided sightseeing and ancestral tours of Scotland. Specialising in Dumfries & Galloway and Scottish Borders
Glencorse, Old Parish Church | ScotlandsPlaces

City Tours Edinburgh | VisitScotland
Royal Mile and Grassmarket | VisitScotland
Palace of Holyroodhouse (Edinburgh)
Edinburgh and Stirling castles ranked in UK’s top 10 best-loved castles – Scotland Now
Discover Edinburgh Castle
Parks and gardens – Meadows | The City of Edinburgh Council

Preston Mill & Phantassie Doocot (NTS)
Discovering Outlander – Preston Mill brief profile, National Trust Scotland (NTS)
Outlander – Preston Mill’s Outlander | National Trust for Scotland USA (ntsusa.org detailed article about the scene) – In June 2014, 150 cast and crew members from the hit TV show Outlander set up camp at the NTS Property Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot. 

Outlander – Preston Mill – Outlander Film Set – Borders Journeys – Tailor made private guided sightseeing and ancestral tours of Scotland. Specialising in Dumfries & Galloway and Scottish Borders.

Aberdour Castle | VisitScotland

Dysart Harbour – The Harbourmasters House, Hot Pot Wynd, Dysart, Kirkcaldy KY1 2TQ, United Kingdom – Google Maps

Black Kirk | My Outlander Adventure

Royal Burgh of Culross | VisitScotland
Culross Palace, Townhouse & Study | VisitScotland
Culross West Church – Culross, Fife – Places of Worship in Scotland | SCHR

Falkland | VisitScotland

Falkland Palace & Garden – National Trust Scotland (NTS)

Attractions near The Covenanter Hotel

Finnich Glen – Devil’s Pulpit – Google Maps

Doune Castle (HES)

Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust | Pages | Perthshire Big Tree Country
Rannoch_Path_Network_Leaflet.pdf
Walkhighlands: Start of Loch Rannoch Forest walk
Kinloch Rannoch, Tummel Bridge, Loch Rannoch, walking holidays, wildlife watching, fishing, highland clans
Places to Visit from the Dunalastair Estate Holiday Cottages – Central for touring
Dunalastair Highland Estate near Pitlochry in Scotland has holiday cottages for relaxing vacations
Walking, Cycling, Horse-riding around Perthshire

Glencoe | VisitScotland

Cairngorms-National-Park-Map.jpg (JPEG Image, 1969 × 1439 pixels)
Cairngorms Guide, Things To Do, Events, Activities
Map of Waterfalls in Cairngorms National Park, Scottish Highlands, Scotland

Outlander – Cairngorms – Tulloch Ghru (as Featured in Outlander TV Series) | Stately Home (lovetoescape.com) – Tulloch Ghru (as Featured in Outlander Tv Series) is a Thing to Do in Aviemore, The Highlands, Scotland. Stately Home, Loch, Lake, Waterfall, Nature Reserve, Park, Garden or Woodland . . .
Tulloch-Ghru_old-map-area_from-Wizzley.jpg – sleuthing and description of the area, distinguishing it from a similarly named one nearby
Rothiemurchus Forest landscape profile/description. This area of the Cairngorms National Park is located in its western region on an east-west line between Fort Augustus (at the southern tip of Loch Ness) and Aberdeen (on the North Sea coast).
Detailed map of Rothiemurchus Forest; includes “Tullochgrue” (Upper and Lower), which is located west of Allt Druidhe (waterway) and the forest center, just north of Achnagoichan (close to it), south of Inverdruie (farther from it), and southeast of Aviemore (farthest of these)
Aviemore: Overview of Aviemore (Gazetteer Scotland)
Bed and breakfast Kingussie near Aviemore

Highland Folk Museum home page (Highlife Highland)
Visitor Information – Highland Folk Museum (Highlife Highland)

Info about Outlander Book Locations

Lochaber, Fort William

Fort William, Highland PH33 6SW – Google Maps
The Outdoor Capital of the UK – Google Maps
The Jacobite Steam Train – Locomotive and Coaches | West Coast Railways

Inverness & Inverness-shire

Visit Inverness Loch Ness Tourist Destination Guide
Inverness Information Centre | VisitScotland
Inverness Travel Guide | Travel + Leisure
Inverness – Holidays, Breaks & Travel | VisitScotland
Art Galleries – Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
Events in September in Inverness, Loch Ness & Nairn | Things to do | Page 1 | Welcome to Scotland

Tour Search – Loch Ness by Jacobite
Jacobite Cruises Ltd | Cruise Scotland
Urquhart Castle tourist and visitor information, history and pictures | Urquhart Castle

Fort George: Overview
Contact Us – The Highlanders Museum (Highlanders Museum, Fort George)

Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre | VisitScotland
Culloden – Visit (NTS)

Beauly

Beauly Priory: Prices and Opening Times
Beaufort Estate Cottages, Beauly, Inverness-Shire – Go Breakaway.co.uk

Book and Premise Inspired Outlander Tourism

Standing Stones, Stone Circles, Stone Features, and Cairns

Prehistoric Sites in Scotland Examples:

Fowlis Wester Sculptured Stone, Perthshire (Perth and Kinross)In village church at Fowlis Wester, 6 miles (10km) NE of Crieff, On the A85. Historic Scotland property; tall cross-slab carved with Pictish symbols, figure sculpture and Celtic details.

Cairnpapple Hill, Edinburgh and the Lothians – 3 miles (5km) N of Bathgate, Lothian. Near Torphichen (B792), Narrow, winding road. Tel. 01506 634 622. Open: April-end Sep, 9.30am-5.30pm, daily. Historic Scotland property; one of the most important prehistoric monuments in Scotland; used as burial and ceremonial site BC3000 – AD500; central part of monument under cement dome with ladder leading down to interior; views from the hill. Cairnpapple Hill – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Nether Largie Cairns, Argyll and ButeBetween Nether Largie and Kilmartin, Argyll, Off the A816. Historic Scotland property; 2 Bronze Age cairns, 1 Neolithic cairn (3000BC); axe carvings in N cairn.

Temple Wood Stone Circles, Argyll and Bute.25 miles SW of Nether Largie, South of Kilmartin, Argyll on A816. Open site. Historic Scotland property; circle of upright stones and remains of earlier circle; date approximately 3000BC.

Machrie Moor Stone Circles, Ayrshire and Isle of Arran3 miles N of Blackwaterfoot, On W side of Arran, off the A841, 1.5 mile walk to the site. Historic Scotland property; remains of 5 Bronze Age stone circles considered one of most important sites of its kind in all of Britain.

Twelve Apostles Neolithic Stone Circle, Dumfries and GallowayOff the A76, N of Dumfries and New Bridge, Situated in a field. Of the 11 remaining stones only 5 are standing, the tallest of which is about 3.2 feet high.

Clava Cairns (HES)
The Clava Cairns (also known as Balnuaran of Clava) lie 6 miles E of Inverness. These Bronze Age chambered cairns are each surrounded by a stone circle in a wooded field. A most unusual place. Robert Pollock has a guide to this site. Photos online by Phil Wright and Undiscovered Scotland.

Corrimony chambered cairn is situated in Glen Urquhart (8 miles W of Drumnadrochit) and surrounded by a circle of 11 standing stones. Robert Pollock has a guide to this site. (undiscoveredscotland.co.uk)

Standing Stones & Stone Circles in Scotland | VisitScotland

Standing stones and ancient monuments – The Internet Guide to Scotland (scotland-inverness.co.uk)

The Old Man of Storr is a strangely shaped rock pillar you can see from as far as Portree and beyond; Portree, Trotternish area, Isle of Skye. (https://www.isleofskye.com/skye-guide/top-ten-skye-walks/old-man-of-storr)

Castlerigg Stone Circle, Saint John’s Castlerigg and Wythburn, Allerdale District, United Kingdom – Google Maps – Lake District, England

Fairy Hills, Fairies, Witches & Legends

Fairy Hills, Biodiversity & Heritage
Fairies – TOMNAHURICH CEMETERY (Historic Environment Scotland profile)
http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/scotland/invernesshire/featured-sites/tomnahurich-hill.html
Inverness Image Library – Tomnahurich (Hill of the Fairies)
The Witch of Inverness and the Fairies of Tomnahurich – Google Books
Fairies – The Faery Folklorist: Robert Kirk – Part 2 – Aberfoyle Church
The Kelpie of Loch Garve | Mysterious Britain & Ireland
Black Isle – RSPB Fairy Glen – Google Maps
Skye – The Fairy Pools, Glen Brittle, Isle of Skye – Google Maps

Brochs, Caves & Other Rock Formations

Brochs in Scotland | Unusual Accommodation | VisitScotland
Caves and karst in Scotland – Scottish Natural Heritage
Cliffs, Canyons & Rock Formations of Scotland, United Kingdom
10 unusual rock formations | Travel | The Guardian
There is also Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa, Bowfiddle Rock on the Moray Firth, and the famous Ring of Brodgar on Orkney, among others.
Falls-of-Rogie_tripadvisor_stock-image.jpeg
Waterfalls, Rivers, Caves & Natural Features to Explore in Garve | Things to do | Page 1 | Welcome to Scotland
Loch Garve | Fishing | Caithness, Sutherland & Ross-shire | Welcome to Scotland
12 fairy tale waterfalls in Scotland to see before you die – Daily Record

–> For a guide to nature and wildlife tourism in Scotland, see the end section of my post “Wildlife TV Programs This Week,” which also previewed the Destination Wild show Wild Scotland that aired on NatGeoWild on 2 April 2017.

The Clans

Map: The 18th century territories of Scotland’s clans – The Scotsman
Map of the Highlands of Scotland denoting the districts or counties inhabited by the Highland Clans. – Maps of Scotland
The Clan Museum – Google Maps
Strathpeffer Visitor Guide, Hotels, Cottages, Things to Do in Scotland
Castle Leod | the Seat of Clan Mackenzie
Castle Leod (Strathpeffer, Scotland): Top Tips Before You Go – TripAdvisor

Genealogical Research

How to research your Scottish family history in six easy steps | VisitScotland
Family History — Clan MacKenzie Routes

Lochaber/West Highland

Glenfinnan Monument – Google Maps

Fraser Lands

Castle Fraser | VisitScotland – Aberdeenshire (just north of Royal Deeside)
Lovat Castle (site of) | Castle in Kirkhill, Inverness-shire | Scottish castles | Stravaiging around Scotland

Castles in the Highlands | VisitScotland

Places Mentioned on Series 1 of the Show

Inverness/Nairn (searching for Claire in Ep108, “Both Sides Now”)

Darnaway Forest – Google Maps
Findhorn Bridge – Google Maps (Findhorn River)

Highland (searching for Jamie in Ep114, “The Search”)

Achnasheen – Google Maps
glen rowan cross – Google Maps
Glen Rowan Guest House – Google Maps

Sam Heughan (Jamie) and Laura Donnelly (Jenny) Studied Theatre Here

Glasgow’s Royal Conservatoire

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland: Overview of Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland: Photographs of Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
: Glasgow City Map / http://www.scottish-places.info/councils/morecpix16.html

Articles Reflecting Outlander STARZ’s Pop Culture Progress

Cumbernauld lands role in production of US TV series (From Herald Scotland) (2013)
Outlander brings Diana Gabaldon fans flocking to Scotland | UK news | The Guardian (2014)
Town movie studio is a star attraction – Cumbernauld News (2014)
Outlander article – Scots tourism feels ‘Outlander effect’ of hit TV show – The Scotsman (2015)
A brief history of Outlander and the Scottish Clans – Scotland Now (2016)
Outlander looking for trainees to work on Season 3 of hit show in Scotland – Scotland Now (2016)
Filming underway for Outlander season three Voyager – Daily Record (2016)
Outlander helps Scotland outshine rest of the UK when it comes to visitor attractions – Daily Record (2017)

And for Good Measure

10 ideas on how to beat Droughtlander | VisitScotland


In the next post of this series, the official Part 5 to An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, I’ll present Scotland tourism tips and logistical resources, plus share some final thoughts on Outlander tourism in Scotland. Thanks for learning along with me. Slan leat!

An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, Part 4

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.”

March 2016

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.

Getting Unstuck

To solve this problem, I took a different tack: First I created a checklist of steps to consider taking to strategize our tourism.

  1. Hire a travel agent!
  2. 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

          In town:

    • shopping (1 street or 1 famous shop)
    • art gallery/antiques/architecture walk
    • bookshop
    • park
  1. 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.
  2. Choose 2-3 regions of England plus London, maximum.
  3. Choose 2-3 regions of Scotland plus Edinburgh (or Glasgow?), maximum.
  4. 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.
  5. 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
    • views/vistas
    • nature walks
    • art/architecture
  1. 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.

Chopping Block

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.

Scotland Guidebooks

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.

Drilling Down

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.

Outlander Tours

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.

Reaching Out

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.

Excited to see the trip taking shape, as I mentioned in my overview in Part 1 of this series, I laid out our tentative list of sites and sights in the post Five-Phrase Friday (38): Scotland.

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

  1. Glasgow and environs (4 nights Glasgow) – Glasgow Botanic Gardens, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Park, City Chambers, Glasgow Cathedral/Necropolis, a play, boat ride on the river Clyde; Cumbernauld (Outlander studios drive-by), Falkirk Wheel, Stirling Castle, Doune Castle (Monty Python, Castle Leoch), Wallace Monument

  2. The Trossachs, Argyll, and Central Highlands – Loch Lomond (and maybe Loch Katrine) in Trossachs National Park; Loch Awe, Inveraray Castle; Glencoe

  3. The Great Glen, Highlands, and west coast (2 nights Fort William) – Fort William, Glenfinnan Monument (Jacobite Rebellion launch), Jacobite Steam Train to Mallaig, lochs and walks in the Great Glen; Eilean Donan Castle

  4. Inverness and environs (3 nights Inverness) – Inverness Visitors Centre, excursions to Foyers Falls, Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle (maybe a boat ride), Cawdor Castle (Macbeth), Culloden Moor (Jacobite Rebellion), Clava Cairns (standing stones with split rock), Cromarty, Black Isle, Moray Firth

  5. Edinburgh and environs (4-5 nights Edinburgh) – Edinburgh Castle, National Museum of Scotland, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Calton Hill, The Royal Mile main street, which includes Writers’ Museum, Greyfriars Kirk (“Bobby” the Westie), St. Giles’ Cathedral, Scott Monument, and more; Southern Uplands including Rosslyn Chapel and maybe Abbotsford House (Sir Walter Scott) and Melrose Abbey

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.

Screenshot from 2017-03-08 22:56:18_p1d1-2

And the rest of our itinerary . . .

Sept 16

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.

Sept 17

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!

                        Planned                                                                Actual

Screenshot from 2017-03-08 22:59:36_p-1d3-4_18-19_re-done_WritersMuseum

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.

Sept 20

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.

                        Planned                                                                Actual

Screenshot from 2017-03-08 23:00:08_p-1only_d5partial_20th_topScreenshot from 2017-03-08 23:00:08_p-2d5partial_20th_middle

Screenshot from 2017-03-08 23:00:50_p-2d5_20th_bottom

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.

                        Planned                                                                Actual

Screenshot from 2017-03-08 23:01:31_p-2d6-7_21-22

Sept 22

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.

                        Planned                                                                Actual

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Sept 25

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.

                        Planned                                                                Actual

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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/).

                        Planned                                                                Actual

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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).

The Verdict

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:

  1. 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.
  2. If possible, avoid scheduling exploration of Inverness-shire for Loch Ness Marathon weekend, for greater flexibility.
  3. Travel earlier in the tourist season to increase Jacobite Steam Train scheduling options.
  4. 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.
  5. Allocate sufficient time each evening to literally map out the next day’s specifics.
  6. 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.
  7. Visit a local pub for a pint or a dram and strike up a conversation with a native.
  8. 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:

  1. Add a whisky distillery tour in the Highlands or a whisky tasting experience in Edinburgh.
  2. Make the effort to climb up Arthur’s Seat near Holyroodhouse and take in the view of Edinburgh and environs.
  3. Climb all 237 steps to the top of Scott Monument, the tallest monument to a writer in the entire world.
  4. Visit Calton Hill for more views of the city from the opposite end nearest Edinburgh Castle.
  5. Do more hill walking among the lochs in the Trossachs, at Schiehallion near Rannoch, or around Loch Ness.
  6. 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:

  1. 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).
  2. Visit Gladstone’s Land and Georgian House for the Old Town-New Town classes comparison in Edinburgh.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Go back to the National Museum of Scotland to take in more of its numerous galleries.
  6. See more waterfalls, try harder to see wildlife, and make a point of seeing sea wildlife, especially otters.
  7. Spend some leisure time enjoying the amenities and luxuries of Daviot Lodge, including the garden, the living rooms, and the huge bear-claw tub!
  8. Take a ferry to the Isle of Skye and explore it for at least a day, including the Fairy Pools and the Cuillin Mountains.
  9. Make a more concerted effort to find the Craigh na Dun set at Dunalastair Estate, Rannoch.
  10. 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:

  1. Pack fewer jeans and more leggings and light-weight, comfortable pants to reduce laundry needs and vacuum bag compressibility.
  2. Pack fewer toiletries and over-the-counter medical provisions, allowing occasions to purchase them as needed in Glasgow, Edinburgh, or Inverness areas.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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,
  3. 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.

In Part 5 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.

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Pay Attention

a reblogged post from In Flow

In Flow

munchow_0949-072.jpgI think all creatives yearn for some kind of success, some kind of recognition for the work we do. Success is maybe not why we photograph, write, paint or travel—or whatever creative activity we do—or ought not to be. The work itself, being creative, is a reward good enough if we only let ourselves not get obsessed with the thought of success. The craving for success can actually get in the way of our creative endeavour.

Nevertheless, we do feel good when we experience some kind of success, whether it’s monetary gain or just some heartfelt feedback from a good friend. I am sure you know what I am talking about.

Success is all in our minds, though. You cannot control how the world will receive and perceive your artistic work, but you can be in command of how you feel about it yourself. If you let yourself feel good…

View original post 823 more words

Poetry Spotlight: Contributor Matthew Thorburn. A pressed post.

A post linked at bottom from the blog http://memoriousmag.wordpress.com, companion to Memorious: A Journal of New Verse and Fiction, has moved and intrigued me. It also intersects with my own blog’s areas of poetry, nature, travel, art, and reviews.

Sara A. Lewis reviews Matthew Thorburn’s book-length poem Dear Almost and presents Leslie Harrison’s interview with the poet. An epistle in four parts parallel to the four seasons, the book is about the loss of Thorburn’s unborn daughter to miscarriage.

Some of the review and discussion’s elements that caught my especial attention and urged me today to pursue the book:

  • a cultural tradition unfamiliar to me – classical Chinese poetry and Chinese language (Mandarin) through wife Lillian’s family and their 3-year-old son learning Chinese
  • the notion of the “season suite” – A book-length poetic form brewing for Thorburn (though not consciously as a form) found its subject, and the book was born.
  • the raw, peculiar experience of loss and grief for a forming but unborn child her father will never meet – This recalls for me actor Caitriona Balfe’s deeply affecting performance as Claire Fraser in episode 207, “Faith,” of the Outlander STARZ TV series (series 2 based on Gabaldon’s 2nd book Dragonfly in Amber), when Claire learns her first child, a daughter, was stillborn.
  • Thorburn’s relationship with Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry, a favorite poet of mine – a coupling of attentiveness with deep, restrained emotion
  • using haiku as bookends to a longer poetic passage
  • the interviewer’s incisive sophistication and the poet’s elegant thoughts

The interview is a bit of subtle theater emulating the kind they finish it discussing–how epistolary works hold readers at bay as the audience overhears a conversation between others.

Matthew Thorburn’s fourth full-length collection, Dear Almost, has recently been released by Louisiana State University Press. A book-length poem broken into sections that correspond to the four se…

Source: Poetry Spotlight: Contributor Matthew Thorburn |

The Dream of Turning 40

My birthday’s gift to you? Getting personal–one day early.


Each time I’ve thought of this coming birthday, I have heard Meg Ryan’s immortal lines:

“And I'm gonna be forty!”
“When?” asks Harry.
“Some day,” Sally adds weakly.
“In eight years!” Harry reasons.
“Yes, but it's just sitting there like this big dead end. . . .”

As with many of my favorite movies, and even ones I don’t like much, I occasionally hear these movie lines from When Harry Met Sally running through my head as I go about my day. These days, this particular record is broken.

Sally wants a family and has just learned that her several months’ ex-boyfriend Joe is engaged. Harry has gone to her place to comfort her. She’s crying rather hysterically, having shown no signs of grief post-breakup. Finally, the bubble has burst, and Harry and Sally’s friendship takes an irrevocable turn.

What’s my point? Lord knows. But isn’t that a great scene? More entertaining than I find everyday life, which is probably why I live in the cinematic fantasy world a significant portion of the time. (Don’t need the video; it’s all memorized.) Besides, the trauma is happening to someone else. I’m comforted, safe, but it also often means the joy and rapture are more likely found elsewhere. What reward without risk?

My eight years have passed, and 32 more besides. That reminds me, I’ve decided to state my age as “ten and thirty,” as in the days of yore. That sounds much more forgiving. Go for it, 60-year-olds! Say, “I am twenty and forty” or “I am twice thirty.” Sounds younger. I got this idea from my husband, who is nearly 14 months younger than I. Very thoughtful, Dear.

No, my husband is a hoot and adorable, and my parents, bless them, still vital and being parents. But I currently have no pets or children to look after (besides the backyard birds), which is the most accepted form of daily joy. No little ones to amuse me each day, which is, of course, the primary function of kids. Right, parents? Well, maybe not “primary,” but it’s mixed in there with all the exhaustion, stress, bewilderment, and worry.

The truth is I’m on the fence about having kids and have been for a while, but the inevitable alarm bells for presumably fertile women go up in volume a few decibels with the introduction of that dreaded digit “4.” No more thirties, not that I’ll miss the years themselves. No more legitimately falling into the young category. I’m entering that middle zone some refer to as “too young to be old and too old to be young.” Sounds like license for a mid-life crisis, for sure. 

But it’s certainly not a mid-reproductive years crisis. No, if it is a crisis or anything like, it’s that we’re coming down to the wire. As Sally Albright says after “this big dead end,” “and it’s not the same for men. Charlie Chaplin had babies when he was 73.” Harry replies: “Yeah, but he was too old to pick ’em up.” Sally starts to laugh but it returns to sobs.

Generally, women who want children and haven’t found a mate by their mid- to late-30s have more cause for mid-life crisis than men do, but science and evolution give us hope for higher numbers of fertile years and higher survival rates amidst high-risk pregnancies and complications of childbirth. Risk is always there, and danger still increases with age, but the 21st century is patient with late bloomers, whereas even as recently as 150 years ago, unmarried women past their twenties were already doomed to spinsterhood.

Risks and rewards come in many forms, and mean different things for different people. We as a society seem to believe we have no right to seek, let alone expect, healthy challenge or happiness in work or marriage itself or travel or the arts, especially not instead of in reproducing. Shouldn’t we take growth and joy everywhere we can get them?

You might think it depends on whether you’re passive or active in the “getting.” Actively seeking seems more honorable somehow, more adult, more enlightened than waiting for manna from heaven, as if we’re helpless, inert, ineffectual, and faithfully convinced of it. I.e., sheep.

Two movies intercede here. The Sound of Music and She’s Having a Baby, another 80s gem. “The Reverend Mother says you have to look for your life,” Maria tells Captain Von Trapp. And: “What I was looking for was not to be found but to be made,” says Jefferson Edward (“Jake”) Briggs of his wife and newborn son. Love that John Hughes.

Yet, even when we look for and make a life, nothing that results is absolutely great or horrible. Just as important as the issue of seeking actively or passively is to weigh the potential risks and rewards together.

For me, added risks come with carrying and birthing a child. Greatest of these besides age is that, due to inflammatory arthritis, any pregnancy would be considered by clinicians to be “high risk” from the start. I can imagine, have imagined the possible rewards as I watched my friends expand their families and now watch their eldest become teenagers. I’ve made my mental pros and cons lists and thought about all the right and wrong reasons and good and bad ways to have children. I’ve assessed our suitableness for parenthood and the question of passing on hereditary health conditions. Most important, after all that careful consideration and consultation, though, is to feel the desire rise above fear and doubt.

But whatever ends up touching us, however strangely or improbably it happens, however deliberately, desperately, or passionately we reach for it, there it is. It can either be good or bad for us, or both. We receive the good with the bad whether or not we want either of them.

The universe presents good, bad, worse, and better to us sometimes as options from an à la carte menu. The tongs grab the casual sex instead of the terrifying emotional chemistry that means risking great loss. Single woman will take slavery to meddling, co-dependent mother with side of slaw, instead of daunting freedom of looking for life, with unsweetened iced tea. But we always get a full plate. Another memorized movie brings the idea to a head:

“I have this theory of convergence that good things always happen with bad things, and I mean, I know you have to deal with them at the same time, but I don’t know why . . . . I just wish I could work out some sort of schedule. Am I babbling? Do you know what I mean?”

An enamored Lloyd Dobler replies, “No.”

But I got it perfectly! “Diane Court, whoa.” Genius of 1988, valedictorian of the class in Say Anything . . . Weren’t the 80s golden for rom-coms? She finds love just when her father’s life is falling apart. She can’t pick and choose. They both descend unbidden, and neither is going away any time soon. So she does the logical thing and pushes away the good out of loyalty to her lying, thieving father.

We do that sometimes—make self-sabotaging choices, afraid of happiness, scared of the sin of it, especially as others suffer, whether we play any role in their suffering or not. It feels wrong to be happy when loved ones are not. Fortunately . . . perhaps, Diane rights herself, rejecting Dad for Lloyd. The ending is open ended.

Love does not guarantee happiness; the opposite is more likely. But that doesn’t mean we should shun love. Pain is a powerful teacher. Once in a while, we learn something valuable to apply to the future.

Oh so much wisdom can be found in film. Our movie and TV heroes show us how we stumble and how to recover. They demonstrate how it’s done. The best stories at least hint at the fact that it’s an ongoing process, until it’s not.

If we’re lucky, we get to choose to embrace life or embrace death. “Get busy living, or get busy dying,” says Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption. Even more fortunate is the blessing of joy in this life. We may make our own happiness. We can certainly try.

Failing that, we can preserve our sense of wonder, mystery, beauty, or hope, even when rapture is out of reach. Even when disability, disease, injury, mistakes, conflict, or loss seems to mock our reaching.

In truth, fortune is fickle, and navigating it takes effort and patience, of initiative and waiting and recovery, and, for some, of praying. It really does seem to be all about the balance.

Whether equilibrium or tipped scales, the balance holds all. A 40-year-old can wobble like a toddler in heart or mind or body. A six-year-old can dispense ancient wisdom effortlessly. A 90-year-old can cut through the bullshit with razor sharpness. Nothing is completely as we might assume. Expect to have your expectations defied.

When you do, the likelihood of it may just increase. Sometimes a taste of the possibilities outside convention opens up the horizon like a star exploding. It’s messy, destructive even, but creative, too. We are all more resilient than we suppose, more capable of renewal and starting fresh after a fall or fallout or the numbing effects of time. I must remember this.

I think about death a lot, particularly my own, and not just because it’s my birthday. I expect to be struck down at any moment, much of the time. Especially any time I get in a car. I don’t really fixate; I just let the thoughts meander through. There’s little to stop them. Sometimes, I think I focus on death as a way to force myself to embrace life more vehemently. Losing grandparents, aunts, uncles, former classmates, and friends hasn’t done the trick. The terror does not yield to carpe diem, and some darkness lingers.

Losing the dog last February, however, brought new emptiness, which I greedily filled with guilty pleasures and renewed ambitions. Seen another way, I dusted myself off and kept going. However, along with vigorous effort and focus comes not just hope, but expectation.

We have no right to expect positive outcomes just because we are open to them or want them or reach for them or demand them. But while we’re here, we might as well try to build and enjoy something that is ours. Few will remember us for long after we’re gone, and eons from now, no one will.

Nowadays, almost as much as I think about death, I wonder about having kids, and my husband and I discuss it periodically (no, not monthly). The questions arise, along with the concerns. Answers are few and indefinite. In short, neither desire nor aversion has yet won.

People like to say, “It’s never too late,” but frankly, for everything, one day it will be. The line cavalierly sanctions procrastination of major life decisions. It’s little different from “There’s always tomorrow,” but that may truly never come, and one day, it just won’t. Do now, be now. All we know for sure is now. Do what, you ask? What is most true to yourself. This notion has become a trend and may now be somewhat out of fashion.

I’ve read my share of self-help books, most before the age of 30, and some have pearls of wisdom I’ve tucked away. You may know one that says, “Your mission in life is where your deep joy and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (I won’t say which one; I’m promoting movies, not books, today.) In reading these, and favoring this quote, I’ve trained myself to be alert to my inner truth and its expression, and it seems to be working as I work. I don’t seek out those kinds of books anymore; too many better options await my attention.

If we all cop out or settle to some degree and at some point, or even if only most of us do, it’s no great tragedy. On the other hand, if we ignore our soul’s longing completely, it may not be a mortal sin, but it could become a terminal regret. My fear of regret keeps me asking important questions such as, How can I make the most of my life? What am I meant to do?

Like today, even tomorrow may be nothing but a dream. In that case, I choose to embrace the dream, and the dreams within it. I’ve made it this far. I survived. I fulfilled the dream of turning 40. It’s a milestone, a benchmark, a signpost, a weigh station (I try not to stop at those). As if life is an aging contest or some sort of race to the finish, as if the finish line were not death itself.

Age is a sort of accomplishment in our culture. For people with, say, a terminal illness or violent household, this may well be true. Obviously, war-torn countries are so described because of death and maiming, where celebrating survival may become almost necessity. Still, in places and times of relative peace, we celebrate birthdays from year one forward, and in weeks and months before that. When birthdays are used to celebrate life and becoming, it makes sense to add some hoopla.

Otherwise, encountering another year really isn’t much of an achievement. This time, a song borrows the old adage: “Wisdom doesn’t follow just because you’ve aged.” Experience doesn’t guarantee learning. “Been there, done that” doesn’t mean you’re really any better off than someone who hasn’t. So don’t gloat so much, old fogie.

I’m certainly not done yet, not done trying to “fulfill” my “potential.” At some point, you’ve got to deliver, Dodo-head, or find yourself going the way of the dodo. And who would mourn the loss? The inability to evolve, to persevere, maintain a foothold on earth, on behalf of your species? To represent! I always feel that pressure to achieve, to make a difference, to leave a legacy, but with long-term pressure, I risk overcooking.

One side of you is saying, “And so you should.” And perhaps: “How selfish of you, how typical, to lament the inevitable passage of time, to make excuses for not using yours wisely. More selfish still, just spending (wasting) the time thinking about it because you ‘have the time’ to do so.” That’s my projected criticism from all those busy family people my age who don’t have such a “luxury,” the disapproval from the other voices in my head.

Why do I choose to look at it this way? Is that motivating? Even with these last quote marks, my defiance comes through. “I am what I am and that’s all that I am,” says Popeye. It’s a defiance to convention, conformity, being ordinary. It’s an insistence on forgiving myself for not being perfectly healthy, at my ideal weight, in shape, and bursting with energy while also juggling two jobs, a home, and children. Besides, I do juggle many parts of a busy life.

I defy contempt for privilege, I defy the progressive insistence that moral rightness means impoverishing oneself in the name of equality, and I defy the stigma and misconceptions about writers’ and artists’ lives. I could do office work, and I have done lots of it. I could do manual labor if I really, really had to, but I don’t. Now I work to be an artist, I teach for some income, and, thanks to my husband, I’m not starving. There, I said it.

Of course I would consider writing about, which requires dwelling upon, turning 40. I am a writer. And what’s more, a writer in a culture accustomed to celebrating and obsessing about birthdays. I’ve often thought that I am better suited to life as a free-wheeling scholar from the Age of Enlightenment or something than to traditional, modern-era work. Rather than snub the blessing, I embrace the chance to be just that kind of scholar and writer, while still working toward greater individual contributions to our income.

I usually try to keep my defiance in check in my writing, never wanting to seem too selfish, self-righteous, self-absorbed, too forthright, feminist, emotional, emotionalist, or otherwise stereotypically female, except in jest. But also because I claim a cherished penchant for reason and logic. True, the suppression is a bit neurotic, but, hey, awareness is the first step.

I really like that first step. I walk it all the time. It’s an infinite loop, as though I have one leg much shorter than the other and am walking in circles. Selfish –> anxious about it –> neurotic about anxiety –> selfishly neurotic. It’s oh so productive.

Suppressing defiance or anger, though, just comes across as being cold, rigid, emotionally distant, or, perhaps worse, dishonest. Unlikely I’m fooling anyone but me.

Defiance leaks out, anyway, eventually, in other contexts, the rest that I have—tutoring, friends, family. I’m human and American. Overall, I like to think my students and loved ones are pleased with me despite my egocentric leanings. (I would say that, wouldn’t I?)

Maybe I shouldn’t try so hard to defy expectation and to be different. The effort has become its own sort of tedious convention. Those who know me have come to expect it. Who, in the end, is truly 100 percent original? We are creatures of habit, pattern, and imitation. Relax a little when faced with things you really can’t change. Do everything in moderation, even moderation. Let loose on occasion. Balance.

And so, I revel in the riches of imagination, in all its forms, mediums, shapes, and colors. “God is in the rain,” says Evey Hammond in V for Vendetta. In nature, in reverie, in reflection. That’s where God lives for me. Where I can find something of grace, of beauty, of serenity, invigoration, balance. It is my universe. I can touch it, see it, hear it, taste it, examine it, love or hate it, reject or accept it.

We all need ways to shelter ourselves from the certainty of death, at least long enough to invest in our lives and to dream new dreams. The only soul I have to live with is this living, sensing one. I mean to do right by it. Invest in the balance, and then, “wait and hope,” as the Count of Monte Cristo says. And smile.

My new dream? Only one of many: the chance to see how I feel about all this at age 50. What of effort, deepest joy, money, ego, pain, employment, God, imagination, kids, limits, convention, neurosis, the world’s hunger, potential, balance, or wisdom then? I hope I’ll see–and hear those movie lines calling.


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graduate school graduation, age 31, or “ten and 21”

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Maple Street

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

All images copyright C.L. Tangenberg

The Labor of Learning to Set Limits

Oh, Outlander‘s finale was grand indeed, but it was so . . . final. I thought I would follow it with at least one thorough blog response, but it proved too overwhelming to face fully, and the sorrow of finality echoed forward. Besides these, another emotional factor had already begun to influence my viewing prior to the last episode of the season–increasing disappointment with the essence of how Starz has adapted the central story relationship of Jamie and Claire. All together, these zapped my motivation even to start sorting.

My disappointment helped me realize that the other thing I needed to do was take a break from “obsessenaching,” which, for the uninitiated means fanatically obsessing like, with, or about Sassenach*, aka Claire Fraser/Caitriona Balfe/Jamie Fraser/Sam Heughan and the whole Outlander lot. I could see my life was straying farther and farther from any semblance of balance. I was having a series of dreams invaded by actor Sam Heughan.

Now, the only reason I feel comfortable enough to admit this, despite finding it rather embarrassing, is that my obsession has made me privy to the obvious fact that many, many other fans’ obsessions with Sam (as must be the case with most handsome stars of the large and small screens) are far more serious and crippling to those people. I am happily married after all and do not hang my self-esteem on whether or not a celebrity re-tweets or responds to my comment. Undoubtedly, dignity and cool would fail me were I actually to meet said celebrity, but never mind.

Although, like many women of retirement age–of which I am not yet technically one for decades to come (hopefully)–I have more “free” time than most people, I have yet to earn the privilege of actual retirement. Based on where I have indulged my pleasures, I’ve come to see: It is this privilege that allows so many Outlander fans of 20+ or 2 years’ duration to indulge their fanaticism.

In my compromised youth, I still recognize the imperative of making life count for something. But without religion, robust health, paid profession, or penchant for routine, I figure some kind of inner drive needs to take the role of holding oblivion at bay for an independent-minded yet provided-for married woman approaching middle age without children. I believe one can really save only herself.

I did take a break of sorts. I put away my Outlander images collection. I stopped re-watching season 2 episodes. I stopped using Twitter altogether, let alone allowing notifications of Sam’s and Caitriona’s latest tweets. I was helped in this by the need to reduce the use of my phone while it showed signs of dying.

But with a new phone came renewed vigor and curiosity about technological capacities, i.e., gadget toys, and soon, I was right back in it. I justified this by the notion that I wouldn’t want to be out of the loop right before our big trip to Scotland. Still to happen, that trip in itself is a direct outgrowth of my Outlander obsession. I have no small hope of bumping into the cast and crew during season 3 filming this fall. I continue to “interact,” i.e., tweet, with the likes of the show’s consultants, producers and other reps. I receive regular notifications of tweets from slightly more than a few of them.

A married couple who are friends of mine just returned from their own Scotland trip, and I made sure to ask them all about it. I have scoured the travel guides, in print and online, compiled details on the sights selected for our itinerary, and delegated GPS setup to the hubby. We’ve bought street maps, new clothes, new shoes, RFID-blocking wallets, international driver’s licenses, travel insurance, theater tickets, steam train tickets, sightseeing passes, a detachable Bluetooth keyboard for my tablet, and a new rain coat for me. I downloaded 30 some apps for use before and during the trip, including the UK Highway Code, a bus tracker, weather apps, general news and sightseeing apps, one for each hotel and other vendor we’re using, and Scotland tourism apps. I’ve been planning our trip since May, and there are a slew of tasks still on our list, but it’s finally almost here.

I am excited, to be sure, but also worried that I won’t have the physical strength and energy to tackle even half of the itinerary I’ve tentatively planned for us. I tried to be realistic and arrange alternatives for things to do each day, but at least one day will be a real doozy with a full-day Outlander tour followed by an evening play, and we’re going largely DIY with all this, including renting a car for most of the trip. I also worry that my poor track record with packing sensibly will plague this voyage, too.

Still, I’ve never prepared so well, for so long, and so . . . obsessively for travel as I have for travel to and around Scotland. The excursion will be the single longest vacation my husband and I have ever taken. We’ll likely get through it somehow, but I do hope the experience proves to be worth all the time, money, and work invested in it. Who knows when the chance will come again?

The good news for balance is that I continue to think about it and make efforts at routine productivity. I still tutor weekly, and I’m still writing, in spite of my unplanned hiatus from this blog of late. I’ve been working on a novel since the July Camp NaNo (see my previous post about Packing for Camp), and now that fall approaches, I anticipate pursuing it through November, the official National Novel Writing Month I’ve participated in for the past five years.

[Note on the future of this blog: I’ve refrained from going into details about it here, or doing much posting at all, for fear of disrupting my momentum. But I must admit that it doesn’t take much to do that, and more often than not, blogging about my writing projects has injected new life into them rather than shut them down. So, I guess, besides tales from the trip, I can feel confident in having more to write about at Philosofishal going forward.]

There are other positive signs of balance to acknowledge as well. I have carried the bulk of responsibility for planning our Scotland trip over time, but I haven’t neglected all household management in the mix. I’m in the process of reassessing my autoimmune conditions treatment plan, I’ve begun a new financial investment project for us, and I’ve started walking regularly, mostly for the trip but also to combat high triglycerides, excessive computer sitting, and chronic pain. More goals are also brewing.

Perhaps I’ve been more balanced and productive than I give myself credit for. My limitations have not been as limiting as I believed. It’s just that some health challenges have a special, enduring talent for disappointing long-held expectations. So it has been for me, and so follows the need to keep adjusting those expectations, embrace joy where I can, and continue to set reasonable limits, especially on my propensity to obsess.

Setting limits for oneself is about awareness, love, and the will both to refrain and to reach for better. The good that comes from setting good limits can shatter perceived limitations. What once seemed impossible becomes not only possible but proven. Making wise limit setting a habit then means acknowledging that proof and using it to fuel future action.

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Easier said than done.

To make it doable, I think I’ll work to visualize myself going through something like a par course or speed dating session with my various tasks and projects. (Picturing actual juggling just intimidates me.) No one can go, go, go forever; we all need rest after running the course. For me, though, the emphasis is different because chronic health issues make restfulness from sleep a fantasy and daily rest rather void. For me, maintaining and strengthening balance largely means remembering to change the status quo: to get up, move from one foot to the other, keep moving, take a brief rest, and repeat the cycle.

Learning to prioritize and set limits on the consumption of time, while it imposes its own limits, is my greatest challenge and experiment.


  • For more about the term “sassenach,” see:

Outlander | Speak Outlander Lesson 1: Sassenach (video featuring Sam Heughan, lead actor, and Adhamh O Broin, Gaelic Consultant for the show) | STARZ (2013)

Dictionary.com definition of “sassenach”

“Scots Word of the Season: Sassenach” by Maggie Scott | The Bottle Imp (date not specified)

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