An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, Part 6

Featured image: Three Sisters of Glen Coe. Credit: STARZ/Sony Pictures Television

So Let’s Review, Sassenach

Welcome back for this final installment in my comprehensive, now six-part series “An Outlander Tourist in Scotland.” We’ve had a hiatus from roughly monthly postings, which began in December 2016 with Part 1, proceeded through to Part 4 by mid-March, and left off in April 2017 with “Review: Slainte Scotland Outlander Tour + Outlander Tourism Resources,” in effect part 5. Thus, the numbering gap.

Between taking our trip and writing this series, I also published posts focusing on the aesthetics of the overall experience, certain mountain-sea and mountain-loch vistas, an Edinburgh restaurant we loved, a nature poem by beloved Scot, Robert Burns, and the singular, marvelous attraction of a well-preserved castle ruin. Then, between the first few posts in the Outlander tourism series and parts 5 and 6, I shared a timely heads-up to view nature programs like Wild Scotland in the post “Wildlife TV Programs This Week.” That post ends with resources for live Scotland wildlife and nature tourism.

Now I’m so excited to deliver, for this dedicated Outlander tourism series, a final set of experience-based tips, insights, and resources! Long-term project turns fait accompli. The series would not be whole without my top overseas travel tips, a survival guide, reviews of travel apps, insights on where we slept and ate (with photos), my list of touchstone regional Scotland websites, and some closing thoughts to tie it all together. I hope all six parts of this Outlander tourism series prove helpful and that you’re managing Droughtlander like a “sturdy” OL fan.

Disclaimer: My blog series content is based on a family trip to Scotland in September 2016. It’s up you to verify details to make your travel experience as smooth as possible, especially if you take the DIY approach. I share ideas to get you started, but information, resources, and site access can change or be incomplete. The UK and Scotland’s hospitality sector, including property owners and stewards of film sites, have the final say. Do your research, and confirm with contacts directly in advance.

Top Five Tips for Travel Overseas

Now that you, the Outlander fan, know you really want to go to Scotland, and as you’ve started saving for the trip, it’s time (unless you already went!) to accomplish things that must be in place or in progress before your trip is imminent.

Next are my top tips for the U.S. traveler headed to Scotland, though the ideas apply to all travel abroad. Thoughts and resources for acting on the tips follow the list.

Incidentally, if you haven’t read it, Part 4 of this series takes you through our entire planning process, complete with itinerary snapshots comparing plans with actual results, plus reflections on the whole 14-day Scotland travel experience. Take a look!

#1 – The Passport: Before diving into specifics, take the most important step. If you don’t yet have a valid passport or are not sure it’s current, that’s business item number one. If your passport’s expiration date is too close to your dates of travel, even if it comes after them, your passport may not be accepted. Do your homework so you can pass.

#2 – Grab Your Guides: Be sure any travel guide book you consider buying includes some kind of survival guide section or street smarts feature. I’ll unpack the survival guide concept a little later in this post. Online government sites and articles can also be helpful on topics such as car insurance and car rental abroad (called “car hire” in the UK), travel insurance, rules of the UK road, and passport regulations.

#3 – Do I Really Have To? (Maybe Not): Save yourself some time and money by checking multiple sources before following advice that costs you both. For example, my husband and I discovered only upon arriving at our car hire office that we need not have paid for and gone through the trouble of obtaining international driver’s licenses. This may not be true of all car hire companies, so check before you travel.

#4 – The Travel Agent: Think about your tour priorities and unique circumstances so you can decide whether to go the DIY route or join a group tour for your entire trip. Enlisting the aid of a travel agent may be your best entree, especially for vacation packages. Do-it-yourselfers like me might appreciate the peace of mind of having the right travel agent on your side. I found it invaluable to ask questions and discuss ideas with my agent. He also booked our airfare and lodging package, using our miles points, which saved us time, hassle, and money.

#5 – Secure Yourself: Don’t give issues of personal, digital, and overall travel security short shrift. Travel insurance may be a beneficial investment for you. With the right policy, you gain the freedom to focus on the fun, knowing you’re covered in case of X, Y, or Z unpleasantness. Buying Allianz travel insurance was affordable, convenient, and satisfying for us. I recommend Allianz without hesitation, but know your options, too.

Using Your Travel Guide

After you square away the passport, turn your attention to tip 2, the specifics of where you most want to go and what you most want to see and do during your trip. Get out those travel guides, take some notes, and chat it up. Again, see Part 4 under the sections “Where I Started” and “Scotland Guidebooks” for a list of print travel guides I used.

As I suggested previously, you can approach this either by exploring regional info sections of guidebooks or specialized websites, or by searching for certain activities, attractions, and tours, and then fitting those to time and place. The process should get you excited about travel planning and motivate you when the logistical slogging phase arrives—shortly. Here are some reminders of resources I shared earlier.

Along with the following guides, I’ve included a list of links to touchstone regional resources of Scotland. See the bottom section of this post for those regional starting points: “Appendix: Guides to Adventures in Cities and Regions.”

NOTE: These are good regional starting points, but there’s a lot more where they came from, ready to be shared. Just say the word! Leave a comment or question, and I’ll get back to you with whatever I may have on the topic you raise.

Online Guides to Scotland

Along with specific resources for regions, areas, or individual sites (see the print travel guides or this post’s “Appendix”), it’s a great idea to orient yourself to the comprehensive websites for general Scotland tourism such as VisitScotland.com and Gazetteer for Scotland. Those were my go-to Internet sources for extensive place name lists, maps, and info (both), accurate historical and statistical profiles of regions and cities (Gazetteer), and up-to-date accommodation, attraction, and dining ideas (VisitScotland).

Try out a few of these broad-ranging web resources, and find one or two that you are most comfortable navigating and that consistently deliver the results you seek. Here are some possibilities. Blurbs are from the sources (parentheses mine).

Gazetteer for Scotland: Scottish Towns, Villages, Places, People, Families (scottish-places.info/scotgaz/scotland.html) – A vast encyclopedia of Scottish towns, villages, geographical features, historic sites, family names and famous people.

Gazetteer for Scotland: Map of Scotland (divided into searchable regions) 

Rough Guides – The Rough Guide to Scotland (roughguides.com/shop/rough-guide-scotland/) – The new, full-colour Rough Guide to Scotland is the definitive travel guide to this gem of a country. In-depth coverage of its burgeoning food scene, artistic innovations and awe-inspiring wild places. (for purchase)
Undiscovered Scotland: Home Page (undiscoveredscotland.co.uk) – The home page of Undiscovered Scotland, a combination of visitor guide, accommodation listing and business directory; aims to show you what the country is really like. (See also their Councils, Regions, and Counties page, which links to breakdowns of three different types of government divisions of land within the country.)

Scotland – The Guide to Scotland – Travel History and Places (scotland.org.uk/guide/)  Travel Scotland: Find the Freedom – Tells the story and inside info on places and history. Independent info about Scotland: travel, tours, accommodation, sightseeing, outdoor activities, castles, genealogy, etc, including the Highlands & Islands.

Scotland Travel Guide by Rick Steves (ricksteves.com/Europe/Scotland/) – Explore Scotland! Get inspired with Rick Steves’ recommended places to go and things to do, with tips, photos, videos, and travel information on Scotland.

Scotland Travel Guide | Fodor’s Travel (fodors.com/world/Europe/Scotland/) – Expert picks for your Scotland vacation, including hotels, restaurants, entertainment, shopping, top attractions, and more.

Fodor’s Scotland (Travel Guide): Fodor’s: 9781101879641: Amazon.com: Books – Fodor’s Scotland (Travel Guide) [Fodor’s] on Amazon.com. FREE shipping on qualifying offers. Scotland offers astonishing variety: its iconic lochs and mountains, as well as lively cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow

Scotland Travel Guide | Travel + Leisure – (brief, 2 sections: Things Not to Miss in Scotland, When to Go to Scotland)

Scotland the Best: Peter Irvine chooses his top 50 Scottish places to eat, stay and play – Daily Record – THE latest edition of Scottish travel bible Scotland the Best is out and here, author Peter Irvine selects his top 50 places to eat, stay and play.

Nature Scotland – Welcome to Scotland’s forests – Forestry Commission Scotland (scotland.forestry.gov)

National Parks | Visit Britain (visitbritain.com)

Itinerary Design

Once you have an idea of your preferred main attractions, take a crack at designing your itinerary, matching your moves on the map with the slots in your schedule. Consider your budget, timing, and comfort needs during transit and overnight stays. Strive for a balance between seeing those most important highlights and sparing enough energy to enjoy the experience without coming home flat broke in the end. Below are some tools for making a detailed plan. Just remember, be flexible even after the fancy printout; life happens, and in Scotland so does the weather, even on vacation.

KAYAK.COM – (text mine) I thought their itinerary creation tool was the best and most secure among several I tried—all of those below. Create an account, login, go to Trips, add a trip, and enter your details!

Itinerary Design – How to Create the Perfect Itinerary | IndependentTraveler.com – What’s the secret to creating a great itinerary? Here are trip planning tips and essential Web sites to help you put together the perfect itinerary.

Itinerary Design – TripCase Travel App: Manage Itineraries, Trips & Flights – Connected to powerful technology & travel companies, TripCase delivers the right information at the right time to any device. Sign up for Free today!

Itinerary Design – TripIt – Travel Itinerary – Trip Planner – TripIt organizes your travel plans in one place. Finds alternative flights. Sends real-time alerts. Snags the best seat. We have something for every traveler.

Scotland Itineraries – Fodor’s | Scotland Travel Guide | Fodor’s Travel Guides – Find the perfect Scotland Itinerary for you! … created by the Fodor’s editors.

Reality Check: Travel Agents

Now that you have an exciting rough sketch of your awesome trip, it’s time to consider consulting a travel agent to disabuse you of any extremely unrealistic notions you may have developed by this time. Talk to an agent, or at least an outside party—a friend, online travel planning expert, relative, or just a person who’s been there before—to get some health perspective on the plan so far.

While you’re doing this, start getting some of those new questions answered that popped up during your perusal of the so-helpful-but-so-overwhelming travel guides. Ask the travel agent, who may help cut down research time and confusion-related stress. Note that this step combines tips #3 and #4 above.

The travel agent is a resource that, with a little forethought, can help in more ways than inferred from the term “travel agent.” Ask about budget, financing, realistic timing, building in down time, ensuring time to eat, ways to streamline or increase the value of your experience, deals and packages, tour group options, and more.

By now, good travel agents should be aware of Outlander’s impact on Scottish tourism. They should have some idea of the rise in numbers of visits to Edinburgh, if not exactly why they’ve risen. If the agent’s missing the “why,” then you’ll have the chance, as I did, to educate them about the greatness that is the world of Outlander.

It’s natural for a travel agent to be most familiar with Caribbean and European river cruises, but good agents can guide you to wherever in the world you wish to go. At minimum, your travel agency should have some info ready on packages, cruises, guides, and in-depth resources for UK, if not Scotland, travel. Ensure your agent can promptly pull up options beyond London. If they can’t, find another agent. The best travel agent is a planning partner, adding value beyond flight/hotel discounts—without adding fees. We were glad to have this with Brian Chima at Chima Travel in Akron, Ohio. Note: I’ve never met Brian in person; we conducted all business by phone and email. So even if you’re not local, I suppose Chima may still be an option.

Traveler Protection

With safety and security, focus on a few key factors: insurance, personal security, and digital security. Decide how important your investment is to you because that’s what your trip is—an investment in enhancing your life with a one-of-a-kind experience.

You may find it worthwhile, at some level, to protect that investment with travel insurance. There are certain tried and true companies, as well as different levels of protection to purchase. It’s worth a little research and discussion with your travel partner(s) to familiarize yourselves with the options.

Below are travel insurance resources I consulted. Several proved insightful. We went with Allianz for travel insurance; it was a great choice insofar as we didn’t have to use the policy’s benefits. Cross your fingers, say your prayers, but protect yourself, too.

NOTE: Rental car insurance is a separate concern from overall travel insurance. We discovered our AllState auto coverage would not apply overseas. Unless we bought a separate policy, we wouldn’t be covered while driving in Scotland. So we added rental car insurance to our travel insurance policy at a reasonable daily rate. If we’d bought it with Alamo, costs would have risen. See the Car Hire/Rental section of the Survival Guide below for more information.

TripAdvisor: Inside Edinburgh, plus UK Comprehensive Guide – Before you see Edinburgh, see TripAdvisor for the latest info/advice, written for travelers by travelers.

9 Steps To Avoid Getting Scammed On Travel Insurance – Business Insider – Just before you buy your plane ticket…

Travel Insurance Coverage Tips by Rick Steves (ricksteves.com)

Travel Insurance db – Get A Travel Insurance Quote | Compare The Market – Compare travel insurance quotes from leading…providers at Compare the Market.

Travel Insurance Plan Comparison Chart – Travel Insured’s four Worldwide Trip Protector plans compared based on benefit levels and travel assistance services. Additional charts for medical, baggage, and reasons for trip cancellation.

Allianz – Purchase a Travel Insurance Policy – Step 1 | Allianz Global Assistance

Travel Insurance 101: How Travel Insurance Works | Allianz Global Assistance – More and more travelers are opting to buy travel insurance to provide benefits ranging from peace of mind to financial security.

BETiNS Travel Medical Insurance ,Trip, Holiday, Student, Cheap Travel Insurance – BETiNS – variety of Trip & Travel Insurance for Holiday, Student, Missionary, and Family Travel. Compare the best travel insurance and the cheapest travel insurance

Travel Guard – Cancel for Any Reason Travel Insurance Coverage (travelguard.com) – The Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) option is available as an upgrade when you purchase the Platinum, Gold, My Travel Guard or Great Outdoors plan and is a great option that allows travelers to cancel their trip for any reason not otherwise covered in their base plan, provided they cancel their trip >48 hours before their departure date.

Ideas for personal and digital security, plus packing efficiency, can start here:

Best Gear for Travel | The Wirecutter – We put in another year and tens of thousands more miles of travel to test the best travel gear—and we stand by last year’s choices alongside a few new picks.

Packing Cubes & Folders – TravelSmith – Shop TravelSmith for packing cubes for travel and packing cubes for suitcases. Visit our site for how to use packing cubes and travel cubes and the best assortment of eagle creek packing cubes and packing sleeves.

Packing Cubes | Pack Smarter – eBags.com – Pack like a neat freak – even if you’re not one. Designed with efficiency in mind, packing cubes allow you to pack more while taking up less space. Shop now.

Although we didn’t go with packing cubes, I did buy some handy vacuum-less compression bags to pack clothes in to reduce their bulk.

It’s also a good idea to buy an RFID protective wallet, to protect your credit cards and passport from digital hacking. Ody and Tarriss both offer good product options.

Of course, be sure to keep updated on the latest airline and airport regulations for managing checked luggage and carry-on bags.

Survival Guide: Travel Logistics & Street Smarts

The following website collection covers a range of information on services for safe and legal travel, banking & currency, communications & media, state systems & practices, infrastructure, transport to & from, and navigation. Book guides should also advise travelers on health, city savvy, and any nation-specific nuances. Again, make sure some of your guide materials go into travel logistics and survival.

Keep in mind: This list represents our own interests during planning, plus specific services we engaged and investigated along the way. It’s not exhaustive, and obviously not everyone will need or want all resources. Consider it a sample starting point. For instance, because we used mass transit in Edinburgh and drove a rental car for more of Glasgow, I list the main Edinburgh bus system but not the Glasgow bus companies. However, we did enjoy touring with the hop-on, hop-off bus one day in metro Glasgow.

Blurb text for each listing is the organization’s unless otherwise noted.

Government

Scotland Government and Politics – Scotland Info Guide – History and present day of the Scottish Government and Parliament in Edinburgh

Parliament, Scottish – Official site with information on MSPs, history, buildings and current business.

Banking & Currency / Savings

XE: (GBP/USD) British Pound to US Dollar Rate (xe.com) – Calculate live US Dollar to British Pound foreign exchange rates with this free currency converter. You can convert currencies and precious metals with this currency calculator.

ATMs (Cash Machines) in Stirling, Central (travelmash.info)

Note: Our bank advised us to convert some of our dollars to pounds before flying so we wouldn’t be scrambling or delayed by trying to find a bank or fee-based machine between landing and taxi hire. Good advice.

HES Explorer Pass – Web Store :: Ticket Selection (tickets.historic-scotland.gov.uk)

National Trust Scotland – Join (nts.org.uk) – Join the Trust online today and save 10% when you pay by direct debit.

Communication & Media

AT&T International Calling Guide – ATPS-0120-LOAD.indd – intl-reference-guide.pdf

National Library of Scotland – The National Library of Scotland is Scotland’s largest library and the world centre for the study of Scotland and the Scots.

Transportation

This is a guide section often called “Getting There” and/or “Getting Around.”

Traveline Scotland, including the app available from iTunes and Google Play (a really handy resource throughout our trip).

Traveline Scotland – Public transport information – Timetables and journey planner for all bus, rail, coach, air and ferry services in Scotland. Open 24 hrs on 0871 200 22 33.
Edinburgh Airport maps (edinburghairport.com) (maps of parts of the airport)

Taxi Note: My husband and I found the Edinburgh International Airport taxi service (name unknown) to be very friendly and professional. Availability of taxis was sparse when we first arrived from baggage claim, so efficiency may be a question, but stewards and driver were helpful and pleasant. The taxi was clean and comfortable.

Buses

UK Bus Checker – (text mine) For great help with buses in Edinburgh and Glasgow, a reliable service with a good interface is UK Bus Checker. It provides schedules and alerts as to which bus stops are nearest your current location. UK Bus Checker displays live, up-to-the-minute countdowns when the next bus approaches that nearest stop. Maps show bus stops with pegs as on Google maps, and all stops between any two end points bear labels for which bus lines use each stop. Their live route maps let you trace where a bus will go on its route while you’re on it, and they also have a journey planner tool.

Ticket options – Lothian Buses – Local Bus services in and around Edinburgh

Transport for Edinburgh – Android Apps on Google Play – Live departure times and journey planning for Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Trams.

Rail

ScotRail trains, tickets & service info in Scotland | ScotRail (scotrail.co.uk) – Buy cheap train tickets & find the best deals on rail fares to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness & the rest of Scotland. ScotRail is operated by Abellio.

ScotRail pass or no? Prebook everything? – United Kingdom Forum – TripAdvisor – Answer 1 of 7: May 14-21 in Scotland…

Rail pass – The Spirit of Scotland Travelpass | ScotRail – Find out more about ScotRail’s great value Spirit of Scotland Travelpass (formerly Freedom of Scotland Travelpass) for unlimited rail travel in Scotland.

There are also rail passes available from BritRail and ACP Rail.

West Coast Railways – West Coast Railways, Carnforth. Independent Train Operating Company – along some of the UKs most…

West Coast Railways is the company through which to book the Glenfinnan Viaduct trip between Fort William and Mallaig on the west coast, the viaduct being a site they used to film Harry Potter. The iconic transport is the Jacobite Steam Train. The Glenfinnan Monument, Glenfinnan, marks the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised the Scottish standard to start the 1745 Jacobite Rising.

West Highland Rail Guides: One audio guide I found really fun to use during our West Coast Railways trip on 23rd September I found through the West Highland Lines version of the app called View from the Train: route “Fort William – Mallaig.” After you select among three available routes, a map pops up with the stops indicated. There you select the station you’re starting from. The journey begins with a well-performed audio tour accompanied by transcript text you can read as you go. Each page includes play button, transcript, and a picture of the area being discussed. It was a nice supplement, with different insights, to the brochures the rail company provided.

Auto/Private Vehicle

UK_speed_limits.png (highwaycodeuk.co.uk) (A good idea to review since few speed limits are posted en route; you’re simply expected to know based on the type of road you’re on – a tip from a fellow Outlander friend)

Streetmap – Maps and directions for the whole of Great Britain (streetmap.co.uk)

Car Travelling Around Scotland by Car | VisitScotland – Detailed information on Scotland’s road network, driving routes and car, campervan and motorhome hire, for your perfect driving holiday.

Car Travel in Scotland | Fodor’s Travel – Learn more about Car Travel when traveling to Scotland.

Route Planner | Maps, directions & route finder for UK & Europe | RAC – RAC Route Planner, Maps and Traffic News providing you with route finder driving directions for UK and European journeys at street map detail with a walking routes toggle.

Scotland Customized Map | Mapcustomizer.com (mapcustomizer.com/map/Scotland_Trip) (A snapshot of a group of 12 centrally located Outlander filming venues that I flagged and put together. This resource is not quite as sophisticated as the itinerary tools shared earlier, but it’s handy for a relatively quick sketch.)

Scotland Map and Distance Table (rampantscotland.com) Scotland Map & Distance Table

Scotland Distance Calculator, Driving Directions, Distance Between Cities, Distance Chart (UK) – (distancecalculator.globefeed.com) Scotland (UK) Distance Calculator and Driving Directions to calculate distance between any two cities, towns or villages in Scotland (UK) and Mileage Calculator, Distance Chart, Distance Map. May be also used for travel distance calculation for Scotland (UK).

Traffic Scotland (trafficscotland.org home) – Real time and future traffic information for Scotland, a service provided by Transport Scotland.

Also try: Traffic Scotland Radio (http://trafficscotland.org/trafficscotlandradio/) (for hands-free live traffic reports for the regions and the nation.)

Cashless mobile parking payment app – a better way to park | PayByPhone – Pay for parking easily with PayByphone – the smart cashless parking app that’ll help you avoid tickets & remind you when it’s time to go – download today.

Petrol Prices Live on Your Android phone | Whatgas.com – The following free Android application can be used to get live petrol pricing data straight to your Android phone…

Note: I used and liked the app Fuelio to search for gas/petrol and compare prices.

Car Hire/Rental

At least a few of these guides and articles are worth a look before you start shopping.

British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) car rental guide: Car hire – Your Guide to Renting a Car – from BVRLA – renting-a-car.pdf (bvrla.co.uk/)

Car Hire – How to Rent a Car in Scotland | USA Today (traveltips.usatoday.com) – Many international visitors to Scotland stick to the major cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, but the majority of the country’s castles and large, historic houses are in rural areas, so…
Car hire – Seven Worst Rental-Car Rip-Offs (and How to Beat Them) (huffingtonpost.com) – Just about every segment of the travel industry is rife with rip-offs, but the folks who rent cars have risen gouging to an art form. The worst rip-offs …

Car Hire Reviews – Best Car Rental & Hire Reviews 2016 (moneysavingpro.com) – You can make sure the best car rental is the one you choose, by reviewing car rental companies before taking any further action you can make a sound choice.

Car Rental – How to Save on Car Rentals – Consumer Reports (consumerreports.org) – Want to save money on your next car rental? Get money saving tips from the experts at Consumer Reports.

I was able to do better in my online shopping for good car rental rates than my otherwise very helpful travel agent Brian Chima, so we used my results for that. After searching through and comparing Priceline, Expedia, CarRentals.com, RentalCars.com and others, I used my Alamo Insider status to book through them. Part of the same team are Alamo, Enterprise, and National.

Car Rental Reservations – Alamo Rent A Car (alamo.com) – Start a car rental reservation with Alamo Rent A Car.

Edinburgh – Car Rental at Edinburgh Waverly – Alamo Rent A Car – Rent a car at Edinburgh Waverly from Alamo Rent A Car. Find cheap car rental rates and deals.

NOTE: We followed a tip that car hire at the Annandale St. location would be cheaper than directly from the airport. I can’t recall why we didn’t rent from the Waverly office.

Edinburgh – Car hire | Edinburgh Airport (edinburghairport.com)

Edinburgh – Car hire Edinburgh Airport from Rentalcars.com – Car hire from Edinburgh Airport, in Edinburgh, UK from Car hire 3000. Book your car hire in Edinburgh Airport with no cancellation or amendment fees and worldwide
free phone support. Pay less, get more for your Edinburgh Airport car hire

On Street Parking – Glasgow City Council (glasgow.gov.uk)

Parking Glasgow Map (glasgowgis.maps.arcgis.com)

Car license – International Driving Permits (AAA.com) – (text mine) Again, we got these at home, but we ended up not needing them. At least bring your regular driver’s license!

Boat

Below are just a few options for boat travel in a coast-rich land of nearly 200 islands.

CalMac | Summer Timetable | Mallaig to Armadale | Skye – CalMac ferries Summer timetables & fare prices for the Skye, Raasay & Small isles route from Mallaig (west coast) to Armadale (Isle of Skye). CalMac sail to 24 destinations.

Ferry To & From Skye | Visit Skye | CalMac (calmac.co.uk) – Calmac sail to Skye and 23 more destinations on Scotland’s West Coast. Find what a visit to Skye can offer and order your ferry tickets online.

Cruise Scotland – Find a Cruise (cruisescotland.com)

Cruises by Jacobite also does Loch Ness cruises, and there are river-to-sea cruises along the Clyde available from Glasgow. For a general search, start at VisitScotland.

Walking

Top tip from same Outlander friend who traveled a few months before us: Wear comfortable shoes, especially in Edinburgh, an old, hilly, cobblestone-heavy city. Shoes with good ankle support and cushioned soles. I concur. Hiking boots for country treks.

Tourist Tracks Glasgow Tour Pack – Tourist Tracks – (MP3 audio walking tours) Download (2-hour) Glasgow Tour ₤5; Scotland Tour Pack (Edinburgh, Glasgow) ₤8. Walks include a map in pdf format. Route passes by major highlights of central Glasgow.

Terrain

Maps – MunroMagic.com (A page from the Loch Tulla area on our way up through Glen Coe, for the munro Beinn Odhar. A Google map.)

Climate & Weather

You’re not likely to avoid at least one of either cold, rain, strong wind, or clouds during a trip of any significant length in Scotland, but if you’re a weather geek like my husband, you might find some of these resources interesting, if not quite reassuring.

Certainly, as you plan your trip, taking averages and tendencies into account isn’t a bad idea, and knowing when the sun rises and sets helps with scheduling. In our September trip, days were getting shorter, but fall color doesn’t peak till a bit later.

Scotland Weather and Climate | Scottish Weather | Scottish Weather Statistics | Rainfall Chart | Weather Forecast – Scotland Info Guide (scotlandinfo.eu) – Weather and Climate in Scotland includes weather extremes, average rainfall and sunshine charts and the five day weather forecast for the highlands

Climate and Weather – Weather in Scotland in September (climateandweather.com) – Is September a good time to visit Scotland? The summer crowds begin to dissipate, the leaves begin to turn yellow and brown, and the weather is mild and pleasant …

Edinburgh weather – September Weather Averages for Edinburgh, United Kingdom (holiday-weather.com) – Holiday (i.e., vacation) Weather – We provide weather averages for Edinburgh United Kingdom in September

Weather in Scotland – September Weather in Scotland: Temperature, Rain, Sun Averages – Current Results (currentresults.com) – Normal September weather in Scotland, with average high and low temperatures, total monthly rainfall and hours of sunshine for eastern, western and northern regions.

Sun or Moon Rise/Set Table for One Year (aa.usno.navy.mil)

Scotland in the Fall – tips for seeing our autumn colours. — Must See Scotland (must-see-scotland.com) – Scotland in the Fall, or Scotland in autumn as we call it, is a great time to a visit. But when will the colors or colours will be at their peak?

Autumn Color Best Timing – Scotland | Getaway Tips – azcentral.com (getawaytips.azcentral.com) – Although only a hundredth of the ancient Caledonian Forest remains, almost a 5th of Scotland’s land area is covered in trees, most of it in the Highlands.

A climate tip from our Outlander friend: Wear several light layers whether indoors or out, in addition to a coat outdoors if needed. The Scottish indoors tend to be hot because there is no air conditioning in most older, smaller buildings and rustic inns. Up-scale, urban hotels are usually air-conditioned, but expect most interiors from buses to taxis to museums to pubs to be rather warm in the summer, if not year round.

Travel Essentials: Sleep, Eat, Do

I won’t pretend to be an expert on where to eat and sleep any more than I am on other aspects of overseas journeys. There’s already plenty of expert advice, professional services, and phone apps galore to help with these essentials. I’ll just continue with sample resources based on our personal preferences and decisions.

One of the tools I used and liked was the TripAdvisor app. TripAdvisor Mobile and Tablet Apps | Travel Apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Nokia and Windows Phone – Get your free TripAdvisor travel app

Accommodation

Accommodation – VisitScotland Search results

Scotland accommodation & travel for Scottish holidays – The Internet Guide to Scotland (scotland-info.co.uk) – Independent info about Scotland: travel, tours, accommodation, sightseeing, outdoor activities, castles, genealogy, etc, including the Highlands & Islands. 10 Best Hotels near Edinburgh Airport (EDI) – Hotels.com – Looking to book a cheap hotel near Edinburgh Airport (EDI), Edinburgh? See Hotels.com 10 best local hotels with our lowest price guarantee. Collect 10 nights get 1 free!

Another way in is through municipal guides such as this one for Inverness:

Inverness accommodation – Stay Inverness – The official Inverness City site. A non-commercial city portal guide to the economy, tourism, the environment, leisure facilities, shopping, latest news.

Our Chain Hotels

We got a hotel package through our travel agent for our Edinburgh and Glasgow stays (start and finish of our trip), targeting Marriott properties to use my husband’s rewards. That landed us at Residence Inn Edinburgh and Glasgow Marriott, which were both very accommodating accommodations with great staff.

A special shout-out to Ryan at Glasgow Marriott, who corrected a booking date glitch in our reservation and gave us executive lounge access for our trouble.

Residence Inn Edinburgh – Booking.com – The Residence Inn by Marriott Edinburgh has a central Edinburgh location, just a 10-minute walk from the Royal Mile.

Glasgow – Hotels in Glasgow City Centre, Scotland | Glasgow Marriott Hotel – A fabulous city centre location and spacious, light-filled accommodation set the Glasgow Marriott Hotel apart. Visit us, and experience the difference. We also found a parking prices guide in advance for the Glasgow Marriott since we would have our rental car during that part of the trip. Parking Marriott Glasgow P&D_700x900_ v6 Tariff HNG overlay – Car_Parking_Prices.pdf

Our Luxury B&B

I did my own searching and querying to a large number and variety of specialized lodging options throughout central Scotland and Inverness-shire, investigating the Trossachs and Cairngorms National Parks, as well as towns along the Great Glen. My husband and I decided to go budget for one B&B and indulge a little in another. 

Daviot Lodge – Luxury 5 Gold Star Bed & Breakfast near Inverness in the Highlands of Scotland (daviotlodge.co.uk)

Daviot Lodge (Inverness, Scotland) – UPDATED 2016 B&B Reviews – TripAdvisor – Book Daviot Lodge, Inverness on TripAdvisor: See traveler reviews, candid photos, and great deals for Daviot Lodge, ranked #19 of 244 B&Bs / inns in Inverness and rated 4.5 of 5 at TripAdvisor.

I joyfully submitted my review of Daviot Lodge (pron. DAY vee et) through the Glasgow-based website http://www.freetobook.com:

This is what it means to be pampered. Ample parking, cozy sitting room spaces with books and games, breakfast made-to-order, delicious black pudding, fresh fruit, great coffee, beautiful views inside and out. Look out for the adorable little terrier, and for the pheasant! We loved everything about our room, which was eminently comfortable and aesthetically pleasing.

“The Hutchesons were very helpful with travel tips and restaurant bookings, even providing us with a map of the area. Don’t miss Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre museum! The food at Culloden Moor Inn is great, too. The Clava Cairns are also rather wonderful. Cawdor Castle is very scenic. Beauly Priory is gorgeous.

“Daviot Lodge is a quiet, peaceful country retreat on farm land…, yet only a few minutes from downtown Inverness. With this luxury B&B, you can’t go wrong.”

Our Budget B&B

Seabank B&B | B&B Accommodation in Arrochar, Argyll & Bute, Scotland | HomePage – The Seabank B&B is cosy and comfortable providing the perfect retreat after a day of exploring the local area, or somewhere comfortable to break a longer journey.

Seabank | VisitScotland – All rooms are en-suite with TV/DVD, hairdryer, iron/ironing board, tea/coffee making facilities, towels, Wi-Fi and extra bed linen. Our family room sleeps up to 4 people. We also offer a hearty breakfast using only quality ingredients. (“En suite” refers to where the bathroom facilities are located–in the room. Look for that if you prefer your own private restroom and shower to a communal spot.)

I posted my review of Seabank B&B on TripAdvisor just after Christmas 2016:

“Location: 4, Service/Staff: 5, Cleanliness: 5, Facilities: 3.5. Overall: 4. This economy lodging was very good. Dave and Sandy are thoughtful, efficient, accommodating, and very welcoming. Their friendliness and efforts to tailor breakfast and make our room available early to store bags were above expectations. Food was delicious, the spread of options very satisfactory, and the view (of Loch Long, Arrochar) naturally majestic. Coffee was particularly good.

“In-room materials provided tips and options for restaurants and other needs in well-organized and informative fashion. Communication was thorough, prompt, helpful with special local considerations, and convenient with email for pre-visit preparations and post-visit receipt.

“Facilities were well maintained, cozy and manageable. Some visitors may find the room a bit cramped. The bathroom is very slender and sink rather petite so would not be recommended for those with disabilities. Furthermore, the bed was rather uncomfortable because too hard for me; my husband had no trouble.

“The shower was good. We would gladly have extended our 2-night stay if it had been possible. Recommended for most travelers.”

Other Options We Considered

Castle stays – Stay in a Castle | Castle Hotels & Hire – Page 4 | VisitScotland – Browse self-catering castles, castle hotels & stately homes in Scotland. Find unusual accommodation, including tourist-board accredited properties.

Dalhousie Castle And Spa | VisitScotland – Dalhousie Castle is located in Midlothian Scotland, near the town of Bonnyrigg, just 8 miles from Edinburgh’s city centre.The caste was the seat of the Earls of Dalhousie, the chieftains of Clan Ramsay.

Dalhousie Castle Hotel and Aqueous Spa – A real 13th century Scottish Castle 8 miles from Edinburgh’s city centre, holding the title as ‘Scotland’s Oldest Inhabited Castle’.

Brochs in Scotland | Unusual Accommodation | VisitScotland – Find brochs and blackhouses for a stay in Scotland with a twist. Wide range of unusual accommodation, including tourist board-accredited properties.

Dining

As with accommodation, TripAdvisor is as good a place to start as any for eating out.

Taste our Best Edinburgh | Zomato – Taste our Best Edinburgh – Check out the best Menus, Photos, Ratings and Reviews

The following text is all mine.

Our Edinburgh Dining

In Edinburgh, we had particularly excellent dining experiences at Hanam’s (see my post reviewing Hanam’s) on Castle Hill and at Vittoria on the George IV Bridge (comfort Italian with gluten-free pastas available).

Another Edinburgh treasure is Jasmine, the Chinese restaurant across from the Royal Lyceum Theatre. We had just left the Lyceum, having seen John McGrath’s electric, ceilidh-style Scottish history play The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black, Black Oil, brilliantly updated and performed by Dundee Rep Theatre. At Jasmine, after a long day of Outlander touring and an evening play, we re-fueled just before their closing at 11pm. I savored the delicious roast duck with plum sauce. Then, we slept on Sunday.

I also really liked a cullen skink lunch at The Scottish Café, the National Gallery on The Mound, but service was very slow and threw off afternoon plans for our last day in the city. We had a date with Alamo/Enterprise for our rental car before dinner at Hanam’s.

Our Loch Lomond Dining

For most Loch Lomond area establishments and any sought-after places, be sure to reserve your space at dinner in advance, early the same day or the day before. Daviot Lodge (Daviot, Inverness-shire) and Seabank (Arrochar, Trossachs, Argyll) both offered assistance with reservations, given proper notice.

Although we got caught in the rain after dark without a reservation on the 21st, a winding drive farther north along Loch Lomond from Seabank allowed us sample The Drovers Inn, Inverarnan, where we ran into our new friend Ádhamh Ó Broin from the prior day’s Argyll excursions. Happy accidents. Food served late. Loch Lomond Restaurant at The Drovers Inn gave me with a comforting meal of bangers and mash. A charming old stay, established 1705, lodging options start here: Drovers Inn and Lodge.

Our Fort William & Mallaig Dining

Maybe I just chose the wrong menu item, but I had only a so-so chicken dish at The Terrace, West Highland Hotel, Mallaig, halfway through our Jacobite train ride.

A forgettable burger with chips awaited usat a pub in Fort William as we headed down to Glasgow for the final leg of our trip. I don’t even remember the place’s name.

Our Cairngorms Dining

Balavil Hotel Restaurant & Bar in Newtonmore, near the Highland Folk Museum, is where I enjoyed a dinner of Cairngorm ale battered cod and chips, along with the same variety of Dalwhinnie (local) whisky we had sampled at Doune Castle during our Outlander Tour with Slainte Scotland: balavil menus 2016.cdr – Menu 2016.pdf

dscn5241

Balavil Hotel restaurant, Newtonmore, Cairngorms

Our Inverness Dining

Culloden Moor Inn/ Keppoch Bar – Photos (facebook) – Culloden Moor Inn/ Keppoch Bar, Inverness. Just a stone’s throw from Culloden Battlefield & Visitors’ Centre. I loved the roasted veggie & brie filo parcels, salad & boiled potatoes, which I paired with Glenfiddich whisky. All very good!

We also enjoyed a great dining experience at The Riverside Restaurant (riversiderestaurant.info/ – includes their menus) downtown, not to be confused with River House, which is across the River Ness from Riverside. Both are highly rated options. See also TripAdvisor’s Riverside page.

We crossed the vibrating Greig Street bridge to get to Riverside from our parking spot after we discovered River House was booked full. The bridge didn’t vibrate on the walk back, but for some reason it had freaked me out a bit.

From the Riverside evening à la carte menu, under “Our Menus” at http://www.riversiderestaurant.info, I chose “Pan seared Isle of Lewis Scallops on mini potato rostis served with Stornoway Black Pudding & garden pea puree drizzled with Mackintosh of Glendavney (Aberdeenshire) lemon rapeseed oil”–yes, awesome.

The starters I wanted to sample were dainty and well presented, so I paired the scallops & black pudding with an appetizer of “Munros of Dingwall Haggis bon bons rolled in oatmeal served with a potato croquette, turnip puree & peppercorn sauce with a dash of Highland Single Malt Whisky.” The haggis was better than the potatoes. My husband had the large house salad (pictured above), which he enjoyed along with a main entrée.

Ash_Restaurant_Dinner-menu_Inverness.pdf (http://www.ash-inverness.co.uk/images/AshEvening.pdf) – Adjacent to the Inverness ScotRail Station. Here, I had Glenmorangie chicken & soup with Oban whisky. Loved the food, not so much the whisky.

DSCN5891_Ash-Restaurant-Inverness.jpg

See the Google map screen capture below for the locations (counter-clockwise from top left/east) of Ash Restaurant, The Riverside Restaurant, River House, the Inverness Museum, and Inverness Castle.

Inverness-downtown-restaurants-Riverside_2017-06-14

Downtown Inverness on Google Maps, boldfaced labels mine

Our Glasgow Area Dining

After a nice lunch at the Kelvingrove Gallery & Art Museum (I had shepherd’s pie), we visited Glasgow Cathedral, followed by a walk through the shopping district. We then decided to take tea (our first UK tea-time experience) at Glasgow icon, The Willow Tea Rooms, 97 Buchanan Street.

Modeled after Kate Cranston’s Ingram Street Tea Rooms designed by famed artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh in the early 1900s, The Willow Tea Rooms present a cheerful, elegant atmosphere with great treats. I had Jasmine tea, my husband took Kenyan, and we enjoyed mini-sandwiches and a gluten-free chocolate brownie with clotted cream.

Like a character out of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, an inchworm insisted on enjoying the atmosphere with us during tea. Otherwise, we had the 2nd floor nearly to ourselves.

The Cotton House is a hidden jewel of a Chinese and Thai establishment in Longcroft, Bonnybridge, Stirlingshire. We ate here after swinging by Outlander studios in (LBP Outlander Ltd.) in Cumbernauld on our way back to Glasgow from Linlithgow Palace, Linlithgow. I thoroughly enjoyed my pad thai, and we had a nice chat with our friendly server, who was surprised to see Americans tourists in this industrial neighborhood. We credited the Outlander phenomenon. It’s a very popular local restaurant, especially at Christmas. It was even hopping during our rainy, late-September lunch hour.

Attractions & Events
Superlatives: Best-of Lists for Scotland

Once you get a broad scan of ideas, you may find yourself link hopping to various best-of lists online. Here are some I found myself exploring, usually at The Daily Record or Scotland Now (also a Daily Record outlet). Lots of pretty pictures.

Scotland the Best: Peter Irvine chooses his top 50 Scottish places to eat, stay and play – Daily Record – THE latest edition of Scottish travel bible Scotland the Best is out and here, author Peter Irvine selects his top 50 places to eat, stay and play.

40 pictures that prove Scotland is more beautiful than you ever believed – Scotland Now – THESE breathtaking pictures of the country’s most enchanting spots will prove that Scotland’s scenery is even more beautiful than you ever believed.

30 places you must visit in Scotland – Daily Record – In Pictures – CHECK out our picture gallery to see some of the most breathtaking places in Scotland.

10 of Scotland’s prettiest towns and villages – Scotland Now – THERE is no question that Scotland has some picturesque villages and towns.

25 Places in Scotland That Are Straight Out of a Fantasy Novel – Who needs Westeros? We’ve got Wester Ross…

12 fairy tale waterfalls in Scotland to see before you die – Daily Record

14 Scottish Places All “Outlander” Fans Must Visit – Never seen Outlander? You should visit these stunning Scottish locations anyway. Warning: Mild Season 1 spoilers ahead…

Special Events on Select Dates

Various traditions of book, film, music, and other festivals, feast days, the Edinburgh military tattoo, regional Highland Games, Gatherings, and other exciting special events occur on select dates in the Scottish calendar. Most major events occur in the summer months, but Hogmanay (New Year’s) and Burns Night (Jan 25) are some of the biggest Scottish holidays. Several smaller festivals favor spring and fall as well.

Keep the seasons in mind as you peruse different parks and gardens to visit so you’ll be sure to see them in all their glory—summer, spring or fall. For instance, rhododendrons are a frequently advertised May spectacle.

Something else that interested me was Doors Open Days, an annual event in September during which participating properties open their doors for just a few days to the public for a rare glimpse into their unique and historic treasures.

Doors Open Days (official) – Get into buildings! (Get into usually inaccessible historic buildings every September during Doors Open Days; searchable database and calendar updated annually, sponsored by Scottish Civic Trust and Historic Environment Scotland).

Glasgow Doors Open Day – Glasgow Doors Open Day

Nightlife

Edinburgh Concerts, Tickets, Gigs & Tour Dates 2016 – Songkick – (songkick.com) Comprehensive listings and tickets for every upcoming concert, gig and tour date taking place in Edinburgh in 2016. (Also for Glasgow.)

Edinburgh Entertainment – Ents24.com – All Events in Edinburgh – Tickets and information for Edinburgh concerts and more. Also works for searching Glasgow events.

Entertainment Edinburgh – EntaConnect – Ticket/Seat Lyceum The Cheviot, Stag, Oil (bookings.lyceum.org) – The Royal Lyceum Theatre bookings

Edinburgh theatre – What’s On – Traverse Theatre (traverse.co.uk/whats-on)

Opera, Scottish – The Elixir of Love | Scottish Opera (scottishopera.org.uk)

Cultural Miscellany

Scottish History

Scotland – Seduced By History: What’s So Great About 17th Century Scotland?

Did You Know? – Festive Greetings and Toasts

5 best whiskies of 2016 … so far – Scotland Now – WHISKY expert Andy Bell doesn’t want to get political, but finds it interesting that four out of five of his favourite whiskies this year so far are independent.

5 of most beautiful Scottish whisky distilleries – Scotsman Food & Drink – There are over a hundred whisky distilleries in Scotland, here is our selection of the most picturesque.

Speyside whisky – One sip at a time: a guide to whisky tasting in Speyside | DK Eyewitness Travel – Read the One sip at a time: a guide to whisky tasting in Speyside feature, and discover other articles from DK Eyewitness Travel.

Scots Language Centre

Scots-Online – More Links – Links to Scots Language and related websites.

Language – A brief introduction to the Scots language | Resources | Ordnance Survey – Scots is the name for the language of lowland Scotland. Find out more about Scots language and how this is used on placenames in Ordnance Survey maps.

LearnGaelic.net – (A project of Gary Lewis (Colum Mackenzie), and where I learned my rudimentary Scottish Gaelic, 2015-2016.)

Scottish Gaelic language, alphabet and pronunciation – Info about Scottish Gaelic, a Celtic language spoken mainly in Scotland and Nova Scotia, Canada by about 87,000 people.

Scottish Gaelic learners’ materials online

Scottish Gaelic-Dictionary Online Translation LEXILOGOS >> – Scottish Gaelic-English Dictionary Online Translation, Language, Grammar

The Scots – monarchs, ancestry, DNA, Gaelic, Celtic, Brythonic, Dal Riata, Pictish, Scottish, Viking, Irish, north African

Books – Women begin to lead the way in Scottish literature (From Herald Scotland) – That’s not so remarkable in itself until you realise she’s the fifth woman to win this prize in the last six years, joining a mix of fiction and…

Books from Scotland – Home – The largest curated collection of Scottish books online, dedicated to showcasing the very best in Scottish writing & publishing.

Writing, Scotland – Women’s Travel Writings in Scotland: ‘Letters from the Mountains’ by Anne Grant and ‘Letters from the North Highlands’ by Elizabeth Isabella Spence | Books from Scotland

Books from Scotland – In the Shadow of Burns

McGrath – Theatre Scotland, in Scottish Theatrical History – scholarly article discusses McGrath’s work – IJoST Peer Reviewed Article. Vol.3, no.2 : R.Stevenson – IJoST Peer Reviewed Paper: Title-Scottish Guising: Medieval And Modern Theatre Games, Author-S.Carpenter

Macbeth_map.pdf

Map of the Highlands of Scotland denoting the districts or counties inhabited by… – Maps of Scotland, 1560-1928

Film Settings in Scotland – VisitScotland Guide PDF

Outlander

See An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, Part 5, a.k.a. “Slainte Scotland Outlander Tour + Outlander Tourism Resources.” To start or review this series from the beginning, see “An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, Part 1.”

Beyond reading the books, watching the series, and reading Diana’s website and blogs like this one, many OL fans have connected, become friends, and formed groups over social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, and others, often inspired by following the projects and charities of central figures like Sam Heughan, Caitriona Balfe, and Diana Gabaldon—Herself. Comicons, Gatherings, book signings, and other OL-focused or off-shoot events also regularly occur across the U.S. and the globe. Your next travel partner, destination, business partner, or best friend may be waiting in any one of these nooks and crannies of the singularly passionate Outlander universe.


So that’s a wrap! I’ve taken you through highlights of nearly 40 different Outlander filming sites (parts 1, 2, and 3), the nuts and bolts of an Outlander-focused Scotland trip planning and reflection process (part 4), an Outlander tourism extravaganza (part 5), and the connective travel guidance to make that dream trip to Scotland a reality (part 6). Good luck in your planning and travels, feel free to share your questions, comments, or experiences, and slainte mhath!

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.

Until next time, may your anticipation and experience of the Outlander STARZ TV series 3—based on Diana Gabaldon’s 3rd Outlander novel Voyagerbe a joyful one. Outlander STARZ returns September 2017, but remember, the books are always available!


Appendix: Guides to Adventures in Cities and Regions

With an emphasis on Outlander and personal experience, the following guides touch on select areas of: Southern Scotland (E. & S. Ayrshire, Dumfries), Edinburgh, Vicinity of Edinburgh, Kingdom of Fife, Lothians, Glasgow, Argyll & Bute and the Isles, Stirlingshire, Perthshire, The Great Glen, Glen Coe & Lochaber, Highlands, Loch Ness, Cairngorms National Park, Inverness-shire, West Highlands, Isle of Skye, and Northwest Scotland.

Not Covered: Southwest & Borders; Eastern Central regions: St. Andrews, Angus, Dundee, Balmoral Castle; Northeast regions: Aberdeenshire, Fraser Castle, Bowfiddle Rock; Far North; Inner & Outer Hebrides; Orkney; Shetland; Isle of St. Kilda.

Southern Scotland

East Ayrshire Leisure – Find out what’s happening in East Ayrshire’s libraries, museums, sports venues and countryside (including Robert Burns museum and frequented spots).

Edinburgh

The Real Mary King’s Close (official)

Edinburgh Castle – Morning (official) – Tailor your visit with suggested itineraries.

National Museum of Scotland (official) – The natural world, world cultures, art & design, science & tech, and Scottish history—all in one amazing building.

Palace of Holyroodhouse (Royal Collection stewardship site) – Find practical info for you visit, including info on security, refreshments and use of cameras.

Edinburgh Museums – The Writers’ Museum – Writers’ Museum

St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh (official home page)

Gladstone’s Land, Old Town, Edinburgh (NTS)

Edinburgh Parks and gardens – Meadows | The City of Edinburgh Council – Meadows

Vicinity of Edinburgh

Cairnpapple Hill (Historic Environment Scotland (HES) site) – Site of an incredible Neolithic henge monument and a number of important Bronze Age burials.

Blackness Castle (HES site) – Brief snapshot of the history of Blackness Castle; find out what to see when you visit ‘the ship that never sailed’.

Hopetoun House & Estate, near Edinburgh, Scotland (official home page) – Hopetoun House & Estate, outskirts of Edinburgh. House, luxury wedding venue, farm shop, clay shooting and property on 6,500 acre Estate. (Includes Midhope Castle.)

Linlithgow (official home page) – Linlithgow, a Great Visit

Glencorse Old Kirk – Outlander Film Set – Borders Journeys

The Falkirk Wheel | Scottish Canals – The rotating boat lift that connects the Union Canal with the Forth & Clyde. Discover this incredible piece of engineering…!

Kelpies – The Kelpies at The Helix (official home page) – The Helix is Scotland’s newest attraction. Cycle trails, walks, play areas, canals, habitats and artworks await. Also home to The Kelpies, monuments to horse power.

Kingdom of Fife

Culross West Church – Culross, Fife – Places of Worship in Scotland | SCHR – To the NW of Culross in West Kirk Churchyard, surrounded by agricultural land, this is the former parish church of Culross. Scottish Church Heritage Research Ltd (SCHR) maintains a database of over 10,000 places of worship in Scotland.

The Covenanter Hotel, Falkland, Fife

Falkland Palace & Garden

Aberdour Castle – A snapshot of the history of Aberdour Castle in the Kingdom of Fife; find out what to see when you visit this former home of a Regent of Scotland.

East Lothian

Outlander – Preston Mill’s Outlander | National Trust for Scotland USA – 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.

Scottish Seabird Centre | Visit – An interactive wildlife adventure in North Berwick with Discovery Centre, gift shop, cafe and seasonal boat trips. A Scottish five star visitor attraction with something for the whole family, whatever the weather.

Glasgow

Glasgow Guide: Glasgow Places to Visit: Tourist Attractions in Glasgow A to F – The tourist info guide to the city of Glasgow in Scotland includes info for tourists on hotels, shops, pubs, clubs, photographs, visitor attractions, street maps, and more…

Glasgow Cathedral (HES) – Overview of the history of Glasgow Cathedral; find out what to see and do at the most complete medieval cathedral on the Scottish mainland.

Glasgow Museums | Glasgow Life (official home) – Kelvingrove, Riverside, Burrell, GoMA, Glasgow Green & People’s Palace, St Mungo, Provand’s Lordship, Scotland Street School Museum, GMRC.

Glasgow School of Art Tours – Walking Tours of the city and interior tours of the world renowned Mackintosh building at The Glasgow School of Art

Glasgow bagpipes – The National Piping Centre | Bagpipe school, shop, restaurant & hotel in Glasgow, Scotland, UK.

Argyll & Bute and the Isles

Walking and climbing in Argyll and the Isles – Come to Argyll and the Isles for unbeatable walking and climbing. Enjoy epic long-distance routes, magnificent munros, loch-side strolls and coastal treks – all amid stunning Scottish scenery.

The Trossachs National Park & Loch Lomond

Trossachs – The Lodge Forest Visitor Centre – Forestry Commission Scotland

Loch Lomond – Day Trip Loch Lomond Waterfalls – Guided Walking and Sightseeing Highland Day Tours for independent travellers wanting to experience Scotand beyond the major tourist attractions and the confines of a bus.

Farther West: Loch Fyne and the Coast

Inveraray Castle Visitor Information – An iconic Scottish Castle in Argyll, Scotland.

Auchindrain Township, Inveraray. The last surviving example of a Highland farm…

Ádhamh Ó Broin – (11) Gáidhlig Dhail Riada – Gáidhlig Dhail Riada. If you are interested in the rich Gaelic heritage of Dalriada and would like to find out more…

Stirlingshire

Stirling – Official visitors guide to Stirling – Destination Stirling – Stirling is a vibrant Scottish city, home to many of Scotland’s top attractions including Stirling Castle, Bannockburn and The National Wallace Monument.

Doune Castle – Get an overview of Doune Castle in the Central and West region, including its life as home of Regent Albany, and find out what to see at Doune Castle.

Stirling Castle – Step back into the sumptuous world of Stirling Castle’s Royal Court. A great family day out. Book your tickets online now and beat the queues!

Wallace Monument | Stirling Tourist Attraction | Plan Your Visit (official) National Wallace Monument. A world famous landmark, in a stunning location, come and visit one of Scotland’s most magnificent sights. Meet Scotland’s national hero, William Wallace.

Bannockburn: The Battle of Bannockburn – The 3D Battle of Bannockburn Experience allows visitors to experience medieval combat like never before.

Perthshire

Walking, Cycling, Horse-riding around Perthshire – From Dunalastair Holiday Cottages you can enjoy walking, cycling and horse-riding around Perthshire.

Kinloch Rannoch, Tummel Bridge, Loch Rannoch, walking holidays, wildlife watching, fishing, highland clans – Kinloch Rannoch and Tummel, Perthshire, Scotland – a haven of Scottish native wildlife and unspoilt landscape of mountains, lochs and heather covered hills where walking is pure pleasure

Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust | Pages | Perthshire Big Tree Country – PKCT is a charity that negotiates access to land, builds footpaths, helps care for Scotland’s most spectacular woodlands and works on conservation projects.

Carie (Rannoch Forest) Walk – Highland Perthshire site – Tourist information for Highland Perthshire, Scotland, including Pitlochry, Aberfeldy, Dunkeld, Kinloch Rannoch and Blair Atholl.

The Great Glen

Great Glen Rough Guides Snapshot Scotland | Rough Guides – The Rough Guide Snapshot The Great Glen is the ultimate travel guide to this spectacular part of Scotland. It guides you through the region with reliable

Glen Coe & Lochaber

Glencoe Scotland | Glencoe Scotland – Glencoe Scotland is Clachaig’s guide to Scotland’s most famous glen. Arguably the most historic glen and recently voted the most romantic glen in Scot.

Glen Coe area – Britain’s Only Mountain Gondola | Scotland Cable Car | Nevis Range – Nevis Range is a year round mountain ski resort in the The Highlands of Scotland near Ben Nevis and Fort William. Skiing and snowboarding in winter sightseeing and gondola rides in summer with spectacular views. Mountain biking and world cup held at Nevis

Glencoe & Dalness (NTS)

Fort William & Lochaber Guide, Things To Do, Events, Activities – Fort William and the surrounding Lochaber area is the self-proclaimed capital of outdoor sports.

Highlands

Rough Guides – The Central Highlands Rough Guides Snapshot Scotland – The Rough Guide Snapshot The Central Highlands is the ultimate travel guide to this dramatic part of Scotland. It guides you through the region with reliable

All Day Highland Tours around Loch Ness and the northern and western Highlands – All Day Highland Tours around Loch Ness and the northern and western Highlands

Highland Wildlife & Birdwatch Safaris | VisitScotland – Guided wildlife excursions, in small, friendly groups with an experienced local nature watcher, in some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

Loch Ness

Urquhart Castle sits on the shores of beautiful Loch Ness | Urquhart Castle – Urquhart Castle is close to Drumnadrochit, on the shores of Loch Ness. Seized after Edward I’s invasion of Scotland, it was reclaimed by Robert the Bruce in the 14th century.

Loch Ness – The best crew and fleet on Loch Ness | Cruise Loch Ness – Our team are passionate and know everything about Loch Ness and the surrounding area. They’ll do all they can to make your cruise or RIB trip memorable.

Loch Ness – Tour Search – Loch Ness by Jacobite

Cairngorms National Park

Landscape Areas – Cairngorms National Park Authority

Local Search Results | Visit Cairngoms

Highland Folk Museum – Visitor Information

Inverness and Environs

Inverness Information Centre | VisitScotland – The Highland capital’s official source for info on everything to do and see in Inverness & the Highlands. Our enthusiastic team can help you book your stay, transport, day trips and cruises on Loch Ness.

Highlanders Museum, Fort George, Scotland – Highland Regiments Archive – The Highlanders Museum, Scotland, Fort George. The Seaforth Highlanders, The Queen’s Own Highlanders and Cameron Highlanders Archive

Culloden – PPF

Clava Cairns – Clava Cairns, one of Scotland’s most evocative prehistoric sites.

West Highlands

Glen Affric: Glen Affric Map – Map of Glen Affric (Highland) from Gazetteer for Scotland

Jacobite Steam Train – Official Site – The World’s Greatest Railway Journey, Fort William to Mallaig – Online Booking Now Available, West Coast Railways Regular Steam Train Trips on The Jacobite – West Coast Railways provide Regular Steam Train trips throughout the UK Online Booking Now Available.

Mallaig Feature Page on Undiscovered Scotland – Information about and images of Mallaig at the end of the Road to the Isles on Undiscovered Scotland.

Otters – Kylerhea Otter Hide Car Park, Glenelg – Kylerhea Otter Hide Car Park located at Glenelg (IV42 8) Tel: 01320 366322 Contact details and map.

Islands

Isle of Skye Visitor Attractions (Walkhighlands) – 18 Isle of Skye visitor attractions.

Northwest Scotland

Beauly Visitor Guide, Hotels, Cottages, Things to Do in Scotland – Visitor guide to Beauly in Scotland with advice tourism and travel information, maps, history, transport, popular places, accommodation. Plan your perfect holidays in Scotland

Scottish Castles Photo Library – Beaufort Castle, Beauly

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Book Review: A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

Although this one wasn’t for my classics book club, I have wanted to read it for years. As a play, it’s a relatively quick read, so I was able to tuck it in among other readings.

Spoilers possible.

A Streetcar Named Desire may be a better, more entertaining play than The Glass Menagerie, but together they suggest a pattern of playwright fixation on the destruction of fragile, helpless women at the hands of hapless or hostile men. Yet, although critics claim that Stanley is the catalyst for Blanche’ s tragedy, I see undeniable, culpable shades in the sorrows of sister Stella and would-be husband Mitch. Besides these influences, a case can be made that Blanche needs little nudging by anyone to plunge her into her ultimate abyss, a place she seems headed for from the start. Either way, the question is posed clearly before the tragedy is complete: Who is to blame?

The tragic arc is a twisted tree root. Plunging through the rich soil of clever, careful staging, eerie overlays of music and echoed sounds, and crisp, character-making dialogue, the reader (not just the playgoer) falls irrevocably into the suffocating depths of a taut, primal, sensual plot. With his usually detailed stage directions, Williams also leaves nothing in the production plan to chance, while his storytelling strikes a delicate balance by revealing just enough both to engage and to mystify his audience.

The emotional effects of these elements for Blanche are a haunting by the past that cannot be shaken and a shackling by her imagination that stunts her growth. Her character is static in the course of the play as the distance between the danger and the fall proves all too short. Stanley, likewise, is static, and so they come together like immovable object and unstoppable force. The intriguing question for me is what change must occur in Stella beyond the play’s ending as a result of this close family tragedy, with one member the victim and the other, the perpetrator. Stella, at least, has dynamic potential as collateral damage.

cover_A-Streetcar-Named-Desire_images.duckduckgo.com

Penguin Modern Classics edition book cover

Still, none of the main characters reads as a monotone stereotype; they themselves get to play with those concepts as they size each other up. The tension permeating the play stems from perceptions of class differences, ethnic backgrounds, sexual attraction, and affectations brought into sharp relief by the visit of Blanche DuBois to her sister and brother-in-law’s small apartment during a typically oppressive New Orleans summer.

The result is a smoldering tragedy without a clear path as to how it might have been avoided. Remarkable paradox comes through Williams’ writing: Stella, Stanley, and Blanche all prove to be decent people even as their inflexible selfishness, by turns, renders them on many levels indecent–and ultimately inhumane–to one another.

Raw, obvious character flaws, especially Stanley’s, do contribute to the mess, however. His inherent roughness of manner, speech, action, and mere presence directly feed and elicit Blanche’s carefully constructed delicacies, charms, snobbery, and veneer of the victim. They could hardly be more different, and as foils, these opposites both attract and repulse.

Like the down-to-earth Stanley, the reader knows upon meeting her not to take Blanche at face value, but as we get to know her, we begin to empathize with, if not believe in, Blanche DuBois. When Stanley finally exposes her past sins, the whole truth of them is doubtful, they are inextricable from her suffering, and we see that both Stanley and Stella can be right about her sister in their opposing views.

Blanche is a menace being treated unfairly.

An emotional atmosphere of steamy New Orleans chaos reigns over the play. Ripples of racist overtones, sexism, raw sensuality, crime, vice, and class prejudice collide and reinforce one another to disrupt the characters’ moral compasses. Danger vibrates constantly just beneath the surface, and I kept expecting brawl, beating, or suicide around the next corner. Peripheral scenes foreshadow ultimate conflict as violence escalates, but it’s all very restrained, held in check for the bulk of the story, which makes each scene all the more intriguing.

The shock of the penultimate act of violence, committed between active scenes, can resolve into either the satisfaction of poetic justice or an indignation against grave injustice, a verdict that rings loudly through the end. The ensuing resolution is also unequivocally sad, and we even get a moral from the perfect, trembling lips of Blanche DuBois. Coming from her, the line “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers” is both ironic caution and sad testament to a frail psyche.

This is one of the few plays I’ve read besides Shakespeare that so strongly compels me to seek out a production to watch this very minute. In A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams exposes seedy corners of mid-twentieth-century American society and equally dark corners of its minds and hearts. First, he is the realistic, impartial painter of human coarseness, failure, beauty and love. Then, in affecting lyrical form, he hints at judgment of all these through their close, unflinching examination. In his complex process, Williams has crafted a true literary and theatrical treasure.

Five out of five stars.


Learn about the 1951 film version at A Streetcar Named Desire.

Camp NaNoWriMo: Song of Spring

For this month’s Camp NaNoWriMo, the first of two annual camps (also in July), I continue and hope to reinvigorate the process of writing my 2016 NaNo novel based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice books.

Currently, I have a detailed plot outline, my main characters are taking shape, and I’m zeroing in on the kind of story I want to tell. I’ve drafted almost the first half of the story, but many of those scenes and especially several pieces of exposition probably will require significant rewriting to match the second half’s focus and character arcs.

My Camp NaNo goal is to finish the first draft of the whole story by April 30–however disjointed, incoherent, or mediocre it might be. Forward momentum! The summary and excerpt below represent my latest clues to what the final draft may become.

To see hints of the slow, unsteady development of the project since last summer, see this seed, a snapshot on the cusp of its germination, and the small bud of a key scene‘s rough draft.


Happy writing and reading this month, which is also National Poetry Month. For ideas on how to celebrate poetry, visit my list of suggestions from last year. Poem in Your Pocket Day is April 27th this year. Whatever you’ve got going, I wish you the best. Enjoy!

Plus, nature lovers, don’t forget to watch The Zoo tonight at 10pm EDT on Animal Planet, and Wild Scotland starting tomorrow at 8pm EDT on NatGeoWild. My post from earlier this week about TV nature programs and Scotland nature tourism can be found here.


I’ll soon share some other projects seeking fertile soil.

Summary: Novel synopsis-in-progress (drafted 3/28/17, revised 4/1/17)

A fantasy tale based on Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll, Hunted Song of Looking-Glass Land re-imagines the second of his two Alice books. Glimpses of original chapters and the use of characters provide a frame of reference for new adventures and insights about the true nature of heroics and villainy in Looking-Glass Land. The teenage girl Song Warber, a Jabberwock, or Wock, wields her singular music-making powers in the struggle of freedom and justice for all Looking-Glass Landers.

A little girl named Alice mysteriously arrives in Looking-Glass Land and stirs up trouble for Song’s family even as both her presence and Song’s threaten the monarchy. Yet, it is only by allying with this alien little girl that Song can fulfill a destiny she only begins to fathom when her family falls into the hands of those determined to tear them apart—the Royals, or chess pieces, of Looking-Glass Land. Alice’s destiny is also at stake as she awakens to the gritty realities of this ailing country. Her triumph will depend on new alliances, betrayals, comings of age, secret support, a bit of magic, open battle, overcoming tragedies, facing fears, and confronting the White King, the Red Queen, and a vengeful Humpty Dumpty.

Can two young girls of vastly different species, upbringings, and worlds ever hope to right the wrongs of the place they inhabit, however briefly, together? The good of parallel worlds may depend on it. And what will become of Song and Alice in the process? It’s a reversal across the chessboard of team loyalties and the realm’s purpose as a land of vivid dreams, uncommon reality, and infinite possibility. Will Looking-Glass Land survive the turmoil?

Hunted Song novel excerpt (3/28/17, rev 4/1/17):

A story was told. Another was told after that. A minimum of three short stories or two longer ones would always be spoken in any given sitting where storytellers and story hearers gathered together.

Every story told was a try on the part of a contestant. It was a storytelling contest. Each contestant was a member of the Looking-Glass Land community, a long-standing member of the fellowship of the realm. No one was new. No one was young. No one was particularly old. The Royals were an exception. The White Royals looked wizened. The Red Royals, middle aged.

Storytelling had once been merely a pastime as popular as baking and walking in Looking-Glass Land. As popular as tea time. In fact, stories were often told over hearths and tea tables and tea sets. Tea things were the natural scenery for a storytelling session. Like other pastimes, preoccupations, and cultural rituals, the tradition of storytelling in Looking-Glass Land came with many rules. There were particular steps to be taken in the telling of a story. Specific qualities each story must have. A certain size an audience must have in number, to represent a story telling properly. Like tea time in England, storytelling in Looking-Glass Land had a certain order of operations to it.

As times grew harder, the wizened, middle-aged and neither youthful nor old inhabitants of the land grew more serious, less playful, less tolerant of creativity, invention, new ideas, new characters, or, eventually, any new stories. The only stories permitted were stories that had been told many times before. Known stories. Stories people had heard over and over again. Stories that became in their telling like the reciting of a pledge each morning in school or the swearing of an oath for public office. Familiar, unoriginal, the same–always the same. Even the wording had become regimented so that each well-known story could only be told in exactly one way with exactly the same words from start to finish, every time.

The contest continued, however. It became a competition in style of delivery. The stories never changed, so contestants needed only to memorize the content, and the rest could take on a variety of bellowing, shrill screeching, whispering, and outrageous inflections, dramatic pauses, vibrations and other sound effects, as well as musical accompaniment of every kind. Even a technique such as ventriloquism had been a trend at one time, but eventually, the crowds began to crave more elaborate movements on the part of the storytellers and from any actors they chose to act out the events of the tale.

You may think, So what? Stories are popular because they are told over and over again. When a story is repeatedly shared, it means it is popular. This can be true. However, the people of Looking-Glass Land took repetition to a whole other level. There were never to be any new stories of any kind for any purpose. Even recounting the events of one’s day to one’s family came to carry with it very strict rules and restrictions. Such recollections could only be so long and would not be permitted to be repeated outside the family circle within hearing range of other families or anywhere in public.

This was at first very difficult for people to comply with, as you might imagine. But over time, with practice, and a few minor adjustments to the rules, as with many things grown easier with habit, recitative storytelling in Looking-Glass Land came into its own. Upon visiting the land at such a time, you would note that it was as if no one had ever heard an original story, so much so that it mattered little who had originated the stories in the general repertoire. The creators had been forgotten, and no one mourned the loss of their memory. Memory instead became less and less important, and forgetfulness became au courant and du jour, as the French might say of more benign customs.

As a result, even short-term memory became devalued and less tenable among the people. This had reached a level of such ridiculousness that an outsider would find it absolutely comical how poorly the people held facts, events, even names in their memory, how few things they remembered while traveling from point A to point B, even just down the road from their houses. A side effect of this was that the Looking-Glass Landers were constantly getting lost in their own neighborhoods and villages, and needed help from a kindly neighbor they’d sought help from a thousand times before but whom at the moment they could not recognize. They could only hold so much information in those dry, unused brain muscles, you see.

The lack of need for invention, creativity, new ideas, or any kind of refreshing of activity had an even more devastating impact. It created scores of demented community members, folks with early onset Alzheimer’s, as it were, though they wouldn’t be able to spell that word let alone hold their own attention long enough to grasp its meaning. To try to remember the term? Forget it! And so they would.

This chronic, permanent forgetfulness applied to all things. There were occasional anomalies among the villagers in the thoughts they managed to commit to memory in their own clandestine ways, even while original storytelling became illegal, in both spoken and written form. Mainly, though, among most of the population, to forget was to comply, and to recite was patriotic. It was a way to pay homage to the stories the kingdom had declared the best, most worthy tales to be passed down from generation to generation in Looking-Glass Land. It could therefore hardly be noticed when the variation in delivery of these rote storytelling activities gradually lessened as well.

Like the flappers on the floating island world discovered by Gulliver, the people of Looking-Glass Land devised a means of support for their forgetfulness, to steer them aright and keep them from wandering forever aimlessly amidst their brooks, woods, and meadows. One of these devices was a system of concrete roads on which were painted in permanent pigments instructions to every destination known in the land to every other destination, as well as labels several points in advance of reaching a destination to remind the traveller that the arrival was imminent.

This worked even in cases where the person was in fact closer to their point of origin than they were to their designated destination. With abysmal short-term memory, the misguided could be guided best only by counter-factual signs and directions exaggerating the distance, the nearness, the direction, and the size of the places people sought to reach.

In fact, in our land, with our far superior short-term remembering skills (trust me, even you with poor short-term memory have nothing on these characters), we would interpret these overdone instructions as patently false, utter lies, and deep absurdities.

And who made such systems, you ask? Why, the government of course! They were naturally exempt from the restrictions they decreed. They became the parents, nurses, and shepherds of their people, and they could do very much as they liked, always, without challenge or correction or fear.

Such was the state of Looking-Glass Land in the years around the time Alice made her historic visit.

Actually, that would have been her second visit, if memory serves. Alice had been to Looking-Glass Land before, and the results of the first visit differed greatly from what that old fart Charles Dodgson professed them to be in his famous novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. It’s really quite funny. For a man who treasured his memories of childhood and later friendships with children so dearly, he proved to have significant memory problems of his own when it came to the fictional worlds he himself had created.

As an outsider myself, from the next country of Wonderland, I saw what went on in Looking-Glass Land with my own eyes. I possess certain . . . powers that made these observations easier. Because of my unique circumstances and close investigation, I can tell you how it really happened, and I will very shortly. I only hope your memory is not so short. I hope that you will be able to learn and benefit from this history–for everyone’s sake. Perhaps having this written form to re-read and refer to will aid you in that endeavor. I bid you good luck and urge you to make an effort, if you can.

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

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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

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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 the next part of this travel guide series, we’ll focus on Outlander tour companies and tour options, along with film locations not covered in my first 3 posts, and bring together all the shared and unshared resources I used and liked. I’ll close with some thoughts on Outlander, Scotland, and general travel.

But wait! There’s more. In future posts, I’ll continue to highlight specific sites visited, services engaged, adventures experienced, and images captured during our trip. Keep coming back to my introductory post “Scotland Ventured, Scotland Gained.” to get the full scope of available bits from just after our trip last fall through the rest of this year.

I hope all this helps you get through Droughtlander, at the very least. Thanks for reading.

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Live Event Review: Diana Gabaldon Skype Session

Barring some spotty transmission of sound, tonight’s Skype session with Outlander author Diana Gabaldon was a treat–and free! Connecting from her Santa Fe, NM, getaway house (lives in Scottsdale, AZ) to our own Lake High School Performing Arts Hall in Uniontown, Ohio, the Goddess of Jamie and Claire Fraser chatted to upwards of 200 people.

To start the presentation, Diana skipped the most common questions avid fans know the answers to, such as how she started writing the first book. Instead, she shared highlights about book 9’s progress (Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone–finish date still unknown), her writing, research, and editing processes, her three main types of characters (“mushrooms, onions, and hard nuts”–see Part 2 of her reference book The Outlandish Companion for full details), and impressions from consulting on the STARZ TV show adaptation.

In her explanation of character types, she used the case of Mr. Willoughby in Voyager to illustrate how a character springs up like a mushroom. Jamie and Claire are onion characters, with layers that keep revealing more depth. Then, some characters she is “stuck with,” hard nuts such as history’s George Washington, as she writes her current book during the American Revolutionary War, and Brianna Randall, Claire and Jamie’s daughter who had to be born for the long-haul story to work.

Diana has to get to know such characters gradually as they reveal themselves to her. She also noted that she doesn’t “kill” characters; they just die and she, too, finds those events “distressing.” She depicts her role as more of a conduit or vessel through which her stories create themselves. While it is not a passive, or by any means easy, process, she works intuitively and must remain receptive. She uses the senses to pose questions that her imagination then helps her answer.

True to her science background, (former) Professor Gabaldon described her writing in terms of natural processes. She revealed how her scenes start from “kernels” (a vivid image, a line of dialogue, a certain ambiance, a physical object) and proceed by an organic process that she compared to both “growing crystals in the basement” and “a slow game of Tetris.” She “fiddles” until the pieces fit together just right.

Perhaps unusual for a novelist, Diana doesn’t write in a straight line or plan her books in advance; she works wherever the images come from and cobbles or, as some have said, “quilts” scenes together. From the beginning of her book making, she has combined the research and writing processes, toggling back and forth to learn more and make corrections as needed. Her research prowess has become legendary among fans. She also shared how each book ultimately forms a geometric shape. Dragonfly in Amber is like a barbell, anchored by a framing story on both ends, and Outlander has a series of three pyramids or triangles where tensions rise and fall.

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Diana Gabaldon, San Diego Comicon 2015

During the Q&A, I was blessed enough to be able to ask Diana a direct question about how the show is adapting the Jamie-Claire relationship. I talked to HERSELF face to face sort of! Whoa. Happy Birthday (week) to me indeed. She agreed with my view that the core bond of these central characters needs some attention and further development on screen, and she indicated the producers think so, too. Diana assured us that the first six episodes she has seen of season 3 are “great,” which brought cheers from several attendees including me.

Just turned 65 last week, Diana Gabaldon is an endearing blend of erudite, friendly, and oddball. This was my second experience of a live Diana Gabaldon video session. She’s very generous and engaged with her fans, a wonderful writer and natural speaker.

Our hosts ran a solid event, the lights and audience mics worked well, and, though we were dram-dry, there was ample, delicious homemade Scottish shortbread laid out near the exit. Mmm . . . buttery, flaky goodness.

In sum, read these awesome Outlander books, people, and if you can, catch a video chat session with Herself. (Preaching to the choir?) The STARZ show really is pretty great, and season 3’s coming up. Even more impressive, though, the books are an endless fount of riches with an essence that even the very talented team of show producers and writers is hard pressed to capture in a visual medium. Books and TV are distinctly different species of animal, but in the case of this timeless, time-driven story, each is fierce and beautiful in its own way, with something for just about everyone.

Sláinte mhath from this balmy winter’s night in northeast Ohio’s Outlander fan land.

The event was hosted by the Stark County District Library, sponsored by Lake Community Friends of the Library, and buoyed by Diana’s two signed book copies for two lucky trivia game winners (not me which was a-okay).

Novel excerpt: Song meets Alice

I’m still working on my next Outlander tourism blog post. Meanwhile, our writing group meets today, and I plan to share this scene draft from my novel-in-progress, Hunted Song of Looking-Glass Land. Enjoy.

Posts related to this novel’s journey include Last Week of Camp: Ready to Start (April 2016), Packing for Camp (July 2016), The Labor of Learning to Set Limits (September 2016), and This Hunted Story (October 2016).


Scene: Song and Alice meet for the first time as Alice leaves Humpty Dumpty’s estate.  From Hunted Song of Looking-Glass Land by C. L. Tangenberg. Draft 11/5/16, revisions 11/22, 12/15

“Little girl!” called Song as Alice began to pass, heading away from her.

It was not the smoothest of introductions.

Alice looked up and screamed, beginning to run the way she was already going before she received such a fright.

“Wait! It is all right. I am not going to hurt you.”

Alice, too scared to listen, did not stop, but it only took a few strides for Song to catch up.

She had no choice. She grasped Alice’s side and shoulder with her right claw, but she did not lift her. Song held the girl in place and tried to shush her. It was not working, so to avoid attracting unwanted attention, Song spread a finger from the same claw over Alice’s lips and said, “I promise, I am not going to hurt you, but I must speak with you as a matter of some urgency.”

She paused but briefly.

“My name is Song, and I am going to take my hand off you now and back away so you can turn freely. Please do not run. I need to talk to you about how you got here. It is a matter of life and death for those I love.”

Alice had begun listening at first because she could hardly do otherwise, and then, something about the creature’s voice, though deep and tremulous with excitement, seemed calming to her. She stopped struggling, and as soon as she did, Song gently let go of her. Still afraid and shivering, Alice did not turn right away. When she finally did turn, her head moved first, followed by her body.

“Wha– I mean, who – are you?” Alice asked in a voice that squeaked in spite of her. She swallowed, hoping to strengthen it. She was now fully turned and facing Song.

The young Jabberwock breathed an internal sigh of relief and decided not to press her luck. She slowly sat down so as not to tower over the girl. Instinctively, she closed her hands into tighter balls than was comfortable, knowing that her claws might easily seem to be reaching for Alice if she were not careful about how she held them. She dropped her hands to her sides, making fists into the ground, which also helped her relieve some tension and feel more grounded.

Now that Song had Alice’s attention, it seemed impossible to know just where to begin. The wind was whipping up, and a few stray leaves in full green dipped and dived across the clearing in which the two very different girls sat. There was a chill that went with this wind, and the sun seemed to grow shy in the face of such a meeting as this. Song looked around and up, then, behind them toward Humpty Dumpty’s stone wall. She wanted to be sure no one had heard Alice scream or seen Song chase her.

“My name is Song Warber,” she began. “I am of the Wock race that lives, well, that used to live, here in Looking-Glass Land. My parents, my brother, and my sister are nearly all that is left of us. The Nobles have—” She stopped. No. Too much too soon. “Let me back up. I live in the Tulgey Wood by the Knights’ Forest. Do you know either of those places?”

“No,” said Alice, growing calmer with each breath. “No I do not. I have meet the Tweedles—”

“Yes, I know.”

“You know?” Alice’s eyes widened. “How . . . do you know?” Alice’s speech became strained and tentative again.

“Oh, I was passing through there. It is actually not far from the path I usually take to get home from my chores. And I have heard of you,” she added quickly, “from around the land. Your coming here has raised some . . . interest.”

She paused again. All of this was changing so fast, it was hard to know how to represent everyday life. Everyday life was effectively extinct for Song.

“Your name is Alice, is not it?”

“Yes, that is right.”

“Forgive me. I stopped out of curiosity and watched you with the twins for a while. I heard how they frightened you about the Red King. I’m sorry for that. For what it’s worth, I believe you are real.”

Song attempted a smile, but she knew it would not be received as anything more friendly than a grimace. It was not in the Wocks’ custom to smile as an expression of happiness. They expressed their joy with the instruments nearer to hand—their arms, their wings, their antennae. Their lips were not much, and not much for flexible movement. It had taken an accelerated adaptation to learn English as a spoken language. One could almost liken their speaking to ventriloquism; they were able to pronounce English words very well without much lip motion.

Alice tried to smile back, perceiving that Song had tried, too.

Song looked down in mild embarrassment upon noticing this gesture. “The thing is,” she began again, “it is because you are real that they feel threatened by you. The Nobles, I mean.”

“Threatened? How?” This was news to Alice.

“Well, I do not want to alarm you, but they have employed sentinels, a kind of guard, to watch the portals for forbidden species and humans trying to enter Looking-Glass Land. My father is one of those guards. Or, at least he was until the Nobles found out about you. Now, he has been punished for letting you in. You see, human children are among those not allowed here. I don’t suppose anyone has mentioned that to you yet.”

“No, they haven’t.” Alice was beginning to feel quite uncomfortable indeed. It was also odd to her that her fear was not coming directly from beholding this creature before her, but from warnings, of what seemed a friendly sort, that the creature was sharing. But then she remembered.

“Then why do they not escort me out? I have met several of the chess pieces already—the Red Queen, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the White Queen, and Humpty Dumpty just now.”

“Well, technically, the Tweedles and Humpty are more like pawns, but never mind. That is not important. Yes, the queens might well have seemed tolerant of you, acted out of politeness. The truth is, I think they are afraid of human little girls.” Song opened a questioning claw while adding, “I do not know why. So many things about the Nobles and Royals are not to be explained.

“Afraid? Of me?” This notion seemed quite silly to Alice. She chuckled, but it quickly turned to hurt. “Why, I would not hurt anyone! I hardly can.”

“Yes, there seems to be some hidden reason for their fear, which is why they try so hard to act normal around you.” Song was pensive, searching.

“Normal? I would not say that.” Alice reflected on what passed for normal around here. “No, I wouldn’t say their behavior is normal at all.”

“Well, still, it is a bit of a mystery, as if there is something they chose not to tell Looking-Glass citizens about the blacklisted creatures. It really seems as if more and more beings are getting to be off limits. It becomes sort of . . . tight around here, if that makes any sense. Kind of pinched. I do not know quite how to explain it.”

“You mean stressful? Like everyone’s afraid of upsetting the king?” Alice offered.

“Yes, just so! They keep adding more and more rules and restrictions all the time, of all sorts, until it is hard to know how to behave or where to go or what you are allowed to say, or even be, after a while. The Wocks have long been restricted terribly much, in many ways, by the Nobles. For us, too, things are getting worse, very fast actually.”

Song looked up to see if Alice understood. She was fully attentive, but her expression had changed little. Wide eyes and a sympathetic brow accompanied rosy cheeks and a petite set of pink lips. Suddenly, Alice sat down where she was, with growing interest in what Song had to say. This was encouraging to the Jabberwock youth. At least this human girl wanted to hear more, even if she could not understand everything. Song continued.

“This is why I came to find you. It was mere luck that I happened to hear you and Humpty Dumpty talking. I needed to tell you about this, about my situation because I thought you might be able to help.”

Song took a deep breath and went for it.

“Would you be willing to help me?” Her tone was almost shy.

“I suppose so,” Alice said simply. “What did you have in mind?”

“Well, I guess that is the real question. I want to get my father back, for starters. He has been banished to the Sleef Mountains off to the west. That was his punishment for what they said was ‘not doing his job.’”

Song decided to keep things simple by not telling Alice about the mysterious additional penalty, the details of which Song herself did not yet know. It seemed pointless to add this wrinkle to the present complications. She needed to gain momentum now that she had Alice’s ear.

The wind picked up again, but the sun came out this time, light scattering across Song’s antennae as if across tree limbs. Alice was watching, wondering what the creature was thinking. “Are you really sure I can help?” she asked finally.

“Honestly, I do not know,” Song admitted. “I was hoping you would come with me to the White Palace in order to petition to the King for my father’s return. You see, I know my father. He is a good worker. He would not shirk his duties. He has never had a mark against his record. I know he could not have let you in.” Song blushed suddenly.

Not missing a beat, Alice said, “Wait, how can that be? Does he not guard the looking-glass above the hearth in the house in the 1st Square?”

“No, he does not. Wait, the house?”

“Then how—”

“You said it was a house?” Song just realized Alice was describing a portal she did not know about.

“Yes, why?”

“Oh, there is more than one portal in and out of Looking-Glass Land, but there is no portal at any house in the land. At least I have never heard of it. My father worked the one nearest the Reed-Wallow, not at a house.”

“There are supposed to be only four portals.” Song opened her lips again to say which ones were where but then thought better of it. She did not want Alice escaping the land without at least coming with her to the palace, if possible. Song settled on “Yours would make five.”

“Well, it is not mine,” Alice replied bashfully, but the feeling turned into pondering, with scrunched eyebrows and a finger to her mouth. “At least I do not think so.”

Alice began to have a strange feeling that maybe she had created the portal on her own somehow, that it was not there until she put it there. Curiouser and curiouser, she thought to herself.

“This is very strange,” Song said, echoing Alice’s thoughts. “Why do you suppose— Well, no, how would you know, right? I mean, do you come from a place with many portals in it?”

“Not exactly. We can walk through open doors and cross borders and such, but those are all clear and visible. You know what you are about to do by how it looks from the side you start from.” Alice secretly believed she was still dreaming, and that, perhaps, it was possible her dream was a kind of portal into this world. “No, we do not have portals like the one I went through, usually. But then, I did go through it . . . This is all so confusing.”

“Yes, it is,” Song conceded. “But maybe, if you come with me to the White Palace, we can both get some answers. If you can tell them about what you did, then maybe they will see my father is innocent.”

“But I thought you said they do not like little girls. Will I not get into trouble just for showing up?” Alice brought her arms in toward her chest, folding them with her fists resting under her chin in apprehension, and then she began to scramble up on to her hands and knees from the seated position she had been in. “I— You have told me—”

“Yes. Yes, it is possible things will not go very well, for either of us. But I guarantee my fate will be worse than yours. You, they will most likely send back to your own world, if they find the courage to deal with you directly, that is. But something about their rules and behavior regarding little girls makes me think they might not be brave enough to do much of anything with you. It is a risk, I know, but honestly Alice, I am desperate. I think you’ll be okay. And you see that I am also strong.” She paused, working diligently on more ways to convince the girl to go with her.

Finally, Song said, “What if we were to make a deal, you and I? You agree to come help me get my father back, and I agree to protect you if anyone at all should try to harm you. As I hope you have learned by now, I have nothing against little girls. In fact, I think I am starting to like you.” Song smiled. “Even with all the craziness in my life that is making it hard to like anything or anybody. You might just be something really special, Alice. All these strange things. I do not know.” She shook her head in wonderment.

“I think I know what you mean. You have proven that you are not bad yourself.” Alice chuckled nervously, not quite convinced of her own declaration. She thought for a moment about Song’s proposal. This was not exactly how she had pictured her adventures in Looking-Glass Land going. But it was an adventure, even if it was one she had not chosen herself.

“Why not? Let us strike hands on the bargain.” Alice gradually held out her right hand to Song.

“Oh, okay,” Song said slowly, reaching out her hand equally slowly. She did not want to hurt the girl with her ungainly claws, so she held her large hand out still, nodding to Alice to strike it.

“It is a deal,” said Alice, with a pat of her hand on the claw, which felt a bit dry and scaly.

“All right. This way.”

And Song led them off to the east toward the seat of power in Looking-Glass Land, on what would seem to be a hunch and the smallest hope, but she felt lighter somehow. Now they had each other. Alice was a good girl, she could tell. Song decided she would do her best to do what she had promised, to protect Alice from harm, no matter what else may happen.

This Hunted Story

Am I late, am I late, for a very important date?

If not, as long as I tell myself I run that risk, motivation survives, at least for something I already feel compelled in a deeper way to do—writing. So before it IS too late, it’s time to journal about my Jabberwock novel, a story of Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There from the Jabberwock perspective. Time to muse upon the fickle nature of the Muse. Time to log, on the Web, my thoughts about this story-making process, the state of this art. Time to blog about novel writing.

My hope in doing so is that it will help me get a handle, by November 1st at midnight, on my story outline so I can hit the ground running as NaNoWriMo 2016 kicks off. The goal of National Novel Writing Month is to “write with reckless abandon,” and as a planner (as opposed to a pantser), I’ll feel readier to do that if I have a sound story structure to populate with all that compelling characterization, magical description, and sparkling dialogue. * sigh *

Prompted by S of JS Mawdsley to write fanfic “so [S] wouldn’t be the only one” doing that for Camp NaNoWriMo this past July, I showed up at a write-in early in the month and started listing the fiction I’m a fan of. Not long into the exercise, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass popped up and led to my premise.

In a reversal, or extension (depending on your viewpoint), of the situation in Looking-Glass Land, I set up the Jabberwock as the story’s hero and the Red and White Nobles as the antagonists in their world of giant chessboard squares. Alice retains a position resembling her protagonist role in the original stories, entering the grand game of chess in book two in order to become queen by reaching the Eighth Square.

Simple, right?

So . . . I’ve been working on this intermittently since July and figured there’s plenty to write in November, too. Although I don’t exhibit the discipline JS Mawdsley do/es, which leads to such awe-inspiring story-writing productivity, it’s been a victory for me to remain interested in my story even after each, sometimes long, hiatus.

I’m intrigued enough by the concept, along with the outlining, mind mapping and analyzing I’ve done of it so far, and the handful of scenes I’ve written in full, that I feel confident I won’t lose interest any time soon, let alone halfway through NaNoWriMo.

The magic has come from seeing themes, symbols, and character relationships periodically connect in unexpected ways, from discovering that the ideas that bubble up work with the overall concept instead of against it. It gives me hope that the unity of the story can be preserved, assuming I can build it into a cohesive whole in the first place. This is the year, baby!

Still, it is by no means simple. The plot has been quite the code to crack. For me, that’s typical, but this one poses the extra challenges to work within the original story structure, use pre-existing characters, and figure out how the heck to weave in the new story.

If I have bitten off more than I can chew, by gum, at least I’m still chewing on it and my jaw hasn’t yet broken or frozen.

I confess to adding the pressure of creating something brilliant and eminently publishable out of a timeless classic that’s been thoroughly studied, adapted, spoofed, and spun off in every direction for over a hundred years. Otherwise, why spend all this time on it? But I’m fighting that tendency, too. I’m making a point of not reading the spin-off books and of not watching any more versions of the movie than I have already seen. I’m trying to let love lead. Love of Lewis Carroll’s work.

In addition, S made the point that because Looking-Glass is the less well-known of the pair of Alice stories, it will be wise to borrow characters from Adventures for this re-telling, to add reader interest. I’ll try not to make that issue a major priority; it, too, presumes publication.

The saving grace may be that, if a tangible end result ever does come, and whether or not it’s any good, at least it will have been one hell of a writing experiment that prepared me for success on simpler projects. Oh, if only I knew how to go simple. To do the work, day after day, without imploding under the weight of expectation.

Although I may not blog liberally about the intricacies of the Jabberwock story puzzle, I’ll try to use both blogging and private journaling to keep up my momentum through the exciting upcoming month of story stress, construction, and socializing.

A couple of days ago, I chose a title that took entirely too much time to think of: Hunted Song of Looking-Glass Land. Song is my main character, the teenage Jabberwock heroine who, in partnership with the younger human Alice, fights the good fight against the establishment. This much I know.

Hunted Song is my first fantasy story, first fan fiction (sort of, if we don’t count the one about Shakespeare’s mistress), and possibly first happy ending compared to my two most recent stories, which I actually finished drafting. There’s so much to look forward to, and the fact that I started this story well before November reassures me of my stamina to see it through to whatever moment declares itself the end.

Perhaps it’s fitting that this is my topic in the year of the 150th anniversary of the first book’s publication. These splashes of newness and flashes of specialness are keeping my eye on the prize, to follow through to create a good story that I can call mine.

What’s your story?

Join me and half a million other people worldwide this year in the storytelling adventure called NaNoWriMo. No experience necessary. No Plot? No Problem. No judgment. Just start writing. Ready. Set. Novel!. Also, check out the NaNoWriMo Blog.


For more about how my current story’s journey started, check out this summer’s post Packing for Camp.

jabberwocky

Featured image: Illustration of the Jabberwocky by John Tenniel, original artist for both Alice books.