An Outlander Adventure Across Scotland

Some curmudgeons don’t like the idea of people visiting Scotland on the backs of pop culture phenomena. Visitors citing films and TV shows as the reason for their Scottish adventures can expect some eyes to roll. Let ’em! I freely confess that watching Braveheart as an 8-year-old probably kickstarted my obsession with Scotland, and I say that whatever lights the spark can only be a good thing. After all, it gets you here – and if you’re like me, if might even make you stick around.

So, fuelled by an international fandom, I set out with the Scotlanders on a mission from VisitScotland to explore every Outlander filming site in Scotland over a single weekend. I teamed up with French blogger Sophie Maulevrier to cover Lothians and go over the Forth to Fife, while Neil Robertson & Kristy Ashton stormed the Highlands and Patricia Cuni & Laura Brown wandered west. For all those suffering from #droughtlander, drink up.

FALKLAND

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For many, the Outlander enchantment began with this moment in Falkland. While I lacked the kilt to do an entirely accurate Jamie impression, you’ll recognise the Bruce Fountain above as the spot where Jamie’s ghost looked longingly at Claire through the window of Ms Baird’s Guesthouse. Much of the town’s historic charm has been preserved, so it didn’t take much to transform it into a set. I grabbed a bite at Campbell’s Coffee House and Eatery, which was drastically renamed into Campbell’s Coffee Shop for the show. Some interior shots were done in Falkland Palace, a Renaissance masterpiece and favoured house of Scottish monarchs including James IV, James V, and Mary, Queen of Scots – all of the House of Stewart, whom the Jacobites fought to restore to the throne.

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THE REAPER

Everyone’s thinking it –  and yes, ‘don’t fear The Reaper’ jokes were made. Far from being menacing as its name suggests, The Reaper ferried Claire and Jamie to safety in France. The herring drifter was built in 1901 and spent many of its working years around Shetland, where it claimed a record haul of nearly 250,000 herrings. It’s now owned by the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther in the serene East Neuk of Fife and run by a small group of volunteers who have restored it to its original condition.

The Reaper

DYSART HARBOUR

The Reaper brought Claire and Jamie to the French port of Le Havre, and if Falkland can stand in for Inverness then Dysart Harbour can make a worthy French harbour! Carved from coal, Dysart’s fortunes have hit both extremes of the pendulum over the centuries and this industrial port is now likely more prim than ever before. It’s tucked away in the east end of Kirkcaldy, a true hidden gem that I have passed within 500 metres of countless times without ever knowing it was there.

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ABERDOUR CASTLE

Aberdour is a masterclass is the evolution of Scottish castles over a period of nearly 900 years. From east to west it transforms from a ruinous 13th century tower into a 15th century fortified home and ultimately into a 17th century block. More of a pleasant escape than a true fighting castle, Aberdour played host to big names in Scottish history such as James Douglas, Regent of Scotland during James VI’s childhood. Its terraced gardens once grew exotic fruits and flowers including jasmine, and it sports one of the best doocots – beehive-shaped structures used to house birds for food – in Scotland. I made a short YouTube video there for the Registers of Scotland, the world’s oldest national land registry, telling the castle’s story that you can watch here. In Outlander, Aberdour is the (fictional) monastery where Claire and Murtagh take Jamie to recover from the horrors of Wentworth.

THE ROYAL BURGH OF CULROSS

Culross (pronounced ‘coo-russ’) is something really special: a village frozen in its 16 and 17th century form, whose cobbled wynds and colourful houses effortlessly transport visitors back in time. Once one hundred ships could be conducting business at its bustling port, while now only a few hundred live in the village. Footfall is picking up, however, due to Outlander fame! Culross is Cranesmuir, its mercat (market) cross immediately evoking painful memories of the wee boy with his ear nailed to the post. Geillis Duncan’s house is at the corner of the same square, and Claire’s herb garden at Castle Leoch is in fact the garden for Culross palace. With the early-modern atmosphere very much intact at Culross, wandering its streets is a fantastic way to not just see the sight of Outlander, but to feel as though you’ve been woven in to its very fabric.

GOSFORD HOUSE

Set within 5,000 acres of gardens, coastland and forest is Gosford House, a late 18th century neo-classical mansion designed by seminal Scottish architect Robert Adam. Adam turned Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square into the Georgian triumph it is, and also laid the plans for spectacular Culzean Castle in Ayrshire. Gosford House, then, is a member of a very distinguished family of buildings across Scotland. It’s a grand estate, which makes it slightly funny that it appeared in Outlander as the stables – the stables! – of the Palace of Versailles in season two.

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PRESTON MILL

If Hobbits lived anywhere in the world, my money would be on Preston Mill in East Lothian. Hobbits or Hagrid, take your pick. There’s a fantastical look to Preston Mill, which is run by the National Trust for Scotland and which served as the millhouse for Lallybroch. Jamie took a dip in the burn to fix the millwheel, and here my other companion on the #Scotlanders challenge, Sir Quackobite, contemplates his odds of doing the same.

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There has been a mill on the site since the 1500s, with the current site being occupied by the kiln, the mill, and the miller’s house. It was working right up until 1959, and one fascinating feature are lines indicating flood water levels – in 1948, unbelievably, the entire structure was almost completely submerged. Now it’s an exceedingly pleasant place to stroll around, and tours of the mill’s interior give insights into the daily grind.

LINLITHGOW PALACE

Credit where credit’s due, Outlander took Linlithgow Palace – a Renaissance gem and birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots – and turned it into the cells of Wentworth Prison. To turn Linlithgow into anything other than a marvel takes talent, indeed! The Palace was mostly developed during the late 1400s and early 1500s, and it was in a high tower here that Queen Margaret waited in vain for the return of her husband, King James VI, from the disastrous Battle of Flodden in 1513. The site was home to a 13th century peel which went back and forth between the Scots and English during the early Wars of Independence, and at least two Iron Age crannogs have been discovered in the scenic loch.

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This is also the exact spot where Claire had some tummy trouble, thereby finding out that she’s pregnant. I resisted the temptation to recreate that scene for you. 20170827_132939

MUIRAVONSIDE COUNTRY PARK

The wild woods of Muiravonside were the backdrop to the Battle of Prestonpans, in reality a confused skirmish which gave the Jacobites one final victory before their withdrawal to and ultimate defeat at Culloden. Situated just outside Falkirk and not far at all from next stop Callendar House, Muiravonside has already seen an influx of visitors seeking to follow in Claire and Jamie’s footsteps. The River Avon runs through the park, and you don’t have to stray far from the trail at all to get the feeling that a redcoat patrol could be hiding around the next bend.
Muiravonside Country Park

CALLENDAR HOUSE

This stunning Jacobean mansion is in Falkirk, and there’s a lot more history here than first meets the eye. The house began as a medieval tower which is now completely incorporated into the current structure, and the grounds feature one of the best portions of the Antonine Wall to survive. Sitting on the frontier of the Roman Empire and, centuries, later, on the road to the heart of Scotland, Callendar has seen more than its share of action over the past 2,000 years.
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Tensions boiled over in Callendar’s Georgian-era kitchen, which was the Duke of Sandringham’s in the show.

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DOUNE CASTLE

This wouldn’t be an Outlander tour of Scotland without Doune Castle, so the Scotlanders all convened at the site to mark the end of our weekend odyssey. Doune Castle was the first castle I ever visited in Scotland, so it has a very, very special place in my heart before you even get to all of the history and pop culture connections. I confess that I’m most excited about the coconuts you can get from reception to re-create scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, though Doune has also featured in Game of Thrones. Of course, it’s its role as none other than Castle Leoch which gets it on VisitScotland’s Outlander map, and the location advisors chose well. Doune is one of the mightiest and most intact medieval castles in Scotland, and took its current form under Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany and ‘Scotland’s uncrowned king’ during the late 1300s. The Romans knew a good site when they saw one and established a fortified camp slightly east of the castle, and debate rages about the existence of a castle before Albany’s time. Whatever the case, it’s very pretty.

We were met by the Outlandish Bakers who served up saltire cupcakes and Outlander-inspired sweets, which was exactly the sugar hit we needed after two days on the road. They also brought along one crucial element of our adventure which had been missing thus far: a Jamie cutout. It was deployed on guard duty at once.
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If all this still leaves you wanting more, search the hashtag #Scotlanders on social media platforms including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Periscope, and Tumblr to see every stop and moment from our adventure. You can also download VisitScotland’s Outlander map on their website and explore the trail yourself. Êtes-vous prêt?

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