The Outlander Effect in Scotland: Journeys with the Scots Magazine

Stories have inspired people to search for the truths behind them ever since the first ones were told. Stories can shape how we think about a place, and above all how we feel about a place. Tell two people to go to the same castle, for instance, and tell each of them a different story about it: one about a great and happy romance, and one about a wretched villain. They’ll both see the same stones, but have very different experiences.

Scotland knows this more than most, and Outlander is just the most recent story to grip the imaginations of people around the world. What this means, in practice, is a massive increase in the number of people visiting Scotland to become, themselves, a part of that story. The ‘Outlander effect’, the term increasingly used by tourism and heritage professionals to describe this boon, is tangible. For instance, I used to pass through Edinburgh’s Bakehouse Close, where the print shop sequence was filmed, and not see another soul. Now there’s typically a queue of people all waiting to pose on the staircase that Claire walked up! 

 

Claire prepares to reunite with Jamie in Edinburgh's Bakehouse Close

Claire prepares to reunite with Jamie in Edinburgh’s Bakehouse Close


Most importantly, despite there being occasional instances of visitors being disrespectful or even destructive, this has meant that Scotland’s heritage has been exposed to wide audience who may never otherwise have come to engage with it. During my two-day campaign with the Scots Magazine as detailed below, I met Outlander fans at every single site (except the ‘real’ Craigh na Dun, as it’s still very much a hidden gem) and, without exception, they were passionate and curious about Scotland’s history. What a wonderful thing.  I confess, I’m not an Outlander superfan – I know and enjoy it well enough but am more of a classic high fantasy guy myself – but I choose to engage with it so much because I see the potential is has for Scotland to spread its story that much further. So without further ado, let’s travel across Outlander country and briefly visit ten locations central to the story of the Jacobites and the filming of the hit series. 

 

DAY 1: CENTRAL SCOTLAND

My journey with Katrina Patrick of the Scots Magazine was split into two days, the first covering central Scotland and the second covering the north. In chronological order, here are the stops we made on our Outlandish journey across Scotland to see the real history behind Outlander.

 

Aberdour Castle (Aberdour)

 

We got into the historical mindset by starting out at Aberdour Castle, a delightful castle in Fife. Aberdour has origins in the 12th century, making it one of Scotland’s oldest stone castles, and you can watch it evolve over the centuries from west to east as it transitions from ruinous medieval towerhouse into 16th century accommodation and ultimately an 18th century block. It’s got a great doocot (where birds, especially pigeons, were kept in large numbers for meat through the winter) and terraced garden which conveys a feeling of luxury and leisure, which is exactly what Aberdour was meant for. It played the role of the Abbey of Ste. Anne de Beaupré, where Jamie recovered following his torture at the hands of Black Jack Randall at the end of season one.

 

 

 

Blackness Castle (Blackness)

 

I counted at least 12 ways to die before breaching the inner courtyard of Blackness Castle if you were to besiege it. Blackness is a brooding fortress, all cold comfort and intimidation in its visage, and is fascinating to wander around. Particularly from the skies or at a distance it takes on the shape of a battleship, hence its nickname ‘the ship that never sailed’. The walls are over 11 feet thick in places, and they bristle with gun loops and death traps of all sorts including a caponier, a sort of hidden gun tunnel to blast unsuspecting intruders from behind. 

 

Blackness Castle

 

Perhaps its grimness is what convinced the locations scouts to use Blackness Castle as Fort William in season one. The castle does in fact feature a pit prison, designed so that prisoners were soaked to the waist by the frigid waters of the Firth of Forth each time the tide rolled in. While it is brilliant to visit now and one of my favourite castles in southern Scotland, in its time heyday I would have been quite happy to never see the inside of its daunting walls. 

 

 

Midhope Castle (Abercorn)

 

No other site in Scotland has undergone such a radical shift from unknown to unmissable as Midhope Castle, which plays lovely Lallybroch, Jamie’s home. It used to be the case that only castle hunting diehards bothered to visit Midhope, yet now, with the Outlander Effect in full swing, there’s even a ticket booth – unthinkable just three or four years ago! While the inside is not accessible, the exterior is almost exactly as you see it in the show. Midhope is also very close to several other filming locations, including Linlithgow Palace, Blackness Castle, Hopetoun House, and Abercorn Church. 

 

Midhope

 

 

 

Callendar House (Falkirk)

 

This one’s worth visiting for the goodies alone, as there are samples of scrumptious 18th century biscuits and treats inside the Georgian kitchen with Outlander-based themes like ‘Black Jack’s gingerbread’. Callendar House truly does have something for everyone; Outlander fans can take to the kitchen and pose in Claire and Jamie masks, while kids can roll down the grassy slopes of the remains of the Roman Antonine Wall and run themselves out on the sprawling grounds. Access to Callendar House is by donation, so it also makes a very affordable day out for the whole family. 

 

 

Culross

 

Thanks to the National Trust for Scotland, the Royal Burgh of Culross is an extraordinarily well-preserved port town from the 16th and 17th centuries. Its streets are cobbled, it’s lanes narrow, its architecture radiating quaint charm. Whole sections of Culross were given a makeover to serve as Cranesmuir, the castle town for Castle Leoch, where much of the early action involving Geillis Duncan takes place.

 

Culross

Highlights include the mercat cross, complete with a carved unicorn atop it, where the tanner’s boy had his ear, or ‘lug’ in Scots, nailed to the wooden post (incidentally, this practice is where we get the term ‘earmarked’ from). Scenes sat the cursed Black Kirk were filmed at the West Kirk about fifteen minutes’ walk uphill from the town centre, and the garden of Culross Palace featured heavily. I recommend catching the sunset at Culross, as the views over the town and across the Forth are a sight to behold. 

 

 

Bakehouse Close (Edinburgh)

 

Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is like a great, rocky spine, connecting Holyrood Palace at the bottom to the mighty castle at the top. Sloping away from this central corridor are nearly 100 closes, alleyways dating from the medieval and Renaissance periods which turn the Old Town into a picturesque warren. Each close has its unique treasures, and Bakehouse Close, about two thirds of the way down the Royal Mile and across from the Canongate Kirkyard, is one of the finest. As one of the best-preserved closes, dating in large part from the 16th century, it took like amending to transform it into the exterior of Jamie’s, aka Alexander Malcolm’s, print shop where he and Claire are reunited after 20 years apart. 

 

Bakehouse Close

 

It’s instantly recognisable, with the distinctive archway leading from the Mile into the close where over 300 people once lived at a time. I have some suspicions about Jamie, however – he must have known that, in the 1760s when he was running his print shop, directly across the close was one of Edinburgh’s most famous institutions – the ‘Cock and Trumpet’ brothel! So named for the Acheson family crest above its entrance, the brothel was a favoured haunt of the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson. Naughty boy!

The area around Bakehouse Close was Edinburgh’s publishing centre in the mid and late 18th centuries, just when Jamie’s shop was here. In fact, Jamie may have been neighbours with the Scots Magazine, the world’s oldest magazine, who were published nearby! Their reports on the Battle of Culloden, coming just weeks after it occurred, make for tough reading – you’ll encounter some below. 

 

DAY 2: THE NORTH AND BACK TO THE BEGINNING

 

Craigh na Dun (Inverness)

By extraordinary coincidence, there IS, contrary to popular opinion, indeed a set of ancient stones atop a hill overlooking the lights of Inverness. It takes an OS map and a willingness to get a little muddy to locate, but for history lovers and Outlander fans alike visiting the ‘real’ Craigh na Dun is an essential stop when in Inverness. 

 

 

The cairn, which dates from at least 3,500 years ago, was re-discovered amongst a thick cluster of gorse within the last decade. One stone remains standing to eye level (if you’re me, at least, at about 5’8″) while several others lay scattered around. It’s not quite as dramatic as the stone circle depicted in the show (which was a prop), but its location so perfectly matches the description of Craigh na Dun – the hill it’s on is even called Crag Dunain – that it’s just begging to be better known. 

 

 

Culloden (Inverness)

 

There are several places in Scotland where knowledge of what happened there brings a tangible gravity to the experience of visiting, as though the weight of history were literally pressing down on you. Glencoe comes to mind immediately, and perhaps Bannockburn too. Culloden, however, weighs most heavily of all.

 


There’s no romance to be found at Culloden. It was a desperate, forlorn, and brutal battle. The aftermath was systematically awful, and the ‘Butcher’ Cumberland earned his name: a report about the battle in a 1746 edition of the Scots Magazine says, from the victor’s perspective, “The moor was covered with blood; and our men, what with killing the enemy, dabbling their feet in the blood, and splashing it about one another, looked like so many butchers.”

 

 

To its credit, Outlander does not shy away from this. The battle as depicted in the show is far closer to the harrowing opening scene of the Normandy beach landings in Saving Private Ryan than the dramatised heroics of Henry V. Outlander creator Diana Gabaldon has been outspoken about the need for all those visiting Culloden to treat it with respect, and the vast majority, in my experience, do just that. If you’d like to know more about the Outlander fandom’s relationship with Culloden and other historic sites, check out the delightful Inverness Outlanders, and for information about conservation and development concerns at the battlefield see the Group to Stop the Development at Culloden Battlefield

        

Highland Folk Museum (Newtonmore)

 

Though it was closed for the winter season during our trip north, the Highland Folk Museum is not to be missed when it re-opens its doors in April. An open-air experiential education centre, the Folk Museum demonstrates what life was like in much of the Highlands from the 1700s through to the 1930s. It’s an invaluable insight into the way of life that ended in the aftermath of Culloden with the Highland Clearances, and into the challenges, delights, routines, and rituals of Highland life. 

 

 

Falkland

 

It felt apt to end it where it all began at Falkland. The rainy streets of 1940s Inverness at the very start of the series were represented by the renaissance retreat of Falkland in Fife. Home to a palace built in large part by the Renaissance kings James IV and V, Falkland proves that great things come in small packages. You can walk across the town in a matter of minutes, yet to do so would be foolish as there are neuks and crannies and side streets galore that truly feel like they are out of another era. Falkland has the distinction of being used in every season of Outlander to date.  

 

 

 

Bonus Stops

 

Though we covered as much as we could over the two days, there is still so much of Scotland through the lens of Outlander to be seen. Several I can recommend from personal experience include:

  • Craigmillar Castle (Edinburgh) – where Jamie was imprisoned following the Battle of Culloden

  • Killiecrankie – not used in Outlander, but the site of an Pyrrhic Jacobite victory during the 1688-89 Rising at which the Jacobite leader, Bonnie Dundee, was slain.
  • Drummond Castle (Crieff) – Stood in for the gardens of Versailles in season two.
  • Glencoe – featured in the opening credits and site of the Massacre of Glencoe (13 February 1692), which stirred up pro-Jacobite sentiment in the Highlands.

 

For everything else you’ll need to follow the Outlander trail through Scotland, pick up a copy of the Scots Magazine’s Outlander Country special edition magazine, which you can buy directly here. I’ve got an article in it and there’s tons of great content by my co-adventurer Katrina Patrick, as well as exclusive interviews and in-depth insight into Jacobite history. Check out all the online articles about Outlander by the Scots Magazine, some of them by me, here. To catch up on every bit of content, including live videos, pre-recorded videos, pictures and historical tidbits not included in this blog, look up #ScotsMagOutlander on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Disclaimer

This campaign was sponsored by the Scots Magazine, whom I have written feature articles for since 2013, in order to promote their Outlander Country special edition. I am proud to have contributed to it, and to stoke people’s passion for Scotland by revealing the real history behind pop culture phenomena such as Outlander.