An Outlander Inspired Trip Through Scotland
Craighs of rocks among groves of moss-covered trees, valleys of apple green grass with hints of golden yellow, burnt umber, and rusty orange, dark shimmering lochs, mountains that are ten times larger than they appear, and centuries old castles. Scotland is full of beauty (and a rather brutal history which I’ll write about another time), and has been the backdrop for many movie and television scripts and books – Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander book series being the latest television series to join the ranks.
Outlander is the story of Claire (Beauchamp) Randall, a wartime nurse from England who is vacationing (and trying to reconnect with) her husband in Inverness, Scotland. While she’s there she stumbles upon Craigh na Dun, an ancient rock formation, and upon touching a split rock, she is transported back in time to the 1740s (the Jacobite era, which was quite tumultuous), where she meets Jamie Fraser, a Scottish clansman. Frantically trying to get back to the rocks in hopes of returning to her own time, Claire also begins to fall for Jamie.
It’s a mixture of historical fiction and romance.
Over the last twenty years women around the world have fantasized about characters, Claire Beauchamp Randall and Jamie Fraser, as well as locations like Inverness, Craigh na Dun and Castle Leoch. And now with the tv series premiering worldwide, many Outlander fans are itching to book flights to Scotland to follow in the footsteps of Jamie and Claire. There is only one problem, many of the locations named in the book don’t actually exist! At least not by the names mentioned in the book.
A Self-Guided Outlander Tour in Scotland
Finding places mentioned in the book can be difficult as many places have been given a different name, but not to worry. Thanks to my guide, Ross, from Black Kilt Tours, I was able to visit many of the locations from the book that acted as inspiration, as well as a couple filming locations for the TV series.
Although many filming locations have a publication ban, there are a couple that is well known, which means I can disclose them here without getting anyone into trouble. Yay!
Old cobble-stoned streets, white stone houses with aging wood window frames, gabled roofs, and small public squares, Culross is a charming 16th Century town of roughly 365 people. While Culross does not feature in the book, it is the filming location for many of the outdoor 18th Century town scenes in the TV series, when Claire is living at Castle Leoch.
Located in Fife, not far from Edinburgh, Culross is absolutely charming. I loved roaming around the public squares, popping into Biscuits café for a tea (I’m told their coffee is good as well) or the Red Lion for a pint, and discovering a cream coloured Triumph convertible.
Fun fact: Many of the houses in Culross were painted a dark grey for filming (and are now being painted back to white as filming has ended), giving it a rather dower look.
Castle Leoch | Doune Castle
While the real Castle Leoch is located in Strathpeffer in the Scottish Highlands, and is still the home of the Clan MacKenzie, STARZ decided to film at Doune Castle instead. Why? Who knows. Maybe the current clan chief did not want to have a film crew milling around his house. Unfortunately I was unable to see Castle Leoch, however, I did visit Doune Castle, which is featured in the TV show as Castle Leoch.
Built in the 13th Century, Doune Castle was the home of Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany (until 1420), and then the King of Scotland. Located in the district of Stirling, exploring the castle was quite fun, especially with the audio guide (which included Monty Python references). I was fascinated by the Great Hall as I imagined something quite a bit larger, same with the Duke of Albany’s chambers. I explored every part of the castle that I could, even climbing the skinny spiral stone stairs all the way to the top for a view from the embattlement. Definitely worth the stop!
While Inverness may have had that 1940s look and feel twenty years ago when Diana Gabaldon wrote Outlander, it’s grown substantially, and the filming for the TV show actually takes place in a village south of the city (which I am unable to disclose as I don’t remember the name, and its under a publication ban). That being said, a visit to Inverness is always recommended. I adore the people, there are some seriously lively pubs to hang out in, they have a Marks & Spencer, the old city is fun to explore on foot, and it’s just plain charming.
Craigh na Dun | Clava Cairn
In the book, Claire visits a place just outside Inverness called Craigh na Dun, where she encounters ancient rock formations, and it transported back in time. Unfortunately the name Craigh na Dun doesn’t exist, but the rock formations do! Located near Culloden, Clava Cairn is the home of one of several ancient rock formations scattered throughout Scotland (especially around Inverness)
Thought to be from the bronze age, the Clava Cairn is a group of rocks that are placed close together to make a circle, often with a hole in the centre. What these represent is still up for discussion, but it is said that this site was the inspiration for Craigh na Dun in Outlander. Where it was or not is of no importance to me, Clava Cairn is seriously interesting and a must visit.
Note: There are so many ancient rock formations around Inverness that it is hard to figure out which ones exactly were used in the filming of the TV show.
Featured in the book, Culloden Battlefield is one of the more important historical sites in Scotland. This is where the Jacobites met, and were slaughtered by the Hanoverians – and unlike it was portrayed in the book, this was not a Scotland vs England battle. It was about trying to put a Stewart (a.k.a. Stuart) back on the throne, namely Bonnie Prince Charlie (Jacobites).
I’m not a huge battlefield fan myself, but visiting Culloden was both interesting and enlightening. Standing on the roof of the visitor centre I could see where the battle was fought, and imagine what it may have been like. It was a sobering visit, and I left understanding a little more of what Scotland was like in the 16th Century.
With most filming locations are under a publication ban, and the names of others being somewhat fictional in the book, visiting any Jacobite era (1688 – 1746) site is recommended to anyone wishing to understand more about this tumultuous time in Scotland’s history. Some suggestions:
- Highland Folk Museum: A fabulous day trip for the whole family, this open-air museum has a 16th Century highlands village which can be explored, giving one a glimpse into life during the time of the Jacobites.
- Dunkeld Cathedral: This 14th Century cathedral in Dunkeld, along the River Tay, was the site of a Jacobite attack in 1689 which raised most of the cathedral to the ground. A hauntingly beautiful church.
- Glenfinnan: Located near Glen Coe, Glenfinnan is the site where Bonnie Prince Charlie first set foot in Scotland, after sailing up from France.