Lately, it seems like the TV show Outlander has breathed new life into the Scottish tourism industry. Hundreds, if not thousands of people visit Scotland each year to follow the footsteps of Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser. But of course, Outlander tours based on the book series have been around for much longer than that. Scotland-lover Nancy Basile went on a 10-day Outlander tour of Scotland and will share with you a list of her favourite stops. I promise you’ll love them, no matter whether you are a fan of the books or the TV adaptation!
Guest blogger Nancy Basile is a professional freelance writer and shares her thoughts on movies, TV shows and books she loves – incl. everything she knows about Outlander – on her blog mediamedusa.com.
I fell in love with Scotland the first time I visited this beautiful country in 2008. I only got to spend a few days in Edinburgh and the Highlands, but that was all I needed to lose my heart to the moors covered in gorse and heather and the high-reaching hills.
In 2016, I was lucky enough to return. This time, I spent 10 days on an Outlander tour of Scotland with Celtic Journeys. That trip was a dream come true. It blew away my expectations and we visited more unique places than I could have imagined.
The Outlander tour with Celtic Journeys focuses more on the book series than the TV show. In fact, the tour was operating before the TV show ever premiered. Although we visited a few film locations from the TV show, we spent the majority of our time exploring places that are mentioned in the books, or places that might have inspired passages in the books.
These are 10 of my favourite places from my Outlander tour of Scotland.
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We spent our first two night in the Highlands at Glenspean Lodge in Roy Bridge, Ft. William. It was originally a hunting lodge, so it has a very cosy, homey feel.
Cille Choirille was just up the road. We visited this charming little church because it looks very much like the church described in “Dragonfly in Amber,” where Black Jack Randall was buried.
Walking the kirkyard transported me back hundreds of years. The gravestones dated back several centuries and were weathered and worn. The tiny kirk’s stone walls were covered in lichen. Inside the church, it was eerily quiet, thanks to the incredibly thick walls. It was also very dark because there were only a few tiny windows to let in daylight. Mass is held in Cille Choirille just once a month during the summer season.
West Highland Museum
On our second day, we visited the West Highland Museum in Fort William. The museum is a repository for dozens and dozens of artefacts, books, documents and pieces of clothing related to the Jacobites.
Jacobites were a group of Scottish rebels who tried to restore the Stuart family to the throne in the 17th and 18th Century. James II, the last Roman Catholic king, was overthrown by his Protestant son-in-law. The Scots were deeply unhappy and tried to put a Stuart on the throne until the last uprising in 1745.
I couldn’t believe I was looking at things that Charles Stuart, the “Young Pretender,” had once possessed. The most fascinating artefact was a secret portrait. A tray was painted with something that looked like a smear. But when you placed a silver cylinder in the centre of the tray, you could see a portrait of Bonny Prince Charlie in the reflection. The Jacobites used it as a secret way to continue paying their respects.
Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle near the Isle of Skye is reported to be the most photographed castle in all of Scotland, and no wonder. The setting alone is like something from a romance novel. Eilean Donan sits on its own island, which is connected to the mainland by a long bridge.
The gardens surrounding the castle range from manicured and symmetrical plots to paths that wind through wild, moss-covered trees and rocks. Walking the paths, I felt was like entering a fairyland.
The castle itself is very impressive for its structure and its history. It was built in the 13th Century as a defence against the raiding Vikings. In 1719, Spanish soldiers who supported the Jacobites stored gunpowder in the castle. The English found out and attacked. The English found the gunpowder and used it to demolish the castle. However, in 1911 Lt. Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap bought Eilean Donan and restored it to its former glory. The castle opened to the public in 1932.
While we were on the Isle of Skye, we visited Kilmuir Cemetery, the cemetery where Flora MacDonald was laid to rest.
Flora MacDonald sheltered Charles Stuart after his army lost the battle on Culloden Moor in 1745. A tall memorial stands above all the other gravestones in Kilmuir, honouring her for her courage. She is also the Flora mentioned in the “Skye Boat Song,” a traditional Scottish song.
While we were at Kilmuir Cemetery, I was struck by the affection the Scots must feel for Flora MacDonald. Although it’s in an ordinary-looking cemetery, her memorial is stately and regal.
What I remember most, however, was the wind! I laughed out loud because it was blowing so hard. It practically lifted me off the ground! And I couldn’t have been happier. True Scottish weather!
Calanais Standing Stones
Outlander fans know that Craig na Dun – the circle of standing stones that transported Claire Randall two hundred years into the past – doesn’t actually exist. Author Diana Gabaldon invented them.
But Scotland has no shortage of standing stone circles. We visited an amazing stone circle on the Isle of Lewis called the Standing Stones of Calanais. It’s impressive because there are so many stones still standing in concentric circles. The circle sits on top of a hill, which gave me an incredible view of the beautiful isle and sea all around.
The path to the stone circle is flanked by rows of smaller standing stones. Walking the path is like a meditation exercise. You can practically feel the mystic energy buzzing around the stones.
Did you know, you could also visit standing stones and stone circles on the Isle of Arran?
While we were in Inverness, we visited the Wardlaw Mausoleum. The Wardlow Museum is part of the Wardlaw Graveyard, where Lord Lovat, the “Old Fox” of the Jacobite Rebellion, and Jamie Fraser’s grandfather, is buried in the crypt.
The museum itself is a lovely old church. The inside is painted a sky blue and the ceiling soars overhead.
The real attraction is actually Lord Lovat’s coffin in the crypt. It was hard to climb down into and back out of the crypt, so not many people went inside. Plus, it’s tiny! We had to take turns.
The casket was smaller than thought it would be. I didn’t spend much time in the crypt, but I wanted to see it just so I could say I did. I wasn’t keen on seeing someone who had been dead for hundreds of years!
Culloden House Hotel and Culloden Battlefield
The Battle of Culloden marked the end of the Jacobites. It was a horrible loss and prompted the Duke of Cumberland to begin a scorched earth campaign against the Highlanders. It was the end of the great Highland clans too.
We visited Culloden Battlefield and its amazing museum. They have scads of artefacts related to the battle. They even have a video exhibit that puts you smack in the middle of the battle. It brings the battle to life in all its bloody glory.
While visiting the museum and walking the grounds, you can feel the weight of sorrow settle into your heart. Knowing how many men died, and how brave they had been, even when they knew they were probably going to lose, made our visit a sombre one.
After our visit to the battlefield, we stayed at the Culloden House Hotel. Culloden House is where Prince Charles stayed on the eve of the battle, and where the Duke of Cumberland stayed after the British won.
The house is beautiful and luxurious and full of history. I was lucky enough to sleep in the attic room. I say lucky, because in “Dragonfly in Amber,” the attic is where something very terrible and very important happens. (I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who doesn’t know!)
Culloden House Hotel also has a lovely walled garden and an interesting garden path that takes you past some very interesting sculptures. I highly recommend walking the grounds if you ever stay there.
The Clava Cairns are two burial mounds that are close to Inverness. They’re wonderful examples of cairns because they’ve been expertly restored and maintained. You can walk all around them, and even up to the door of one.
The Clava Cairns are surrounded by standing stones. Standing stones and stone cairns play a big role in the Outlander books. There’s one grouping, in particular, that lends itself well to a photo op. You can poke your head through a pair of stones and have someone snap your picture.
Urquhart Castle was one of the most impressive ruins we visited. Its massive footprint shows you just how huge the structure was.
Urquhart Castle was the castle that Claire and Frank Randall visited on their second honeymoon in the original Outlander book. It certainly is a romantic spot. Not only is the castle and its grounds quite impressive, it also sits on the shores of Loch Ness. If you climb the stairs, you have a magnificent view of the loch. We were fortunate enough to take a cruise on Loch Lomond.
Palace of Holyroodhouse
Our last formal tour of the trip was also the most outstanding. We got a “behind the rope” tour of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s Edinburgh residence.
Outlander fans will remember that Holyroodhouse Palace is where Prince Charles Stuart resided during his Jacobite campaign. Both Jamie and Claire visited and stayed at Holyroodhouse.
Of course, this magnificent palace has its own storied history. Mary, Queen of Scots, married both of her husbands there. Also, her private secretary, David Rizzio, was murdered in her private rooms.
We toured every area that’s open to the public, as well as a few areas that the public doesn’t see. It was fascinating and awesome, in the truest sense of the word.
These ten locations in Scotland are part of the Outlander history. As a die-hard fan, I was thrilled to stand in the shoes of people who had been there centuries before me. I highly recommend taking the Outlander tour with Celtic Journeys. It was the trip of a lifetime!
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