Outlander: The Love Letter to Scotland
Outlander may be a story of time-travelling star-crossed lovers, but in reality the series is a heartfelt love letter to Scotland.
The utterly spellbinding television adaptation of Diana Galbadon’s much-adored book series has captured the hearts of fans worldwide with its willingness to adhere to history, enchanting setting and, of course, its captivating depiction of true love.
Claire and Jamie: A love story for the ages
In real life, there probably aren’t any time travelling standing stones or dashing young Jamie Frasers to escort one through Scotland (though that’s not to stop anyone from looking!). Even so, I still find myself taken aback by the sheer magic of the countryside setting where I have been so generously invited on a press trip, courtesy of a partnership between Sony and Visit Scotland to promote Scottish tourism.
One stop on our trip is Hopetoun House, which doubles for the Scottish residence of the Duke of Sandringham in Outlander. The house, which is still lived in by the Marquis of Linlithgow and family, is a truly incredible stately home with heaps of historical significance. Hopetoun is a wonderful display of artistry by Scottish architects Sir William Bruce and William Adam. The first glimpse from afar was breathtaking, but Hopetoun’s grandeur is even more of a sight to behold from up close. Every corner has been carefully maintained and is a true spectacle for the public.
Hopetoun House, which stars as Lord Sandringham’s Scottish residence in Outlander, from the back
It turns out the Outlander production team waste little of the astonishing scenery, with the grounds of the Hopetoun estate also used to film a duelling scene in episode 10. Most excitingly, a castle on the outskirts of the estate doubles as the very place Outlander fans know our hero Jamie Fraser to have grown up: Lallybroch.
For an exclusive guide to the Fraser clan, who reside in Lallybroch, see below:
We wandered the arch where Jamie and Claire returned home after Jamie’s long-extended absence and sat on the very same step where his sister Jenny greeted them with the adorable Jamie Jr. It’s also the setting of less happy but painfully memorable moments, where Jamie is whipped on the command of “Black Jack” Randall.
A less cheerful moment at Lallybroch
Unfortunately, we were unable to see the waterwheel which Jamie nakedly tries to fix (although I am assured tourists are able to visit this crucial location, which was filmed at Preston Mill, East Linton).
Another must-see moment of our itinerary was stepping foot in Doune Castle, which is otherwise known as the MacKenzie seat Castle Leoch in Outlander. However, don’t be surprised if you recognise the iconic scenery from somewhere else. Quite a hit with filmmakers, Doune Castle has also played a starring role as Swamp Castle, Castle Anthrax and Camelot in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. More recently than that, it doubled for Winterfell in the pilot of Game of Thrones. Yeah. Sansa fawned over Joffrey here.
Not only is Doune Castle a magnificent sight alone, there’s a lot to do, and a small exhibition entirely dedicated to Outlander. Fans can undertake a self-guided audio tour, or really get into the spirit with fancy dress that may have caused disproportional excitement among certain members of the press. Doune Castle is another not short on history. It was believed to have been built for the younger brother of King Richard III Robert Stewart, the 1st Duke of Albany, who was the effective ruler of Scotland from 1388 to his death in 1420. However, it was recently discovered that some of the castle remains date back even earlier, possibly the 1260s.
On the third day, we visited the idyllic setting of Culross, which is as close to actually time-travelling in Scotland as fans might be able to get. With or without its star-quality, Culross is a sight worth seeing as it is the most complete example in Scotland today of a Burgh (a Scottish borough in the 17th and 18th centuries).
In Outlander, Culross portrayed Cranesmuir, a village close to Castle Leoch where Geillis Duncan was resident. Its historic buildings and pebbled streets are more than enough to help one feel as though they are stepping foot in the 17th century. Definitely worth a visit is the palace, which dates from 1597, and is quite unlike anywhere I have been before. The palace was the former home of coal mining pioneer George Bruce, who decorated the mansion-style house with elaborate, colourful paintings – some of which are still viewable, though faded, inside the palace chambers.
A striking garden sits outside the palace, which was used in Outlander as Claire’s herb garden, and today is a sight of beauty as well as an opportunity to buy some fresh produce. A tour is available of the palace and gardens, and one worth taking up.
Claire in the picturesque Culross palace gardens
There’s also a Town House dating from 1626, which includes a witches’ prison (perfect for a place with women like Geillis running around!) One word of warning however, don’t wear heels! Those picturesque pebbled streets are a nightmare.
The significance of the setting in the storytelling of Outlander cannot be understated. It is an integral aspect of the show, and setting foot in these places is a magic in itself. The filming locations are many and varied, littered all over the Scottish isles. For every filming location we visited, there are far more we missed. Fans looking for a complete tour of Outlander filming locations can look no further that Visit Scotland’s handy map of visitable locations.
During my trip I am swept away by the beauty of Scotland, and I see Outlander as vividly as I ever have. It’s a moment inside the mind of Diana Gabaldon. For fans of a series that really is a love letter to Scotland, the experience is a must.
Watch an exclusive featurette on Scotland’s contribution to Outlander below:
Outlander Season 1 is out on Blu-ray & DVD from today (October 26).