Apparently it’s Outlander Week on Girl Tries Life. Diana Gabaldon kindly sat down with me in October, so we’ve broken her interview into two parts. Part I focused on her writing process, how she collaborates with her son, and what she’s learned about herself as a writer. On Friday, we’ll have Part II where she talks about her experience working with STARZ. Which brings me nicely into… today! Ladies, I visited Jamie Fraser-land!
I love travel. I love books. I love television. When my three loves come together, it is absolute perfection. When I saw that Viator offered a Private Day Tour of Outlander TV Locations, I was jumping-off-the-edge-of-my-seat level of excited. The tour was booked and I had almost a month to wait… and wait… and wait. Thankfully I had my adventures in Southeast Asia to distract me, and finally the morning came.
The tour guide, Gerry, arrived at my door wearing tartan trousers and a tartan scarf. I won’t lie, I thought to myself that this could go very badly or extremely well. Thankfully it was the latter! Settled into Gerry’s pristine car (complete with a stash of tasty sweets), we headed up the motorway and I learned all about him. Having a past both in the film industry and as a politician, there was plenty to chat about. The Outlander TV series, based on the book by Diana Gabaldon, is huge in North America, but according to Gerry the Scots don’t yet realize how big this is going to be for tourism. The show hasn’t aired yet in the U.K., so I ‘m not surprised, but boy do they ever have a ton of Jamie/Claire fans heading their way soon.
Our first stop was in Culross, a really quaint village in Fife that overlooks the water. This town was a treasure trove of filming locations, providing Geillis Duncan’s home (the exterior), the village square where the poor kid gets his ear nailed to a post (you know what I’m talking about) and Castle Leoch’s herb garden where Claire gathers her medicinal ingredients. The garden is a genuine Jacobite garden, meaning they try to only grow things that would have been around in that era. Speaking to Gerry, Culross Palace and the garden sound like hidden gems. There’s no entrance fee to the garden, so in the warmer weather you could come with a book or a sketch pad and while the hours away in this idyllic surrounding. We met the gardener, whose home coincidentally is Geillis Duncan’s (exterior), and he kindly pointed out the odd plant and flower… which names I have sadly forgotten. Gardening is not my thing, people!
As a Canadian, you see buildings like the ones in Culross and you think that people couldn’t possibly still live in them. They’re too “perfect” for their time period, but live in them they do! The whole town seems to have gotten behind filming, letting STARZ paint the exteriors of their homes a grey colour, more appropriate for the time period. They’ve since returned the buildings to their original colours. I also met the woman whose entrance to her home was used as the home of Mrs. Fitzgibbon’s nephew who they think is cursed, and she among other locals are excited for STARZ to return.
We visited the location for the Black Kirk, where Jamie and Claire discover the reason for the previously mentioned nephew’s “curse”. It’s also a scene where their relationship starts to heat up and I won’t lie… I may have ended up standing where Jamie, a.k.a. the sexy Sam Heughan, stood – granted, Heughan looked a tad sexier standing there in his kilt than I did staring into the bright, Scottish sun. The kirk is in such great shape that you can’t even tell that a large film crew had ever been there. Imagine fifty or so people tramping through the grass, lugging cameras (insert technical movie making phrases here) and the like. You’d never even know. Stranger still is how a graveyard is made romantic thanks to dialogue, good looking actors and music.
The Black Kirk filming location is definitely off the beaten path, so for anyone thinking they’ll be able to find it on their own, sorry to say it’ll be unlikely.
Castle Leoch, or Doune Castle in reality, was next up. What a formidable stronghold. Shivers ran up my spine as I pictured Colum MacKenzie staring out the window at Claire. Clearly the interiors were filmed elsewhere, but you can feel the strength of this castle with walls over a metre thick. The field outside it was where they filmed the field hockey/lacrosse scene where Dougal trips up Jamie.
As we wandered around the outside of the castle, it’s set in a stunning part of the country. The air is fresh, the sky was blue, and you hear the rushing water from a river full of salmon. I visited in winter, so the trees were bare, but I can only imagine that it’s much more lush and romantic the other three seasons.
During the day we passed a field of standing stones. Sorry ladies, I hate to say that the standing stones in the Outlander TV series were NOT real and the hill where they filmed it is not part of your tour. However, Scotland is full of standing stones, so it’s not hard to find some magic. My favourite – total sidebar – are the standing stones in Machrie Moor on the Isle of Arran. I may have once been part of a tarot card reading amongst the stones and it certainly had a supernatural feel to it.
One of the best parts of the tour was getting to know Gerry. He’s had quite the life and can talk to you about anything. I did wonder early in the day if we’d have much in common given our backgrounds and age differences, but he’s a charming guy. We swapped camera settings chat throughout the day, also.
There were many stops on the tour that I won’t go into crazy detail on. There was the Bo’ness Railway station which is not just home to teary scenes with Frank and Claire, but to Thomas the Tank Engine and the recent film, The Railway Man, with Colin Firth. We visited Dougal’s caves, which will appear in the soon to be aired eight episodes. We also visited Houpeton House, another not-yet-seen location, which will be home to the Duke of Sandringham. I can’t WAIT to see those episodes. The exterior is so grand compared to Randall’s stronghold (another location we visited), with a very intimidating approach.
Drum roll please… Lallybroch. No word of a lie, Gerry says that he’s had women weep silently when they arrive at the final location, Jamie’s home. I wasn’t exactly close to tears, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t one heck of an impressive location. Viator is the only tour with access to this building, so I was lucky to get up close with the building. The wonders of movie magic never cease to amaze me, as the building is literally a shell. Strong plastic sheets were cover the window openings, but if you look through the window you could see straight across to the other side. No walls, no rooms, just a stunning exterior, and your imagination filling in the furnishings of Jamie’s ancestral home. You can even see the fields right next to it where Jamie hears the cry of his sister at Randall’s force.
My only complaint of the day, and it’s a minor one, is that lunch never really happened. In the morning we stopped for a coffee. I could have gotten a cake or something, but I skipped it assuming that there would be a lunch stop. Now, I partly have myself to blame for this, because I know that if at any point I told Gerry I was hungry, he would have stopped. Call it my polite Canadian-ness, but I just kept hoping lunch would happen without me mentioning it. Note: the tour didn’t say that lunch was included, so I didn’t expect that, but I did expect a scheduled stop. Pack a power bar to avoid hangriness.
If you’re an Outlander fan, you won’t be disappointed with this tour. We covered so much in a day, I got to see parts of Scotland that I’d never explored in 10+ years of regular visiting and it was neat to learn how filming was done and some of the stories. What is the tour missing? Well… a farewell snog from Sam Heughan wouldn’t go amiss…
Disclaimer: This post was made possible thanks to a partnership with Viator. They did not request a positive review, opinions are my own.