Exploring the many sights of Outlander’s Scotland, one site at a time
Outlander traverses the length and breadth of Scotland as it follows the love and life story of Claire Randall and Jaime Fraser. YS Life walks in the footsteps of these time-crossed lovers and explores the many sites that play a key role in the storytelling of this historical drama.
I think Scotland would have made an impression on me even if it weren’t for dashing Highland braveheart Jamie Fraser and Outlander. The rolling hills, rugged moors, historic landmarks, and scenic vistas around every corner are spectacular. Add to this a mix of romance, fantasy, intrigue, and action, and I had a really compelling reason to plan yet another trip to Scotland—to walk in the footsteps of time-crossed lovers Jamie Fraser and Claire Randall.
Adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s popular series of fantasy-romance novels, Outlander’s plot is simple. In 1946, Claire Randall, a married World War II combat nurse, is transported back in time to Scotland—to the year 1743. There she meets highland warrior Jamie Fraser, becomes a part of Jacobite uprisings, and falls in love. Imbued with Scottish Gaelic, the epic love story was translated for the screen by Starz and it continues to tug at viewers’ heartstrings.
Ahead of the seventh season–scheduled for a June release on Netflix–amid the scorching summer in India, it’s perhaps the perfect time to travel to Scotland and explore the many sites that play as important a role in the storytelling as does the chemistry between the leads.
I visited some of these iconic sites during my earlier trips to Scotland, and, needless to say, I was spellbound.
Outlander has been filmed in the ‘land of the Gaels’ since the very first episode where Claire (Caitriona Balfe) steps into the ancient stone circle of Craigh na Dun and runs into Jamie (Sam Heughen). The show, renowned for its passionate love stories and rich exploration of history, is perhaps one of the best advertisements of Scotland’s beauty and history. Even when the plot moves across the pond, filming was carried out in Scotland, providing a huge boost to the country’s tourism industry.
Let’s begin, just as the series begins, with a haunting rendition of The Skye Boat Song, a late 19th-century Scottish song adaptation of a Gaelic song composed in 1782 by William Ross.
The verdant valley of Glen Coe appears in the opening credits as the lyrics play: Sing me a song of a lass that is gone, oh could that lass be I? Located within the Lochaber Geopark in the Highlands, the deep valley and lofty mountains came to life centuries ago on the back of icy glaciers and volcanic explosions. Glencoe village, located between the banks of Loch Leven and the mouth of glen, is the ideal base to explore Lochaber, the ‘outdoor capital of the United Kingdom’.
Now let’s move on to the picturesque village of Falkland, located in Fife, at the foot of the Lomond Mountains. The village stands in for 1940s Inverness, the second honeymoon destination of Claire and her husband Frank Randall. It is best known for the exceptional Falkland Palace, once the country residence of the Stewart kings and queens where they hunted deer and wild boar in the forests of Fife. The village–designated as Scotland’s first conservation area—is where the couple meets Mrs Baird, the owner of a bed and breakfast, and Reverend Wakefield, the local minister.
Craigh na Dun, the ancient stone circle that sends Claire back to 1743, is a figment of the writer’s imagination. The set, created using Styrofoam, was located on a private farm a few miles east of the remote village of Kinloch Rannoch in Perthshire. But the inspiration came from the Callanish Stone Circle on the Isle of Lewis, which was used for rituals during the Bronze Age and comprises a circle of 13 stones with a monolith in the middle, placed more than 5,000 years ago.
Tulloch Ghru, located just outside of Aviemore, on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park, is where Claire meets Jamie for the first time after being rescued from Black Jack Randall, after time-travelling through the stones. The heavily wooded area is a haven for birds and wildlife and is perfect for a summer escape that involves long walks and biking.
The formidable Doune Castle, located in Sterling, appears as Castle Leoch, the seat of Colum MacKenzie and his clan. The courtyard castle, damaged during the Scottish Wars of Independence was rebuilt by Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, in the late 14th century. It has one of the best-preserved great halls in Scotland and a 100-feet high gatehouse, once home to domestic quarters including the striking Lord’s Hall with its carved oak screen and a musicians’ gallery.
No true fan will fail to recognise Midhope Castle, which is situated in the hamlet of Abercorn on Hopetoun Estate, and stands in for Lallybroch, the ancestral home of Jamie Fraser. Erected in the 15th century by John Martyne, the laird of Medhope, the tower house was rebuilt in the mid-1600s.
A dashing Jamie and a nervous Claire tie the knot in the first season at Glencorse Kirk, which dates back to the 17th century. Famous Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson is said to have worshipped here, and he often wrote about the church and its woodland setting. The place remains a popular venue for weddings, vow renewals, and handfastings.
They may be wed, but there isn’t any happily-ever-after in sight. After many trials and tribulations, the action moves to Blackness Castle, one of Scotland’s most imposing strongholds, built in the 15th century by the Crichtons. Over centuries, the fortress, near the village of Blackness, Scotland, on the south shore of the Firth of Forth, has been a royal castle, a prison, an armaments depot, and a film location. The ‘ship that never sailed’ served as the setting for Black Jack Randall’s Fort William headquarters and featured in the harrowing scenes of Jamie’s confinement.
The majestic ruins of Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots, were used to depict Wentworth Prison where Jamie is incarcerated after being caught by Redcoats. Set in its own park, beside Linlithgow Loch, the building is where Claire attempts a rescue mission but is ultimately forced to leave by Black Jack, who returns to torture Jamie repeatedly during his incarceration. In real life, the palace was in use through the second Jacobite war, until wee Bonnie Prince Charlie was driven out by the Duke of Cumberland.
The action—along with our protagonists—then moves to Aberdour Castle, in the village of Easter Aberdour, Fife. The structure, which dates to around 1200, is said to be one of the two oldest standing castles in Scotland, along with Castle Sween in Argyll. Associated with Scottish nobility for centuries, including the legendary Robert the Bruce, and Mary, Queen of Scots, Aberdour Castle stands in for Sainte Anne de Beaupré’s monastery in France where Claire nurses Jamie back to health.
The setting may have moved to France, but the shooting continued in Scotland. Deanston Distillery, located on the banks of the River Teith, about eight miles from the historic town of Stirling, stood in for the wine warehouse owned by Jamie’s cousin, Jarrod, in France.
Cranesmuir, the village where Geillis Duncan lives, plays an important role in furthering plot development. Culross, on the north shore of the Firth of Forth, doubles up as Cranesmuir in Outlander. Scotland’s most complete example of a burgh of the 17th and 18th centuries, the National Trust of Scotland property is known for white-harled houses with red-tiled roofs, steep cobbled streets, a hilltop abbey, and the well-recognised market cross.
The star-crossed lovers part at Culloden, the atmospheric battlefield where the final Jacobite Rising came to a brutal end on April 16, 1746. The warrior forces his pregnant wife to return to Frank, as he charges off into battle with Jacobite supporters, seeking to restore the Stuart monarchy to the British throne. The plotline then fast-forwards 20 years to a time when Claire, who now has a red-headed daughter, Brianna, realises that her one true love did not perish at Culloden and vows to return to him.
Jamie and Claire ultimately unite in Edinburgh, at the Royal Mile, the heart of Old Town. Bakehouse Close, one of the best-preserved closes (alleyways) in the Scottish capital, was the setting for Jamie’s Print Shop and the place where an older Jaime–replete with old-fashioned spectacles–catches sight of Claire.
There is no end to Outlander’s fascinating locations in Scotland. The never-ending list includes Craigmillar Castle (Ardsmuir Prison, where Jamie was incarcerated after surviving the Battle of Culloden), Gosford House (Helwater Estate, where Jamie works after his imprisonment and fathers an illegitimate son), Muiravonside Country Park (filming site of the Battle of Prestonpans), Dean Castle (home of Jamie’s grandfather Lord Lovat), and Drumlanrig Castle and Callendar House (Bellhurst Manor, the estate of the Duke of Sandringham).
Even when the action moves to distant shores, most of the filming was done in Scotland.
Dysart Harbour, a lovely harbour on the Fife Coastline, served as the French port of Le Havre, Drummond Castle gardens passed for the lush park of the Palace of Versailles, and the Glasgow Cathedral crypt was used as L’Hôpital des Anges in Paris.
The Frasers, now accompanied by Brianna and her husband Roger, ultimately move to America in search of a better life. The rich Perthshire Woodlands depicted the lush, wild countryside in North Carolina. Newhailes House served used as the mansion of the Governor of North Carolina, while Cherokee and Mohawk villages were filmed in Faskally Forest, north of Pitlochry. The small market town of Crieff was where Jocasta’s River Run Plantation was built from scratch on the Abercairny Estate. Fraser’s Ridge, Jamie and Claire’s North Carolina settlement, was created in the woods of Doune.
Many of the Scotland shooting sites can be seen on screen again in the 16-episode upcoming seventh season of Outlander, which is based on the book An Echo in the Bone. It is set to premiere on June 16. The series has also been greenlighted for a 10-episode eighth, and final, season.
However, true fans needn’t despair. A prequel series, titled Blood of My Blood, focusing on Jamie Fraser’s parents Brian and Ellen Fraser, has been confirmed for a 10-episode first season. Oh, aye, Sassenach!
Edited by Swetha Kannan