When Arizonan author Diana Gabaldon published the first Outlander book in 1991, she had never set foot in Scotland and knew nothing about its history.
She wrote it after watching a rerun of Doctor Who – a 1969 episode in which Jamie, the companion of Patrick Troughton’s Time Lord, ends up in prison with a redcoat from the 1746 Battle of Culloden. Gabaldon was very taken with this fetching companion in a kilt, and modelled her hero on him.
Caitriona Balfe as Outlander’s time-travelling heroine; above, Sam Heughan as the rebel Highlander
Gabaldon’s eight Outlander novels have sold 26 million copies in 42 countries and the drama has won a fervent following around the world. Fans of all ages have fallen for plucky Claire Randall, her Jacobite lover Jamie Fraser (pictured above) and the other star of the show: Scotland itself.
The first episode alone transports the viewer to a very quaint Inverness, mountains in Perthshire, a 14th-century castle in Stirlingshire and an ancient forest in the Highlands.
Gabaldon’s story begins in 1945 in Inverness, where Claire (played by Irish actress Caitriona Balfe) and her husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) are enjoying a second honeymoon. The charming streets, olde-worlde shops and fountain actually belong to Falkland, a conservation village in Fife. What you don’t see in the series is Falkland’s famous palace, a favourite haunt of Mary Queen of Scots.
When Claire and Frank zip along country lanes in a vintage car, they’re driving past the mountains of Rannoch Moor (many over 3,000ft) and the pretty village of Kinloch Rannoch. The stone circle that turns out to be a time machine doesn’t exist, but nearby Dunalastair Estate provides the setting.
Claire’s next stop is fictional Castle Leoch – better known as Doune Castle, which sits on the River Teith near Stirling. The oldest parts of the castle date back to 1260 and it was once used as a royal summer retreat. The huge courtyard, great hall and 100ft gate tower were designed to impress guests who came to hunt and relax in the country.
Doune Castle doubles as Castle Leoch
Claire meets kilted hero Jamie (Scottish actor Sam Heughan) in wooded Tulloch Ghru, near Aviemore, on the doorstep of the Cairngorms National Park. This Caledonian pine forest is a haven for birds and wildlife, and a favourite with walkers, wildlife lovers and mountain-bikers.
That’s just episode one. Over the course of the series, the viewer is taken on a tour of Scotland, from the white-washed town of Culross in Fife to the Bo’ness & Kinneil Railway’s steam train to the turf-roofed crofts at the Highland Folk Museum at Newtonmore.
The Mercat Cross in Culross, the most complete example of a 17th and 18th century town in Scotland
But the Outlander fans who have been pitching up from the US, Germany and Australia aren’t just interested in the locations. “There’s such an interest in Scotland’s history, heritage and culture as well,” says Jenni Steele of Visit Scotland. “People want to see if they can trace their family history, or they’re keen to learn about the folklore behind the standing stones, the textiles and the tartans, even the Gaelic language. They’ve absolutely taken Scotland to their hearts.”