By the time we arrive at the 15th-century castle which doubles as the exterior of Jamie’s family home, the kids are asleep. My husband stays in the car, and I walk along a nettle-fringed track to the house that two centuries ago housed 10 families of estate workers, including gamekeepers, foresters and carpenters.
The doorways are tacked with “Danger keep out” signs and the windows covered in perspex. As I creep past they reflect the movement of the trees and I feel like I’m being watched. I peer through the slats on a doorway and can just about make out a pile of rubble and a gnarled tree stump growing through the floor. All that remains of the upper storeys are a few wooden joists. It’s nothing like the jolly Fraser farm in Outlander, which is full of tapestries and fruit bowls.
Lallybroch is really Midhope Castle
As I turn to leave a crow caws, the sky darkens and I feel a heavy drop of rain on the back of my neck. It’s as though I’ve stumbled into an Alfred Hitchcock set, not Jamie’s beloved home (which was actually created at the studios in Cumbernauld).
On returning to the car I’m cheered by the sight of six pheasants waddling past, only to learn from the car park attendant they’ve been released from pens for the hunt that takes place tomorrow. What he tells me next makes me smile though:
“Are you an Outlander fan?”
I shrug, trying to play it cool.
“You know, they filmed season three here.”
“But I don’t want to ruin it for you…”
“Ruin away”, I say, after all I’ve just seen the real Lallybroch.
He leans forward, as though the pheasants might be bugged, and nods towards the woods.
“Over there, next to a stream, is a ledge where the film crew hung a black blanket. In the books, Jamie hides in a cave, but there aren’t any caves for miles around so I reckon they made one right here.”
I take a closer look and can see how with the help of CGI the mossy ledge could easily be made to look like a cave.
“But that’s just my theory,” he admits, adding that he hasn’t actually seen Outlander, nor read any of the books.
The kids sleep all the way to Stirling, which is where we base ourselves for the next couple of days. There are a dozen Outlander locations around here, but we start with a visit to Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway, which was transformed into the wartime London station where Claire and Frank say their goodbyes.
Unfortunately we miss the last steam train, but the kids spend a good hour exploring the museum, a lofty depot full of vintage trains that smell of old leather and diesel. The boys play on the Royal Mail train while I try to imagine the destinations behind the beautiful hand-painted signs – romantic-sounding places such as Corgi Junction and Plains.
The next day we travel further back in time to the Royal Burgh of Culross. Every building in this cobbled village – including the palace, the pub and the electricity substation – dates to the 18th century or before. In Outlander, it doubles as Cranesmuir, where Geillis lives and where the young lad has his ear nailed to a post. The ‘nailer’, I’m told on good authority, is actually one of the volunteers at Culross Palace. I mention this to the boys with the hope they’ll be better behaved this time. At least there are no lifts.
With its maze of warmly furnished rooms and wooden-painted walls, Culross Palace is enchanting. It’s easy to see why the Withdrawing Room was chosen for Geillis’s parlour. The garden also makes an appearance as Claire’s herb garden at Castle Leoch.
I learn from one of the guides (who sadly is not ‘Brian the nailer’) that very little in Culross was altered for filming. The only thing that changed was the Mercat Cross area. Here, the buildings were painted a dull brown. I ask him why and he hesitates before miming “s**t brown”. He goes on to explain that the streets were open sewers in the 18th century and the buildings suffered from “splashbacks”. At least the set designers used paint. I guess even in Outlander there’s a point when authenticity becomes impractical.
The kids explore the palace rooms with delight, stopping to dress up as lairds and make flowers in the craft room. Although they’ve never seen Outlander, they’re fast becoming its youngest fans. In fact, as I stand in the Kings room, which makes an appearance as one of Jamie and Claire’s bedrooms, I make a mental note to add a pin to our Netflix account.
One of the few modern additions to the village of Culross is the lovely children’s park, which is where I deposit my husband and kids while I pop into the gallery to see the Outlander photography exhibition. On the way back I ask a man for directions to Geillis’s house, without even thinking to explain who she is.
“Right there behind you,” he says from his garden.
I spin around to see that it’s covered in scaffolding and undergoing restoration.
“That’s where the nasty folk carried her away when she was accused of witchcraft,” he adds. “In fact, it was quite funny because in one of the scenes they were trying to create mist. Just as they did so my neighbour was testing out his new chimneys and the entire lane was filled with thick smoke. The director was saying ‘Cut! Cut! I didn’t ask for that much!'”
After Culross, my family plead for a day without castles, so we head for the picture-book hills and lochs of the Trossachs where Roger Mackenzie takes Claire’s daughter Brianna for a spin. We take the steamer across Loch Katrine, sipping hot chocolate and listening to stories of Rob Roy and Sir Walter Scott, then we stop at the Lodge Forest Visitor on the way back. Unfortunately the kids are too young for the zipwire (one of the longest in the country), but we do have plenty of fun damning the stream on the Waterfall Trail.
In just under a week we’ve seen eight locations linked to Outlander and Bonnie Prince Charlie, but the most important – on both counts – is yet to come. Just outside Inverness is Culloden, where the Prince’s campaign to restore the Stuarts to the throne ended in tragedy. On this windswept plain in 1746 over 1,500 men were slain, two thirds of them Jacobites.
The story is told in the visitor centre, which has a harrowing video recreation and a great cafe where we comfort ourselves afterwards with coffee and shortbread. Once fortified, we step back out onto the moor where the start positions of the armies are marked by blue (Jacobite) and red (Government) flags. I tag on to a tour group halfway through, at the point when the battle is lost and Bonnie Prince Charlie is escorted from the battlefield.
The guide waves her hand towards the road. “Many of the men fled in that direction, but the Government army gave the order to ‘give no quarter’, which meant the wounded were bayoneted and those fleeing shot by musket fire.”
We continue towards the memorial stones, where the hum of distant traffic mingles with American and Scandinavian accents. I’ve yet to hear a Scottish one.
“The battlefield was closed for three days to prevent anyone tending to the wounded,” the guide continues. “Then the locals were invited to bury the dead, but by now they’ve been stripped and looted and no one knows who they are.”
Everyone is silent.
As we reach the memorial stones, the sun pierces the dark sky, turning the grass a luminous green and casting a brief spotlight on the gravestones. There’s ‘Donald’, ‘Cameron’ and ‘Maclean’; some have cellophane wrappers full of wilting carnations; others are laid with sprigs of heather. Some stones simply say “mixed clans”. Over by the monument is the Fraser one. I recognise it instantly as the spot where Claire weeps for Jamie, believing him to have died at Culloden.
Each of these graves contains up to 200 men, the guide says, but the headstones were laid 135 years after the battle, so no one knows who was actually buried where. There’s a stone for the English too, but there’s a problem with that, she says.
“A third of the Government army were from Scotland. This was a civil war to decide which king should be on the throne. It’s a common misconception that it was a battle between the Scottish and the English but that’s just not true.”
For a while after we leave Culloden I’m still mulling over what the guide said. I think back to evil Black Jack Randall and noble Jamie Fraser – the English Redcoat and the avenging Scots warrior – and I’m not sure Outlander has done much to quell that misconception. Still, one thing I can’t accuse the show of is being dull. As we drive through the Highlands, past heather-cloaked mountains and pinewood forests, I’m grateful to the series that introduced us to this beautiful country. It’s sparked a new family interest in castles, and left me (and countless women all over the world) with a fondness for curly haired men in kilts.
Ali Wood stayed at Chester Residence, a block of spacious period apartments in Edinburgh’s West End with a guest lounge and reception where families are made welcome. Breakfast is available on request. A deluxe 2-bedroom apartment costs from £328.50 per night. chester-residence.com
She also stayed at Oakside, an open-plan stone cottage with an aga, wood-burning stove and hot tub. Built on farmland near Stirling, it’s a short drive from Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. The 4-bed Oakside cottage costs £1,050 for a week. carratfarm.co.uk
For Scotland holiday ideas and locations featured in Outlander, visit visitscotland.com/outlander
Radio Times Travel holidays
Scottish Highland Railways, 4 nights from £459pp. Visit the heart of the Highlands to enjoy three spectacular train journeys. Ride the famous West Highland Line from Fort William to Mallaig, take a trip on the charming Strathspey Steam Railway and enjoy a breathtaking run from Inverness to the Kyle of Lochalsh. What’s included:
- Rail travel from Inverness to Kyle – one of the ‘Great Railway Journeys of the World’
- Journey on the steam-hauled Strathspey Railway
- Cross the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct on the 42-mile journey from Fort William to Mallaig
- Visit the famous Highland resort of Aviemore
- Four nights’ carefully chosen dinner, bed and Scottish breakfast accommodation at either the Highlander Hotel, Newtonmore or the Carrbridge Hotel, Carrbridge
- Return flights from your chosen airport to Edinburgh
- Comfortable coach travel and transfers in Scotland
- Click here for more details and to book
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