Craigh na Dun and other top Outlander locations
Outlander has and is doing wonders for the Scottish tourism industry. With four blockbuster seasons now under their belts, the works of Diana Gabaldon have gone down a storm, particularly with our friends from across the pond. Depicting the action-packed journey of Claire and Jamie, it’s a fantastic blend of time-travelling fantasy, an endlessly moving love story….and gory Jacobite historical reality. With visits to the show’s filming locations increasingly in demand, I’m often asked about how to experience your own little taste of the Outlander journey. From the Standing Stones at Craigh na Dun to the dreaded Fort William, Scotland has you covered.
Truth is, there are countless spots in Scotland that were used for filming throughout the show. CGI has been used on occasion but much of what you see on screen can be experienced with maximum authenticity. As a means of narrowing down the list somewhat, here is a selection of my personal stand-out picks.
Craigh na Dun – Where is it? Is it real? Can I visit?
Where else could I start? The mystical and enchanting spot where Claire and Frank first come across the mighty standing stones that soon after were to propel Claire back in time. They have been an ever-present since, including in Season 4 when everyone’s been getting in on the time travel game.
Bad news first! No standing stones actually exist as were depicted, but for me they are based on a combination of Callanish and Clava Cairns, both of which are outstanding Scottish tourist sites. The stones were simply added and removed as needed for filming. Even without the presence of the colossal pillars, this serene spot in Perthshire is a fantastic selection as Craigh na Dun. Hats off to the Outlander crew.
Finding the exact spot of Craigh na Dun is not immediately clear but the site of filming is at Kinnloch Rannoch in Perthshire. On the south side of the Dunalastair Reservoir in Tay Forest Park under the watchful gaze of the spectacular and conical Schiehallion mountain, this is scenic Highland Perthshire at its best. You will recognise the mound from the roadside and it’s just a short walk out to the site. Kinnloch Rannoch was used in numerous other scenes and with good reason – it’s one of the most remote and beautiful areas in the country.
Please note that the Craigh na dun filming site is not an official tourist attraction, far from it. Don’t expect a gift shop, tour guides et al and the land belongs to the local farm. That said, access is seemingly open without restriction so just be a respectful traveller and leave the site as you find it. And don’t scare the sheep!
The Mackenzie base of operations is in fact the wonderful Doune Castle, located a short drive from the city of Stirling. Something of a ‘Hollywood’ castle, it has also appeared in Monty Python and, briefly, as Winterfell’s interior in Game of Thrones. Doune Castle is consistently on my lists of top Scottish castles and, as a hub between the Highlands and Central Scotland, has seen plenty of celebrity visitors. Bonnie Prince Charlie himself was one such famous face and the castle was used as a temporary prison for government prisoners in the Jacobite wars. Which makes for a nice and authentic Outlander connection.
Castle Leoch is a very prominent participant in the show as the seat of Clan Mackenzie and the list of visitors has shot up considerably as a result. Be sure to make your way around the atmospheric interior and out onto the roof for fabulous views north towards the Highlands. My tip would be to visit on weekdays at the beginning or end of the day to avoid some of the crowds.
Devil’s Pulpit, Glen Finnich – A real-life Craigh na dun
Found within 30 minutes of the centre of our biggest city, this remote and haunting little spot has exploded onto tourist itineraries in recent years. This massive, insanely vibrant, gorge doubles as Liar’s Spring in Season 1 of Outlander when Claire and Dougal are having a bit of a barney. Upon drinking from the stream, Dougal is convinced of her trustworthiness. Outwith Outlander folklore, rumour has it that this was the spot where the Devil addressed his cronies or also was a meeting point for druids. All very mysterious.
You can get there by following the A809 away from Glasgow, headed to Drymen to the south east of Loch Lomond. You’ll want to park (if you can) as close to the turnoff to the B834 as you can get. Despite not being signed or really in any way kitted-out for tourism, this place can get very busy. Get to the Glen by walking (east side of the road) along the fairly obvious path until you see a very makeshift staircase heading steeply down into the gorge. Use the ropes to support you (not suitable for all) and once at the bottom you can either be happy with the views all around or wade a little to the Pulpit itself. It’s popular with canyoners now and you’ll be up to your knees in water if you do wade so keep that in mind in your preperation.
I would underline here that the site suffers from uncontrollable tourist numbers in summer. Parking is very limited and the Glen is in very real danger of becoming unrecognisable. Please take this into account and, where possible, visit outwith peak season and leave it exactly as you find it.
Culross is one of the prettiest and quaintest little towns you’re likely to find in the UK – a country that excels in this department. A 17th Century Scottish Royal Burgh, it is resplendent in whitewashed buildings that pull in photographers and artists en masse. It is the town where time has stood still. Particularly memorable are Culross Palace and Culross Abbey. The former is a magnificent example of wealthy living in the early 17th Century; the latter as a remarkably reflective church that delivers a deafening silence on entry. There are wonderful views over the Firth of Forth throughout the town.
In Outlander, Culross was used as the village of Cranesmuir. Most memorably the square was the site of local punishments. Remember the wee boy with his nailed ear? Or Geillis being hauled off to a grim demise for witchcraft? On a more suitably cheery note, Culross Palace Gardens doubled as the Castle Leoch gardens where Claire goes to pick herbs. You can also read about nearby Falkland – Inverness in the show – with my Top Things to do in Falkland post.
I vividly remember a school trip to Blackness Castle as a wee boy. The enduring memories of awe making it one of my favourite castles in Central Scotland. In truth, it’s a grim and chilling place that is exposed to the Firth of Forth’s oft-brutal breeze. What the 15th Century fortress lacks in romantic appeal though, it makes up for in moody character. Hence why it was another fantastic choice by Team Outlander to double as Fort William, the Highland headquarters for the government forces.
This was the location where Jamie was brutally flogged in Season 1 by a possessed Black Jack Randall. With strips of his back hanging loose, it was a mauling that would have killed most men. An early insight into the sadistic nature of the English officer. Jamie and the lads were also to stage their dramatic nick-of-time rescue of Claire here when she was captured in a later episode.
Blackness Castle is to be found in West Lothian, on the south shore of the Firth of Forth and has some memorable views over to Fife and of the distinctive Forth Bridges. Nearby Linlithgow is another top filming spot as is East Lothian‘s Preston Mill.
Moving on full-spectrum from sullen Blackness, Lallybroch is an altogether different affair. It’s up there with the Craigh na Dun location for magical appeal. Actually Midhope Castle, this is the site of Jamie’s family seat. Jamie’s sister Jenny and her husband Ian look after the place while Jamie is away getting in trouble at every opportunity. When the happy couple do return to Lallybroch, it ensures a rare period of peaceful contentment. That typically lasts a day or two. The Castle archway was used in that harrowing scene when Jamie was flogged of course, trouble’s never far away!
Midhope Castle is on the extensive Hopetoun Estate and has in the past required a permit to visit. It is, in fact, derelict and inaccessible so visitors will have to content themselves with the exterior….and their imagination. On my last visits there has been a makeshift ticket office as the landowners have seen an opportunity to charge visitors an ever-increasing ‘entry’ fee. This fee only allows you to walk around the exterior of course so don’t expect much return for your investment.
We are certain to have not seen the last of at least some of these great Outlander filming locations. Each has their own charm and, due largely to the limited access to the show in the UK, most are generally not inundated with visitors…..yet. With Season 5 filming on-going in Scotland, new Scottish locations are imminent. Glasgow has featured heavily, Highland allure has increased yet further and Fife has never known anything like it.
Long may it continue!
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