Craigh na Dun and other top Outlander locations
Outlander has and is doing wonders for the Scottish tourism industry. With two 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.
There are countless spots in Scotland that were used for filming the first two seasons of the show. As a means of narrowing down the list somewhat though, here is a selection of my personal stand-out picks. As part of my itinerary packages, I also teamed up with historian David Weinczok last year to provide a more comprehensive list of filming sites and others with a strong Jacobite connection. If it’s just a taster you’re after though, read on…..
Craigh na Dun
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 at the time travel game. No standing stones actually exist here but for me they are based on a combination of Callanish and Clava Cairns, both of which are outstanding Scottish tourist sites. Even without the presence of the colossal pillars, this 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.
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. There’s some roadside spaces but they are pretty limited so I advise getting there early to beat most of the crowds. 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.
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. Who know’s what’s in store for it in Season 3 however….
Midhope Castle is on the extensive Hopetoun Estate and requires a permit to visit. It is, in fact, derelict and inaccessible so visitors will have to content themselves with the exterior….and their imagination. Permits can be purchased at nearby Hopetoun Farm Shop and need to be arranged on the day of visiting.
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, are generally not inundated with visitors…..yet. With Season 3 filming on-going in Scotland as I write, new Scottish locations are imminent. Just the other day, Glasgow University was awash with cameras as it prepares to double for Boston. And it’s fairly safe to say that we’ll be seeing a scene or two from Culloden.
Long may it continue!
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