Friday, August 14, 2015

Scottish Location Tour and the Key Sights from Diana Gabaldon's Book Series

OUTLANDER location tours are a booming industry in Scotland but we put one to the test to see whether they live up to fans' expectations.

The success of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series has boosted Scottish tourism and spawned an industry of location-inspired tours.

But how do fans know which tour genuinely reflect the Starz TV adaptation and spirit of the books or are merely jumping on the Outlander bandwagon?

Some book location tours have been running for years while many other tour companies have added Outlander slants to existing tours based on film locations.

With the dramatic Scottish landscape as a backdrop, does it even matter?

Here die-hard fan Audrey Christophory, who has read all eight books and watched the Starz TV series, tried an Outlander tour to see if it lived up to her expectations:

FOR fans of the Outlander books, it’s impossible not to be seduced by imagining fierce, kilt-clad highlanders and misty stone fortresses.

Then there’s the lure of real places with high drama where the story was filmed.

Our small group, led by guide Anne, consisted of four women and two men but everyone had at least seen the series and most of us had read the books too.

My tour with Mary’s Meander’s began in Linlithgow, a royal burgh that is a short train ride from Glasgow, Edinburgh, or Stirling.

It's where the Wentworth Prison corridor scenes were filmed and Anne was well prepared with a binder of stills from the series to remind us what scenes had been filmed in each location.

Next stop was Culross where Claire’s herb-gathering scenes were filmed. The small village also doubled as Cranesmuir.

From there we headed up to Doune Castle that fans know as Castle Leoch. There was plenty of time to explore the stronghold before making our way on to Falkland, the location of Mrs Baird’s B&B and the shop where Claire first sees the vase at the start of the series.

We had lunch in Falkland and then headed back down to the Hopetoun estate where the outside scenes of Lallybroch were filmed.

Outlander fan Audrey during her tour of the key sights

Our final stop was Blackness Castle that was the site of Jamie’s flogging in the TV adaptation.

Through it all, Anne was ready with explanations about why the places were chosen, what artistic compromises were made, and anecdotes from the actual filming.

The tour was made even more Outlandish by the participation of a group of people who have been similarly enchanted by the story of Jamie and Claire.

Though that wasn’t the only subject of conversation, it certainly made it easier for everyone to participate equally.

The tour returned to Linlithgow for a Taste of Outlander evening at the Star and Garter Hotel. The meal was a multisensory introduction to Jacobite socialising and was a perfect way to close the tour.

Though we met some of the attendees only as we took our seats, we felt very much like honoured guests in a fine 18th century home.

Boorach, a live band, happily socialised with the guests between sets and readings from the Outlander books, along with some traditional dancing helped to create ambiance.


Boorach and the Mary's Meanders team at the Star and Garter

The menu, all derived from Outlander Kitchen blog, consisted of three courses. A hearty scotch broth with the most delicious bannocks I’ve ever tasted, followed by a rich stew then a dessert of cranachan.

Finally, Graeme, who we had met earlier in the day as the manager of Blackness Castle, treated us to a few tunes on the bagpipes and in an entertaining game of one-upmanship, Gordon and Boorach played a mashup.

The tour surprised me. I expected my knowledge of the books to add to the experience but instead their unique insight made the story of Claire and Jamie even more tangible and enchanting than it was before.

Audrey’s tour and Taste of Outlander experience was with Mary’s Meanders.

A scheduled Outlander tour is £60 per person and the Taste of Outlander Dinner Show is £55 per person.

Outlander Tour Tips:
• Look for tours run by Outlander fans. At the very least they should have watched the series and read the first 3 books.

•If it’s a specific Outlander tour make sure that the tour operator knows more about Outlander than just the name. They should be able to tell you the relevance of the locations you will visit.

• If you want to see the places that are mentioned in the books even if they haven't yet appeared in the series, then one of the general tours to Inverness, Fort William, and Culloden might be a good choice.

• Look out for specialist Outlander inspired tours. Several companies have been running very successful book location tours for many years and Diana Gabaldon herself.

• If you want to visit a particular location, check in advance it is included in the tour. Due to distances and time constraints it is not possible to visit all locations in a single day or in large groups.

Marys Meanders tour

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