Are you an Outlander fan headed for Scotland? If so, we’ve got you covered on how to navigate a DIY Outlander day tour using Edinburgh or Glasgow as your home base.
The tourist season is almost upon us. Are you an Outlander fan heading for Scotland? If so, I imagine you’re hoping to re-trace some of the sites shown onscreen, reliving the magic of your favorite show in the process. Because of this, I’ve pieced together a great plan for a day out that might interest you – starting from either Edinburgh or Glasgow.
I got the idea when my new BFFs, Morag (my New Glasgow Girls pal) and her husband, Sandy, took me on an Outlandish day out. Did you know that Hopetoun House (the Duke of Sandringham’s home, plus more), Midhope Castle (aka Lallybroch), Blackness Castle (known to we Outlander zealots as Fort William) and Bo’ness Railway (where Claire and Frank part company as Claire heads off to war) are all within a half hour drive of each other? And less than an hour’s drive from Edinburgh and Glasgow.
So, grab yourself a hire car and… Dougal’s your uncle… off you go! If you’re coming from the United States, dinna fash about driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. As they say here in bonny Scotland, “it’s nae bother.” My friend taught me this before I took to the wheel in the US, just remember that your BODY is always in the centre of the road wherever you are in the world and you can’t go wrong. Easy, peasy, and driving here is quite breezy. One thing to remember, though (and this was quite different for me coming from Australia), nearly all cars here are manual drive, and hiring an automatic car is more expensive, so be aware of that while you are booking a car if its an issue for you.
All tourist attractions are very well signposted here with the universal (I think?) brown signs to let you know that it is a place of interest to visitors. Another thing I found interesting – and very different from Australia – is that all over the UK, the postcodes pinpoint an actual street address so you can enter postcodes into the GPS to get to your destinations. Bonus.
Set your GPS for Hopetoun House, but in this case be very careful not to use the postcode on the Hopetoun House website as that takes you to the locked gate at the back of the estate. You can guess how I know that, right? Be careful that you are setting it for Hopetoun House in South Queensferry because the route is quite circuitous through a little village, under a big bridge and through a housing estate so it is easy to feel that you might be getting lost.
When Hopetoun House comes into view, you will instantly recognize it as the façade of the Duke of Sandringham’s residence in Season 1 of Outlander. Well, you think you recognize it until the guide tells you that they actually used the rear of the building for those scenes where Jamie and Murtagh arrive, and brush past the McDonalds coming down the stairs. At the rear is also the huge lawn where the duel takes place between the Duke and the chief of clan McDonald.
The guides were very knowledgeable, but I guess they have to be these days with so many Outlander devotees showing up there. In the visitors book where you say how you found out about the place, the two entries above my name said ‘Outlander.’ Three interior rooms were used for Season 1 – the big ‘red’ room where all the encounters with the Duke take place, and two bedrooms upstairs which were Mary Hawkins’ bedrooms in Season 2. In Season 3 when Jamie meets Lord Dunsany, they walk through that same red room, just from a different viewpoint.
The exterior scenes at Madame Elise’s Paris brothel were also shot at Hopetoun House. Also, in Season 3, the Helwater stable scenes (ahem, threats from a certain young woman) were shot in the same area at the outbuildings at the side of the house.
The Hopetoun estate is still a family home, with the Earl and his family living in one wing. It has huge and magnificent grounds with lots of paths and walks around the state. And if you’re really keen and have more time, you can stay in the Bed and Breakfast Cottage on the Hopetoun Estate. It is run by an Outlander fan who knows a wee bit about the filming for Season 4 that’s already taken place there. Her B&B, Parkhead House, sits right in the middle of all these Outlander sites set in the beautiful grounds of Hopetoun.
Midhope Castle (aka Lallybroch) is only a five-minute drive from Hopetoun House. Follow your GPS and the signs to Midhope, and there it is. There is a security man who you see and pay (£10) to park there. You do need to be careful because it’s a working farm with people’s houses quite close – be mindful of their privacy and grateful that it still remains open to the public. And note that Midhope Castle is basically a ruin and you cannot go inside it. The only reason it wouldn’t be open is if they are shooting Outlander, in which case you won’t get anywhere near it because the security post is way down the road from the house. Maybe phone the Hopetoun Farm Shop firsto be sure that its open if that is a concern for you.
You may like to stop at the Hopetoun Farm Shop while you’re there. The shop is full of delicious goodies and produce, and next door is a big garden centre with a café (and toilets) if you feel in need of some supplies and/or refreshments.
The atmosphere there at Midhope is something else; it is such an iconic Outlander location, and you’ll usually find a couple of fellow Outlander nuts to have a good old chin wag with. Last time, we met two lovely Canadian women on day one of their Scottish adventure, and it was a pleasure only to meet them but also to make that common connection with people from another part of the world.
Near Midhope, we came upon the place where they were building a cave entrance (for the Dunbonnet). This pathway next to the burn is the place where various Dunbonnet scenes were shot… and perhaps where Fergus lost his hand?
Fifteen minutes down the road, you’ll arrive at the next stop, Blackness Castle, Outlander’s Fort William. This place is equally atmospheric but in a different way… remember Bree saying ‘this place gives me the chills’? Well, that’s what its like. A grim, foreboding structure, perched on the water’s edge. You’ll recognize the central yard where Jamie was flogged, as well as the parapets where they made Claire’s escape from the hands of Black Jack. If you’d like to know a whole lot more about Blackness Castle, have a read of Anne Gavin’s blog post, which has all the fascinating and macabre details of the place.
Blackness Castle has a visitor centre, toilets and a small shop with some Outlander merchandise. There is an entry fee for the castle.
Side note: there is a coastal path from Abercorn (near Midhope) to Blackness. It takes about 45 minutes, and is a lovely walk along the foreshore through a flat-wooded pathway. Look for the signs to Abercorn and go through the gate on the corner of a high stonewall, to the public path. Here you will also see Abercorn Church, which will be featured in Outlander Season 4. They were doing some filming there, but I’m not sure what scenes they were.
By car, another 15 minutes down the road is the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway, where Claire reminds Frank that that they are in the 20th century now. Whoa, if only she knew what lay ahead. It’s a heritage railway and museum, so you can just have a quick look to satisfy your Outlander thirst or spend more time, checking out the museum or even going for a ride.
I hope you’ll enjoy this tour as much as I did, all easily doable in a day from either Edinburgh or Glasgow. Feel free to share your experiences of these sites, and any tips you may have in the comments below.Also, feel free to ask any questions and I’ll answer them as best I can. Have fun!