1. Mercat Tours - The Edinburgh Outlander Experience Walking Tour
This seasonal 2 hour walking tour of Edinburgh takes place each Saturday and explores the history of the city during the period Jamie and Claire would have visited and stops at locations which either feature in the books or have inspired Diana Gabaldon in her research.
I was invited to experience the tour for myself and started off my weekend by joining an international group of fans keen to hear tales of life in 18th Century Edinburgh. Our guide Gillian started off with an interesting summary of the unfortunate generations of Stuart Kings and the events that eventually led to the Jacobite risings, an essential aid to understanding the background of the books.
Gillian then led us into atmospheric back closes, up to the Castle and back down the Royal Mile from the Canongate to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, stopping off at strategic points along the way to regale stories of witches, printmakers, pubs, wells, graveyards, herb gardens and the Tolbooth jail where the men of Lallybroch were imprisoned. Diana Gabaldon may have wrote a fictional series, however she has really done her research and much of the background is based on real events and places which would actually have existed in the city at the time and Mercat Tours are experts at not only finding them but also bringing them to life.
Just to make sure we didn't get lost or distracted, Gillian tempted us along like an Outlander Pied Piper by holding up photos of Jamie and occasionally Claire by demand of the men in the group!
I certainly learned lots of new facts about the city and discovered lots of nooks and crannies I hadn't noticed before and probably wouldn't have if it wasn't for the tour. Standing huddled together in quiet old closes hearing tales of the characters that lived there helps you to imagine the Edinburgh that Jamie and Claire would have experienced which certainly felt a world away from the bustling 21st Century crowds on the Royal Mile.
The tour ends at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, another location which fans will be familiar with and it is possible to visit this magnificent building which is the official residence of the Queen in Scotland, although being an official building it is occasionally closed to the public which was the case on the day I was there so it is advisable to check opening hours in advance.
I also recommend a visit to the National Museum of Scotland if you have time before the tour starts. Here you will find exhibits about the Jacobites and Bonnie Prince Charlie among their many interesting displays.
The majority of the tour centres around the books and in particular Dragonfly in Amber so be aware there may be some spoilers if you have not read it. Walking for 2 hours on cobbled stones is best done in comfortable shoes and I would also advise you also take a bottle of water along on warm days.
Visit the Mercat Tour website for more information and to book.
This is my second blog covering Scottish regional filming locations used in the the Outlander TV series and this time I will also be including some other Outlander themed activities available in the area.
Last weekend I went on an Edinburgh and Lothians Outlander pilgrimage which included a walking tour in the city and visits to nearby key filming locations from Series 1.
As part of my research I personally visit every location I include in my guides so I can give you the best advice and top tips to make the most of your experience. I recommend a minimum of 2 days if you want to briefly visit the places mentioned in this post although in reality 3-4 days would be ideal if you want to explore them properly. I managed to cover all this ground in a weekend so it is possible if you are short on time!
2. Bo'ness Railway Station
I spent the rest of my weekend visiting nearby Outlander filming locations which are all handily situated a short drive from Edinburgh, making it easy to travel to them all over 2 days.
Approx a 40 min drive brings you to the quaint little steam railway at Bo'ness. Transformed into a 1940s London railway and renamed Milford Station for episode 1 of Outlander, this is where Claire and Frank bid each other farewell.
I was lucky enough to pull into the carpark just as one of the trains was about to depart and quickly dashed up to the overhead bridge to take some photos. I really find steam engines quite romantic and it was a treat to see one pass directly under me with the steam wafting up into my face!
As I was on a mission to get to my next stop I didn't have time to fully appreciate this cute little station or visit the museum, however I hope to return and actually take one of the train journeys for myself as they look great fun,
Passenger trains run for a limited number of dates throughout the year, check out the online timetable and try and coincide your visit with a steam train departure to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of bygone rail travel.
3. Blackness Castle
Just a 15 minute drive from Bo'ness back towards Edinburgh and you will reach the imposing Blackness Castle. Who could forget those scenes of poor Jamie being flogged in the courtyard when the 15th Century castle stood in as Fort William?
This is definitely one of the more interesting Scottish castles that I have visited and there is certainly a gloomy atmosphere that permeates the stone walls which is no surprise given it's dark history. In contrast the views from the curtain walls and towers across the Firth of Forth are impressive and momentarily distract you from the darkness of this formidable structure. I highly recommend exploring the inside and outside of this dramatic castle if you have the time.
Blackness Castle belongs to Historic Scotland and there is an admission charge to visit. If you are going to a few of their sites the costs can add up and I recommend investigating whether a membership works out cheaper.
4. Midhope Castle or Lallybroch
Another 15 mins along the road back towards Edinburgh and you will find the instantly recognisable and much loved Lallybroch also known as Broch Tuarach , Jamie's family home. The filming took place at Midhope Castle on the Hopetoun Estate and actually sits along a private road. You can't go in the castle but it is a 'must photograph' spot for any fan, however if you are taking a car you will need to get authorisation in advance and pick up a permit.
The castle is on a private part of the Estate which is only accessible by cars displaying a vehicle pass between the hours of 9am and 5.00pm (April -September) and 10am and 3pm (October – March). There is a parking permit charge of £5 per small vehicle (up to 7 seats) and £20 per large vehicle (8-16 seats), this also includes campervans. Check the Hopetoun website for full details.
5. Hopetoun House
Although Hopetoun House is on the same estate as Midhope Castle, you actually need drive a bit further along the main road back towards Edinburgh and down through South Queensferry to find the main entrance. In the Outlander series this grand 18th Century Stately Home was used as the residence of the Duke of Sandringham.
Unfortunately I missed the last admission to the house at 4pm however I think you would really need at least a couple of hours to visit the house and grounds anyway so I will have to set aside a day in the future to properly explore as the photos I've seen of the interior look simply stunning. The house and grounds are open from April to September if you want to include a stop here.
Totally unrelated to Outlander, however while you are in South Queensferry I highly recommend parking in the town where you can admire the magnificent Forth Bridge up close, one of my favourite man-made structures in Scotland.
6. Preston Mill
After a night's rest in Edinburgh I headed approx 40 mins along the road to the village of East Linton and in my opinion one of the prettiest Outlander filming locations. This is where the very memorable scene of Jamie losing his shirt while hiding from the Redcoats was filmed, but alas there were no naked brawny Highlanders to be seen on my visit!
Preston Mill is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and tours of the interior run from May to September. If you have the time I recommend joining one as I found the walk through this quaint little building and the explanation of the milling process an interesting one.
Arrive before the property opens at 12:30pm to get photos before groups of people invade the tranquil scene and your shot!
7. Glencorse Old Kirk
Another 40 minute dash and I arrived at Glencorse Old Kirk which features in one of the most popular episodes from Series 1, the Outlander Wedding. Yes, this is the actual Kirk where Jamie and Claire exchanged their vows and is in fact a popular wedding venue in real life.
Situated in the grounds of Glencorse House this is where I need to advise you that visiting here is not so easy for several reasons. Firstly it is on private grounds, behind a locked gate and is not visible from the road so you cannot just turn up. As it stands on the grounds of a family home and is not open to the general public, any visits have to be arranged in advance and as it is often used for private weddings, access won't be granted during any ceremonies or rehearsals.
I am very grateful to the owner, Vivien McCaig, for giving up her time to show me around. I can see why this romantic little church was chosen for such an important scene in the show. I also loved the fact that the she and her husband renovated the church and the grounds for their own daughter's wedding as it was in a poor state when they moved into the property.
Although they are not set up for general visits, it may be possible to make an appointment through Vivien's daughter Sarah who can be contacted by telephoning 07984168026 or 01968 676406. You can also e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want to arrange your own romantic Outlander themed wedding I can't think of a more perfect venue!
8. Linlithgow Palace
My final recommendation of key places to visit in the Lothians is the historic Royal Burgh of Linlithgow about a 30 min drive from Edinburgh. I didn't go last weekend as I have recently been to visit Linlithgow Palace which was used for filming the interior and entrances to Wentworth Prison. This is another Historic Scotland property which is well worth exploring. Away from the darkness of the 'prison' corridors you will find a splendid courtyard fountain and unusual stone carvings adorning this beautiful albeit mostly ruined building. Make sure you climb up the tower for sweeping views of the surrounding area.
While you are in Linlithgow I recommend taking a walking tour with Mary's Meanders to learn more about the fascinating history of the town. On Thursdays they also run Outlander tours and an Outlander themed dinner show. Although I've yet to experience the full show for myself I have heard great feedback and you can read about the taster I had earlier this year here.
During my trip to Edinburgh I stayed at the Princes Street Suites serviced apartments which I found to be an ideal base and you can read my review here.
Don't forget to check out the rest of my Outlander filming location guides here
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