Regular readers of my blog will know I am partial to searching out and visiting locations which have been used in the filming of the Outlander TV series. There are two reasons for this; firstly I am a bit of an Outlander fan myself so I enjoy trying to recognise places that have featured in the series, Secondly, in my experience, the locations used are actually really interesting to visit in their own right and in many ways Outlander has inspired me to uncover some of Scotland's hidden gems which I was unaware of until the show brought them to my attention.
Having already visited many locations in the Fife and Edinburgh areas, I decided it was time to add some Perthshire settings to my list and explore two very iconic backdrops featured in Series 1.
My first stop was at Tibbermore Church, the setting of the witch trial in 'The Devil's Mark' episode. Although near the city of Perth it is still off the beaten track enough that I would never have discovered or visited this extremely atmospheric little church had Outlander not captivated my curiosity and like many locations I've visited it was well worth seeking out.
Cared for by The Scottish Redundant Churches Trust since 2001, the original building dates back to 1632, although an earlier church had existed there during the late middle ages. The original design has been modified over the years and after prolonged neglect, the SRCT has been raising funds to carry out much needed repairs and the fee from the filming of Outlander has actually helped to fix the roof which is a really positive extra benefit.
The church is normally locked but arranging a visit was really easy, after e-mailing the SCRT they contacted the key-holder who lives next door and she organised to meet me and give me access.
As soon as I stepped through the main door I literally got goosebumps and a really eerie feeling. The gloomy day meant little light was coming through the windows and the dark furniture did nothing to brighten the place up. I can honestly say I've never been in a church quite like it and despite some signs of neglect, the history and character oozed through the dimly lit space.
There are lots of interesting features to look out for including the stained glass windows, a war memorial, the stenciled decoration around the pulpit, the horseshoe seating and large stone tablet inserted in the wall dating back to 1631.
There is also a display board with images from Outlander to show how the church looked during 'The Devil's Mark' and some information notices with more details on the filming.
Do you ever get the urge to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life? To enjoy some respite from rushing around? To feel liberated from crowds of people, technological distractions, traffic jams and the general stresses that come with living in the modern world? Even if just for 24 hours?
As I jumped in the car to catch my first CalMac ferry of the day, I immediately felt the weight of the world rise off my shoulders as rapidly as the blazing sun was emerging on the horizon. This had to be a good omen for the weekend ahead and my own much needed 24 hour escape to the little Hebridean haven of Colonsay.
Heading off alone to a remote island with a population of only approx 135 hardy inhabitants is a very appealing prospect to me at the best of times; when the sun shines and the sky is a perfect blue, it offers the alluring promise of a peaceful paradise.
However, as is often the case in Scotland, it's just as much about the beauty of the journey as that of the destination. With three very different CalMac ferry crossings, through some of the most scenic west coast waters, I spent much of my time on deck breathing in the salty air and surveying the several other islands we passed by as seabirds glided effortlessly along the air currents before diving-bombing into the frothy waves below.
As my final ferry of the day reached Port Askaig for a quick stop-off I was able to enjoy a different view of Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain, two of the distilleries I had visited earlier in the year during a whisky tour of Islay.
Soon after departing Islay my GPS showed that we were fast approaching Colonsay and I excitedly peered ahead to catch my first glimpses of the island, with the distinctive point of the Lord Colonsay Monument visible on a hill top as we neared the ferry terminal at the main settlement of Scalasaig.
Driving off the ferry I was greeted by one of the locals who handed me a pack containing lots of information about the island. This was a first for me and I was highly impressed at both being personally welcomed and the initiative of providing tourists with local information to encourage them to make the most of their time during their stay. This is fantastic proactive approach to tourism from a small community and something which many places in Scotland could learn a thing or two from!
Between my welcome pack and pre-trip research, I had a pretty good idea of the things I wanted to do and see to make the most of my short stay on Colonsay. I may only have had just over 24 hours to enjoy my Hebridean freedom, however time seems to stretch when you embrace the slow pace of island life and I always find a minute standing immersed in rugged remoteness seems much more productive than an hour spent negotiating my usual never-ending to do list.
Luckily Colonsay is a small island and easy to explore by car or bike, with one main road circulating the sites. This was my first visit to this little strip of land, where free roaming sheep far outnumber the people and the next landmass after the craggy rocks and sandy beaches on the west coast is Canada.
This is how I chose to relax on the Isle of Colonsay...
After departing the ferry I made a quick stop at Colonsay Brewery before it closed for the weekend to pick up some gift packs to take home and I may have sneaked in an extra bottle for me to enjoy that evening! Well what better place to enjoy the local brew?
With just one road there wasn't too much risk of getting lost as I made my way to Colonsay House and my accommodation for the night. My short drive and first introduction to the island consisted mainly of a welcoming mass of white, woolly balls on legs. Lining the verges, congregating in fields, strolling towards me on the road and peering over hilltops, I was starting to wonder if sheep were the real rulers of this empire.
By the end of my trip I had developed a real fondness for my new fleecy friends.
Colonsay House and Gardens
Colonsay House dates from 1722 and the south wing has been converted into holiday apartments which is where I was spending the night. With a view overlooking the pretty gardens it would have been a shame not to visit and I had just enough time to quickly explore before they closed.
One thing I particularly wanted to see in the grounds of the house was the mysterious carved stone statue which stands next to a well dedicated to St Oran. It is believed to date from the 7th or 8th century with what is thought to be a head of Christ at the top and a fish tail at the bottom. The gardens are well worth visiting with lots of floral colour, butterflies and quirky objects.
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