The Outlander book series by Diana Gabaldon has taken on a whole new lease of popularity and growing international fandom since the TV series began broadcasting this year.
Much of the story takes place in the 18th century Highlands of Scotland and surrounds the adventures and romance of the two main characters, Jamie and Claire.
The filming of the show took place at multiple locations around Scotland with many scenes shot in the historical towns and castles of Fife. It may not have the mountains of the Highlands or Skye but Fife is one of the most important royal historical regions of Scotland and is still often referred to as the Kingdom of Fife.
From a Pictish Kingdom to Scotland's ancient capital, from the home of golf to the resting place of King Robert the Bruce, this area of the country is steeped in history. If you add in some colourful fishing villages, the only award-winning blue flag beaches in Scotland, the highest number of national attractions in the country and the fact it has been voted 'No 1 outdoor destination' by Scottish Natural Heritage for seven years in a row and you might wonder why this area is often overlooked in favour of a Highland roadtrip.
If you are a fan of Outlander you now have even more reason to visit (six more in fact) and explore some of the filming locations of the show.
Thanks to a contact from TayScreen I managed to get a list of the Fife locations where the filming of Outlander took place and decided to book myself a few days in the area to explore them all and compile a blog post with the details. My list included the towns of Falkland, Culross and Limekilns, and the castles of Balgonie and Aberdour. Quite by chance I also found some standing stones nearby Culross which I have included in my guide just as a point of interest and in case anyone fancies testing them out! So here is my guide to 6 places you must visit in Fife if you are a fan of Outlander.
Many fans will already be aware that Falkland was used for filming a 1940s Inverness which is quite ironic as many of the houses are preserved from the 17th and 18th century, some even older. With traditional pubs, shops and 28 listed buildings it is certainly a glimpse of times gone by (if you can block out the cars!).
The town is dominated by Falkland Palace which is well worth visiting so make sure you set aside an extra 1- 2 hours to explore the former country residence of the Stuart monarchs and it's unusual gardens. The guides in the Palace are very helpful and will provide you with lots of interesting stories about it's original use as a royal getaway to it's restoration and sometimes dark and turbulent past.
Outlander fans can recreate one of the first scenes of the show by standing at the Bruce fountain in the town centre and looking up to the window of Mrs Baird's B&B just as the ghost of Jamie did in the first episode. Mrs Baird's is in fact The Covenanter Hotel so you can go inside and enjoy a drink if you need a refreshment to quell all the excitement! Just along from the hotel you will find Fayre Earth which was used as Farrell's in the show, although it does look quite different on the outside in it's 21st century colours. Campbell's Coffee House in the show was previously a pharmacy. however after filming it has remained a coffee house and is situated just opposite the fountain.
If you are visiting the town make the most of your time here, take a walk around and look out for all the little details on the buildings including marriage lintels, stone carvings and original signs and get a real sense of historical Scotland.
I recommend half a day here if you want to explore the town, palace and enjoy a meal or drink without feeling rushed.
Culross is the characterful and charming town that time forgot and is the most complete example in Scotland today of a Burgh of the 17th and 18th centuries. I can't imagine it is the most practical place to live in the 21st century with it's narrow, winding cobbled streets and lack of parking but there is something about this quaint little place that fires your romantic imagination about living in one of the colourful cottages with a quirky name.
This was the place I called home for a couple of nights albeit in a modern studio flat above a garage next to one of the large old properties (details in my next blog). I loved being able to walk around the quiet streets in the morning and along the pier as the sun set over the adjoining Firth of Forth.
You may be aware that Culross was mainly used as the fictional Cranesmuir in Outlander with the area around the Mercat cross being the most recognisable. At the time of my visit the houses used in filming still had their mottled grey coat which was used to give them a more authentic 1740s look although they are in the process of being turned back to white.
The distinctive yellow Culross Palace is an interesting place to visit and the lovely garden at the rear was used as Claire's herb garden in the series, head up to the terraces and you will also be rewarded with a great view across the distinctive red pantile rooftops to the Firth of Forth. Another Culross location used in the filming is the ruined West Kirk, perhaps better known as the Black Kirk, probably best not to eat anything growing wild here!
For a small town there is alot to do and you may want to take a walk around the abbey or join a guided tour of the Town House and Study during your visit as they are all worthwhile. As I based myself here I spread the activities out over a few days but I would recommend setting a day aside to visit everything in Culross including the standing stones mentioned later in my blog.
3. Tuilyies Standing Stones
Although they did not feature in the TV series no Outlander trip would be complete without a visit to some standing stones, right? I came across this unusual group of four stones quite by accident (or was it?) as I travelled from Dunfermline to Culross (A8985 Kincardine Road). They sit in a field just next to the main road and there is a convenient layby next to them with a not so convenient barbed wire fence around the field to stop the roaming cows from escaping!
After noticing them too late on my first day as I passed at speed, I decided to do some research and return on my final day. They are a short drive from Culross so easy to reach if you know they are there. The tallest stone is 8 ft high with many cup markings on one side, the other three stones are much smaller and sit in a triangle nearby. The name "Tuilyies" is a corruption of the Scottish word "tulzie" and signifies a fight and local folklore states that the stones mark the graves of chieftains who died here in an alleged battle.
It is unknown if they originally formed part of a circle and like most standing stones their true purpose can only be guessed at which is why they ignite the imagination and attract mysterious legends.
I braved the barbed wire without incident to get a closer look and of course some photos although I wasn't brave enough to touch the stones and test out their time travelling properties, after all I had an important Outlander blog post to write!
4. Balgonie Castle
I have visited countless Scottish castles over my lifetime in various states of ruin or repair, from the small to the grand, spanning centuries of history and it is fair to say I often suffer from a heavy dose of castle fatigue. When I find one that offers something unique I tend to get quite excited and I usually can't wait to tell everyone about it! Balgonie Castle is one of those places that I may never have stumbled upon had it not been for my Outlander research and now I have discovered it I am quite excited to share it with you.
Privately owned and a work of labour and dedication for almost 30 years by the current owners, the Morris family, it is so nice to find a historic castle that is not only lived in but well loved. It was a real treat to be shown around the castle by the Laird himself and his son who provide visitors with a warming welcome while regaling tales of the history, resident ghosts and ongoing work that makes their home so unique.
They have carried out a great deal of restoration with the help of volunteers and funds raised by tours, events, donations and hiring out part of the castle for weddings which take place most weekends. No doubt the use as a filming location for Outlander will open more possibilities for revenue.
The beguiling kilted Laird and his son were happy to show me photos they had taken of the Outlander set, some props that had been left, share the authentic details that had been added including the moss that was glued to the well (talk about attention to detail!) and gave me a few clues as to what to look out for in episode 15 when the castle appears, Highland cows definitely feature!
From the Chapel to the Great Hall this is a very atmospheric and special place and one I highly recommend you visit for yourself. If you would like to hold your own fairytale Outlander themed wedding I can't think of a better setting and the rates seem very reasonable for such an impressive venue. Oh and for those of you dreaming of marrying a Scot and living in a castle you might be interested to know that the Laird's son recently married a Texan lady so you never know...
I could go on and on about my visit to Balgonie but suffice to say I am extremely grateful for my personal tour and the assistance from the family in sharing their home and the Outlander behind the scenes secrets! If you do plan on visiting I strongly suggest contacting beforehand to check that a tour is possible on your chosen day. Whether you are an Outlander fan or not I recommend adding Balgonie Castle to your Scottish itinerary pronto!
I would set aside 1- 2 hours for the tour and walking around for photos.
5. Aberdour Castle
I can't say this is one of the most remarkable castles that I have visited, however it has added interest for Outlander fans as it was used as one of the filming locations.
The original tower house was constructed in the 13th Century and over time the structure was expanded although much of it is now in ruins. Part of the original tower house still lies collapsed in the grounds where it fell. There are also some pleasant surrounding gardens, including an unusual terrace garden.
The most interesting building for me was the beehive shaped dovecot built in the 16th century and containing over 600 stone nesting boxes. It is possible to enter this unusual structure which once contained hundreds of birds which were kept as a source of meat.
If you are visiting the castle it is also worthwhile to take a walk through the graveyard at the neighbouring St Fillan's churchyard which is home to some old and interesting headstones.
Filming in the castle took place in the Old Kitchen and Long Gallery and possibly some more scenes which have yet to be shown.
There isn't a huge amount to see as most of the castle is in ruins so an hour here should cover it.
Unfortunately I only spent a short time in this little coastal town and it was too wet for photos. Many of the buildings are in similar style to Culross but the openness to the Firth of Forth and it's harbour give it a more modern feel although the town dates back to the 14th century.
I believe one of the old kilns was used as cave in the Outlander filming and the town used as a backdrop but other than that I've not been able to identify any specific locations. If you are aware of any please feel free to share. Limekilns is on the road from Culross to Aberdour Castle so worth the short detour for a walk around.
If you are visiting Edinburgh and Inverness then Fife is the perfect place to spend a couple of days inbetween as the main road runs through Fife itself. Alternatively it is easy to head from Edinburgh to Fife then across towards Doune Castle and up to Glencoe and onwards to Skye depending on your planned itinerary.
A car is a must for getting between all the locations and there are plenty of car hire options you can arrange before your journey.
Autumn, winter and spring are the quietest times to visit and you won't have to fight your way through the summer crowds. Autumn and winter can be some of the most spectacular seasons to visit Scotland as the scenery is at it's finest, especially if there is snow on the mountains, although do wrap up warmly! Also check visitor times at attractions as some close over the winter or have shortened opening hours.
Many of the attractions you will probably want to visit during your time in Scotland are owned by either Historic Scotland or The National Trust for Scotland. The entry fees can quickly add up and I really recommend buying memberships for both as your budget will be eaten up otherwise.
Most of all have a great Outlander adventure :-)
Don't forget to check out the rest of my Outlander filming location guides here
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