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The bestselling "Outlander" saga features a 20th century English woman and her 18th century Highlander love, but the setting of Claire and Jamie's star-crossed romance may well steal the show when Starz launches its hotly anticipated adaptation of the series this month. Scotland in all its windswept, fog-soaked glory takes center stage as the story of a time-traveling nurse and her gallant young husband unfolds against the backdrop of the Jacobite Rising of 1745.
And Scotland is ready for the influx of tourists arriving in search of history and romance.
“There's a massive interest in all things Outlander and Scotland,” says Jenni Steele, film tourism and creative industries manager at VisitScotland.
“We're seeing lots of new people really excited about the TV series,” Steele says, with the main characters' romance “and the romance that Scotland itself portrays as a country … sparking that interest.” Travelers want to immerse themselves in that world, she says, and inquiries about "Outlander"-themed trips are up.
“[The tourism board] told me they should be paying me a bounty,” says Diana Gabaldon, author of the series, which now encompasses eight books plus a companion and several novella offshoots. “But Scotland can speak for itself.”
Fans of the story have plenty of options for exploring, Steele says. One way to begin is to delve into Jacobite history. “For a really good overview without too many history lessons, go to the National Museum of Scotland or the Highlands Folk Museum … then when you start touring Scotland you can piece it together.”
Gabaldon suggests starting in Inverness, the heart of Highlands. "Stay a few days, explore the countryside. Scotland takes its history seriously …. You always find something interesting if you turn off at one of their brown thistle signs.”
“Scotland is a very old country. There are these layers of humanity that have inhabited it over time, and they’ve left traces [like] standing stone circles, a number of them.”
Near Inverness is Culloden Battlefield. “Anyone interested ... should totally go there,” Gabaldon says. This chilling site of the final, catastrophic battle of the Rising is a “very, very evocative place. It's very well preserved and curated, with a fabulous new visitors center.”
“You can actually walk onto the battlefield and see and feel where it took place,” adds Steele.
Many fans want to visit the standing stone circle where Claire hurtled back through time. While the henge Gabaldon describes in the books is her own creation, she later wrote that on her first trip to Scotland she found a stone circle very like it (in northwestern England) at Castlerigg. But there are lots more to be found in Scotland.
“Scotland is a very old country,” Gabaldon says. “There are these layers of humanity that have inhabited it over time, and they’ve left traces [like] standing stone circles, a number of them.” You don't even have to leave the capital to appreciate the sense of antiquity that Gabaldon finds in Scotland. “All you have to do is walk down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh to feel the history,” she says.
For travelers who want to make the most of their time and take in a number of sights from the series, Gabaldon says the best option may be going with tour operators. She lists five on her website. Of those, she notes, private guide Hugh Allison, former curator of the Culloden visitor center, “is very knowledgeable about the history and hidden places of Scotland. He will ferret out the really interesting and remote.”
The 16-episode series executive produced by Ronald D. Moore of "Battlestar Galactica" begins airing on Starz Aug. 9, with a special premiere of the first episode widely available Aug. 2. Devotees aren't waiting; the Scotsman reports that Doune Castle in Perthshire — where the show filmed for a month — has already been beseiged by Outlander fans.