Literary Pilgrimage: Outlander & the Highlands of Scotland

My mom and I have been watching the second season of Outlander lately and Scotland has been on my mind.  I am fortunate enough to have ventured to this beautiful country twice and fell more in love with every visit.

My first visit to Scotland was in November, 2013.  I spent a long weekend with my study abroad group in Edinburgh and we did a day trip to the Highlands.  My second visit was in April 2016.  This time, I was alone.  I did a three-day bus tour of the Highlands and Isle of Skye, followed by a few days revisiting Edinburgh.

The Quiraing on the Isle of Skye.  It was a clear day, so you can see the mountains of mainland Scotland in the distance.

Now… Outlander.  Diana Gabaldon’s books aren’t exactly high-brow literature, but that doesn’t mean they’re not good.  I came to the series a few years ago–about a year after my first visit to Scotland.  The television show was just about to premiere and an extended relative recommended the books to my mom, who then passed the word to me.  Intrigued by the premise–a World War II combat nurse goes back in time 200 years–I ordered secondhand copies of the entire series from Amazon.

Although I really do love Gabaldon’s books, I can only handle them in doses because they’re really, really long.  By the time I’ve finished one, I’m so burned out that a year goes by before I get to the next one.  As of right now, I have only made it through the first four.

A selfie taken at Loch Ness–a place that shows up in the first Outlander book

While enjoyable, the books definitely aren’t perfect.  I have a lot of criticisms, but am not going to delve into them.  I don’t want to get too far off topic!  I will say that, although the narrative isn’t very tight and there are lots of unnecessary side plots, the best part of Gabaldon’s work is the core couple.  Claire and Jamie are rich, complicated characters and their relationship is one of the best examples of a marriage in pop culture today.

When in Scotland, I didn’t actually go to any places featured in Outlander.  I haven’t been to the standings stones of Craigh na Dun, nor have I visited the location of Lallybroch or the castle that inspired Leoch.  Heck, I haven’t even been to Inverness!  Once you’ve read Gabaldon’s books, though, and you visit Scotland, you begin to see the characters everywhere.

Taken shortly before entering Glen Coe

I’ve found that bus tours are excellent ways to make the most of time in the Highlands.  While I would have loved having the freedom to come and go as I pleased, it was great not having to plan out my route.  Plus, my guide was full of stories.  As we drove through the stunning scenery, she talked for hours about Highland culture, wars with the British, and folklore–information that helps me better understand the characters in the first Outlander book.  Occasionally, she put on music by Scottish bands.  We learned all about the Jacobite Rebellions and Bonnie Prince Charlie–focus of Gabaldon’s second book.

I took pages and pages of notes with sketches on my tour–see slideshow at the end of this post if you’re curious.

Highlights of the trip included driving through the stunning valley of Glen Coe, touring Eilean Dornan Castle, spending clear, sunny a day on the Isle of Skye, and stopping by Loch Ness.

There are so many beautiful places in the Highlands that I couldn’t just choose a few photos to include.  I had to use them all:

Next time I go to Scotland, I hope to rent a car so I can come and go as I please.  I want to hike in the Highlands and get to know the wilderness.  I really want to make it to Inverness and visit the moor where the Battle of Culloden took place–a very important Outlander location.  Until then, though, I hold on to the memories I have already made.

Bonus: I recently read an excellent short piece on Bookriot about the Outlander books and show that I recommend checking out HERE.

Like bookish travel?  Read about my other Literary Pilgrimages

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P.S. Here are the notes I took on my most recent bus tour of the Highlands:

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4 thoughts on “Literary Pilgrimage: Outlander & the Highlands of Scotland

  1. aafrias February 8, 2017 / 5:48 pm

    Stunning photos! You have a talent for photography. Thank you for the pictures of your notebook as well. It was a nice personal touch.

    It’s rare that I read a book that takes place in a real world setting. I read a lot of fantasy, so the settings are usually fictional, but I remember when I was a kid, I was a huge fan of Norah McClintock’s Chloe and Levesque Mysteries (like Outlander, not exactly sophisticated literature. Think of the Chloe and Levesque series as murder mysteries for tweens). The books take place in East Hastings in Ontario, Canada, which isn’t very far from where my great grandmother used to live. I got so excited when we drove through East Hastings on our way to visit her once. I wish my parents would have stopped to let me explore some of the areas from the books. It’s almost magical to feel like you’re walking on the same ground where your favourite characters embarked on an adventure. It makes them feel real in a way.

    I’ll have to check out Outlander, both the TV series and the books.

    • Amelia February 9, 2017 / 12:52 pm

      Thank you! I hope to get a professional camera one day so I can take even better photos–until then, I will be content with my iPhone. 🙂 It’s so much fun to be in the same space as your favorite fictional characters–I hope you’re able to visit East Hastings again and linger! I definitely recommend Outlander–the show is pretty graphic on a Game of Thrones level, but the story is excellent.

      • aafrias February 9, 2017 / 6:04 pm

        I had no idea you took those with your iPhone! They look professional! Beautiful work.

      • Amelia February 11, 2017 / 10:06 am

        Thank you! 🙂

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