Shopping for Nirvana in Scotland

Quick Trip to the Scottish Highlands 2019

In many ways my bucket list birthday trip to Ireland and Scotland was all about experiencing the Scottish Highlands.

Our tour guide, David, had an itinerary and I had no clue what we were going to see or what to expect short of a list of castle hot spots. The minute he met me and my 16 year old nephew Will, David tossed out the plan and improvised. Everything unfolded beautifully. Best guide ever!

Once we left Edinburgh, we immediately hit up our first castle.

LINLITHGOW PALACE is where they shot Wentworth Prison in my favorite show “Outlander.” How did David even know I was an “Outlander” fan? Most of the other castles and palaces we visited were also locations for the TV show so of course I was in heaven (check out my other blog on Outlander locations.) Still in tact was the fountain built by James V in 1538. Fed by an underground water supply, water once fell from the crown. When Bonnie Prince Charlie visited in 1745 the fountain was made to flow with wine. Restored in 2007 to its former glory of fanciful bas-relief statues of mythical beasts and human heads.

Scottish castle details

Scottish castles and palaces were not the luxury dwellings I had thought or imagined from visiting France, England or even India. These were stone fortresses meant to keep invaders out and provided very little space or comfort for royal families inside.

Storming Doune Castle, I immediately recognized the grounds where they staged Castle Leoch in “Outlander.” In ruins, there wasn’t much to see inside. The exterior courtyard is where all the energy remains. As an intuitive I felt the castle was happy to have “Outlander” film there. The castle was able to revive the spirit of its inhabitants through the action of actors in period costumes camped out for months recreating the world that once was.

Posing at castles with Will

Lunch at the Potted Shed Cafe Bistro on the grounds of the Roman Camp Hotel in Callander was one of our favorites. Built in 1625 the Roman Camp was the hotel for the Dukes of Perth. It has 3 ghosts. The cute pink hotel was very classy and everything I dreamed a quaint Scottish Manor House would be. Even the slightly creepy front desk manager who told me he “liked my vibe.” Maybe it was my blue hair!

Scottish Speak:
Dreich is Scottish for rainy weather
Drookit is the word for being soaking wet
Crabbit is ‘bad mood’ and our guide David told us no one is allowed to be Crabbit on this trip! Of course, we never were.

Stopping for the classic photo of breath-taking famous 3 Sisters Mountain range in Glen Coe, it was the same view as the opening credits from “Outlander.” The valley was once used by Clan MacDonald to hide their livestock from raiders during the Jacobite uprising.

We also saw the Harry Potter train passing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct. This train runs an 84 mile round trip that passes Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain. The Jacobite Steam Train was featured as the fictional Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films.

Chef at Victorian Hunting Lodge

When my trusted travel agent booked us at a creepy Victorian hunting lodge on Lochy Loch, I was shocked at first. Then after a few days the place grew on me and in fact Will and I left with a few tall tales of our own about the place and lots to giggle about. It was our favorite strange experience. Nightly over dinner as we looked out at the dramatic scenery and 10pm sunset the theme from “Outlander” played over the speakers. The famous Scottish folk tune called “Skye Boat Song” transported me to the romance of hunky Jamie Fraser and his true love Claire. The song looped every 30 minutes.

Eilean Donan Castle is quite spectacular. Located on a a small tidal, which is land where 3 sea lochs meet: Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alshin in the Western Highlands. The picturesque castle dominates the island. Founded in the 13th c – a stronghold of Clan Mackenzie and allies Clan MacRae. Partially destroyed during the Jacobite uprising in 1719, a footbridge was added in the early 20th c.

Dourne Castle

I wanted a fairy experience so we crossed the bridge to have lunch on Isle of Skye located in the Atlantic Ocean. We hadn’t planned on any special isle of Skye outings and now I realize that was a mistake. Next trip I want to hike the Isle of Skye and visit the fairy lake, the fairy waterfalls, fairy everything! The fairy world on Isle of Skye is a magical experience and thankfully we got to dip our toe in the fairy pool.

As we were crossing the the bridge to the isle, my phone alerted me to a MAGIC HOUR. Now this is something I have on my phone in my special calendar but I have never had a phone alert. I believe the fairy energy was alerting me to place my back to the hourly direction and send out my prayers. So, in the parking lot of the Red Skye School House, our driver David and my nephew Will and myself stood with our backs to the Magic Hour direction and tapped into the magic of Isle of Skye. It was truly a spiritual experience. David and Will thought I was slightly nuts. I want to go back!

Of course, no trip to the Scottish Highlands is complete without a visit to the Colloden Battle Field. They have an amazing visitor’s center worth a few hours of attention. Then there’s the quaint town of Pitlochry where it must have been senior hour. As we arrived 2 buses filled with senior citizens mostly in motorized wheel chairs on oxygen tanks roamed the souvenir stores. Urauhart Castle was destroyed but he ruins and movie about its history playing in the gift shop was super interesting. Rainy and misty drive around Loch Ness we could not see the famous sea monster, but Will bought a Nessy stuffed doll for his little cousin (another nephew.) Finally wrapped up the 5 day tour at Scone Palace. The grounds are spectacular and worthy of a few hours dodging peacocks.

A real treat and super special was an overnight stay at the poshy posh Fife Arms in Braemar. Until Swiss art dealers Iwan and Manuela Wirth took it over and made it their love project displaying over 14,000 works of art, the Fife Arms was apparently a dump. Owned by the Duke of Fife (1889-1912), the Inn is now an art masterpiece and everything you imagine a Scottish Highlands experience to be – it is.

One of my favorite shopping for nirvana purchases was the Duke of Fife tartan scarf. Re-created from his original tartan design, a tartan is a woolen cloth woven in plaid associated with a Scottish clan.

The Scottish Highlands is superstition mixed with daily life.

Outlander Tour of Scotland

Castle Leoch kitchen on the set of Outlander (left) and me at Doune Castle where they shot

I wasn’t planning on an “Outlander” Tour of Scotland. Admittedly, I am obsessed with the series, yet I did not plan any “Outlander” visits while on my summer birthday bucket list trip in June 2019. But the moment our (I went with my 16 year old nephew) tour guide picked us up in Edinburgh and we headed to the Highlands of Scotland for five days, he knew. He just knew he should alter the itinerary and take me to OUTLANDER!

While in the Medieval City of Edinburgh, our guide there included a pit-stop to Bakehouse Close where Jamie and Claire were reunited 20 years after their separation. A “close” is an alleyway off the main Royal Mile road that leads to private property and were once gated and closed to the public. To this day, they remain frozen in time which is why they used Bakehouse Close as Jamie’s Print Show of 1700s Edinburgh. I stood on a step with no clue that when I would go home and re-watch the series, I would be standing on the same steps where Claire could be seen entering A. Malcolm print shop.

Bakehouse Close in Edinburgh (left movie scene) (right me on same steps)

Our Highlands guide David Campbell gave me a map “Outlander – Visit the Scottish Locations as seen in the hit TV series.” I poured over each and every location on that map. We only had time to visit a few. First was Linlithgow Palace where they shot Wentworth Prison. In the center of the haunted ruins of Linlithgow was a magnificent fountain built by James V in 1538. Fed by underground water, when Bonnie Prince Charlie visited in 1745 it was made to flow wine. I couldn’t quite figure out which scenes were shot there. Maybe the creepy haunted narrow hallways.

Next we stormed Doune Castle where they shot Castle Leoch for months. The interior isn’t much, but the grounds and exterior courtyard is energetically exciting. You can really imagine castle life in those days. As an intuitive, I liked this happy castle. It talked to me and let me know that shooting the show brought back a life it had lost for centuries. The castle was pleased so many visitors were taking an interest in it. Doune was a bit lost for a long time and now it had been found again. Castle Leoch was the fictional home to Colum MacKenzie and his clan in the 18th c. Misty and moody, I loved this castle visit.

Me and nephew Will at Doune Castle where they re-created a village for Outlander (left)

The 3 Sisters Mountain in Glen Coe is a highlight of the Highlands visit. Majestic world-famous Scottish landmark with high mountain peaks, ridges and rushing waterfalls. The opening credits were shot here as well as a few horse riding scenes. How could it not? Breath-taking scenery.

Glen Coe Highlands – (left) opening Outlander credits (right) out car window

The magic of the movies never gets old to me. It’s always exciting and illuminating and pings at my heart. If you make it to the Scottish Highlands and are a fan of Outlander, you must visit ALL the spots where they shot. Tell your tour guide!