For Skye, The Outlander trip couldn't come soon enough. He re-read his favourite Diana Gabaldon novels — Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, and Drums of Autumn and watched again the first, second and third series on DVD. He was outraged at the critics, disagreeing with The Scotsman “there has not been such a proud display of tartanalia since the opening of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.” And the ridicule of the Glasgow Evening Standard “it is magical, mystical, heuchter teuchter cobblers.” And The Observer describing Outlander as “Gorgeous Drivel.” The critics were wrong because over one and a half million people had watched the series on TV and 26 million copies of the books had sold worldwide. All those people loved the series and the books. They couldn't be wrong! Could they???
The itinerary for the Outlander Tour arrived with the invoice and instructions about passports, exchanging currency, medical insurance and flight booking suggestions. The ten day tour in an 11-seater Mercedes mini-coach starts in Glasgow, visits 'Outlander sites' in Central Scotland then heads north to Inverness, on to Clan Fraser Lands then out to Skye, returning to Glasgow through Glencoe and Loch Lomond. Skye is excited to read that he will see Lallybroch, Castle Leoch, Wentworth Prison, Black Jack's HQ and the time-warping stone circle portal of Craig Na Dun. He immediately books his flight as instructed and sent off his cheque for $10,000 to pay for the trip.
Skye wants to wear his Highlander outfit on the flight, but Angus Jones advises him not to do that. “One SAS trip a few years ago I wore all my Highland gear for a flight,” said Angus. “It was a nightmare. I had to take off all the belts and pins, sporran and brogues. I even had to take off the kilt because the buckles set off the metal detector. It was embarrassing as I am a true Scotsman. They also confiscated my sghian-dhubh, said it was an offensive weapon. We can't wear our costumes on the flight, Skye, but as soon as we get to the hotel in Glasgow we can all change into our authentic 18th Century Scottish outfits. It’ll be grand to get into character for the visits to all the places that Jamie and Claire would have known - to immerse ourselves in the poetry of the novels, the battles, the love affair and the history of those romantic and exciting times.”
The Ootlander Tour group meet at the departure gate at Tampa International Airport. Skye (Heinrich) Purenduffle and Angus Jones are the first to arrive, followed by Mrs Pricilla Knickerbocker. Then Grace and Gary Glandunning arrive just before Ethel Zemlinski and her friend Gladys Pippin. Finally Mr. and Mrs. Finkelstein and Claire and Jamie MacKenzie Fraser-Knoblock (fans who changed their names) come to the gate in a golf cart. Everyone is bubbling with excitement and expectation.
The flight is uneventful and on a grey rainy morning the plane lands at Glasgow Airport. The bleary-eyed SAS group collect their luggage and get through immigration and customs. As they emerge into the public area they are welcomed by the skirl of the bagpipes played by a kilted piper. Beside him is a wee smiling man wearing a kilt and holding a big sign announcing: “Welcome to Scotland - SAS of Dunscreachen”. The bagpipes stop playing and in a big voice the kilted man says,
“Welcome, Failte, I am Hamish...Hamish MacMeanie of 'Ootlander Tours'. I’ll be your guide and friend for the next ten days you'll be with me here. Ye must aw be tired, so let's get ye tae the bus then on tae the hotel.”
MacMeanie's accent and strange language baffle Skye, but he catches the gist of it. The sleep-deprived group drag their luggage onto the bus and after they’re boarded and seated, MacMeanie turns on his running commentary as the bus speeds into central Glasgow.
“We hae ye aw booked intae the Golden Eagle Hotel in George Square. As maist o' ye will know George Square was used as a filming location for scenes in Ootlander. Once we get tae the hotel and get ye settled and fed we can tak a short walk around the city centre and visit Glasgow Cathedral which—as ye will know—was used as a film location in the second Ootlander series where it doubled as L'Hopital des Anges. Tomorrow the tour leaves at 9.00 am prompt, after breakfast, as we hae a lot of miles tae go and several Ootlander locations to visit. I hae often been asked about the custom of tipping here in Scotland and would say that it is normal to give generous gratuities to the driver, the guide and if you feel like it, to waiters. Please feel free to ask me any questions at any time.”
Skye is anxious to know if he can wear his Highland garb on the bus tour.
“By all means, it will add to the full Ootlander experience if ye get intae character.” replies Hamish.
“Great,” says Skye, “I know that all the ladies have made authentic 18th Century outfits to also wear on the trip.”
“Yeh, yeh,” pipes up Mrs Pricilla Knickerbocker. “We ladies have made dresses that are exact copies of those that Claire wore in the TV series.”
Ethel Zemlinski asks Skye, “Are you a Heughligan...you know, a fan of Sam Heughan ...the lad who plays Jamie Fraser?”
“Well, are you a Caitriot,” replies Skye with a smile. “You know ...a fan of Caitriona Balfe, the lass that plays Claire.
“Both,” replies Ethel.
“Me too,' returns Skye and they all laugh.
The bus pulls up outside the Golden Eagle Hotel and the Outlander Tour party disembarks. Looking around George Square, Skye remarks to Angus.
“Wow, it's just like in the first series where Claire meets her husband. Of course then the cars were 1940's models and the people were dressed in 1945 style clothes.”
“Yes,” agrees Angus, “I know it is morning here but I'm starving. I hope they have burgers and fries for lunch.”
“Me too, my belly is saying lunch,” said Skye, “I could murder a Big Mac and a Coke.”
Sadly for Skye and Angus the lunch menu does not include burgers or hot dogs. They have to make do with roast beef, potatoes and vegetables. Angus is puzzled as to why the potatoes are not mashed or creamed, and neither he nor Skye touch the vegetables. Their hunger is however, assuaged by copious helpings of apple pie with custard.
“I don't know quite what I was expecting, but the “Outlander Feeling” didn't seem to come through to me in the Square, complai Angus. “It just seems like a typical city square to me. I think they could have parked some old cars or had some re-enactors dressed in WWII uniforms in the street.”
Just then, Hamish MacMeanie appears at the lunch and announces that due to the rain and age and abilities of the group, he has cancelled the walking tour. Instead he’s arranged for the bus to drive around the sites in Glasgow that were used for filming locations in the Outlander series. At 3.00 pm the group— all attired in their 18th Century outfits— mounts the bus and zooms off to Glasgow Cathedral.
Once inside the magnificent medieval building, Hamish explains that the Cathedral was used in series two as a stand in for the L'Hopital des Anges in France. “The cathedral dates from 1136 and was originally a Catholic Church dedicated to St Kentigern and St Mungo. It is the only medieval cathedral in Scotland that survived the destructive years of the 16th century’s Protestant Reformation. Have you any questions?”
“Yes,” says Mrs Knickerbocker, “Can you show me where Jamie stood. I want to get a photo of Skye and me standing in the same spot.”
The bus continues on to a drive-by of Glasgow University where Jamie Fraser had recently been spotted with a film crew, probably shooting scenes for series three. The bus then drives to the south side of the city to Pollock Country Park, named Britain’s best park in 2006 and the best park in Europe in 2008. Hamish says the park was used several times for Outlander outdoor scenes. This is what excited the group, not the magnificent building housing the Burrell Collection of treasures and art works.
“The battle scenes fir Culloden required a massive production fir Ootlander. Filming lasted nine days wi' 425 cast members all assembled here in Pollock Park,” relates Hamish.
“Where were the Culloden battle scenes filmed?” asks Grace Glandunning.
“Where was the duel scene filmed?” asks Ethel Zemlinski.
“Where did Jamie fall?” pesters Grace.
Soon it’s time to return to the hotel for dinner.
“Maybe we'll get a cheese burger tonight.” jokes Skye to Angus.
The evening meal is a buffet with large salads, roast beef, ham, salmon and several vegetable choices, including chips (aka French Fries). Skye and Angus wolf the meat and chips then attack the cakes and desserts. The salads and vegetable platters remain untouched by the group. After several samples of malt whisky, Skye and Angus stagger to their rooms as the jet lag kicks in.
At four in the morning Skye awakens parched and squeezed with belts and buckles of his Highlander outfit jabbing into his belly. Why is he awake at 4.00 am? Then he remembers that he isn't in Florida. He rolls over and tries to get some more sleep but his thoughts keep turning to double cheeseburgers, fries, pizza and fried dough. Right now he could take up his claymore and die fighting for some funnel cake.
Breakfast doesn’t come soon enough and Skye is first at the table. He orders coffee, three rounds of toast and the full Scottish breakfast. The bacon, eggs, beans and potato scones are excellent. He wondera why the sausage is square and what’s in the black pudding, yet eats them all ravenously and orders another plate. By eight o'clock everyone is at the breakfast and there is a palpable excitement building.
Mrs Knickerbocker is anxious to know if she will see Lallybroch today.
“Och aye,” replies MacMeanie, “We surely will.”
“And Wentworth dungeon?” inquires Angus.
“Yes, that will be our first stop today,” replies Hamish. “If ye aw eat up we can get on the road as soon as ye like.”
The Fraser-Knoblocks want to know if they would see where Jamie was flogged.
“Och aye,” replies Hamish.