Porridge, oatcakes and fruit were the healthy options at breakfast at the Covenanter Hotel but Skye and Angus opted for the full Scottish fry-up breakfast.
“I see you lads are haein the hearty breakfast”, commented Hamish. “Ye need tae stoke up fir we hae anither lang day aheed. We're gaun tae the Heelans the day!”
After Hamish moved away Angus queried Skye “Did you understand what he said?”
“Not much,” answered Skye, “something about the Heelans, wherever that is?”
“You know that this is the Covenanters Hotel, but I wonder what a Covenanter is?” Angus asked when Hamish walked by.
“Och, they were a type of religious group, like your Mormons, in a time before the Ootlander period,” replied Hamish. “I think that they caused a lot o' trouble.”
By 9.00am the group were all fed and watered and seated on the bus. They set off for the North...up the M90 motorway, then through Perth to Pitlochry where the bus pulls into the Blair Athol Distillery for a tour and whisky tasting. The £12 admission seemed reasonable to Skye and he truly learned a great deal about Scottish Scotch. He tasted 4 malt whiskys and learned that this was one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland established in 1798 and was the spiritual home of Bell's. Back on the bus and feeling a bit light headed after the scotch the group headed to Blair Athol Castle for a visit and to have lunch.
“Aye but ah hae a wee surprise for ye all ,” exclaimed MacMeanie as he pulled onto the B1089 heading for the “Queens View” and Loch Tummel. “Lunch will hae tae wait. But it will be worth it.”
Hamish takes the road up country into the very heart of Scotland in search of the hallowed ground of Craigh na Dun. He tells the group that we don’t want to be taking a work of fantasy fiction too seriously, even one as meticulously researched as Diana Gabaldon’s but happily for this small band of of Ootlanders, the Great Outdoors of Scotland is where much of the action happens. Hamish knows that Ootlander fans will endure almost anything to track down where the real-life locations and the fictional drama collide, and where the alchemy immortalising the characters takes place.
Hamish's mission today is to find the stand of trees perched on the crest of a lofty hillock where Claire Randall, the heroine of the spell-binding saga, goes time-travelling—at Craigh na Dun. If we were to go looking for a mighty ring of standing stones crowning the spot, we will be disappointed. The stones were fibre-glass fakes made for the TV show.
However a tip-off as to the actual location of Craigh na Dun sends Hamish heading towards Kinloch Rannoch. Highland Perthshire boasts many fine forests, peaks and lochs and this busy route up the spine of Scotland presents you with an admirable foretaste of the grandeur awaiting when you take the turn-off south of Killiecrankie onto the B1089 and what turns out to be a round-trip studded with scenic gems.
This undulating rural road runs parallel to the northern shore of mighty Loch Tummel. The road snakes on into Scotland’s vast, increasingly remote interior past Tummel Bridge where it becomes the B846. MacMeanie tells the Outlanders to be aware that our search could end in futility because of the massive area we’re searching. MacMeanie uses the heid and asks directions from a local on the Dunalastair estate who is more than acquainted with Outlander galavanters and the filming extravaganza which apparently lit up the sky with its arch lights; on the other side of the reservoir. Following the road to Kinloch Rannoch, the bus crosses the bridge heading for Tempar and Lassintullich on the south of Dunalastair Reservoir and climbs up to the top of a steep, wooded brae and stops. Before them unfolds the perfect view made famous as Craigh Na Dun.
“Would you believe it, there it is” squeals Gladys. “This is the perfect setting for falling through space and time. No need to imagine it any longer.”
The Outlanders stay awhile to muse over the mystical site with its aging oak and Scots pines tenaciously gripping the earth, and its classic Highland view overlooking the etchings of ancient glaciers before the vista straggles towards Loch Rannoch. This land’s raw beauty is stunning.
“I could always sense the haunting beauty of Craigh na Dun in my minds’ eye as the pages turned and its allure is made real in the TV dramatisation. But, as any fan can imagine, it is in the flesh that the place truly casts its spell. Perfection without embellishment by anyone - not even the fabulous Outlander production crew. I am so glad that I am here at Craig na Dun.” said Skye. “I just wish that I could step through the portal to Claire and Jamie's time.”
An hour or so later the group arrived at Blair Athol, dazed and elated after their time trip to Craig Na Dun and back. Blair Athol Castle was spectacular and the group thought the admission charge of £12 very reasonable. Skye and Angus were particularly interested in Targes, muskets and broadswords that were used at Culloden.
“I wonder if the sword belonged to Jamie or Murtagh,” pondered Skye as he fingered the edge of the blade.
“It looks more like Murtagh's kind of sword,” offered Angus.
The ladies were 'oohing and ahhing' at all the beautiful rooms and the ornate ceilings. They loved the magnificent ballroom and hearing about the famous accordionist Neil Gow, or was he a fiddler?
Lunch was had at the Tullibardine Restaurant. The set lunch provided by MacMeanie was homemade soup with bread followed by haggis with chips. Skye ordered an extra helping and two scoops of ice-cream.
An hour later the bus started the steep ascent up into the Cairngorm mountains. The scenery became more and more dramatic. Distant mountain peaks, lochs and pine forests came into every view and the bus pulled in occasionally at set piece lay-by photo opportunities.
“I can just imagine Jamie and the Highlanders with the Bonnie Prince marching up this highland road on their way to meet their fate at Culloden.” mused Ethel.
“Yes, I'm sure I hear their war-pipes and the clank and rattle of their swords coming from over there,” said Angus pointing across the road. From behind a parked lorry emerged a tartan clad piper with a woman in period costume rattling a metal cup.
“Ach, it's jist yin o' they tinker pipers, hustlin the tourists,” said Hamish. “Let's be on oor way afore he comes o'er here.”
“What's a tinker,” asks Angus.
“They're a bit like your…um... people that you don't want as neighbours.” explains Hamish.
“Are they the same as the gypsies that stole Claire's song when she was looking for Jamie?” chipped in Mrs Knickerbocker.
“Aye, very similar. Not to be trusted and jist aifter yer cash...so let’s be on oor way.”
At Newtonmore the bus pulled off the A9 and drew to a halt at the Highland Folk Museum. Hamish told the group that they could have two hours to look around this open-air museum. “Admission is free but there is a suggested donation of £12 and £5 for the guide book”.
“It's truly a unique experience – a real walk back in time. Many “Ootlander scenes' were filmed here. You'll recognise the set for the rent collection scene in Season one Episode 5. Last week they held an 'Ootlander day' here and had authentic re-enactments of scenes from the TV show.”
“Wow, that must have been fabulous...sorry we missed it.” exclaimed Skye.
The group took the option of the tractor trailer ride to get around the extensive site where authentic highland houses, a school, a church and an old crofting township could be visited and staff wore authentic “Outlander' costumes. Live chickens wandered about and there was a 'waulking demonstration” by several of the women guides.
“It was just like the waulking that Claire took part in at Castle Leoch,” enthused Gladys.
Just then the rain came on and the group had to shelter in an old house where a peat fire was smoking.
Later in the bus Hamish remarked, “I think yer a' goin tae reek like a peat fire fir the rest o the day.”
“What did he just say?” asked Ethel.
“Search me!” replied Skye.
“It's on tae Inverness noo.” Hamish announced, “Innerneesh, or Inversneckie tae the locals it's the capital o the Heelands.”
“What? what was that he just said?”
As the bus sped down the dual carriageway into Inverness passing the modern buildings on the outskirts there was a fine view ahead of the Beauly Firth, the Kessock Bridge and the mountains beyond. Mrs Knickerbocker is disappointed.
“It doesn't look like the Inverness in Outlander.”
“Well lass, dinnae fash, the Inverness in Outlander is really Falkland, but this town is really the real Inverness.” explained Hamish.
“I think I like the Inverness in Outlander better than this one,” commented Gladys.
“We are going to be staying at the Kingsmull Hotel, it's an 18th century house from the Outlander period but with all modern facilities and excellent food.” announced MacMeanie. “We'll be staying here two days so that we can visit Culloden battlefield, the other time travel portal of the Clava Cairns, the Clan Fraser Castle, Beauly Priory and Beaufort Castle.
The Kingsmulls Hotel is to everyone’s liking and soon they are all sitting down to a three course dinner in the Ingliss Restaurant. Skye opts for the marbled salmon, scallop and prawn terrine to start, followed by the slow cooked shoulder of beef with potatoes and vegetables then ends with sticky toffee pudding and the cheese board with a few malt whisky's to finish. Angus has the same but substitutes the beef for a rib-eye steak and chips.
“Strange,” says Angus, “Here we are in Scotland, but we're eating in an 'Inglis' restaurant.”
“Ha, yes, very strange,” replies Skye.