- Address: Blackness, Linlithgow, West Lothian, EH49 7NH
- Website: Historic Environment Scotland
Known locally as ‘the ship that never sailed’, Blackness Castle was built for the Crichton family in the late 14th-century, first as a tower house and then extended into the fortified building we see today.
The castle stands guard looking out over the Firth of Forth around 20 miles west of Edinburgh and has served a variety of uses including a royal stronghold, a prison, and a weapons store.
The reason it has such an unusual nickname is due to the fact that the front of the castle looks like the bow of a ship, and as it points towards the Forth you might be mistaken for imagining it’s about to launch into the water when viewed from a distance.
It’s a strange shape to be sure, but the reasons behind the design are actually quite clever.
Back in the 15th-century when it was built one of the favoured methods of attacking a castle was by cannon fire – a deadly assault that would see cannonballs smash right through castle walls, even up to ten feet thick.
Blackness Castle, on the other hand, has a triangular-shaped front so that any cannon fire aimed at it would likely ricochet off instead of taking the full force of the impact. Genius engineering considering it was designed nearly 600 years ago.
We first see this imposing fortress in Outlander season 1 where it was used to represent Fort William, and if you’ve seen the show you’ll no doubt remember the gory scene where Black Jack Randall lashes Jamie Fraser virtually to death, maniacally ripping shreds of skin off the Highlander’s back.
Black Jack strikes again in a later episode where he rapes Claire Fraser and throws her into a dungeon, till she’s saved by Jamie when he frees her and they jump from the battlements into the sea (in reality they’d have died on impact. Those walls are high. Like really, really high).
The castle is managed by Historic Environment Scotland who’ve done a great job of maintaining the buildings and it’s now restored just as it would have been in the timeframe that Outlander is set in.
- Address: Kirkgate, Linlithgow, EH49 7AL
- Website: Historic Environment Scotland
If you’re an international visitor heading to Edinburgh or Glasgow I’ve got a little secret that you might like to hear… *whispers* one of the best historic attractions in the region is Linlithgow Palace, an attraction that’s virtually unknown amongst visiting tourists.
The fact that most visitors head for Edinburgh and Stirling castle for their fix of Scottish history means a visit to Linlithgow is guaranteed to be crowd-free, which is great if you’re fed up with fighting through hordes of selfie-stick-wielding coach parties.
Despite the fact that it’s a million times quieter than Edinburgh Castle, Linlithgow Palace boasts almost as much history having been built all the way back in the 12th-century and used as the birthplace of several Scottish monarchs, including Mary Queen of Scots.
Linlithgow can be found 15 miles west of Edinburgh and around 9 miles before The Kelpies on the M9 motorway which makes it a great place to head to if you fancy seeing attractions that are a little bit off the standard tourist trails.
The town of Linlithgow is nice enough and has a scenic, cafe-lined high street, but it’s the palace that draws most people due to the size of it and because it sits alongside Linlithgow Loch (a Site of Special Scientific Interest) which is a lovely place to enjoy a summer picnic.
The impressive royal retreat began life as a fortress over 2000 years ago when the Romans built a fort near the loch and it’s known that a royal residence stood there from the reign of David I (1124 to 1153).
The palace that we see today was extended over the course of the 15th and 16th centuries with four ranges grouped around a central courtyard that’s so massive it still impresses visitors today.
But even though the building is steeped in history its fate was sealed when James VI (the first ruler of both Scotland and England) moved his court to London following his coronation which meant that it no longer had a use as a royal palace, and a disastrous fire in 1746 meant that it had to be abandoned forever.
In the TV show, Linlithgow represents the infamous Wentworth Prison where Black Jack tortures and then rapes Jamie Fraser in one of the most difficult-to-watch scenes broadcast to date. It’s seriously graphic and the Outlander crew don’t pull any punches. Viewer discretion is advised…
The Kingdom of Fife
Fife is located north of Edinburgh across the Firth of Forth, and the rugged, windswept coastline has provided a backdrop to many of Outlander’s episodes.
This is a country that’s often overlooked by tourists but I think that’s a real shame as the dramatic coastline is fit to burst with ruined castles, photogenic beaches and scenic harbours.
There are three distinct districts of Fife – Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy and North-East Fife – that have plenty of attractions to offer visitors, but for me it’s the coastline in this part of the country that makes it such a special place.
You can easily reach Fife from Edinburgh by crossing the Firth of Forth but I’ve got two tips for you before you start exploring the coast.
First, take a detour to walk across the Forth Road Bridge which offers fantastic views of both shores at a height of nearly 50 metres, and second, head to Dunfermline to visit the beautiful Dunfermline Abbey, the 900-year-old abbey that’s the burial site of some of Scotland’s greatest kings and queens.
- Address: Dysart, Kirkcaldy, KY1 2TQ
- Website: Welcome to Fife
We first set eyes on the picturesque quayside at Dysart Harbour in season 2 of Outlander as Jamie, Claire and Murtagh arrive in France after fleeing from the Redcoats searching for Jacobite soldiers after the Battle of Culloden.
The trio end up at the French fishing port of Le Havre and it’s here where they meet a new nemesis in the guise of the Comte St. Germain.
St. Germain becomes obsessed with seeking revenge on Claire after the nobleman loses an entire shipload of goods when Claire persuades the authorities his ship, Patagonia, is infected with smallpox.
If you’ve already seen the episode you might like to know that while some of the sets were filmed on soundstages in Glasgow, the bulk of Le Havre is actually filmed at Dysart.
The harbour dates back to 1450 and has a rich trading history thanks to Dutch and Belgian sailors who used it for importing various goods and Scottish sailing ships that used the port for the export of coal and salt to the baltic regions.
Though the days of coal export are long gone the harbour is still in use today by fishing and pleasure craft and the entire stretch of coastline is a favourite for hikers as it’s extraordinarily atmospheric, especially when the infamous Firth of Forth ‘haar’ rolls in (haar is a scots word for a thick sea fog).
Top tip – while you’re exploring Dysart Harbour and the surrounding area make sure you visit nearby Ravenscraig castle which is a romantic 15th-century ruin overlooking the Forth that appeared in Sir Walter Scott’s poem ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel’.
- Address: Aberdour, Fife, KY3 0SL
- Website: The Out About Scotland Guide to Aberdour Castle
Aberdour Castle is located in the quiet village of Easter Aberdour in Fife, and it’s notable for being one of the oldest standing castles in Scotland.
Built in the early 1100s, Aberdour Castle is a maze of buildings from different centuries that centre around the main hall house with a fragrant walled garden set to one side and a large terraced garden installed in the south.
In my opinion it’s a bit of a hidden gem that’s overlooked by the majority of Scotland’s tourists, but at least its use in Outlander is starting to bring more visitors to appreciate it.
This is a wonderfully atmospheric place which I imagine is the reason why the TV crew chose it as the setting for the Sainte Anne de Beaupré monastery in France in the last episode of season 1, where the Old Kitchen and Long Gallery were both used as filming locations.
You might remember that the monastery (actually fictional) was the place that Claire and Murtagh took Jamie to recover after his ordeal in Wentworth Prison, but I have to say it looks even nicer in real life than is depicted in the show.
There’s a lot of history to discover during a walk around this Historic Environment Scotland site and you’ll be kept occupied for much longer than you might imagine due to the impeccably restored castle interior, the gardens, and the pretty St. Fillans Church which lies next to the estate’s walled garden.
Be aware that parts of this castle are in ruin (to be expected for one of the oldest remaining buildings of its kind) but much of it has been restored and is worth viewing – like the Long Gallery and the original tower house.
After your visit you can grab a belly-busting slice of cake in the on-site cafe and head out to nearby Aberdour Silver Sands which is a very pretty beach that looks out over Inchcolm Island and abbey.
- Address: Culross, Dunfermline, Fife
- Website: Welcome to Fife
My final Outlander filming location in this list is one that’ll let you perform your very own spot of time travel – Culross, otherwise known as Cranesmuir in the show.
This rustic village sits on the shores of the Firth of Forth and is the closest thing you’ll ever get to a 16th-century time capsule.
The royal burgh is a perfect example of what Scotland’s fishing villages would have looked like 250 years ago and it’s thanks to the efforts of the National Trust for Scotland that the picturesque cobbled streets and warren of buildings have now been restored back to their former glory after years of neglect.
Whitewashed gables peek out from under red-tiled roofs across a collection of buildings that look like they might have come out of a Diana Gabaldon novel…
There are multiple places in Culross (pronounced cooross) that have featured in Outlander so I’ll just highlight a few of my favourites below.
Culross Palace is a stunning ochre-coloured former merchants house that was used in season 1 where it was transformed into Geillis Duncan’s parlour and in season 2 where the courtyard formed the stage for Claire to extract the teeth of a local villager.
The kitchen and the pantry set the scene as an 18th-century tavern, and the High Hall was transformed into a meeting place for the Jacobite assembly.
Suffice to say, if you’re a fan of Outlander you really owe it to yourself to visit Culross Palace.
Next to the palace is a garden that portrayed the herb garden at Castle Leoch and you’ll no doubt recognise it from the scenes where Claire collects medicinal plants.
You’ll find the garden above the palace, set on terraces that offer beautiful views of the Fife coastline and it’s worth stopping by just to smell the fragrant wildflowers that grow in this wee green oasis.
Head into the centre of the village and you’ll find yourself in the square that’s dominated by the mercat cross. These crosses are found in most towns and villages in Scotland and were traditionally used as a place for farmers and traders to sell their wares.
The one in Culross can be seen in several episodes but you’ll most likely recognise it as the place where Geillis is sentenced to burning at the stake for being a witch and where Claire and Jamie rescue a young boy whose ear had been nailed to a pillory for stealing two bannock cakes.
No-one escaped punishment in those days.
Well that just about wraps it up for my guide to the Outlander filming locations around Edinburgh, and I hope it’s given you some ideas for places to visit the next time you come to Scotland’s capital city.
The south of Scotland really has got a lot going for it and it makes a nice change from the standard tourist trails through the Highlands and the west coast. Exploring a few places on the Outlander trail is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to experience Scottish culture while viewing Scotland’s stunning landscapes.
There are a huge number of other filming locations I could have added but it would make this article much too long (it’s already a bit longer than I’d originally intended) but I’ll try to include them in another guide in the future.
Besides, I still haven’t touched on Outlander’s forays into Glasgow, Perth, Stirling, the Cairngorms and Inverness yet. I’m sure there’s a book in there for any brave soul willing to tackle that lot.
Anyway, thank you for reading this far and I hope to see you again soon at outaboutscotland.com.
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My latest guides
- A Guide To: Ben Lawers – Perth & Kinross January 16, 2020
- A Guide To: Dunbar Harbour – East Lothian January 14, 2020
- A Guide To: Linlithgow Palace – West Lothian January 3, 2020
- A Guide To: Blackness Castle – Southeast Scotland December 19, 2019
- A Guide To: Faraid Head – North Highlands December 9, 2019