This semester (Spring 2019) I began working on a project focused around the tv show Outlander (Starz) and the “Outlander Effect” it has had on Scottish tourism.
My interest in this research was due to wanting to see how this film-induced tourism was being taken by the local communities and what opportunities were being utilised at the individual locations. It was influenced by the publication of the 2019 report by VisitScotland on ‘The Outlander Effect and Tourism’ in Scotland, which reported that attractions that appear in Outlander have seen visitor numbers rise by 67% since 2013, from 887,000 to 1.5million, and the areas around the filming location seeing an economic increase.
To get an understanding of the Outlander effect in practice I decided to take part in an Outlander filming location tour at the beginning of May as part of the research process. Through this 8-to-10 hour organised tour with Slainte Scotland I visited 5 filming Outlander locations, accompanied by two other tourists – both American; where we were given guided tours of Scotland’s connection to the tv show and a background context of Scottish history.
During the tour, setting off from Dalmeny, we visited the filming locations of Midhope House, Blackness Castle, the village of Falkland, Doune Castle and the village of Culross. Roughly spending around an hour at each location. In between the locations we were driven/guided along the drive by Slainte Scotland’s driver Helmut and tour guide Struan…both of whom explained about topics around Scotland in general as well as about Outlander. I have to say the Slainte team are fantastic, not only did they have great knowledge of the show and the connection with Scottish culture but they took interest in their guests and adapted the tour to our own interests and backgrounds.
Despite the drizzly weather from the moment I stepped off the platform at Dalmeny, I knew I was in for a fun and interesting day.
At the station’s entrance I was greeted by Slainte’s fantastic (co)manager Helmut and their latest tour guide Struan and immediately made to feel welcomed.
I had chosen to take an organised tour of the film locations rather than take myself, as it helped me to see the many faces of Outlander tourism and the relationships between the stakeholders effected by it. I was also able to find out about what it is like as a tour company in the Scottish tourism industry.
These were objectives that I could never have achieved if Helmut and Slainte Scotland had not been so friendly and happy to help. Not only being open and honest in reply to my questions, but also in going out of their way to help my gain information I might never have being aware of if I hadn’t book with them.
We set off from Dalmeny station at 10am and headed to our first stop Midhope House, where we spent half an hour exploring the outside of the derelict house and part of the woodland that surrounds the grounds (£3.50 entrance fee). Midhope stands in for Lallybroch, the home of Jamie and his sister in the series – Google Maps even has it listen as Lallybroch despite it being fictional.
Next we set off for the nearby village of Blackness, managed by the HES (£6.00 entrance fee). It is Blackness Castle where Jamie received lashes from Captain Randall, and is apparently a key scene which tourists like to reenact. Here we were partially guided by Slainte Scotland as they pointed out areas used in filming as well as a little about the castle’s history, before being left to explore the fortress for a further 30minutes.
Out third stop, (and lunch) was the village of Falkland, the stand in for Inverness. Along with our guides, we explored the village centre, the hidden passageways which had been used for filming for season 1 and found out about the villages long history. We were then taken to a local small tea room, The Hayloft, for soup and a sandwich, before further taking in the village atmosphere and getting to chat with a local antique shop owner who’s shop had been used during filming. The antique shop features briefly in the show, as a music show and many of his antiques were used to fill out the shops nearby; the shop owner was happy to share his experience of working with the film company and tell me about how the village has changed since filming.
After lunch we made our way out of The Kingdom of Fife to Sterling to our forth location, Doune Castle (HES – £9 entrance free), used as Castle Leoch. Where we had a partial guide of the Castle’s Outlander locations, a free HES audio guided tour – voiced by Monty Python‘s Terry Jones and Outlander‘s Sam Heughan; and heard from the HES staff about what it was like seeing the castle transformed into the basecamp of the Mackenzie clan and for the game of lacrosse. Out of all the stops, this was the one with the largest Outlander information and merchandise – including a dress up area.
Finally, we headed back towards Edinburgh, for out final stop at the village of Culross (NTScotland). Taking in a walk around the village, exploring the season 1 filming locations, before heading into the old court house to meet Graham Harris Graham, a fine art photographer, who told us about the villages connection with witches (who used to be held in the court house jail upstairs) and the impact Outlander has had. We may also have found time to enjoy a scone and coffee at local cafe the Biscuit Cafe before heading back to the car.
After a fun-filled 7hours we made the journey back to Dalmeny station, reaching the station around 6pm, where we said our goodbyes.
As the tourism season was just kicking off, with many of the locations only just entering their spring/summer opening hours, most of the locations were fairly quiet compared to the height of summer. However, from conversations with Historic Environment Scotland (HES) staff and local residents, there was still a steady stream of visitors throughout the day putting pressure on facilities such as car parking and the smaller shops nearby. At the first two locations, we encountered three other tours and by the third, we had our own issues with trying to park close to the attraction. Slainte Scotland run this tour most days all year round, giving an indication of just how popular Outlander is, and apart from exchanging Falkland for another attraction, the tour visits each of these locations with a mixed number of customers.
However, what was clear, was the friendliness of the local people we met towards the visitors – although most of the people we met were staff of the location, HES, Hopetourn Estate or National Trust For Scotland, apart from those at the villages of Culross and Falkland. From what I observed, there was no uneasiness about these strangers or annoyance at their interest in fictional happenings at the locations. Instead, the locals and staff were happy to share their experiences of the filming, history or significance of the location, as well as share their knowledge of wider social and cultural offerings to the visitors. While the visitors where (mostly) respectful of their role as a visitor, shared their own experience, home and culture; but also share their own knowledge Scotland. However, there appeared to be little evidence of the areas outside of the locations seeing much economic activity from the visitors – many of the guests I observed were on private tours or where not stopping long in the locations to visit the areas around it. It was only Falkland and Culross which was the exception to this, but this is due to the type of location.
It was also clear that many of the Outlander tourists I encountered on the tour, and through my other research, are frequent returners who have built relationships with the tour companies and people they have met on their travels. And that they have not only learnt about Outlander, but also about Scottish history, culture and politics.
A way of thinking that should be undertaken by all
Throughout the whole tour and at every location, it was clear that Slainte Scotland is well respected in the different communities they visit – after all they visit these locations on an almost daily basis – the locals welcomed them and greeted them by first name. On their own blog Slainte Scotland work to publicise changes at the locations to prevent any issues; and they also work with the locations and their own guests to maintain a sense of harmony between guests and hosts. As a company Slainte pride themselves on working with the communities they enter and encouraging their guests and other tourism companies to follow in their respect for the locations. This is something to be celebrated and for which they gain my full respect… as during my observations, conversations with staff and also from my own experience, not all tourism companies follow this ethic of working.
So what was missing at the locations?
HES and NTScotland, who have resources, partnerships, investments and knowledge to capitalise on Outlander tourism, are the ones who appear to be the ones who have seen the increase in visitors and revenue that VisitScotland have reported on. They also have the use of official merchandise, selfie spots and special audio tours to draw in tourists. The locations not associated with these organisations or VisitScotland on a business level, have had little guidance other than on how to market their business. Some, like Graham Harris Graham – fine art photography based in Culross, have taken it into their own hands having seen the increase in visitors to the small village and tailored part of their businesses to the needs/wants of the Outlander community. Graham works within the old Culross Court house to educate visitors on the history of the village, the courts connection with witches, sell his photography work and provide information on the villages experience of being used as a filming location. Providing much most then just a spot to visit, but somewhere that really does carry a knowledge exchange with ever visit – he learns from the visitor and they learn something from him.
However, it is clear more needs to be done on encouraging and helping to support areas about the holistic benefits of tourism and in particular Outlander tourism, so that it can bring sustainable tourism which has a far reaching positive impact and helps to limit the negative impacts on the community. Perhaps through Graham or Slainte Scotland sharing their own stories with the communities or even taking member of the community out on a tour to experience Scotland as a tourist. I’m not sure who should be the agent helping to bring agency to these place and help activate them, maybe it is a gap in the market. But if Outlander tourism is truly going to be sustainable for Scotland and can really be considered to have an effect, further action involving the Scottish community needs to be taken.