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Q+A: An Outlander Tour of Scotland

"Outlander" might be new to TV, but "Claire and Jamie" tours based on Diana Gabaldon's long-running book series have run for over a decade--and they're newly in demand, thanks no doubt to the early success of the Starz adaptation.
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"Outlander" might be new to TV, but "Claire and Jamie" tours based on Diana Gabaldon's long-running book series have run for over a decade--and they're newly in demand, thanks no doubt to the early success of the Starz adaptation. Claire, of course, is the headstrong British Army nurse who travels back in time, thanks to an enchanted stone, to meet the equally headstrong James Fraser, a dishy laird of noble spirit, towering physicality, and rapture-inducing red hair. (Says the Outlander Wiki: "His hair is not the gingery sort of red, but rather a multitude of individual colors mixed together: auburn, amber, roan, cinnabar, rufous, copper, cinnamon, red and gold are all used to describe the strands of its unique hue, and it is often compared to a red deer's pelt.") They fall in love. Complications (including Claire's husband, awaiting her return in 1945) become apparent.

Said complications take place across the Scottish highlands, and during a period of great political upheaval: the mid-18th century, when the Jacobite rebellions pitted Scot against Scot, in the service of two warring royal families: the ruling, Protestant Hanovers and the deposed, Catholic Stuarts, who sought the support of the Highland clans to reclaim the throne they had lost to William of Orange and his wife Mary. Circumstances that made for a highly entertaining book series lend themselves well to a historically minded tour of the country, taking in sights like the Culloden battlefield (the site of a doomed Jacobite uprising against the government, which Claire and Jamie endeavor to prevent), various castles, and Glencoe, mentioned in the books and today better known, at least to well-read fans of cable television, as the site of the real-life massacre that inspired the Red Wedding from "Game of Thrones." We talked to Judy Lowstuter of Celtic Journeys, a longtime "Outlander" tour outfitter, about traveling the Claire and Jamie trail.

What was the impetus behind the tour?
The first time I went to Scotland, a friend recommended that I read "Outlander" because of the history. And when I got there for the first time in 2002, I felt a real connection with the people--especially those who fought at Culloden, which has a parallel with our Gettysburg. I thought, I love this book, and I love Scotland, and I wonder if there's an "Outlander" tour I can come back on. There wasn't, and I was in the travel industry anyway, so I decided to start a company specializing in travel to Scotland.

Have you added any stops on the itinerary straight from the show?
If I didn't have some of the series' locations, there would probably be mutiny. I'm not changing the body of the tour--I'm keeping the same things, pretty much--but on the last day we go to Doune Castle [in Perthshire, which stands in for Castle Leoch, a central location in the books], Falkland [which appears as 1945 Inverness], and Blackness Castle, which is used as Fort William [where Jamie is held prisoner].

Do people ever ask for random, small stops taken from the books?
Not exactly--I'll get requests to stop at a clan seat, which we'll accommodate if we can. Someone did ask me to see the production studio where the filming's done. It hadn't even been announced at that point, and I thought, Oh my God, this woman--I am so going to have to find this place. I had read that Sony had bought an old, closed factory in an industrial park near Glasgow, so I Googled something like "recent industrial park sales," and I found it, the old Isola factory, an old electronics factory in Cumbernauld. I knew they weren't going to let us in, but there were two women on the tour who just had to see it, so we went. When we got to the front door, there was a piece of paper that said "Outlander studio" or whatever, with a phone number. They said, "You have to call"--so we did, and a man said that because of the construction, there really wasn't anything to see. We were headed back, but then a man came out of the building with a phone in his hand, and he said he was really sorry he couldn't let us come in. And they were so happy with that. They had a connection with someone who had a connection with the show.

Do you have a favorite stop on the tour?
Glencoe. It's mentioned in the book but doesn't play a big part. There's something haunting and magical about that mountain pass.

And it was the site of the massacre that inspired the Red Wedding, right?
Sort of. It wasn't really the two families--the MacDonalds and the Campbells--fighting. The MacDonalds were massacred by government forces, and the order was given by Robert Campbell. The story is that several officers had been given the order, but they had all refused, until [the government] came to Robert Campbell. Because his name was Robert Campbell, it makes it sound like it's between the two families, but it was really a government thing.

As an expert on the books, what's your take on the show so far? I'm not so sure about Jamie....
I think Cait [Caitriona Balfe, who plays Claire] and Tobias Menzies [who plays both Claire's husband Frank and all-purpose enemy "Black Jack" Randall] will win awards. Jamie--I don't know, so far I feel like you do. Maybe he'll pull a rabbit out of his hat. He's not supposed to be so dominant at this point in the story. He might transition into Jamie more by the third or fourth episode.

Did you have a preferred actor to play Jamie?
People say Gerard Butler or Liam Neeson--at least when the books first came out. I do feel that with time, Sam [Heughan] will show us more of Jamie's personality, his fairness and kindness and strength of character.

Do you get many guests who are looking for a Jamie-style Highland romance?
Men come on the tour, too! There's an 85-year-old man who's been on it three times. He won the master trivia contest. And honestly, I don't know that all the women go looking for a man in a kilt. Everybody loves Jamie before they get there. But once they get there, they love Scotland.