Last travel season I hit up tours in Scotland and traveled the Bonnie Prince Charlie trail as much as I humanly could on a three week trip. Let’s face it, as filming continues on the fourth season of Outlander, the hit book and television series from Diana Gabaldon’s famous book series, there are many film locations across Scotland, Prague, and South Africa. Enthusiastic fans of both the books and the television series have traveled in epic numbers to reach Scotland, Prague in the Czech Republic, and may be doing so in South Africa. So, what does huge traffic and a huge amount of filming locations to track down mean for travelers, and the environment they trample on? It means Scotland needs to figure out how it will continue to handle the increased human traffic in its borders. Each historic site has seen large increases over the last three years due to the popularity of the series and films.
When people travel, they have certain expectations of where they are going. We want accessibility and that the location looks like it does in brochures and travel books. It will never look quite like it did in the film, series, or travel book you bought. When filming takes place, areas are blocked off, and dressed for scenes. It can also be exhilarating and frustrating to fans who traveled to hunt down their favorite series, to get a glimpse of behind the scenes or be close to a star, but escorted off the property. Film crews are trying to work and bring you your favorite show. The instant gratification of selfies and pictures while filming have made some fans go to extremes to get pictures. Everyone becomes a Paparazzi. Producers and studios want to keep the element of surprise for the audience, keep that storytelling secret for the reveal. This can lead to some conflicts. Hopefully as a traveller, you can help promote responsible observance and help keep the area picked up.
To add to it, the popularity of film and TV series like Outlander have lead to fans picnicking and causing erosion at historic sites such as Culloden Moor. At the Fraser stone alone, damage has been done due to trampling and it will now have to go through restoration of the surrounding soil to restore the erosion caused by multitudes of fans coupled with extreme weather. Let us not forget, this site has historic mass graves. Those that have fallen are due respect. Leaving tokens causes more work for the grounds staff.
When you are a guest in another country, or any historic site, you should always think about leaving it the way it was when you found it. As a society, we like to collect and grab things for remembrance. People also bring in things as tribute, and the curators then have to dispose of hundreds of items. Just think about how you might feel if something was defaced or trampled on and you could not enjoy it when you arrived.
You should always check with a historic site if something is going on that day, or at the very least check out the local papers. Most historic sites have a web page with current conditions and closures listed. However, these may not get updated frequently. Face it, Scotland is now an ever increasing hotspot for film and television. There are websites for local papers and they love to cover filming and will tell you if filming is in the city, such as Glasgow, and what streets are blocked off. Also, go in mind that no matter how much perfect vacation planning you do, something is going to be blocked or not working at one of the places you really wanted to see. Adapt.
Budget and Transport
How can you get to cram in as many sites for filming a series as possible in a two week span and not blow what little budget you have? Could you do less damage and annoyance to the environment or any landowners if you took buses or bikes to a local site, and not hired a car? Face it, Outlander is an example of massive amounts of filming locations, spread all over Scotland, and some of them only accessible by car. Or are they? On my trips I was only able to make it to a fraction of the sites I could hunt down. I made it to several S1 and S2 sites, and then continued on the Bonnie Prince Charlie. How can you cram it all in? Some Outlander and Game of Throne tours will get you to many of the locations, but are expensive tours and booked very solid, months in advance. Make a list of the sites and find out how to get there on your own.
Roaming Rights in Scotland
Scotland has roaming rights. What that means in a nutshell, is that the public has the right to go to public historic sites without access being denied. Unless a historic site has hired itself out to be filmed in and is shut to the public. There are many historically significant buildings and sites that are on private land, or you may have to cross private land to get to it. Enter these at your own risk, property that has agriculture going on, many of these are adjacent to working farms. Private residences are not right to roam, even though a deer path may go through it. If filming is going on, and you are blocked, or you want to see the filming and think you can get around another way, watch it. Guards are posted and can make you leave.
Too Many Filming Locations
The best way to get to most of the filming locations is by car and hiking in. Problem is rental cars in the UK and Ireland are very cost prohibitive unless you are traveling with a group. Group tours can be expensive as well. Many of these sites are not happy with the excessive car parking, people damage, and noise occurring. So, is it possible to see these filming sites via train, bus and walking a bit? Yes and no.
On my last two trips, I divided up what I could according to the larger cities I visited, Glasgow and Edinburgh. I went two summers and still came back and had only seen a fraction of what there is being filmed in. To get in more sites and manage the traveling better, I started compiling a locations and places table in a Google Doc, with public transit accessible sites. I will be making this accessible to you, my fellow traveler. It’s a work in progress, so if you have had some good or bad experiences with public transit and Outlander sites, send me a line so I can add your info to the table.
It is possible to see many of these sites, if you plan around the larger cities and take trips in sections. Hiring a specialised tour will help, but you can get to many of these sites with planning and not be on a tour timetable.