In the world of Outlander, home is where you hang your bonnet.
After two days gallivanting on horseback away from the mystical stones that transported her to 1743, Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) lands at the Clan MacKenzie hat rack known as Castle Leoch in the opening sequence of Saturday night's Episode 2.
Or more accurately, Claire returns to the Highlands fortress. She was already dragged through Leoch's ruins by her 1945 husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) in the pilot. Her second visit is far less pleasant, given that it doesn't include that tabletop dalliance in the dusty dungeon. Instead, she's immediately redressed in period couture that can't possibly be comfortable, learns the sad backstory of the hunky injured ginger (Sam Heughan), and is interrogated by the Laird (Gary Lewis).
Fervent fans of the freshly renewed hit TV series inspired by the Diana Gabaldon novels can make their own pilgrimage to Leoch to re-enact more PG-rated, public-friendly Outlander scenes. Standing in for Leoch is Doune Castle, a real royal retreat built around 1400 by the Duke of Albany — Robert "Scotland's Uncrowned King" Stewart — approximately 8 miles northwest of Stirling in Central Scotland.
The castle is open to the public every day: from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in April through September, and from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in October through March. Admission prices all year are 5.50 pounds for adults, 3.30 pounds for children, and 4.40 pounds for concession.
While the interiors were re-created in a converted electronics factory outside of Glasgow, Doune, an official Historic Scotland property, was used for exterior shots, courtyard scenes, and the stroll Claire takes along the battlement wall from which she observes the generally stern Dougal (Graham McTavish) playing with a child. The set builders took inspiration from Doune when building the sets, especially the kitchen with its giant open hearth and the grand Lord's Hall.
Outlander is not Doune's first Hollywood moment: It was also featured in 1952's Ivanhoe with Elizabeth Taylor, stood in for Castle Anthrax in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (visitors can even take an audio tour of the castle narrated by Python star Terry Jones, with firsthand stories about what it was like making the iconic movie), and was used in the first season of Game of Thrones back in 2009, according to a BBC News article.
Filming the entire first season in Scotland was essential to executive producer/writer Ronald D. Moore. "We can bring a level of authenticity to the show that we couldn't do if, say, we were just re-creating everything in New Zealand," Moore told Yahoo TV during a set visit last February. "It is about Scotland, so let's take advantage of the fact that it has a specific look, light, and landscape. We have access to a lot of artisans and craftsmen who work on baskets or moldings and other traditions that are handed down by generations. There are people who actually speak Gaelic who live here, people who know the period — maybe more intimately than we do — and their history, and care about getting the details right. That adds a lot texture on the show."
It also added a learning curve, according to writer/producer Matthew B. Roberts. "We wrote in Pasadena [California] in a bubble, and then we got to Scotland to shoot and immediately realized it was going to be a lot different than filming a TV show in L.A.," Roberts joked during a break from filming the "Gathering" episode. "We were shooting a scene in a ravine and the sun went down at 3:30 and it was too dark to shoot. It rains a lot — compared to not at all in L.A. — and the mud gets everywhere and it is very, very sticky."
McTavish is willing to endure inclement weather, more harried days, and piles of dirt in castle courtyards, considering what rewards also come with working in Scotland: "I have worked all over the world, and Scotland is just really fun. It is much less hierarchical, and I always look forward to the banter you get on a Scottish production. You have a great laugh, and I'm the kind of actor who likes that atmosphere. I'm not the guy who wants to sit in the corner getting really intense and speaking only Gaelic to people. I want to enjoy it, and this is the best country to enjoy the work."
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When planning your "Outlander" outing in the United Kingdom, you should include stops at the following spots, which will be seen in future episodes:
* Cranesmuir, the town outside Castle Leoch, is actually a medieval village called the Royal Burgh of Culross.
* Blackness Castle, a former garrison, prison, and ammunitions depot perched alongside the Firth of Forth, is used as the fort where the English are stationed.
* The interiors and exteriors of Hopetoun House, an opulent estate built between 1699 and 1707, will also make its Outlander debut in the initial season.
Just don't plan on roaming the hallowed halls of these historic halls alone, now that they've gone Hollywood. A March story in the U.K.'s Daily Star reported that the ancient abode was already under siege from fans when only a minute of show footage was available.
Catherine Mason, monument manager at Historic Scotland, told the paper, "We've [had] a lot of interest from Outlander fans already. The news about the show on Twitter is just nuts. They are coming here every single day at the moment. A woman flew here from San Francisco just to see the castle a couple of weeks ago."
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But if you time your visit right, now that Outlander has earned a second season and will most likely return to film at the site, you might be lucky enough to catch a wee glimpse of our Highland heroes at home, as Scottish right-to-roam legislation prevents producers from shutting down the property completely to the public.
Mason said, "We can close off the castle, but we can't close off the grounds because of the laws in Scotland."
Outlander airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz.