I’ll be honest. I booked my first trip to Scotland because I wanted to go on an Outlander tour. I wanted to see where they filmed the show. More specifically, I wanted to see where they filmed that scene in the opening credits, the one with Jamie and Claire on the horse as it gallops through those stunning mountain views.
When I read over the itinerary on the Rabbie’s Outlander tour, I saw that the tour included a visit to Culloden. The Battle of Culloden was a key part of seasons two and three. The Battle of Culloden was a key part of Scottish history, and I had never heard of it before Outlander. I was one of those who associated Scotland with whisky, golf, and Braveheart. I remember watching Highlander as a kid and thinking Scotland looked magical. And the episode of Parks and Rec where Leslie sends Ron on a journey from London up to the Scottish island of Islay to visit his favorite whisky distillery left an impression on me as well. But in the end, it was Outlander that sent me there. I booked the tour with Rabbie’s.
We were barely out of Edinburgh when we stopped at the first filming location, Lallybroch (actually, Midhope Castle). My fellow fans and I began geeking out. Among the many highlights we saw as the tour continued was the inn where Claire and Frank stay in the very first episode, while on their trip to Inverness (actual location: Falkland). We saw the Highland Folk Museum, used in the “Rent” episode in season one. But by the time we got to Culloden, the line was starting to blur between my reasons for enjoying my trip to Scotland. The further we ventured into the Highlands, the more learning about the real battle was superseding my interest in visiting the site as a fan. Yet the episodes leading up to the battle had enhanced my understanding of how the actual battle unfolded. Mark me, that Bonnie Prince Charlie on the show made it easier to visualize the historical events as I toured the visitor’s center.
When the Outlander tour returned to Edinburgh and I parted ways with my new friends, I found myself still curious about Scotland. Our guide often made references to Scottish history and I was embarrassed to admit I didn’t always know what he was talking about. I knew the names of Scottish heros and nobility, but I didn’t really know what they did. So I bought a book about Scottish history. And then I went back to Scotland and took more tours, this time with a much better appreciation for where I was visiting. But still, I’m grateful that Outlander laid the foundation for my love of Scotland.
I recently attended a really fun lecture through Profs & Pints, a group that hosts lectures on a variety of topics from the comforts of a bar or lounge. The topic was called “Mining Poldark,” and was essentially a historical look at how accurately the show Poldark portrays life in Cornwall during the end of the eighteenth century. Again, I’ll be honest. If you had gauged my interested in learning about Cornish history just after the American War of Independence, I would have walked away before the question was finished being asked. But because of Poldark, I truly was curious to know how likely it was that Ross would have married his maid Demelza and what exactly Elizabeth did all day. But more than that, it was fascinating to learn about the politics of the time, and just how different life in London was from life in Cornwall.
I was raised by a history buff, and my childhood was filled with vacations at many historical sites across the US, from Doc Holliday’s grave to Civil War battlefields to Teddy Roosevelt’s childhood home. I have an appreciation for history, but have never planned a trip for purely historical purposes. What I’ve enjoyed about my Outlander and Poldark fandom has been learning about history in the context of enjoying a fictional show. And I don’t mean that I’ve gotten my knowledge of history from the show, but rather that the show has been the catalyst for my desire to learn more about the history introduced in the show.
In much the same way that I’ve researched topics after episodes of The Crown (The smog episode! That really happened!) or Downton Abbey (British aristocrats in the early twentieth century marrying American heiresses as means of financial support? It wasn’t just Lord Grantham!), it’s fun to be able to connect historical fiction to history lessons, and to travel as both a fan and a history buff. Honestly, a few years ago, a trip to Cornwall to see the old tin mines dotting the coastline would have been unappealing to me. But now, a trip to Cornwall to see where a shirtless Ross brings the tin mine back to life in Poldark? I’m so there.