The Diana Gabaldon Trail
The novels of Diana Gabaldon, set at the time of 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' and the 1745 Rising, have prompted a surge of interest in the Scottish Highlands. Jamie Fraser and his alluring wife Claire, a stranger in the 18th century, are known worldwide.
This suggested schedule includes two nights in an Edinburgh hotel, two nights in an Inverness B&B, one night in a castle, two at an inn on the Isle of Skye, and one in a B&B near Castle Leod (or the castle that looks most like it!) on the way home.
Please note that this is a self guided tour. If you would be interested in a guided tour, then click here.
We suggest two nights in Edinburgh at the start. This gives you time to recover from the journey, see the main sights of the city such as the castle, and search the Royal Mile for burnt out print shops and Moubray's Tavern (which you won't find) and the World's End (which you will), along with the Canongate Kirk and Carubbers Close. It is not hard to imagine Old Town life in 18th century days but you may like to have a guide for half a day to learn a bit more and see some hidden corners; at night there are several excellent (and rather unsettling!) tours of the nether parts of Old Edinburgh. We have assumed a four star hotel close to (or on) The Royal Mile.
Pick up your rental car on Day Three and head to Inverness, perhaps on the main road, pausing at Blair Castle or perhaps diverting into byways to see Aberfeldy, Castle Menzies and the 'Queen's View' at Loch Tummel. In either case the lovely 'country living centre' at House of Bruar is a good stop on a long road.
We suggest that you have two nights at a four star B&B in Inverness. Next morning you will no doubt want to see Culloden Battlefield and enjoy the exciting new visitor attraction, complete with a 'total immersion' experience, then you can wander through the echoes of the battlefield and visit the Fraser stone by the grave where they died.
A short way from Culloden are the Clava Cairns - a peaceful place by the river where three bronze age graves are surrounded by circles of standing stones, one of which is split in two. How close will you go?
In the afternoon, we suggest a visit to Beauly, a traditional town with traditional shops, close by the ruined 13th century Priory. On the way, visit Moniack Castle where today's Frasers sell elderberry wine, sloe gin, and traditional jams and sauces.
We do not know exactly where to find the inspiration for Lally Broch, but it may well lie by Comar in Strathglass. Frasers, Grants and Chisholms all claim parts of this sensationally beautiful glen south west of Inverness. Bluffs of rock and salmon-rich pools in the lower stretches yield to wide fertile straths round the village of Cannich and, hidden up in the mountains, the gem that is Glen Affric. A walk here can take you into the remnants of the Great Caledonian Pine Forest where Jamie and Claire wandered after their wedding.
On the way back, we recommend Loch Ness-side and a visit to Urquhart Castle. Tonight you stay at Castle Stuart, the very first castle that we booked people to stay in about ten years ago. With the notable exception of one lady for whom the ghost stories were a little too much (and so passed on the whole experience) we have had nothing but unstinting praise for the welcome, the food (indicative price incudes dinner), the authenticity and a few nice surprises during the evening.
Eilean Donan Castle
It is not recorded that Jamie and Claire visited Skye but this extraordinary island seems to encapsulate much of the romance of the Highlands. Travel on some old roads, beside one of which is a cemetery with pitted grave stones, evidence of a skirmish between Jacobites and red coats.
In a small glen on the mainland opposite Skye stand the two best preserved brochs on the Scottish mainland, perfectly circular towers, built in the time of Christ and still standing up to 30 foot tall with no help from mortar. Have lunch at the inn then cross to Skye on a small six car ferry and find your lodging, a Victorian inn by a little harbour, where Flora Macdonald was brought as a captive in 1746 after rescuing Bonnie Prince Charlie. The hotel and its bar, frequented by visitors and locals alike, is still the heart of a small community that includes a Skye-based whisky company and an art gallery.
We recommend three nights on Skye, so next day take the Skye Bridge back to the mainland to see the evocative Eilean Donan Castle. That afternoon you may like to explore southern Skye and/or the excellent Museum of the Isles.
Next day head to the north of the island to see Dunvegan Castle, ancient seat of the MacLeods and a great insight into the changing fortunes of a clan. You can also see some Jacobite relics including a lock of Bonnie Prince Charlie's hair and various artefacts owned by Flora MacDonald who, of course, brought him 'Over the sea to Skye'. Later you can see Flora's grave and the nearby windswept MacDonald ruin of Duntulm Castle. Return by Portree.
Leave next morning on the ferry to Mallaig, and head for Loch nan Uamh from where Prince Charlie landed in Agust 1745 and from where he escaped in September 1746. Next comes Glenfinnan where the standard was raised in 1745. From there your road is by Fort William (only a piece of wall remains of the old fort) and Ballachulish to Glencoe. Even before the Massacre of the Glencoe MacDonalds, this must have been a dark and threatening place, but with the knowledge of events in February 1692, it's bleak indeed.
In contrast, Rannoch Moor is stunningly beautiful with shimmering pools of uncertain depth, incurably wild in all seasons.
The road then winds through Campbell lands and down towards Stirling. If, as we would hope, you have been taking this journey quite slowly, you will be ready for a night's rest in a four star B&B, close to a castle which, in the author's view, more closely resembles the fictional Castle Leod than any other. Next day, depending on your flight times, you can see Stirling Castle where the infant Mary Queen of Scots was crowned.
The indicative price per person, assuming a shared room throughout over the nine nights and a mid size automatic car for the days outside Edinburgh, is £982. This is approx USD 1543 (Feb 2012).
A marked map, tourist literature and as much advice as you need are all part of any Clans and Castles holiday!
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