The pictures above are:

Graham McTavish listens to a question from the audience during his panel at the Calgary Expo 2015. Youngjim, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Sam Heughan speaking at the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con International. Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


With Sam and Graham busy recording and producing Men in Kilts Season 2 ‘down-under’, we thought that we’d review Series One, which visited many of our favourite Scottish locations.

We love how Sam and Graham shared their personalities and sense of humour as well as their appreciation and portrayal of Scotland, her beauty, culture and history – which is what we will focus on here. Graham McTavish and his family now live in New Zealand. He moved there after spending two years filming his role as Dwalin in The Hobbit.

Men in Kilts came about from a rekindling and coming together of Sam and Graham’s separate, long-time interests in making a show about Scottish history. At first, they considered a podcast, called Clanlands. The idea progressed into filming the trip with GoPros and writing a book.  The GoPro’s were dropped in favour of a TV crew. Then, Starz became involved and the TV show – ‘Men in Kilts: A Road Trip With Sam and Graham’ – was born.

Their book, based on their 2019 expedition, is titled ‘Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare, and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other’. It reached the top of the New York Times Best Seller list. Then, in between lockdowns, ‘Men in Kilts’ became one of the first television productions to operate under COVID-19 filming protocols and the eight episodes were recorded. In 2020, extra filming was done covering locations and topics not covered in the book. Like with most film productions, there were some scenes that didn’t make it into the final cut.

Sam described Scotland as:

An ancient land with incredible history and tradition; castles, warriors and battlefields.

Invergarry Castle – seat of the powerful Chiefs of the Clan MacDonell of Glengarry

Highland clans have been compared to Native American tribes. Indeed, when the clansmen arrived in the USA in the 17th and 18th centuries, they got on well with the local tribes, as depicted by Ian’s experience in Outlander. The two groups share a deep connection to the land and the rhythm of the seasons and a sense of belonging which, in Gaelic, is called ‘dualchas’.

In the book ‘White People, Indians, and Highlanders: Tribal People and Colonial Encounters in Scotland and America’ (2010) by Colin G. G Calloway, the author observes:

In nineteenth century paintings, the proud Indian warrior and the Scottish Highland chief appear in similar ways―colorful and wild, righteous and warlike, the last of their kind. Earlier accounts depict both as barbarians, lacking in culture and in need of civilization. By the nineteenth century, intermarriage and cultural contact between the two – described during the Seven Years’ War as cousins – was such that Cree, Mohawk, Cherokee, and Salish were often spoken with Gaelic accents. 

Graham’s synopsis of Scotland was as follows:

It is land of dark secrets, one of a kind music, delicious bounty and some of the warmest, most welcoming people in the world.

A land that is cut through with lochs and rivers, valleys and mountains, that all together weave like some kind of tartan… a beautiful fabric called Scotland.

Assynt – ‘some kind of beautiful tartan…’

The dynamic duo visited some of our favourite places, many of which we regularly pass through while on tour and others that we like to visit ourselves. Here’s our supplementary information, observations, photographs and some of our favourite things about these locations.

One such location is Clava Cairns, where we narrowly missed out on unintentionally bumping into the pair while we were on tour with South American clients. We’d been given a tip-off from a couple of people that they were visiting for what was then still going to be the Clanlands podcast. We were sworn to secrecy though.

Clava Cairns

At Clava Cairns, Sam and Graham meet up with well-known author, TV presenter, Scottish wilderness expert, hiker and mountaineer – Cameron McNeish. Sam has previously appeared alongside Cameron McNeish, in an episode of BBC Scotland’s ‘Adventure Show’ titled “Take A Hike” that focused on Scotland’s passion for walking.

Another regular haunt for us, which Sam and Graham visited was Cawdor Castle, where they got to meet Lady Angelica Cawdor, the ‘chatelaine’ of Cawdor Castle. Chatelaine means wife of a castellan or mistress of a château. Lady Cawdor is also known as the Dowager (widow) Countess of Cawdor.

Cawdor Castle

The current 7th Earl of Cawdor, of Clan Campbell of Cawdor, is the 26th Thane of Cawdor. Lady Cawdor is his stepmother. She is a former Vogue fashion editor and stylist who has now turned to interior decorating.

The historical King Macbeth fought a Thane of Cawdor who died in battle, but he did not thereby acquire the title himself.

In our collection, we have a 1836 print of an engraving by Thomas Allom, titled ‘Cawdor Castle (Nairnshire).’ Here it is:

Thomas Allom (1804 – 1872) was an English architect, artist, topographical illustrator and founding member of what became the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). He travelled all over the world, becoming best known for his work used to illustrate books on travel. Some of his best Scottish works appeared in ‘Scotland’ by William Beattie, published in 1838.

For their travels, Graham and Sam initially bought an older and quite quaint campervan, nicknamed ‘The Sassenach’ for the filming of the pilot. However, the van kept breaking down. So they had to ditch it in favour of a more modern one which had less character, but more reliability and comfort.

Near the beginning of Episode One, we couldn’t help notice the shortbread tin in the campervan. Reminiscent of product placement or staging for selling real estate, various Scottish pieces were put in the van – apparently to help Graham feel at home. There seems to be quite a trade in the buying and selling of rare and heritage shortbread tins on ebay and Etsy. We couldn’t resist buying one for ourselves – here it is:

The shortbread tin in question is Huntley & Palmer’s John O’Groats Shortbread. It is mid-20th century. In case you weren’t sure, John O’ Groats is almost the most Northerly point of mainland UK. The original John O’Groats was Jan de Groot, a Dutchman. He was granted permission to run a ferry service to the Orkney Isles – which made him rich and important. Legend says Jan used to charge one groat for the ferry trip, but the O’Groats name stems from his surname which translates to ‘the large’.

The top of the tin portrays a Scotsman in 18th-century military uniform. Initially, one could think this was meant to portray Bonnie Prince Charlie, as many shortbread tins do. That is not the case though.

The bottom of the tin is embossed ‘Huntley & Palmers Biscuits Reading, Huyton (Liverpool) & London England’. Huntley & Palmers also produced ‘Reading Shortbread’; their heritage goes back to the 19th century.

Joseph Huntley was selling biscuits to travellers making the journey from Reading to Bath or London as early as 1822; he invented the biscuit tin to help prevent breakages on the journey. Joseph Huntley’s small bakery eventually grew into Huntley & Palmers, the largest employer in Reading. By 1900 it was the world’s largest biscuit company and one of the first global brands.

“1923 Huntley & Palmers Biscuits Advertisement National Geographic January 1923”
by SenseiAlan is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Reading Museum’s collection has over 7000 items relating to Huntley & Palmers, including almost 1500 biscuit tins. Many were donated by Nabisco, who were the company’s owners when it finally left Reading.

In 1838, ill-health forced Joseph Huntley to retire, handing control of the business to his older son Thomas. In 1841, Thomas took George Palmer as a business partner. He was a distant cousin and a Quaker. George Palmer soon became the chief force behind its success. At the height of their success in the early 1900s, they produced over 400 products, shipping to 172 countries.

Joseph started putting the biscuits into tins to prevent breakages. This innovation spawned a new business – biscuit tin manufacturing, run by his son, also Joseph. The company stopped production in Reading in 1972, though there remains a business archive in the Special Collections of the University of Reading.

“Buttery Vegan Shortbread” by Veganbaking.net is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Huntley & Palmer became Associated Biscuits, who were acquired by Nabisco, who then sold the brand to Danone. The biscuit division was then sold to Kraft in 2007. Since 2008, after all of these mergers and acquisitions, Huntley and Palmers have been owned by the Freeman family who have three generations in the biscuit business. Sadly, they do not appear to make shortbread any longer.

A basic shortbread recipe consists of three parts white wheat flour, two parts butter, and one part white sugar. The first printed shortbread recipe seems to have appeared in a cookbook in 1736. Early recipes would have used yeast instead of butter. The latter was used as a more luxurious option for special occasions. Today, Queen Elizabeth II is said to be partial to an extra-crumbly shortbread enhanced with salt and vanilla.

Shortbread’s origins come from medieval Scotland, where leftover bread was dried in an oven into a biscuit called a rusk. The resulting bread was dusted with spices and sugar to make a sweet treat. Eventually, this twice baked bread was baked less with yeast, and more with butter, making it into a kind of cookie or cake. Indeed, one of my earliest childhood memories and tastes is that of Farley’s Rusks, fed to me by my mother and good for a teething toddler!

“crawford’s petticoat tails shortbread tin” by Andy M Johnson is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I’m in good company, as apparently, shortbread has been attributed to Mary, Queen of Scots, who in the mid-16th century was said to be very fond of what became known as ‘Petticoat Tails’, a thin, crisp, buttery shortbread originally flavoured with caraway seeds. Shortbread is traditionally formed into one of three shapes: one large circle divided into segments (i.e. the Petticoat Tails); individual round biscuits aka ‘Shortbread Rounds’, or a thick rectangular slabs cut into ‘fingers’. More elaborate shapes are also offered such as stars which are popular at Christmas, when enhancements such as citrus fruit, orange peel, and almonds might be added.

“christmas shortbreads.” by Strawbryb is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Possibly the best-known brand today is Walkers Shortbread, whose heritage dates back to 1898, when it was founded by another Joseph – Joseph Walker. Walkers Shortbread are Scotland’s biggest exporter of food, employing over 4,000 people across 15 locations. Walkers shortbread is well-known for its tartan packaging. Here are some Christmas boxes that Walkers Shortbread are packaged in.

The Walkers shop in Grantown-on-Spey

The Walkers locations include: four factories in Aberlour, where the company is also headquartered, and two in nearby Elgin. Aberlour, in Speyside, is well-known for its whisky distilleries.

I recently purchased a five yard Aberlour Whisky Distillery Tartan plaid to wear as a lightweight giant kilt or féileadh-mór, so look out for future photos of this on our Outlander Past Lives Facebook feed. Here is the Aberlour Whisky Distillery Tartan:


The Clanlands Tour (2019)

Sam and Graham begin their journey at Glencoe, the scene of the horrific Glencoe Massacre in 1692. They meet producer Michelle Methvan and the film crew at the Kingshouse Hotel in Glencoe on a stunning summer’s day in September 2019. The team also frequented the highly regarded and atmospheric Clachaig Inn at Glencoe.

Glen Coe

As a child, Sam had learned to ski at Glencoe. While in Glencoe, the guys visit the Glencoe Folk Museum and take the chairlift up the mountain towards the ski area, testing Graham’s acknowledged fear of heights.

The chairlift at Glencoe Mountain Resort runs throughout the year and takes you from the valley floor up to 2200ft in just 12 minutes, with spectacular views of waterfalls, Ranoch Moor and towards the Buchaille Etive Mor.

The view from the top of the chair lift at Glencoe Mountain Resort

Did you know that ‘Glencoe’ actually has two different spellings and meanings? Glen Coe is the name of the glen itself, whereas Glencoe, or Glencoe Village, refers to the village itself and is also used to describe the mountain resort and ski area.

Men in Kilts, Episode One – Scottish Food & Drink

In episode one ‘Food & Drink’, the lads sample Haggis, the national dish of Scotland, whisky from Islay, fish and beef (also known as ‘surf and turf’). In case you were wondering, Haggis is a savory meat pudding containing: sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, traditionally cooked in the sheep’s stomach. Some say it is best not to know what is in it, but Haggis is a Nicholson favourite.

Haggis, Neeps & Tatties with Whisky Sauce @ Chez Nicholson on Burns Night

The local delicacies tried at ‘The Kitchen’ with chef Tom Kitchen and with chef Tony Singh include: Angus beef, Ayrshire potatoes, salmon, oysters, prawns and langoustines. For the uninitiated, prawns, usually small crustaceans with ten legs, whereas the larger langoustine are rock lobsters, also crustacean with ten legs (decapods), although the front two are claws. Confused yet? Well, here’s some more confusion:

  • In the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, “prawn” is the general term used to describe both true prawns and shrimp.
  • In North America, the term ‘shrimp’ is used much more frequently, where the word ‘prawn’ is most often used to describe larger species or those fished from fresh water.
  • The terms prawn and shrimp are used interchangeably in fishing, farming and culinary contexts. That said, shrimps are generally considered to be smaller than prawns, which in turn are smaller than langoustines.
  • Langoustines look very like crayfish, but the latter are freshwater crustaceans.
  • Langoustines are related to lobsters but tend to be smaller
  • Phew!

Some of the fish Sam and Graham caught themselves, while wearing traditional Gansey-style sweaters and donning overalls aboard a fishing boat from the port of Pittenweem. Still popular today, the Gansey is a thick, warm and weather-proof knitted jumper. They were worn by 18th and 19th century fishermen all along the coast of Great Britain.

‘Traditional Knitting Patterns of the British Isles: Fisher Gansey Patterns of Scotland and the Scottish Fleet’ by Michael R.R. Pearson 

The Gaelic-derived name Pittenweem means ‘The Place of the Caves’. The cave in question is most likely St. Fillan’s Cave, records of which date back to the 7th century and include a 13th century Augustinian priory. Many of the sea-front properties have been renovated and maintained by the National Trust of Scotland due to their historic significance. In these respects, Pittenweem shares many similarities with Dysart and Culross, which are not too far away; both are Outlander filming locations and popular stops on our Outlander Tours. Unlike Dysart and Culross, Pittenweem remains an active port and has a fish market every morning.

Dysart Harbour – Outlander filming location for Le Harve, the site of Jarrod’s warehouse

Getting back to the whisky on Islay, as you probably know, Sam is a connoisseur of whisky and has his own brand, ‘The Sassenach’, a well-received and multi-award-winning blended Scotch.

Islay is a small island on the West Coast of Scotland and is one of Scotland’s five (or six) whisky regions. Along with his own brand, Sam is known to be a fan of Laphroaig, a peated single malt whisky, so it is no surprise that they visited there.

Islay whiskies (non-copyright stock photo)

If you’d like to know more about Islay, the Scottish whisky regions, single malt vs blended whisky and also the interesting links between Outlander and Whisky, then check out our very own, unique, in-depth, ten-episode virtual tour and webinar called ‘Outlander Distilled’. This takes you on a journey from curious about Scotch and distilling to well on the way to becoming a connoisseur.

While on Islay, Sam and Graham dig peat from a peat bog. Peat is harvested and burned to dry and then used to add the peat taste to peated whiskies. Dried peat is also used to heat the homes of traditional crofters. Peat bogs cover 25% of Scotland. These peat layers with a high carbon content have been formed over a period of 1000 to 5000 years from partially decayed wetland vegetation in an environment without oxygen. The layers can be up to several meters thick.  Peat bog grows by approximately 1mm per year. Thus a bog of 3 metres (3.3 yards) depth is approximately 3000 years old.

Harvesting peat from the peat bog. © Can Stock Photo / RichSouthWales

Men in Kilts, Episode 2 – Scottish Sports

Sam and Graham are pitted against each other in a series of Scottish sporting challenges. They start their physical exploits with the Puterach Stone at Balquhidder.

Sam Heughan went into the lead after lifting a 100 kg stone up from the ground. But his lead didn’t last, as Graham McTavish went on to defeat Sam in hammer tossing, golf and rugby. Sam loses the overall sporting bet and his penance it to skinny dip in the sea while on the Outer Hebrides, Isle of Lewis. Apparently, this was a good cure for Sam’s hangover!

Lifting stones are a very old tradition and right of passage in Scotland. There are five different recognised lifting techniques for such stones, as well as putting them (push-throwing them, which led on to the shot put) and carrying stones utilising an iron ring that has been set in them (often pairs of stones).

Stone toss at the Highland Games

Below is a lifting stone that is hidden away at one of our (many) favourite and little-known spots – the Kirk of Barevan, near Cawdor Castle, not far from us in Inverness. The ancient Kirkton of Barevan dates back to the 14th Century. Laying in the kirkyard, the Barevan Stone is one of 16 legendary Scottish historic lifting stones, which can be a pilgrimage or a right of passage for strongmen or clansmen of old. These stones are also known as Clach Neart (or Clachneart) – Manhood Stones or ‘Stone of Strength’. This particular stone is known as ‘The Putting Stone of the Clans’.

The Putting Stone of the Clans at Barevan Church near Cawdor

In ‘History of Nairnshire’ by George Bain (1893), the Barevan Stone is described as:

A rounded ball of reddish granite, 19 inches by 17 inches in diameter, and weighing 18 imperial stones, lies near to the entrance of the chapel. According to tradition it was the ‘putting stone’ of the neighbouring clachan, but it takes a strong man of the present day to lift it”.

Two of the most famous stones are actually pairs of stones. The 252kg Nicol Walking Stones form a particular feat of strength walking them across Potarch Bridge in Aberdeenshire. The Dinnie Stones, typically require just lifting off the ground; they weigh 317 and 414 lbs (144 and 188kg). They are named after Legendary Scottish strongman Donald Dinnie, who was born at Birse by Aboyne in 1837, the son of stonemason, Robert Dinnie.

Donald Dinnie (1837-1916) displaying some of his medals, from Wikipedia

Donald Dinnie was the world’s first sporting superstar, achieving international fame from his exploits around the world.

As of mid-2021, only 106 individuals have been recorded lifting the Dinnie Stones — five of which were women. On 7th August 2021, UK strongman Laurence Shahlaei set a new Dinnie Stones world record by carrying them for 14 feet, 10 inches (4.52 meters) without lifting straps, also known as ‘unassisted’.

It is said that Highland Chiefs used to have the ‘Clachneart’ or ‘Stone of Strength’ placed at their gateways. Visitors were invited to try their strength. Such stones would typically weigh between one hundredweight and two hundredweight (112 Ibs to 224 Ibs, or 51kg to 102kg). Stones were also commonplace near a Kirk (church) so that ‘young bloods’ could practice after attending the Sunday service.

The lifting stone leads us nicely into the Highland Games. As with the lifting stones, Highland Gatherings evolved out of events that allowed Highland Chiefs to select their fittest and strongest men to represent the Clan in battle; the fastest runners were chosen as couriers.

Highland Games have been said to go back to Druid times (4th century BC) or even earlier, possibly originating in Ireland in 2000 BC.

The very first official Highland Games may have been held in Fort William in honour of King Malcolm I, who reigned from 943 to 954 AD. Malcolm Canmore aka Malcolm III (1030- 1093) is said to have called a foot race to the summit of Creag Choinnich, near Braemar, in the hopes of finding the fastest runner in the land. He is also said to have introduced the sword dance, still popular at modern gatherings.

Sword dances are recorded throughout world history; there are documented examples from Africa, Asia and Europe dating back to the middle-ages.

Joanović Paja (1859–1957) The Sword Dance, Private Collection

The Highland Fling, one of the best-known dances, is supposed to be based on the antics of a stag on a Scottish hillside. This dance, on the spot, is thought to originate with men dancing on their targe (shield).

Highland Dancing was an all-male competition until the late 19th century. The Gaelic for Highland Dancing is ‘Gille Calum’, though it is also written as ‘Gillie Chaluim’.

The two images above are from a First Edition book which we recently purchased – ‘Gaelic Gatherings: The Highlanders at home, on the heath, the river, and the loch’ – by RR McIan (1848).

‘Gaelic Gatherings: The Highlanders at home, on the heath, the river, and the loch’ by RR McIan (1848)

Highland gatherings are as much about music and dancing as they are about sports, featuring dancing, piping, fiddling and the Clarsach (Gaelic harp).

In 1889 the founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Coubertin was said to be greatly impressed by a Highland games held at the Paris Exhibition. This resulted in the hammer and the shot put, wrestling and the tug-of-war all being included as Olympic events.

The Glenfinnan Gathering takes place each year on the Saturday closest to the anniversary of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Raising of the Standard in 1745.

Glenfinnan

Some games are strongly associated with particular clans and involve a parade of clansmen led by the chieftain. Examples include:

  • Clan Cameron – Lochaber Games
  • Clan Campbell –  Inveraray Games
  • Clan Hay – Aboyne Games
  • Clan Macpherson – Newtonmore Games
  • Clan MacMillan – Inverness Games
  • Clan Macnab – Killin Games
  • Actor Ewan McGregor was named Chieftain of the games in his hometown Crieff in 2001.

The Scottish Highland Games Association represent over 60 Highland Gatherings in Scotland, with over 500 athletes competing in 1000 events in front of 150,000 spectators. However, the Caledonian Club of San Francisco host the largest Highland Games with 50,000 spectators. Founded in 1866, the Caledonian Club of San Francisco is one of the oldest Scottish clubs in California; 2021 saw their 155th Highland Games.

Snefjørd Highland games in Norway, are said to be the most northerly games in the world, with Logan Park Games in New Zealand hosts the most southerly.

A Highland Games take place in July each summer in Inverness.  In 2014, a Guinness World Record was set at the Masters World Championship in Inverness when 160 kilted athletes tossed 66 cabers at the same time. Here is a picture from the Masters event:

Alongside the Olympic type events of running, cycling and field events such as the long jump, high jump, triple jump and pole vault, are dancing and piping competitions, plus the more traditional Heavy Weight events of: Caber Tossing, Shot Put/Stone Put, Scottish Hammer Throw, and Weight Throw. Other events that you might see include: Haggis Hurling, Haggis Eating and Sheaf Tossing.

Sam and Graham meet with Charlie Murray, Vice President, Highland Games Association at Braemar – the home of the Braemar Gathering Highland Games. They try the hammer toss and the caber.

The Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park, Braemar

The Braemar Wright Society organised the Braemar Gathering – they are the oldest Friendly Society in Scotland, formed in 1815. They were renamed to Braemar Highland Society in 1826 then, in 1866, Queen Victoria ordered that the title ‘Royal’ should be added to the name of the Society. Queen Victoria first went to the Braemar Gathering in 1848 and since then the reigning monarch and members of the royal family have regularly attended. Queen Elizabeth II is the patron of the Braemar Royal Highland Society.

The Braemar Gathering is held annually in September and is one of the most popular and prestigious highland games in Scotland and internationally. The event attracts competitors from all over the world and is regularly attended by members of the Royal Family.  In 1905 the Duke of Fife, a son-in-law of King Edward VII, presented 12 acres of the Mar Estate to the Society for a permanent home for the games, and it was duly named The Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park. 

Prince Charles has the Duke of Rothesay Highland Games Pavilion named after him. It opened in 2018; the Prince had a hand in designing it.

Prince Charles has several Royal and noble titles. These include: His Royal Highness The Duke of Cornwall; His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales; in Scotland, His Royal Highness The Duke of Rothesay.

According to Wikipedia, as the eldest son of the monarch, he automatically became Duke of Cornwall, Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles, and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland upon the accession of his mother as queen. In 2021, upon the death of his father, he inherited the titles Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich.

Sam is a fan of Rugby. He indicated that his favourite Men In Kilts experience was running out in full Scotland kit at Murrayfield, The Scotland international rugby team’s home ground and meeting Scots rugby legends. In November 2020, he posted:

Good luck @scotlandteam!! @autumnnationscup Allez les autre bleus!

Sadly for Sam, and the Scots, the French team prevailed on that occasion. Murrayfield in Edinburgh is Scotland’s largest stadium and the 5th largest in the UK, seating 67,000.

Murrayfield – home of Scottish Rugby Union

The Men in Kilts golf challenge took place at St Andrews, known as the Home of Golf. I (Andy) enjoy a round of golf, though my swing has ‘plenty of room for improvement’, not unlike Sam and Graham’s! Here are a couple of photos of the famous Old Course at St Andrews from when we delivered a bespoke Outlander/Clan MacDonald/Golf tour.

St Andrew’s ‘The Old Course’

Below is a rather fabulous antique 3D picture inspired by the 1847 painting ‘The Golfers’ by Charles Lees. This hangs on my office wall and I think it is some kind of casting. This was Lees’ first and most famous sporting work. The scene depicts Hugh Lyon Playfair putting, with his partner, John Campbell and members of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club looking on. The original (below) hangs in The British Golf Museum at St Andrews, next to The Old Course.

The Golfers (the original) by Charles Lees (1847)

The origins of golf date back to Europe in the middle ages. The modern game of golf is generally considered to be a Scottish invention. The first documented mention of golf in Scotland appears in a 1457 Act of the Scottish Parliament. This wasn’t good news for golf, as King James II of Scotland prohibited the playing of the games of ‘gowf’ and ‘futball’ as these were a distraction from archery practice for military purposes.

Even by the end of the 1840s, golf was very much still a Scottish game with only 23 clubs in Britain – all but two of them in Scotland.

Men in Kilts, Episode 3: Song and Dance

At the beginning of this episode, Sam and Graham set up camp in glorious Glencoe. They are joined there by Gaelic singer/storyteller, Gillebride MacMillan, who starred as Gwylln the Bard in the very first season of Outlander. You may remember that he sang about ‘Bean Tighearna Bhail’ ‘n Athain’ or ‘The Woman of Balnain’ who travelled in time through the stones. This caught Claire’s attention in Outlander.

It caught our attention too, as we were keen to track down Balnain. Many people think that the Balnain being referred to is the one near Drumnadrochidt and Urquhart Castle on the North side of Loch Ness. This Balnain didn’t come into existence until the late 19th century. There were Frasers of Balnain who lived on the opposite side of Loch Ness in the 18th century township of Balnain, but these wouldn’t necessarily tie in with the Mackenzie-oriented storyline in Outlander.

The remains of the 18th century (and earlier) township of Balnain where the Frasers of Balnain once lived

We feature these Frasers and this Balnain in our ‘Silent Stories from the Loch’ live virtual tour. We found another little known township of Balnain, which later became known as Rogie, only just over a mile, as the crow flies, from Castle Leod – the real seat of Clan Mackenzie. We wonder whether Diana Gabaldon also found reference to this and wove it into the storyline? Here is our blog post about ‘The Mystery of Balnain” and the archaeology of the site.

Castle Leod, seat of Clan Mackenzie

Diana Gabaldon has visited Castle Leod more than once and she is a Guardian of the Castle. Castle Leod has been a seat of Clan Mackenzie for over 500 years. It is one of very few castles that remain in the hands of the ancestral family. The castle is operated by a charitable trust and relies on donations for its upkeep. In gratitude for the castle, we were pleased to be able to make a donation to the trust and also become Guardians of Castle Leod.

Sam and Graham meet the Commander (Chief in waiting) of Clan MacGillivray, Iain MacGillivray, at Doune Castle. The castle was the filming location for Castle Leoch in Outlander – seat of Clan MacKenzie and its chief (in Outlander) Colum Mackenzie. One of Iain MacGillivray’s ancestors, Willie MacGillivray, is related to a Simon McTavish (of the Canadian fur trade); Willie was his uncle, which means that Graham & Iain are distantly related.

Doune Castle

The 14th century Doune Castle, once a royal retreat for the Stuart Dynasty of Scottish monarchs, has also been a filming location for: Monty Python & the Holy Grail, Ivanhoe, Game of Thrones and Outlaw King.

Doune Castle was garrisoned by Government troops during the 1689 and 1715 Jacobite rebellions. It was briefly involved in the 1745 uprising when it was held for Prince Charles Stuart by McGregor of Glengyle with a garrison of 25 men. The castle was then subsequently used as a prison for Government soldiers captured at the Battle of Falkirk in January 1746.

We have an antique print (from 1836) of a drawing by Thomas Allom titled: ‘The Castle of Doune. (Prince Charles Stuart. Disposal of his Prisoners after the Battle of Falkirk, A.D. 1746)’. Here it is:

As we outline in our Culloden Experience virtual tour, Iain MacGillivray became the youngest Clan Commander ever appointed. Iain is very much a Highlander, living in Tain, farming the land and is proficient in both Gaelic and the bagpipes. Iain also appears in the final episode of Men in Kilts, playing the bagpipes on Culloden Moor (see part 2 of this blog).

Back at Braemar, Highland dancer, Cerys Jones, has the honour of teaching Sam and Graham the ways of sword dancing. Traditionally, Highlanders did a sword dance before battle. Being very superstitious, if they managed to dance without their feet touching the swords, they would win in battle. If they mistakenly touched the swords, they would be injured, if they kicked a sword, then bad news – they would die in battle.

Finally, for this episode, Sam and Graham take part in a Ceilidh at Borthwick Castle, 20 minutes from Edinburgh in Midlothian. This castle is closed to the public, but available for exclusive private hire.

In its most basic form, Ceilidh simply means a social visit. In contemporary usage, it usually involves dancing and playing Gaelic folk music. A more formal definition, which is more typical of a Ceilidh on Burns Night (25th January) is as follows:

The ‘ceilidh’ is a literary entertainment where stories and tales, poems and ballads, are rehearsed and recited, and songs are sung, conundrums are put, proverbs are quoted, and many other literary matters are related and discussed.


See Part Two of this blog post for our review of Men in Kilts, Episodes 4 to 8.

All photographs were taken by Andrew Nicholson, unless otherwise stated, and are copyright © Tour the Scottish Highlands Ltd.

0 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *