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Issue 86 - Outlander Uncovered: Fife

Scotland Magazine Issue 86
April 2016


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Outlander Uncovered: Fife

Christopher Coates visits the Fife filming locations of the hit TV series Outlander

For the second instalment in our series focussing on the filming locations of Outlander, we shall cross the Firth of Forth and journey on to the Kingdom of Fife, where three magical sites await. The region offers numerous opportunities for a traveller to become lost in history, almost as if they too, like Outlander’s principal character Claire, have stepped back through time. Wandering the narrow cobbled streets of the Royal Burgh of Culross, for example, will give visitors a real flavour for what life might have been like in 18th Century Scotland. Since the 1930s, much of the village’s architecture has been under the watchful eye of the National Trust for Scotland, which has helped to restore and preserve Culross’ valuable features for posterity. It’s small wonder that the village was chosen to represent the series' fictional ‘Cranesmuir’, while the verdant gardens of the great lodging known as Culross Palace stood in for Claire’s herb garden.

Further east along the coastline, in the village of Aberdour, one can find an edifice that will look particularly familiar to those who remember the final episode of season one. It was at Aberdour Castle that the pivotal scenes at the abbey were filmed; this was the haven to which Jamie is taken by Claire and Murtagh to recover from his ordeal at the hands of Black Jack Randall, while detained at Wentworth Prison.

In truth, the structure is no abbey and instead started life in the 12th Century as a hall-house, built by the Mortimer family, which became a tower house overlooking the Dour Burn by the 1400s. The remains of the original structure, which can be found hidden away in the complex, arguably represent the oldest example of a standing stone castle in Scotland. Its cubed ashlar masonry walls bear a striking resemblance to those found at the nearby St Fillan’s church, and evidence suggests that it could have been built around 1150, which if correct would allow it to clinch the title of ‘Scotland’s oldest castle’ from Castle Sween in Argyll. In 1325, Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray and nephew of Robert the Bruce, was granted the Barony of Aberdour; this in turn passed to Sir William Douglas of Liddesdale and Aberdour Castle would remain with the Douglas family until modernity.

The building saw a succession of extensions that enlarged it eastward into what is now known as the central (16th Century) and east (17th Century) ranges; this final development transformed the castle from a defensive structure into a domestic one. By 1647, Aberdour Castle was described as being richly furnished and the journal of one Lady Halkett, written in 1650, records: “I was led in through the garden which was so fragrant and delightful that I thought I was still in England.” Undoubtedly it was indeed wonderful, as by then the L-shaped terraced gardens were long established, having been built concurrently with the central range a century before her visit. These are some of the oldest gardens in the country and records indicate that by 1687 one could find figs, almonds, jasmine, plums and cherries growing there. Incredibly, the terraces were not rediscovered until the 1970s and have been undergoing renovation work ever since in a bid to restore them to their former glory.

Unfortunately the castle suffered damages caused by two fires, one in 1688 and another in 1715. Not long after the second, in 1725, the castle was abandoned as a permanent residence – the family having relocated elsewhere on the estate to Aberdour House – and by 1845 it has been noted that stone from the collapsed tower house ruins was being regularly pilfered for building work by locals. The east range continued to be used as a barrack and schoolroom until 1924, when it was brought under the formal civic protection of the Historic Buildings & Monuments Directorate. Today it is managed by Historic Environment Scotland and is open to the public.

Moving back from the final episode to the first, one may travel northeast from Aberdour and reach the picturesque village of Falkland, which stood in for 1940s Inverness during the filming of episode one. Fans of Outlander will recognise many features of the main square, such as The Covenanter Hotel, which was Mrs Baird’s Guesthouse; Fayre Earth, which – although considerably more colourful today – was transformed into Farrell’s Hardware and Furniture Store; and the central Bruce Fountain, beside which viewers first glimpsed Jamie’s ghost.

The village itself was declared a Royal Burgh by James II in 1458, which allowed it to elect officers for justice, hold weekly markets and also an annual fair. In 1500, James IV built the now famous Falkland Palace, which replaced an earlier castle that had belonged to the MacDuffs; ruins of the original building can still be seen in the Palace gardens. Of particular note is the Royal Tennis Court that was built in 1542 and is one of the oldest surviving examples in the world – a club still plays there today.

During the 19th Century, Onesiphorus Tyndall Bruce inherited the estate, which included Falkland village and the respons- ibility of Keeper of the Palace, and in 1826 commissioned the building of the Parish Church, the Bruce Fountain and the grand House of Falkland. A bronze statue of the Laird can be seen today in the churchyard. A stroll through the village will reveal a variety of historic features among the cottages and narrow streets, including marriage lintels above many entrances; their carvings bear two sets of initials and a date that records either a marriage, the date the house was built, or the day the owners moved in. During your visit, a quick word with any of the friendly and enthusiastic locals will tell you that further Outlander filming has taken place in the village recently, so expect to see more of Falkland on screen very soon.

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