Episode 1 - Outlander Filming Locations with Mary's Meanders

Listen to Episode 1 - Mary's Meanders.

Interviewer: Grant Stott (GS)

Interviewees: Emma Chalmers (EC) and Anne Daly (AD)

GS: Hello and welcome to Tour Guide Tales, brought to you by VisitScotland.  I'm Grant Stott and each week I'll be speaking to different tour guides to hear the eclectic and often incredible rich history of Scotland through their knowledge, stories and also their experiences that they recount on their tours.
Today I'll be speaking to Emma Chalmers and Anne Daly. Their Mary's Meanders tour takes fans of the hit TV show 'Outlander' to some of the show's most iconic locations. Along the way, the tour not only lets you take some much-prized selfies, but you'll also hear the real Scottish history and amazing stories connected to these locations.
It's worth noting that this episode was recorded from our homes during lockdown.
Anyway, enough from me. Let's hear the tour guide tales of Mary's Meanders.
GS: Well Emma and Anne, let's start. Tell us how this all began. Were you friends at the outset, was it Outlander that brought you together? What started Mary's Meanders?

EC: It is definitely Outlander and Mary's Meanders that brought us together and we are firm friends now. But it was back in 2013 that we set up Mary's Meanders, the name obviously relates to Mary Queen of Scots. We are based here in Linlithgow. The initial idea was to do walking tours around the town of Linlithgow and around the Palace. And then I met Anne. I put an ad, I can't remember if it was Facebook or something, and we have never left each other's sides ever since really - all those years now.

GS: So it was this and Outlander Anne, is that right?

AD: No. Outlander - we didn't know anything about Outlander at that point. It was a love of Linlithgow, and me loving to tell people stories all about the town, I did that on a voluntary basis. Neither of us came from a tourism background. It was a complete change of careers and just got more and more involved and I thought this would be a nice way of going out a couple of days a week, meeting some people, showing them around the town, talking about Mary Queen of Scots and history that I loved for maybe just a couple of hours and it just mushroomed from there. But, no, Outlander came about completely by accident, I'd never heard of it, somebody said to us one day 'they're filming this thing called Outlander literally in the woods behind your house' and at that point I lived just at the edge of Beecraigs woods and, I'd never heard of it, Emma had never heard of it, went away and Googled it and I thought 'woah that's a historical novel, I love historical novels', so I bought the book, Cross Stitch it was here at the time, read it and that was me completely hooked - got all the books, read them through, told Emma all about it. She got involved and from that point we were doing tours. So they were literally filming all around us in Linlithgow, down at Midhope, at Hopetoun, literally just all around - we were falling over the filming all the time. So we started doing that. There has always been tours up around Inverness because the books have been going for twenty years and people have done tours there around the history from the books but the location tours was something completely new and that's what we did and that's how we got started with it and it's just been fantastic. It's completely consumed our lives as it were since that point.

GS: So, Emma, it's fair to say that Outlander was a massive turning point for Mary's Meanders.

EC: Oh yeah absolutely it was. It was really like a door, a portal is how we talk about it, you know, a door was opened, and we fell into a whole different world and it's been just an amazing journey that we have had over the years and lots and lots of fun times. Some tears along the way, you know, when we meet the people who come over and they're so excited to be here and it's been on top of their bucket list forever. But yeah absolutely it has been a changing point. Personally and professionally and thankfully all for the better.

GS: Well hopefully we will touch on some of those personal experiences later on in the podcast. But Anne, as you touched on just a few moments ago, you know this is a global phenomenon, this Outlander TV series, but yet it's perhaps not as huge here. So could you, for perhaps those who are listening to this who have maybe not caught up with Outlander and aren't aware of what it is, could you give us a potted resumé of what Outlander is and what has happened in the story?

AD: Ok so very simply, Outlander is the story of a World War II nurse who travels back in time, through some standing stones and she is back in 18th century Scotland in the lead up to the Battle of Culloden. She meets and falls in love with a Highlander called Jamie and they're involved in all sorts of adventures and it encompasses love and drama and war and battles, everything you can need from a dramatic story.

GS: Really, well right now as we have recorded, it's completed series 5 and perhaps this is the moment I should say that my personal highlight for Outlander was at the very beginning of series 4, episode 1, the very end of episode 1 and the very beginning of episode 2 when a rather dashing Captain Freeman made a very fleeting appearance in the story. Emma do you recall that particular episode?

EC: I do, I do, of course, I remember seeing you there and you may pick up a little bit of an Irish accent here so I have to say, Grant, that I know you but I hadn't seen you in quite as many pantos as everybody else, so for me, yes, you're the Outlander star. Absolutely.

GS: All I will say is that it was a wonderful experience but you will miss me. But yeah what a treat to be a  part of this amazing TV series. So Anne, perhaps you can give us an outline of the places, let's just concentrate on across Edinburgh and the Lothians for this episode. But where do you take the people who come and visit?

AD: Ok so in the city centre of Edinburgh itself, on the Royal Mile, they used a few locations there, the main one being Bakehouse Close, which is where Jamie's print shop was in season 3 and that's a very important part of the book and a very important scene and it was a section which people looked forward to for a long long time. There was a huge build up of excitement before that episode was filmed and that's Bakehouse Close. They also used Tweeddale Court just along the road a little bit from there and they filmed some scenes at the Signet Library as well and that was actually some scenes in Jamaica. So it wasn't all Scottish scenes that were filmed there. Also, on the Royal Mile, actually The World's End pub features in the books and people all like to go there when they come. It's had a huge boost in trade from tourism because it features in Outlander. The next major location from the city centre is Craigmillar Castle and that's fabulous - it's been in Outlander because you know, we call it Edinburgh's less known castle because of course everyone goes to Edinburgh Castle, it's not just been in Outlander, it was in the Outlaw King too so, and it's fantastic. In Midlothian you have Glencourse Old Kirk. Glencourse Old Kirk was used as the wedding chapel in Outlander and that's a fabulous place to go into - people love that and they find it really quite emotional. And from there, there's other locations like Newhailes House and Gosford House, so there's a lot of locations around. And further down in East Lothian, Preston Mill, people like to go there because the scene they had at Preston Mill with its big waterfall was a scene where Jamie stripped naked to repair the waterfall. So that's a popular location we have to say so that's why we go there. But from our point of view, we're based in Linlithgow, so an awful lot of our tours focus on some of the locations round our particular area in West Lothian. The locations here, we're in Linlithgow, Linlithgow Palace itself is a location for Wentworth prison. Blackness castle, that's a fabulous location, that was Fort William, Black Jack Randall's headquarters. And moving slightly if you like over the border but it's only 5 or 10 minutes from here, you've got Callendar house and Park in Falkirk and then the big big big location, well Hopetoun House which is a major location, this was used in three seasons for lots and lots of different scenes but from the point of view of fans, the one, if you ask an Outlander fan, the one place they want to go to and that is the setting for Lallybroch, the Fraser family home, and that's a place called Midhope Castle. We do go there a lot and it's very very popular.

GS: One thing I was going to ask just as you touched on the setting for Lallybroch in Outlander. You have a story about one particular fan and it struck a very emotional personal cord.

AD: Yes, so we do ancestry tours as well, that's another part of our business which we absolutely love doing because you get really involved in people's family stories and we also love the way that it connects to periods of history. So, this particular lady was a Livingstone, and the Livingstone family was very important in this area, they were the keepers of Linlithgow Palace, they owned Callendar House. So, when she was coming, she had done a fair bit of research and a bit of history. So they were coming here, and she knew that we were obviously going to Linlithgow and Callendar House and things, and she was an Outlander fan so we were putting in a little bit of Outlander but I didn't tell her until she got here. I wanted it to be a surprise for her, because when we got here and we went to Midhope Castle, Midhope Castle was originally owned by the Livingstone family and I had tracked that it was the branch of the Livingstone family that she belonged to. So I was able to tell an Outlander fan that her real life ancestor home was Lallybroch. So that was just so amazing to be able to do that.

GS: What was her reaction to that?

AD: Tears.

GS: Quite an emotional moment.

AD: It was a very emotional moment. It was a very emotional moment, yes.

GS: Emma, tell me what it's like when the fans are taken to these places to see the locations where their favourite TV programme was filmed. I can imagine, just to echo what Anne was saying there, it can be quite emotional.

EC: Oh absolutely it is. You know for some of these people they have been saving for years to get to Scotland so for them just even breathing Scottish air, you know, they are delighted with that. But that moment when we bring them to Midhope Castle for example, and a lot of the time I'll say to people, 'close your eyes', you know you have to drive down all these different types of country roads to get there, we just drive down that little dip towards it and I say ok folks 'close your eyes' and then I'll say 'ok you can open them now' and they just see in front of them up the pathway Midhope Castle aka Lallybroch. It's framed perfectly by the trees and it does, it takes their breath away, they gasp you know. It's so moving, you have people who, their fitness, their health, you know, has prevented them from travelling. They may have been carers for people and this was their motivation for life, like absolutely, they would have had a picture of it up on their bathroom mirror to say 'one day I'll get there'. So it's extremely moving. It's a real privilege for us when we get to experience that with people.

GS: And of course, there's so many places which have their own rich history, Outlander aside. Let's talk a little bit more about Linlithgow Palace, because this was the catalyst that brought you two together, it's what Mary's Meanders was originally all about. This has such a wonderful rich history in itself. Give us an overview of what has happened there over the years?

AD: Linlithgow Palace, there's been a settlement there since way back, the eleventh, twelfth century. It was a hunting lodge for the Kings and the Palace that you see today was built substantially by James I back in the fourteenth century and then it was added to by subsequent Kings over the years. One of the major parts that was built there was by James IV. Now James IV, he married Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII's sister, so quite a lot of what he did was to show 'anything Henry VIII can do I can do better', so he did a lot of that. Then his son, James VI, he added bits as well. He did a lot of building around Scotland and Stirling Castle and all sorts of places. He was quite a prolific builder. So there was a lot to it and it's known as a pleasure palace. It was a huge building and it was all about entertaining in the court, hanging out, and it wasn't ever a fortress or anything like that. There's a beautiful fountain in the middle, it's been restored over the years, that was the James V fountain. And the lovely entrance where you go in now, that was built for James V as well. But Linlithgow Palace was most famous for being the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots and that's what brings most people to Linlithgow up until quite recently. There's a lot of people who come for Outlander now as well. But Mary Queen of Scots was born here, and so was her father, James V was born here as well. And there's lots of stories about Linlithgow Palace. It played a key part in history. So Linlithgow Palace was quite a favourite of the Stuart Kings and Queens. It's exactly half way between Holyrood Palace and Stirling Castle so it was a stop off on the way and a story that I like to tell people to show its importance in history, it's not a story of Mary Queen of Scots, because the story of Mary Queen of Scots has been told over and over and over again and although it's something I love, I quite like to tell a different story there and that's the story about Queen Margaret, Margaret Tudor who married James IV, because that marriage which was known as the marriage of the thistle and the rose - the thistle of Scotland and the Tudor rose. That marriage led ultimately to the Crowns of Scotland and England coming together. And today you can actually see, you can see if you walk up to Linlithgow Palace, there's plaques on the wall that show you the line of succession and how that all came about and the line of succession shows you from Mary Queen of Scots all the way up to the current Queen. But I'm taking a step back a generation to show you how that happened. So Queen Margaret, Henry VIII's sister, so a huge pawn in European marriage stakes back in the time when marriages were all for political gains, so she was married when she was 14. She was married to James IV of Scotland. So they were married for ten years. She was quite a feisty young lady by all accounts but then James, he built all these beautiful rooms and he built Queen Margaret's Bower and you can still go up today and up at the top of the bower there is a wee room thatQueen Margaret supposedly used to sit in watching for her husband coming back from battle. But then in 1513, he didn't come back from the Battle of Flodden - he was killed at the Battle of Flodden. So she mourned, for about 10 minutes, and then she went off and shw found another young, attractive man, Archibald Douglas, who she basically quite fancied, was considered completely unsuitable. In fact one of his uncles described him as a 'young, witless fool', which he turned out to be, and that's maybe a trait which runs in the family, as I'll come onto in a minute. But anyway, within less than a year she was married to Archibald Douglas. So, the significance of this, with her first marriage to James IV, she had a son, James V, and he had a daughter, Mary Queen of Scots. With her second marriage to Archibald Douglas, she had a daughter Margaret Douglas, and Margaret had a son, Henry Lord Darnley - maybe another young, witless fool - but Henry Lord Darnley and Mary Queen of Scots had the same grandmother, Margaret Douglas, and they married, that was Mary Queen of Scots' second husband, so they were cousins and they married, and that marriage turned out to be just as bad as the one of her grandmother and her second husband. So that's the story I quite like because it's a different story from the usual stories you have there.

EC: You know, I just, this year I started reading about Mary Queen of Scots' mother, Mary de Guise and just the trials of her life so now when I, kind of, when I walk around Linlithgow Palace, I'm thinking about her and how, you know, she was married over in France and she came back over and had to leave her son there. And just the journey she went through, she lost two children and her husband, and I just think she was a remarkable woman. So now when I'm walking through Linlithgow Palace and, that was something I was really looking forward to doing this summer, was kind of getting more in touch with her if you like and finding out more about her life, so it is such a remarkable place you know. You can talk about the history of it but then also I love when Linlithgow Palace comes alive in summer time with the event The Scotch Hop which is an open air ceilidh which takes place every year during July and August on Wednesday nights and people from all over the world come and dance around that amazing fountain, so you get to see it nearly like the court was there as well, so it's fantastic.

GS: So let's move away from Linlithgow Palace and into Edinburgh. You mentioned earlier on Bakehouse Close, so the print shop, very important in the story of Outlander but there is also another location there which has a real history which reflects what happens in the story.

AD: Yes so, Bakehouse Close. So when Jamie is living and running the print shop under the name of A. Malcolm, which is kind of middle names, where they filmed that, at the time he is actually living in a brothel - Madame Jeanne's brothel. The brothels feature quite a lot in every scene in Outlander, so he's living there, and where they film it is where Edinburgh World Heritage is based now Acheson House, was in the 1700s an actual brothel. And when you go there, it's a little gate that goes off of Bakehouse Close and when you go in that gate, on the wall they have a wonderful poster that is an exert from a publication that was out in 1775, called wonderfully, 'Ranger's Impartial List of Ladies of Leisure' and basically it was a directory of prostitutes of the day in Edinburgh and one of them in particular was known as either Mrs. or Lady Agnew and she's described as a 'drunken bundle of inequity' so a lot of them in the description, they're not young, lithe, pretty girls by any manor of means, but I think it's absolutely wonderful that the location that they used for that for Outlander was in real life an actual brothel there in Edinburgh.

GS: So what is there to see then, if you walk up Bakehouse Close now what do you see now, that resembles what we saw in Outlander?

AD: Oh well Bakehouse Close is exactly what you see, you go through the Close, the entranceway itself and what was used for the print shop is steps which are going up there - they're absolutely exactly the same, well been made to look older and have some wooden structures on, but you would absolutely recognise it - there's no doubt about it - and you see the entrance going into where the brothel is and you see them coming back out again and to be honest, they use that little bit of street more than once as you see Jamie walking along and he's actually walking along  the same bit of street more than once. And then out on the Royal Mile, they use a lot of CGI there but you can see clearly they're using the structures that are there, you see John Knox's house shaped into it, so they're using the actual structures but making it look, you know, how it was in old Edinburgh.

GS: And this is one of the charms of Outlander, Emma, I would imagine as well, the fact that they do use actual locations. Obviously they use technology to enhance and take away the modern aspect of it as well but the fact that these historical sights are still there for these visitors and fans to come and see must again, evoke quite a reaction.

EC: Oh absolutely, for example Hopetoun House, in the episodes where they are filming with the Duke of Sandringham and they're in the red drawing room, the room looks the exact same as it was in the set, they only took out I think the lamps and put in some flowers instead. So when we are standing there, we are able to point out the places, and we have images, we show them this is where Caitriona Balfe was but then you're able to also talk about the history of the Hope family who are there in their own portrait up on the wall. So yeah absolutely, we love going from one to another.

GS: And Anne, is there any other moment that sort of stands out as being a particularly memorable moment for you?

AD: Oh there's several of them but again I always, you know, I love when both come together, when real life comes together with history, the real history in Outlander. Another particular one was going to Blackness Castle on an Outlander tour and before we got there the lady told us she had done some ancestry and she believed that she read that her ancestor had been kept in Blackness Castle. So I looked that up and sure enough her ancestor who was actually John Knox's son in law, John Welsh, so it was a very important piece of history, had been held in Blackness Castle, and we went there at the time and at that point the castle was getting some work done to it, so you couldn't go into every section of it, but the monument manager at the time, he took her camera and went into the sections you couldn't go into and took some photographs for her - so that was really special as I say. I love when real life history comes together with what's happening with Outlander and there's various, various little stories like that and the way people react to things. And people simply,  I mean we have people, and it's been the case in a few have done videos for us, people have never left their state in America, let alone their country, they've never had a passport, and these are people in their sixties you know, and they go and they get a passport and they leave their state and they often travel, they are often single women coming on their own, and they come on this adventure to Scotland and they just soak the whole thing up, it's just amazing and people who have never been here before, come here and just get so engrossed and immersed in Scottish history, they just feel a connection. And some people have a connection, they go away and check and find they have Scottish ancestry. Others don't but they still feel some connection. We have one family who have come back year after year after year and they just want to visit loads and loads of Scottish Castles. They check them out, the mum researches them all during the winter, and I've been to castles I've never heard of before because she finds these really obscure castles and off we go to find these castles. So, they, a lot of these people come and lead us on an adventure as well, it's not just us leading them on an adventure. So, it's just fabulous just and it is the way people just feel so at one with this country, it's unbelievable.

GS: Emma, you're nodding your head as well I can see. Are there any standout moments for you that you can relate to?

EC: You know there is, there's so many but I was nodding my head because I was thinking about at the moment, you know with the situation that we are in, and many of the people who have been here in Scotland with us over the years, even though we are not able to be together in person at the moment, they're indulging and just spending so much time on all the different events that have been put out there virtually for people to enjoy Scotland as well. Myself and Anne we were just talking about that yesterday, just how much it's really helping people at this time and their love of Scotland is keeping them going.

GS: And I get the feeling that many of these fans who come on the tours with you, you become friends and you keep in touch with them?

EC: Absolutely, Our company moto, ethos, whatever, philosophy is 'arrive a visitor, leave a friend', they absolutely become our friends but even beyond that they become our families' friends. My children, Anne's daughter, they know the people who come on our tours because some of these people come back each year you know. People send us gifts, we get Christmas cards, we get Thanksgiving cards, you know, we send them things, absolutely, friendships have been formed, not just, you know, from us with the people who come on the tour but the people who maybe just spend one day together. Last night I was talking to three ladies, two in America and one lady down in England, they only spent one day together a year ago and they're still chatting daily because of that and we are going to have a reunion Zoom call next week. I mean, it is, it's absolutely phenomenal how one book can create friendships around the world, without sounding too soppy about it, it is, it's a beautiful thing.

GS: Well Emma just touched on the fact that we are obviously in lockdown, so how have you continued because I believe you have embraced technology and you're continuing your tours?

AD: We are, we are doing virtual tours and we have embraced technology. We've had some hiccups along the way including the very first tour that I did where my internet provider crashed, so the tour crashed straight away but luckily Emma is on another provider so she was able to step in and save the day. So we've had issues with it, but it's been great, we have brought people together. There's people who have been on tour with us and they're coming back just for memories and things but through this we have reached out to a whole new range of people that we didn't know before who are either coming because they want to come here sometime in the future or maybe not, they're just Outlander fans and they're looking to get a bit more involved. So we have people from, literally, from all over the world, from New Zealand to Argentina to, a lot from America, to the Philippines and just everywhere and England and Scotland. We've had some local people come as well which is interesting in itself because as I said right away at the very beginning, Outlander was not that well known in Scotland and it's still not as huge in Scotland or the UK generally as it is in other countries, but it's great. As I say we have embraced the technology, we're running virtual tours, we've had what we call brunches, just get-togethers and we are looking to do other things because we enjoy it as much as everybody else because it's a way of us getting out and meeting with people.

GS: And we certainly hope that people closer to home may take advantage of what you have to offer as well just now. People may be looking to explore what's closer to home, Emma?

EC: Oh absolutely, and you know there really are gems in your local area and that's something that we have started exploring as well. We are going to be doing our Linlithgow walking tour again, we will be spending more time on that and absolutely we would recommend to people, just to look around their own local area. And actually Anne has a lovely story about we were focusing on some ancestry work and exploring grave yards. Anne what about that story about Abercorn?

AD: Again, it's another story I love when our two worlds collide. So I look at facts of the day and things that have happened regularly. So this is about Abercorn Churchyard which is a beautiful historic church yard, it is the church yard for Midhope, that area, Abercorn village, but this particular story, this fact of the day, a lady, a school teacher called Christina Kay died in 1951, and I was a bit confused because beside this notice there was a picture of Abercorn Churchyard and I thought 'oh I wonder why that's there' so I dug into it a little bit and sure enough this Christina Kay is buried in Abercorn Churchyard but why did she merit a mention in the newspaper? Well back in the 1930s, Christina Kay was a teacher in a girl's school in Edinburgh and one of her pupils was a certain Muriel who became Muriel Spark, who wrote, of course, the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. So the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, about the Edinburgh schoolteacher, is one of my favourite books and films ever and of course, Maggie Smith won an Oscar for her portrayal of Miss Jean Brodie. So I couldn't believe it, this was the woman, the teacher who she used as the model for this story and the significance of it was, it said she died at Midhope and on the other side of the grave stone, it actually said her parents had lived in Midhope Castle, so she died in the house just next to Midhope Castle but her parents had lived in Midhope Castle, and we know that people were living in there up until the 1950s so I just think that was a lovely lovely story in bringing the two things together there.

GS: It certainly rings a chord, certainly for anyone who grew up in Edinburgh that's for sure. So just as we are getting to the close of this particular podcast, I want to ask you both, it is our Tour Guide Tales, so what does being a tour guide mean to you?
AD: Well I just think, this is what I've been waiting all my life to do. And I've only discovered it six years ago. I've been through various careers and all sorts of things all my life but this is just amazing. I've always loved history, I love talking to people about it, I love showing people around the places, I've always been very involved in lots of local things in Linlithgow, and just an opportunity that that's what I get to do all day every day, just go out with people, just chat with them, show them around the country, tell them about the history, just chat to them generally about local things and ancestry. I absolutely adore ancestry, I love the whole detective nature of finding a story and I love the way it's connected and people's real life stories and their families are connected because of and part of events in history and I just absolutely adore just being immersed in that whole world the whole time.

EC: Aw that made me emotional, Anne, you know me.

AD: It is though, we've been on some unbelievable journeys together and you know just, yeah.

EC: That made me emotional when you said waited all your life, yeah. It sums it up, but I love just spending time with these women, and men actually, who come on the tour who have gone through trials and tribulations to get there and to be a part of that special journey and then to continue that friendship is just tremendous. And as I mentioned about our children, my children are connected to some of these people now and I love that. It just, for me, it shows just how small the world is and I always quote, there is a kind of hashtag people use referring to Diana Gabaldon the author of Outlander, who we should mention, and it's 'all because she wrote a book', and I just think that just sums it up, how my life has changed because Diana wrote this book.

GS: Well in the short period of time I've spent with both of you, I can see just how passionte you are. So continued success, and thanks very much for spending time with me today.

AD & EC: Thank you very much.

GS: You've been listening to the first in a series of episodes chatting and listening to some of Scotland's amazing Tour Guides, so be sure to listen next week when I'll be hearing some more incredible tales from another Tour Guide. If you liked the show, please subscribe and leave a review wherever you're listening. I'm Grant Stott, and this has been Tour Guide Tales brought to you by VisitScotland.