I’ve already noted how pop culture can add to your appreciation of sightseeing in Scotland. (I’ve also pointed out how sometimes pop culture is a rotten history teacher.) While traveling here, I keep hearing about Outlander — an adored series of novels by Diana Gabaldon, which has now been turned into a popular TV series on the Stars network. My sense is that Outlander pilgrims are helping to drive a recent boost in Scottish tourism. I’ve been watching the show as I travel through Scotland, and have enjoyed checking out a few places with Outlander ties.
Doune Castle — the third in my series of sneak-preview listings from our upcoming Rick Steves Scotland guidebook — stars as “Castle Leoch” in Outlander. Driving to the castle (just 20 minutes from Stirling), I expected to find lots of Claire Randall tie-ins. But the castle management seems just a bit behind the curve: The only Outlander exhibit I saw was a hastily assembled cardboard cut-out, describing various shooting locations, hidden away in the castle cellar. My guess is that, if they can get the funding, this will be remedied in the future…or maybe they just don’t realize why so many people are visiting all of a sudden.
That said, as an even bigger fan of a certain British comedy sextet than I am of Outlander, I was ticked to learn the castle was also a filming location for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Best of all, the audioguide is narrated by a Python: Terry Jones.
My best advice: If you love Monty Python, see Doune Castle. If you love Outlander, consider a visit, but don’t expect much. And if you don’t know Graham Chapman from Dougal Mackenzie, skip it.
Here’s the listing from our new Scotland guidebook:
Doune Castle (pronounced “doon”) is worth considering for its pop culture connections: Most recently, Doune stands in for Castle Leoch in the TV series Outlander. But well before that, parts of Monty Python and the Holy Grail were filmed here. And, while the castle may underwhelm Outlander fans (only some exterior scenes were shot here, and currently there’s only one paltry display about the show on site), Python fans — and anyone who appreciates British comedy — will be tickled by the included audioguide, narrated by Terry Jones and featuring sound clips from the film. (If you’re not into Python or Outlander, Scotland has better castles for you to visit.)
Cost and Hours: £5.50, daily April-Sept 9:30-17:30, Oct-March 10:00-16:00, tel. 01786/841-742.
Visiting the Castle: Buy your ticket and pick up your 45-minute audioguide, which explains that the castle’s most important resident was not Claire Randall or the Knights who Say Ni, but Robert Stewart, the Duke of Albany (1340-1420) — a man so influential he was called the “uncrowned king of Scotland.” You’ll see the cellars, ogle the empty-feeling courtyard, then scramble through the two tall towers and the great hall that connects them. The castle rooms are almost entirely empty, but they’re brought to life by the audioguide. You’ll walk into the kitchen’s ox-sized fireplace to peer up the gigantic chimney, and visit the guest room’s privy to peer down the medieval toilet. You’ll finish your visit at the top of the main tower, with 360-degree views that allow you to fart in just about anyone’s general direction.