5 Reasons “Outlander” Fans Will Love Scotland’s Isle of Lewis

Outlander-coverCan’t get enough of the stunning scenery from Outlander? The Isle of Lewis, in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, has loads of history and spectacular vistas that will satisfy those who love this romance/ adventure TV series.

1. Magical Stone Circle

The ancient stone circle called Craigh na Dun that transports Claire into the past is fictional, but the real circle that it was built to resemble is Callanish stone circle on the Isle of Lewis.

Built from multi-ton stones that were dragged for several miles across the land, the Callanish circle is situated on a hilltop with a view of Loch Roag and the mountains to the south. It’s not hard to imagine this beautiful and scenic circle as being a magical portal through time. These standing stones have been part of this windswept landscape for more than 4,000 years, and during all those millennia, they’ve remained the constants as people farm the land and wage wars and fall in love. To read more about Callanish, click here.

Callanish with woman visitor ©Laurel Kallenbach

A woman inspects one of the Callanish stones on Scotland’s Isle of Lewis. ©Laurel Kallenbach

2. Scottish Heather

One of Scotland’s national flowers, the pink-purple flower of hardy heather is well suited to Scotland’s rugged, rocky hills. One legend surrounding heather is that it grows over the places where fairies live. And some Highlanders attached a spray of heather to their weapons for luck. Scottish heather has had plenty of medicinal uses through the ages, including as a remedy for digestive problems, coughs, and arthritis. In Outlander, heather is just one of the botanicals that Claire Beauchamp uses in her healing practice. The Scots’ love of heather is exemplified in a Season 1 episode in which a man is fatally gored by a wild boar. As he lies dying, Claire asks him to describe his home. He tells her that the heather is so thick he could walk on it.

Scottish heather on the Isle of Lewis ©Laurel Kallenbach

Scottish heather on the Isle of Lewis ©Laurel Kallenbach

3. Old Broch Tower

In Outlander, Lallybroch (also known as Broch Tuarach) is Jamie Fraser’s estate, which includes several crofts (see #4) on the ancestral land. A “broch” is an Iron Age fortress-like round-tower unique to Scotland. Not far from Callanish, on the Isle of Lewis is Dun Carloway Broch. Few brochs as well preserved as this one, and you can feel some of the Fraser clan’s heritage in its mossy stone walls. This one overlooks the nearby coast.

Dun Carloway Broch ©Laurel Kallenbach

Dun Carloway Broch ©Laurel Kallenbach

4. Crofts (small farms)

A delightful scene in Season 1 of Outlander involves Jamie collecting rent from the tenant crofters soon upon his and Claire’s arrival at Lallybroch estate. Jamie proves to be a bit too indulgent with a few of his less reputable farmers. A croft is essentially a small agricultural unit, usually a part of a landlord’s larger estate.  On Lewis, you can see crofts and visit a historic “blackhouse”—one of the old farmhouses with no chimney that was always so smoky that the ceilings and walls turned black.

A farm on the Isle of Lewis ©Laurel Kallenbach

A farm on the Isle of Lewis ©Laurel Kallenbach

5. Hills, Lochs, and Beaches 

Outlander features gorgeous cinematograpy of the Highlands, with craggy hills, lush forests, and placid lakes. Lewis has no shortage of scenery with rocky outcrops, hills and mountains, plus overlooks of the wild Atlantic coastline. In fact, aside from small villages and the town of Stornoway (where there’s an airport if you prefer to fly rather than take the ferry from the mainland), most of Lewis is peat moorland, freshwater lochs, silver-sand beaches, and flowering meadows. These beautiful, wild places are perfect for hiking, bird- or whale-watching, fishing, boat trips, cycling, or scenic driving.

Cliff Beach, Isle of Lewis. Photo courtesy Visit Scotland

Cliff Beach, Isle of Lewis. Photo courtesy Visit Scotland

For more information, see Visit Scotland’s Outlander map of film locations. Or visit the Isle of Lewis information site.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor 

Originally published June 2016

Read more about my travels in Scotland:

Bath Thermae Spa in England: Better Health through Water

When the traveling gets tough, the tough take a bath. After a long day of sightseeing or hiking through the countryside, one of the best things to do is soak your achy feet in the hotel hot tub or spa.

The Rooftop Pool at Thermae Bath Spa overlooks a glorious view of the city of Bath, including Bath Cathedral. © Bath Tourism Plus/Colin Hawkins

It turns out this watery antidote for stress has a long tradition: The ancient Romans had a saying for it: “sanitas per aquam,” which translates as “health through water.” And not coincidentally, the word “spa” is an acronym taken from that Latin phrase.

Geothermally warmed mineral springs were the first spas—used for healing. These waters naturally bubble up from the ground, bringing minerals from the earth’s core—minerals that can help improve certain skin conditions, arthritis and other musculoskeletal ailments.

In Bath, England, warm mineral waters have welcomed visitors for millennia. The Celts worshipped the water goddess Sulis there, and the ancient Romans (who ruled Britannia from the 1st through 5th centuries A.D.) built stone-enclosed pools and steam rooms for their health and restoration.

During the 1700s and 1800s, the British aristocracy flocked to the town of Bath for social parties and to “take the waters,” encouraged by the tale of how Queen Mary’s fertility troubles ended after she bathed in the waters and ultimately gave birth to a son.

Modern Spa, Ancient History

Today, Thermae Bath Spa is located in a chic modern building not far from the ruins of the ancient Roman baths. Although no one’s claiming anymore that the water cures infertility or any other major health problem, this is still the perfect place to shed your street clothes and spend a half- or full-day in a robe and swimsuit soaking like a Roman.

The indoor Minerva Pool has jets and moving water currents. © Thermae Bath Spa/David Saunders

My husband and I visited Thermae Bath Spa on a chilly, drizzly English afternoon, when a hot soak was most inviting. We started with a dip in the Minerva Bath, a large, indoor thermal pool equipped with massage jets, a whirlpool, and a “lazy river” with a current strong enough that it carried us around the pool. We hung onto flotation “noodles” and cruised the perimeter without moving a muscle. Between the water’s temperature (92°F) and the mineral-rich water (the slight sulfur smell is the giveaway), we felt like limp noodles.

After a long drink of water (it’s important to rehydrate while you soak), we checked out the über-cool co-ed steam rooms where we sweated in glass-enclosed circular steam areas. Each had a different aromatherapy scent: lavender, eucalyptus, rose and frankincense. A central waterfall shower was the spot where everyone gathered to cool off before trying a new scent.

At the center of the Thermae Bath Spa Steam Room is a ceiling shower for cooling off after a hot steam. © Thermae Bath Spa/David Saunders

A note about facilities: pools, steam rooms, and the locker rooms are all co-ed. This is Europe, after all! It was a little odd for us Americans who are used to gender segregation in public restrooms, gyms and pools, but we went with the flow. The locker rooms do have private cubicles where you can dress. Bathing suits (what the Brits call “swimming costumes”) are required.

Although Thermae Bath Spa offers a number of water-centric therapies—including watsu (massage done while you float in a warm pool), Vichy showers, body wraps and more—we opted for pool soaking, which we could enjoy as a couple. If you’re visiting Bath for several days, I’d highly recommend taking a separate day for a massage or special treatment.

For the grand finale, my husband and I deepened our relaxation in the steamy Rooftop Pool. The water was perfect, and the views of Bath’s skyline were spectacular. A high-pressure cascade gave us a deep-shoulder massage and sent a wave of tingles over my scalp. The added bonus: A huge rainbow appeared in the sky, arching over Bath’s cathedral. The entire pool population ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the sight. Unforgettable.

Feasting in the Natural Foods Restaurant

The spa’s Springs Café serves wonderful local cuisine. Photo courtesy Thermae Bath Spa

Afterwards, we realized we were hungry, but weren’t quite ready to leave. No problem, the spa’s Springs Café Restaurant serves everything from light snacks, appetizers, paninis, and hot gourmet meals. The atmosphere is casually elegant, and almost everyone comes in their robe. So, in our white, toga-like wraps, we dined quite well on slow-cooked Wiltshire beef and wild mushroom and Bath Blue cheese risotto with glasses of wine. The menu emphasizes nutritionally balanced foods made from locally produced fare.

Soaking, steaming, feasting—what more could we ask for? My husband and I came away from Bath Thermae Spa feeling relaxed, radiant, well-fed, and squeaky clean. The ancient Romans definitely had the right idea—and the city of Bath has created a first-class modern version of the historic baths. Add it to your itinerary—it’s a highlight of the city.

Clean Water Policy

The thermal water at Thermae Bath Spa bubbles naturally to the earth’s surface, and is estimated to be 10,000 years old. It contains more than 42 different minerals, the most concentrated being sulphate, calcium, and chloride, which are reported to be good for sore joints and some skin conditions.

The spa filters the water to remove iron and bacteria. A tiny bit of chlorine is added for sanitary reasons.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally posted May 2013

For more information on visiting Bath, England, see Visit Bath.

Read more about my travels in England:

The Georgian exterior of Thermae Bath Spa shows the honey-colored Bath stone that appears in buildings throughout the historic city. © Bath Tourism Plus/Colin Hawkins

Have Book, Will Travel

While cruising Maine’s Penobscot Bay on a schooner, this girl was immersed in a Harry Potter book. She could have been me at age eight.   ©Laurel Kallenbach

You can tell a lot about a person by their books: at home and on the road.

I have shelves of uncategorized fiction, including books I’ve read and those I haven’t. There’s a small, poetry-sized shelf for volumes of poems. There’s a delicious space for cookbooks in the kitchen. The sustainable living books are on my loftiest shelf.

And—of course!—I have devoted several rambling shelves to travel guides and travel memoirs and travel histories. All the destinations are mixed up: Egypt beside Ireland beside Singapore beside Belize. I’ve remapped the world.

Going Places

Whether or not a book is specifically about travel, it takes me on a journey—figuratively and literally. Many times, when I look at photos from past vacations, I’ve noticed that the book I’m reading made it into a picture or two.

Antigua’s Carlisle Bay beach was lovely, but my mind was in 17th-century Holland: I was reading Tracy Chevalier’s “The Girl with the Pearl Earring.” ©Laurel Kallenbach

In fact, I often remember the books I read during specific trips, either because they helped pass long hours on the airplane or because I was so mesmerized by the book that it distracted me from the actual destination.

For instance, I read The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan in Fiji. I had plenty of time toward the end of the trip for reading because a hurricane was moving through that part of the Pacific. Although the hurricane remained 500 miles from the Fijian islands, the water got so murky that snorkeling was bad. By afternoon on the remote island of Kadavu, it started to rain buckets. We were staying in a solar-lit, thatched bure; when ours got damp and dark, we huddled in the dining building, which had a metal roof and hurricane lamps. I was happy to disappear into Tan’s magical mother-daughter saga. The next day, we flew back to the main island and stayed at a hotel near the airport. There, Ken and I sat on the bed and gazed out at horizontal rain and wind as they denuded the palm trees. Escaping again into the book, I could almost forget the howling outside.

“The Traveller’s Guide to Sacred Ireland” by Cary Meehan took me to amazing standing stones, like Kilclooney Dolmen in County Donegal. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I read Jurassic Park during my honeymoon on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Ken read it on the flight east—and during our unexpected sleepover in Atlanta due to cancelled flights. Then I read it on the beach and during the flight home. (To help us travel light, we pack books that both of us are interested in. That way we swap books halfway through the trip.)

In Scotland, I read a second-hand Amelia Peabody mystery—one of a series of charming archaeological whodunits set in Egypt during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When I was finished, I donated this one to a retreat-center library on the island of Cumbrae. (That’s another secret to traveling light: leave it behind for someone else to read.)

In England, I read Pride and Prejudice for two reasons: a) because I never had, and b) because it felt right to be reading Jane Austen while visiting the very manor houses, villages and gardens where the P&P movies were filmed.

Dove è la Toilette? (Where’s the bathroom?)

Where would we be without guidebooks and phrasebooks? Lost, I imagine. In the days before e-readers, I photocopied the pertinent pages before I traveled and then discarded the pages as I moved from place to place.

True confession: I still do this because a) I prefer not to lug expensive electronics around the globe, and b) batteries choose to die and wireless tends to disappear the instant I arrive in way-off-the-beaten-path places.

The Temple of Apollo at Stourhead estate in England, was the setting of a love scene in the 2005 movie “Pride and Prejudice.” I read the book while I was in the region. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Rick Steves’ Italy was my lifeline 15 years ago when I traveled alone for a month in the Lake District and Tuscany. I carried photocopied pages (a Rick Steves–sanctioned method), and everywhere I went—restaurants, cafés, museums, hill towns, lakes—Americans pored over the same book. The Rick Steves guide was an excellent ice-breaker: after all, you know the reader speaks (or at least can read) English. Many times I’d lean over to the adjacent table at a trattoria and start a Rick-related conversation:

“I see you’re traveling with the Rick Steves guide. Are you staying in Varenna or Menaggio here on Lake Como?”

“We got into that cute little mom-and-pop hotel in Varenna. You?”

“Varenna. That hotel was booked, so I’m staying at a nice place on the outskirts. A little pricier, but there’s a lovely garden and a fresco in the breakfast room! How are Rick’s suggestions for restaurants here in town?”

“Outstanding! We’ve been to all of them. ‘Stick with Rick’ is our motto.”

Stick with Rick became my mantra for that trip—half of it anyway. I mostly agreed with his recommendations for pretty medieval villages to visit, and I appreciated his historical background. In May, when tourism was light, seeing others with Rick Steves’ Italy was a novelty. By June, as crowds increased, the thrill had worn off and I had to get off the Rick grid for a little solitude.

For better or worse, at home or abroad, books unite us.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally posted July 2013

What books have transported you most? Does a certain type of book work for you when you travel? And how do you read: eBook or paper? Leave a reply below, if you like…

I used the titles of books to create a little “book haiku” about traveling. ©Laurel Kallenbach

 

Ghosts That Haunt Bath, England

Are you brave enough to seek out Bath’s most haunted locations this Halloween? There are plenty of places in and around the historic city of Bath with fascinating ghostly histories and scary stories.

Feel the chills at the haunted halls of Longleat House. Photo courtesy of Longleat

In such a beautiful town, it’s not surprising that some restless spirits still walk the beautiful streets of Bath and refuse to leave some of the elegant buildings they once frequented in life.

For a truly frightening evening, take a ghost walk of the city. A guide will lead you and share the startling stories about Bath’s haunted history with Ghost Walks of Bath. Or, explore the following ghoulish locations on your own…if you dare, that is!

The Grey Lady Ghost: Theatre Royal & Garrick’s Head Pub

The top, left-hand box facing the stage at the Theatre Royal in Bath is said to be the favorite haunt of the Grey Lady ghost. Legend has it that she fell madly in love with an actor in the 18th century and hung herself when her love was unrequited.

The Theatre Royal’s dramatic productions can’t surpass that of the legend of the Grey Lady ghost. Photo courtesy Visit Bath

Built in 1805, the Georgian-era Theatre Royal was beautifully refurbished in 2010. The Main House offers a year-round theatrical program, including many West End productions of plays, operas, comedies, dance, along with frequent Sunday concerts.

You may make it out of the theatre without encountering any specters, but you aren’t safe from the ghost of the Grey Lady even after you leave the Theatre! She is also said to haunt the Garrick’s Head Pub just next door.

Sit back and watch the hustle and bustle of Bath go by while enjoying a beer at Garrick’s Head Pub in downtown Bath. Photo courtesy Garrick’s Head

The Garrick’s Head is renowned as the most haunted pub in Bath, and the ghost of the Grey Lady is only one of the weird encounters you might have. The story they tell at Garrick’s is that the Grey Lady threw herself from an upstairs window following the death of her lover in a dual with her husband. (Slightly different story but with the same gruesome result!) Her hauntings of the theatre and pub are said to leave behind a lingering scent of jasmine.

More alarmingly, over the years Garrick’s Head landlords and bar staff have reported incidents of a poltergeist throwing candles and cash registers across the bar. In addition, it’s said that a blood stain appears on the pub floor in the same place every year.

Garrick’s Head was once the home of the famous Beau Nash, a celebrated “dandy” and the leader of fashion in 18th-century Britain. Nash was the Master of Ceremonies in Bath, a renowned spa town visited by the rich and royal.

Unsurprisingly, Garrick’s Head is a stately building, and its location next to the Theatre Royal always makes for an interesting and colorful crowd. It is open every day from noon onward; lunch and dinner are served in the bar, on the terrace, or in the dining room.

Lady Louisa of Longleat House

Though it is best known for its safari park, Longleat Estate also has some dark attractions even more wild than gorillas and hyenas.

Keep a lookout for the ghost of Lady Louisa who still wanders the ancient halls frantically searching for her long-lost footman lover. The story goes that her jealous husband confronted the footman and pushed him down the stairs before burying him in the cellar, unbeknownst to Lady Louisa.

Nestled in 900 acres of Capability Brown–landscaped grounds, Longleat Manor—20 miles south of Bath—is one of the finest Elizabethan stately homes in the country. There you can step back through over 450 years of history and marvel at the fantastic collection of artworks, paintings, tapestries, and furniture collected over generations.

The wandering phantom of Longleat House. Photo courtesy Longleat

Jungle Kingdom and Animal Adventure let visitors get close to amazing animals. On the six-and-a-half-mile drive-through experience, there’s plenty to look for, from cheeky monkeys to majestic lions.

Make this year’s Halloween one you won’t forget in a hurry with a spine-tingling Longleat Ghost Tour. Your guide will take you through the spooky cellars, attics, and corridors as you explore the Wiltshire estate’s chilling past, from October 26 to November 3, 2019. Suitable for children aged nine and over, this tour will feature live actors, so it’s not for the faint-hearted!

A Hanged Housekeeper: Francis Hotel

The historic Francis Hotel in Bath is haunted by a former housekeeper who sadly hanged herself after a long period of depression. Guests have reported being kept awake by the sounds of her scratching and tapping from inside their room. One guest reported their hot water bottle fles off the table in their bedroom.

The specter of a depressed maid stalks the posh halls of Bath’s Francis Hotel
Photo courtesy Francis Hotel Bath-MGallery

Love Never Dies: Amarone Restaurant

Beau Nash’s lover, Juliana Popjoy, was so distraught when the renowned 17th-century socialite died that she lived the rest of her life in a hollowed-out tree (!!), vowing never to sleep in a bed again. Her ghost now apparently haunts their former home, which is now the chic Italian restaurant, Amarone, located in one of Bath’s elegant Georgian buildings.

Amarone’s relaxed atmosphere, combined with thoughtfully created menus and impressive decor, ensures a memorable experience in Beau Nash’s former home. The menu includes freshly prepared pasta dishes, locally sourced steaks and fish fresh from the Dorset coast, as well as stone-baked pizzas and delectable desserts. The wine list has been compiled to complement the traditional yet innovative Italian cuisine.

As you enjoy your meal at Amarone, you might notice a woman in 1960s-style clothes dining alone. She seems perfectly normal—until she disappears, presumably about the time she receives the bill!

Two ghosts grace the Italian restaurant Amazon. Photo courtesy Amarone Restaurant

Carriage of Eloping Lovers: The Royal Crescent

Will you see the phantom horse-drawn carriage outside The Royal Crescent, Bath’s most iconic landmark? The carriage is often spotted and is thought to carry Elizabeth Linley and playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan as they eloped in 1772. Sheridan won Miss Linley’s hand after he dueled with Captain Thomas Matthews. The marriage started out happy, but later Sheridan was unfaithful. Shortly thereafter, poor Elizabeth contracted tuberculosis and died at age 38.

The 500-foot-long Royal Crescent is arranged around a perfect lawn overlooking Royal Victoria Park and forms a sweeping crescent of terrace houses. It is one of the greatest examples of Georgian architecture anywhere in the United Kingdom.

Bath’s Royal Crescent: the scene of a ghostly elopement. Photo courtesy Visit Bath.

Today, The Royal Crescent is home to a museum of Georgian life at No. 1 Royal Crescent, the five-star Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa, and private housing. You might have seen this popular location in various films and period dramas. Jane Austen’s Persuasion included many scenes shot at the Royal Crescent, and it’s also featured in the 2008 film The Duchess starring Keira Knightley.

For more information, check the Visit Bath website. 

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Photo courtesy Visit Bath