Are you a fan of Bonnie Prince Charlie and all things Jacobite? Or have you become an avid watcherof the tv show Outlander, which follows Claire as she travels back in time to the Jacobite sites of 1743? Then this Jacobite Motorhome Route is just the ticket!
Our Jacobite Trail covers 26 castles, barracks and battlefields (most of which feature in Outlander), connected with some of the most romantic and tragic episodes of Scottish history: the three major (and several minor) attempts to return the Stuarts to the throne of Scotland.
Part 1 of our Jacobite Trail covers most of the lower half and central area of Scotland, from Edinburgh to Inverness and Montrose to Glenfinnan. You could explore it in a week if you wanted, or take things more slowly and spend more time at a few sites, with less driving. It’s certainly long enough to divide into two itineraries, and here we cover the eastern half. (Check out part 2 for the Western half!)
Most of the sites are in the care of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) or Historic Environment Scotland (HES), so you’ll save a lot of money if you become members of both organisations before you start your tour.
Pick up your Motorhome and begin the trail in Edinburgh
Your route starts in Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital. Kick things off by picking up your motorhome from the team at Motorhome Escapes, just 5 minutes south of Edinburgh airport. And after some unpacking and settling in, park up at one of the many Edinburgh Park and Rides, or at your campsite (check out our list of caravan parks and campsites near Edinburgh) – it’s not easy to park large vehicles in the city centre – and take the bus or tram into town.
Your first stop is the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which is still a Royal palace: it’s the Queen’s official Scottish residence. Bonnie Prince Charlie used it in 1745 and you can see the bed he slept in, among many other treasures.
At the other end of the Royal Mile sits the imposing bulk of Edinburgh Castle, where the first Jacobites (supporters of King James VII, or James II in England) were besieged in 1689. They only surrendered the Castle when they became too sick to hold out any longer. During the 1715 and 1745 risings (the ’15 and the ’45), the Castle was held by Government forces and unsuccessfully besieged by the Jacobites.
Take the M9 west out of Edinburgh to Linlithgow Palace (EH49 7AL), birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots and a favourite castle of the Stuarts. During the ’45, Bonnie Prince Charlie visited it on his way south and the Duke of Cumberland stayed in it on the way north to Culloden. Some of the tours here are taken by local school pupils, so it’s a great visit for families, as well as having a lovely setting. If you’re a fan of Outlander, you’ll probably recognise it as the setting for Wentworth Prison, where Jamie is taken and tortured by Black Jack Randall in some intense scenes.
Crossing the Central Belt of Scotland to Outlander’s Castle Leoch
Follow the M9 west, and head north aross the Kincardine Bridge over the River Forth and follow the A907 to Alloa. The Alloa Tower (FK10 1PL), right in the middle of town, was the ancient home of the Erskine family and is now the largest surviving keep in Scotland. Both Mary Queen of Scots and her son, James VI and I, stayed here and it was the birthplace of the 6th Earl of Mar. He led the ’15 in support of James VI’s grandson, Prince James Edward Stuart, who was known as The Old Pretender (as in “he had pretensions to be King”, not “he was pretending to be King”).
Back on the A907/A91, cross the River Forth again to Stirling. Use the park and ride on the outskirts – as with Edinburgh, city centre parking is hard to find, and the one-way system is very confusing. Stirling Castle (FK8 1EJ) sits on top of a volcanic plug, dominating the surrounding countryside, and has recently been refurbished to look very much as it was at the time of the Stuarts. It’s a steep climb, but worth the effort! The castle played a part in both the 1708 and 1745 Jacobite risings, and was home to James IV and Mary Queen of Scots.
From Stirling, take the A84 past the Blair Drummond Safari Park (though it’s worth a visit in its own right), cross the River Teith and turn right onto the A820 to reach Doune Castle (FK16 6EA) in Perthshire. Apart from the Jacobite connection, it’s famous as a film location for, among others, Outlander (with a leading role in the series as the fictional Castle Leoch) and Monty Python’s Holy Grail.
Doune was held by government troops during the 1689 and 1715 risings but surrendered to the Jacobites in 1745. After the Battle of Falkirk in 1746 their prisoners, including the writer John Home and John Witherspoon (a signatory to the American Declaration of Independence in 1776), were housed here.
From Doune, take the A820 back to the M9/A9 and go north, then left onto the A85 to Huntingtowerfield. The car park at Huntingtower Castle (PH1 3JL) is tiny; park near Dobbies Garden Centre, the other side of the A85, and walk the half mile to the castle, which has connections to both the 1715 and 1719 Jacobite risings, as well as to James VI and I.
Heading back east for Craigievar Castle
Take the A9/A90 round the south of Perth, go east through Dundee, and turn off north towards Brechin and Montrose. On your left between the two towns, with fabulous plasterwork and wonderful views over the Montrose Basin wildlife reserve, sits House of Dun (DD10 9LQ). The house belonged to David Erskine, 13th Laird of Dun, who trod a fine line between his employment as a Judge (and therefore Government employee) and his Jacobite sympathies. House of Dun features as “Flemington” in the book of the same name by Violet Jacob, a descendant of Erskine, which covers the period and political skulduggery of the ’45.
Go back through Brechin to the A90 and head east for Aberdeen. There are several routes to your next destination, the sprawling Drum Castle near Banchory (AB31 5EY), but the hill roads are not designed for large vehicles. With a motorhome, you’re better off going into Aberdeen and out along the River Dee, even though it’s further.
Drum Castle has a secret room in the tower where Alexander Irvine, 17th Laird of Drum, a supporter of Bonnie Prince Charlie, lived out his days after the final defeat of Battle of Culloden. The room was only discovered in 2013! Apparently his head gardener got rich by plundering the bodies of the dead at Culloden.
From Drum, go through Banchory and follow the A980 Old Military Road (built both by and for soldiers during the Jacobite period). On the left between Lumphanan and Alford you’ll find Craigievar Castle (AB33 8JF), all fairy-tale pink turrets and Jacobean wood-and plaster-work. They have an extensive collection of historic artefacts and art onsite for you to view in natural light. One of their treasures is an Order of Battle for the Battle of Culloden, and it’s said that a Jacobite fugitive hid here after the ’15.
Castles of the Aberdeenshire Highlands
The stunning Castle Fraser (AB51 7LD) is reached by a decidedly cross-country route from Craigievar: go to Muir of Fowlis and Tillyfourie, then at Ordhead turn left. The Frasers were supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie in the ’45 and the oldest son at the time died at the field of Culloden. Castle Fraser has plenty of surprises for visitors – hidden staircases, a spy hole, and trapdoors galore – so watch your step.
From Castle Fraser go to Kemnay, cross the A96 at Inverurire and head via Oldmeldrum to the grand Fyvie Castle (AB53 8JS), reached via a delightful drive past ponds and through woodland. The Fyvies were another family that trod the fine line between Hanoverian (Government) and Jacobite. They managed to stay the right side of it, and kept their property, but there’s a portrait of General William Gordon of Fyvie wearing tartan in 1766; it caused a furore at the time as tartan had been outlawed because of its Jacobite connections.
South of Huntly (AB54 4NQ) and back on the other side of the A96 is our next stop on the Jacobite Trail, Leith Hall at Kennethmont, which is a beautiful and very large home. It was donated to the National Trust along with the furnishings and art as a complete collection. You can see several gifts from Bonnie Prince Charlie to Andrew Hay, brother-in-law of the Leith of the day. Andrew was 7’ 2” tall, so he must have stood out, even among the Highlanders. He went south with the Prince to Manchester and Derby, and fought his way back to Culloden. He was eventually pardoned, and you can see his Pardon here too.
From Leith Hall head north on the Old Military Road to its junction with the A97 and turn left to the ruins of Kildrummy Castle (AB33 8RA). There’s not much left of the 13th century building now but it’s from here that John Erskine, 6th Earl of Mar (whom we first met at Alloa Tower), raised the standard for the Old Pretender at the start of the ’15. After the failure of the rising, the castle was forfeited to the Crown and left to crumble.
The A97 follows the River Don in a scenic and unhurried fashion before abandoning it in favour of the Deskry Water. You stick with the River Don on the A944, which meanders right through Strathdon to the junction with another Old Military Road, the A939.
This takes you to the scenic and isolated Corgarff Castle (AB36 8YP), which has connections with both the ’15 and the ’45. It belonged to the Forbes family, who were Jacobite supporters in the ’15, providing men and ammunition to the cause. In 1746 the Jacobites used it to store ammunition and it was later converted into the star-shaped fortified barracks for Government troops that you see today.
Corgarff stands on a very exposed and, no doubt, draughty site, but you can see for miles in every direction, which is handy for spotting Jacobites (and the local whisky-smugglers). There’s a mock-up of the 17th century garrison, so you can see what life was like for those poor chilly soldiers.
Heading back to Edinburgh and Home
Corgarff marks the end of the first half of our Motorhome Jacobite Trail. From here you have two options as you head back south. The first is the hill road, with fabulous views but winding roads, via Crathie, Glenshee and Blairgowrie to meet the A9 at Perth (but don’t take this route in bad weather – it’s not worth it if you can’t see the views). The second is the flatter, easier route along the River Dee via Ballater and Aberdeen to the A90 and Perth. From there it’s straight down the motorway to Edinburgh, for a total journey time of around 3 hours from Corgaff Castle.
When you get into Edinburgh, if you want to wrap up with a final visit to some Outlander sets, then there are plenty scattered throughout the city. Use the park and ride as before, then you can visit the fictional Ardmuir Prison, or the Duke of Sandringham’s residence from Season 1 (Hopetoun House) and more. Check out the official guide to Outlander film locations in Edinburgh on the This is Edinburgh website
Travelling the Jacobite trail by motorhome means you have the flexibility to stay as long as you want at any of the locations, and you could even bring along the tv/film DVDs for the film locations you’re visiting, and enjoy a fully immersive experience watching them in the evening (top films and tv filmed in Scotland include Harry Potter, Braveheart, Monty Python & the Holy Grail, and the more recent Outlander).
Have a look at Part 2 of our Jacobite trail of Scotland to see the full journey, and merge them for a longer adventure.
Get in touch for any help and advice with planning your Jacobite Trail adventure by motorhome!
[Banner Image Credit: camano10, Flickr]