Book review: Clanlands, by Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish

Outlander stars Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish set out to celebrate the history and culture of the Highlands in a book that also sees them raiding Scotland’s larder and tippling generously on the national drink, writes Fiona Shepherd

Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish at Cawdor Castle PIC: Peter Sandground
Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish at Cawdor Castle PIC: Peter Sandground

Much like James Macpherson’s Ossian poems of the 18th century and Queen Victoria’s adoption of tartanalia in the 19th century, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels and the subsequent blockbuster television series have served to promote a rugged, romantic vision of the Scottish Highlands to a global tourist market. In Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other, Outlander stars Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish make a bluff pitch to capture that audience, celebrate the culture and interrogate the image.

Originally conceived as a podcast and now filmed as forthcoming TV show Men in Kilts, the book charts yet another buddy road trip through gorgeous scenery, this one conducted in a Fiat campervan, with occasional diversions via tandem and motorbike, fuelled by a vague plan to investigate the clan history which inspired Outlander, while raiding Scotland’s larder and tippling generously on our national drink (they had a spare designated driver).

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Their odyssey is self-deprecatingly styled as “the story of two men who know nothing.” In fact, Heughan and particularly McTavish are keen students of Highland history, the harsh and uncomfortable realities rather than the sexed-up fiction of the television series, and their relatively involved retelling of the Glencoe massacre and Battle of Culloden sits awkwardly next to their chummy parallel accounts of life on the road.

Clanlands by Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish

One suspects the television show will be a more suitable vehicle for their mutual manly ribbing and misadventures. But print allows for numerous side trips into their acting backgrounds, behind-the-scenes thespy gossip and their upbringing, with Heughan supplying a rare glimpse into his Lowland and Edinburgh upbringing – and his unsuccessful bid to join the Mamma Mia cast.

A trip to Cawdor Castle is the cue to reminisce on the numerous productions of Macbeth the pair have played in, before they exit, pursued by a mother/daughter tag team of Heughligans.

Culture vultures both, they are as excited to handle a second folio of Shakespeare’s works as they are at the sight of a historic Highland broadsword or a 17th century studded oak door, and justifiably proud of the historic sites which have benefited financially from the Outlander tourist circuit (with caveats about respecting the environment).

Clanlands is an unashamedly masculine affair. McTavish can afford to be entertained by the dubious antics of the 11th Lord Lovat from a safe historical distance and boldly go where his ancestors fought on the Culloden battlefield, but he meets his match in Swedish Special Forces veteran Mons Bolin, the owner of Finlarig Castle – with its “judgement stairs” and “beheading pit” – who is almost as fearsome as the girls of the Inverness Shinty Club.

Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other, by Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish with Charlotte Reather, Hodder & Stoughton, £20

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