This blog post is a particularly exciting one for me, as it is sort of a culmination of the last couple of years of research and interest to announce and explain The Real Outlander Tour that Ian and I will be running next year, 28th May- 4th June, and 17th-24th September. We have had a wonderful field school season this year – with successful, fun and interesting projects in Perthshire in June and at Kildavie on Mull in September. We have had, without fail, great groups of students who have really gotten on board with our research programme and have learned and practiced archaeological methods on the survey and excavation of 18th century sites.
Now, I have been a fan of the Outlander (or Cross-stitch in the UK) books for a very long time. I think Diana Gabaldon is a really wonderful story-teller, but she also really picked the right time period and place. Jamie and Claire’s world, 18th century Scotland, is an incredibly interesting and evocative time and place – the Jacobite uprisings in combination with changes in science, philosophy, technology and medicine with the Enlightenment, made it a volatile and exciting time. And with all that, there are the normal, everyday people – not the princes or chiefs, but the crofters, farmers, fishermen, seamstresses, etc… whose lives were irrevocably changed by economic and agricultural transformations beyond their control.
We see some of the effects of these changes in the archaeology, with the abandoned settlements scattered through the Highlands and the field system changes involved with a shift to sheep grazing, but what are the changes on at the local level? We all know the stories (and Outlander highlights much of this displacement and despair) of families too poor to sustain themselves after the uprisings, of Scots forced from their ancestral lands by changes in agriculture and economy. But surveying these sites and seeing the abandoned townships, and people’s homes, creates an immediate desire to understand more about the lives of the people who built these places and lived here for generations.
Ian and I began thinking about our Jacobites, Clearance and Scots project from the aspect of The Grand Tours that naturalists, antiquarians, explorers and young students were undertaking from the 17th century, with them reaching their peak in popularity in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These individuals were coming to the Scottish Highlands to see the locals in their natural habitat, ironically, at a time when things were irrevocably changing for them. Our survey of the military road network in Perthshire is intended to follow some of the roads that these travellers would have traversed and we want to try and see what they would have seen, as well as recording the different elements of the road construction. In recording all different aspects of the visible archaeological record, we have been able to start to un-pick some of the details of the changing landscape of the 18th and 19th centuries in our survey areas.
So, it is with great excitement that Ian and I are embarking on our next venture with HARP – and offering our version of The Grand Scottish Tour. We will be taking small groups of people along the roads that the 18th and 19th century travellers took and looking at the sites where these major political events took place, but also where the ordinary crofter lived, worked and eventually left. This is such an amazing opportunity to talk to people about archaeology, what we do as archaeologists and specifically, to talk about the stories and history of 18th century Scotland. When I have done tours in the past (tour guide on Hadrian’s Wall), my favourite part was being able to talk to people about the archaeology and then get to see them engage with the visible remains of the past; and this tour will be essentially that – a chance for people to engage with the history, archaeology and landscape of one of the most interesting, challenging and haunting time periods in Scotland’s past.
In this tour, we will bring together the grand-scale history with the local archaeology and introduce our visitors to the best of 18th century Scotland. Big thanks in all this are owed to the students who have come out to the Kildavie and Jacobites, Clearance and Scots field schools in the past few years, as without their help and hard-work, we wouldn’t have nearly as much amazing stuff to talk about and show others. Looking forward to a future blog post about the tours…