I finally got to an Outlander Gathering! And what a weekend!
Women (and a few brave and crazy men) from every corner of the globe descended on the Highland town of Aviemore for which is essentially a great big party. The Outlandish UK admins who planned this year's event need a huge pat on the back because I can't even imagine how much organisation it would take to pull off such a brilliant weekend. There were so many different elements and each was flawlessly executed. Every element was thought about, every potential problem was solved before it even happened and every attendee was looked after and made to feel welcome, including me, who knew a grand total of about three people there.
With exclusive use of the MacDonald Resort's Morlich Hotel the long weekend began on Thursday evening with a meet up in the lobby where we collected our passes and a rather bloody nice goody bag. I was staying down the road in a lovely B+B (Cairngorm B+B - Review coming soon) so I headed back to my room, via the Happy Haggis Chippy of course because you can't visit Aviemore without a chippy from the Happy Haggis, in my humble opinion. I had a feeling an early night would be needed.
Friday morning was an early rise as we had a day of touring ahead of us. We boarded the buses and our tour guides Jane and Susan regaled us with tales of clans, wars and royalty as we winded our way across to the east to our first stop - Culloden.
Having visited before and finding it quite emotional I decided to spend this visit chatting to the others and finding out how they came to be fans of Outlander and what they felt about Scotland itself. I met the cheery and hugely fun Jill from Australia who I could have talked to all day. Her husband stumbled across Outlander one day and presuming it was like Highlander settled down to give it a bash. Three episodes in and he was hooked. He pursauded Jill to watch it with him and they have now watched every episode. Jill reads the books to her husband every night and they play the soundtrack to help him relax. You see, her husband has PTSD and the scene after Culloden when Jamie shows serious signs of the condition resonated with the couple. They were in Scotland for the gathering and were spending a further 3 weeks there. I found that a lot, the women visiting weren't just visiting for the Gathering, they had huge itineraries planned, tours of castles, visits to ancestral lands, munros to climb, they loved our wee country and I've never felt so lucky to live here.
After Culloden we popped along the road to Clava Cairns, the 4000 year old standing stones and Cairns that include a split stone. You can imagine what happened next.... yes, a coach full of women hoping to be sucked through the stones back to the 1700's and a queue of photo taking on the process. We had lunch here and I met some of the Outlander Fanatics of Washington State, a group of over 1000 members from Washington. We bonded over cheese and onion Walkers and BBQ Lays, both equally as good I say.
Beauly Priory was next and as I'd never been here I spent time exploring the village. What a cute wee place. With equally cute and tempting shops. Time to get back on the bus before I seriously overspent.
Our final stop for the day was Wardlaw Mausoleum, the burial place of the "Old Fox". Author, and relative of the man himself after marrying into the clan twice, Sarah Fraser, met us there and gave a fascinating talk about his life and legacy. She wrote "The Last Highlander", a biography of the Clan Chief and rebel Lord Lovat.
The bus was a whole lot quieter on the way home, everyone was restoring their energy ready for tonight, which promised to be a right old knees up.
It lived up to its promise. My head ache the next morning proved that.
I'm not sure what the residents of Aviemore must have been thinking on that Friday night. I'd have loved to have heard their conversations. Having enjoyed a couple of cocktails in my B+B I took a slow walk up to the hotel and it was bizarre to say the least. Women dressed up in their 17th and 18th century attire, long tartan cloaks, bonnets and corsets. Or French high society gowns with lace and silk.
We took our seats at long tressle tables gorgeously decorated with standing stones, thistles and white roses. I sat next to the girls from the Southern California (SoCal) group and got a tad star-struck as I regularly watch their periscopes from Outlander events. They were great fun and introduced me to the "Chocolate Bomb", but the less said about that the better. Having just climbed the Cairngorm Mountain they bagged two Munros on their trip climbing Ben Nevis the next day. Clanedonia, an evidently hugely popular tribal pipe and drums band, surprised us all when the tore onto the stage, in their gritty highland attire and massive drums, then the buffet opened and we were treated to some proper Scottish fair such as Venison Pie, pokes of fish and chips and cheese with oatcakes. After the whisky cocktails we were served when we came in and the wine on the tables the room was in danger of beginning to spin so I took myself outside to the picnic tables for a chat to a lady from Glasgow. I was loving chatting to all these different people, their stories varied so much but all had found Outlander and it felt like a great big cosy family. Women from completely different backgrounds chatted and laughed about "knee porn" and "the fit Stanley Weber" like they had been friends forever. Over the weekend I met women from Australia, South Africa, France, New Zealand, Germany and Ireland and they all spoke with true love for Scotland. I loved hearing about their itineraries, why they were visiting each place and how each felt a connection with Scotland. I was reminded again how lucky we were to live here and vowed to continue to explore it as much as I could.
The women who had carted their handmade 18th century garments in their luggage from all corners of the globe paraded the stage in the costume competition and the winners were awarded with prizes including hand stitched bags from the Outlander costume designer Terry Dresbach.
I stumbled home in the dark after a couple of wrong turns and couple of beers too many, luckily it was a 5 minute walk and I got to my bed safe and sound and more than ready for some sleep.
Saturday was market day and we shopped till we dropped. Tartan shawls, art work, brooches, jewellery, confectionery, books, all with a Scottish theme and all selling extremely well. We also had education sessions and I absolutely loved listening to Maggie Craig telling the story of Damn Rebel Bitches, the women of '45. The story of how the Jacobite women showed their strength and courage to help fight and made astonishingly brave decisions and moves that undoubtingly contributed to helping the cause. Maggie spoke with such passion for her books that I went straight to buy it, unfortunately everyone else had the same plan and they had already sold out but I did manage to get my hands on another of her books, Bare-arsed Banditti, about the men of '45 which I'm now half way through and can highly recommend. The herbalist Claire MacKay, who advised the Outlander team, held classes where participants brewed their very own balm and Gaelic coach Gillebride MacMillan, who played Gwyllyn the Bard in the show, taught the celtic language to the woman in his kilt and tweed.
A very welcome surprise took place in the auditorium that afternoon, when Rik Rankin (Roger) arrived for a Q+A with Outlandish Admin Angelo Sasso. He charmed the audience and had them in stitches, making it a definitely a highlight of the weekend for everybody.
Unfortunately I was called away before the 60's themed evening but judging by the photos all over Facebook it seems to have been an another amazing night. There was also a treasure hunt on the Sunday to raise more money for the charities.
I hear this is to be the last Gathering organised by Outlandish UK and I can now say that I, like the other hundreds of women who partied the weekend away, will take away some pretty fantastic memories. I saw friendships formed andrekindled between women from all over the world, all with common bond, all with a love for Outlander and even more important to me, a love for Scotland, which made me immensely proud
This amazing event was organised by Outlandish UK who you can follow on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks to the admins and to Visit Scotland who invited me along.