Heughan, Sam and Graham McTavish. Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare, and a Scottish Adventure like no Other. (London: Hodder and Stoughton LTD, 2020)
Short version: A readable walk through the Highlands of Scotland and their history with two of the actors from the TV series Outlander.
Sam (plays Jamie Frazier) and the older Graham (Dougal MacKenzie), a camera team, and a rather sturdy camper van make their way to the sites of events described in the best-selling Outlander series. It starts with a morning whisky tasting, and Sam admitting that he has not driven a stick in several years, and never driven something that large with a stick shift. Graham begins to doubt his sanity (both his Sam’s and his Graham’s). They survive, although not without one very, very close run for Graham. That wasn’t Sam’s fault for once.
Graham is the older, calmer and more history minded head of the pair. I admit, I’d skim Sam’s adventure tales for the most part, and focus on Graham’s discussion of history, landscape, and the people around them. And how the TV series fits into the history of Scotland in the early 1700s, the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie and Culloden. Although I’m not a fan of buddy-stories or of reading narrative, the two actors do a good job with their respective stories. They also give a good sense of the society of the Highlands before Culloden and the Clearances that depopulated the region. There’s heroism, treachery enough to make Judas blush, cruelty, honor, and amazing scenery. And whisky. And wine, and whisky. And adventures in kilts, and the “joys” of shooting night scenes in cold rain for the third night in a row on a rather steep grassy slope with weapons that, while not all that sharp, can still hurt you pretty badly.
I have not seen the Outlander show or read the books. Time-travel romance aside, they are pretty smelly, gritty depictions of the harsh world of the Highland clans, and I have a low tolerance for rapine and sadism. I read to escape history. However, the still images I’ve seen from the series are pretty impressive. It’s not glamourous or romantic Scotland, but the hard-scrabble world I’ve read about.
The book climaxes with the Battle of Culloden. I’ve been told that the battlefield is haunted, especially at night, and what Sam and Graham describe explains part of why. It was cousin-against-cousin, with clans having people on both sides in order to ensure survival of the larger group. Sometimes it didn’t work. They visit on a chilly, misty day, and Sam is especially moved.
The sense you get from the book is that 1) the Highland clans were hard, determined, and sometimes cruel people who were not the Romantic heroes Sir Walter Scott and others portrayed. 2) But they weren’t demons, either (OK, one or two people aside. That one laird . . .) 3) Do not let Sam drive large stick-shift vehicles.
I’d recommend the book as a light read for people interested in Highland history, in Outlander, and in how guys behave in front of cameras. Sam and Graham are professionals, for all their grousing about each other, and are good friends. It’s an easy read, and if you want the history, you can skim the whisky and vehicles bits.
FTC Notice: This book was borrowed from a family member who purchased it for his own use and the author of this review received no remuneration or promotional consideration for this review.