Face to Face with Clan Fraser
When my husband and I took a trip up to Scotland last month I was very excited. I had never been to Scotland and I had yet to meet most of my husbands extended family. Ok, I was a little nervous meeting the family (I kept telling myself: for the love of god, act like a normal person!) It was intimidating to come face to face with Clan Fraser. We had been married for a year and I was just starting to realize that I was now a part of Clan Fraser. Well everyone was just awesome and I think I convinced them that I was normal … sort of. Ewan’s parents took us to see all sorts of amazing things, including Doune Castle.
Located close to the hulk of Stirling Castle, Doune Castle seems a bit rinky-dink. Within the stone walls more than 600 years of history have passed (the site has been fortified since the Romans arrived with a bang in the 1st century AD and the current castle was built between 1375 and 1425.) Doune was the home of the Duke of Albany and hosted Mary Queen of Scots on many occasions (it’s said that Mary still haunts the castle). But by 1800 the castle was a ruin, one of many, until 1880’s when George Stuart, 14th Earl of Moray began repairs. Today the castle is under the care of Historic Environment Scotland, and is open to the public.
Until about 10 years ago, Doune Castle was a quiet and unassuming place. The kind of place that you take the kids to visit during a holiday weekend. The castle had been used in the films Ivanhoe (1952) and Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), but otherwise continued life much as it had done for the past few centuries. There was only one attendant in those days, whom I like to imagine as a slightly cranky old man. Let’s call him Angus.
Angus enjoyed a quiet life, living in a little cottage next to the castle. He might get a few visitors a week. Usually families or pensioners, occasionally someone dressed as a knight followed by someone clacking coconuts together. Angus may have thought they were strange, but chasing away the odd rabbit or being told that he smelled of elderberry was well worth the peaceful pace of his life.
Game of Thrones …
And then, in 2011, Angus was informed that there would be filming once again at Doune. This was obviously not the kind of thing that Angus enjoyed, too many people messing about in his castle. But it must be said that filming means funds and funds are important to keeping a medieval castle from crumbling,and so with a grumble, Angus kept on with his duties. Whatever trash they were filming would surely come to nothing (the characters were wearing fuzzy rugs from IKEA for crying out loud!) and Angus would soon be able to get back to his routine.
It just so happened that what they were filming was a little show called Game of Thrones and life would never be the same for poor Angus. You’ve heard the old saying: if you build it, they will come? In this case it was: if you film it, they will come. And come they did! Suddenly Angus was dealing with hundreds of visitors per month. Soon Angus had an assistant, quickly followed by more assistants.
Surely, thought Angus, this can’t last forever. Soon all of these people would forget about Game of Whatsis and they would stop coming to his castle. But before Angus could say, or shout, Go AWAY there was another film crew in his castle. The nerve! At least this people were filming something about his beloved Scotland and knew the proper gear to wear. Not an IKEA rug in sight.
… Outlander …
But this new filming brought even more people. In fact it brought all the people. As it turned out, put a hot guy in a kilt and call him Jamie Fraser and people go nuts. Outlander has been a huge hit since it hit television in 2014 and the effect on Doune Castle (and poor Angus, I imagine) has been amazing. Currently the castle has a permanent staff of 15 and often seeing hundreds of visitors per day.
On a lovely and sunny weekday we made the drive over to see the castle for ourselves.
.. and Us.
The small parking lot was full and there was a sweet little lady directing traffic and answering questions. As we were chatting an irritated American couple interrupted and demanded to know who had built this castle and why hadn’t they bothered to think of parking when it was built. I did a face palm but the parking attendant calmly explained that there were no cars in the 14th century when the castle was built. As the couple walked away in a huff I promised the attendant that not all Americans are a-holes. Just most of us.
When we visited there was major renovation in the works, with scaffolding covering much of the outer walls. The fee to enter the castle was a hefty £9 per person and with all of the renovation, much of the interior was closed off. We decided to skip the inside of the castle and instead walked around the outer keep and along the river that flows alongside the castle. Doune may be a smaller castle, but standing next to the walls you can see that it was built as a fully functional fortress. I, for one, would not want to try to storm those walls. Being so close to Stirling Castle meant that castle defenders would only have to hold out until the cavalry arrived. I informed my husband that, as soon as the renovations were complete, we would be moving in. He replied with ‘Yes, Dear’.
From Doune we went onto the Wallace Monument (big monument on a big hill. Loooong walk up the big hill. I was pleased to see that they had removed the statue of Mel Gibson as William Wallace. I get that Braveheart did wonders for Scottish tourism, but Mel Gibson? Really?) and then to the city of Stirling and the Castle.
We made a point of stopping in gift shops to pick up knick-knacks (I have an add fondness for tea towels from places we visit) and to try to find Fraser tartan. Every clan has it’s own unique tartan design and colors, even the smaller clans. But try as we might, we Could. Not. Find. Fraser tartan. Or Fraser anything for that matter. All of the clan names were in alphabetical order but they would go from Forsyth strait to Gordon. It wasn’t until Ewan and I were waiting for our flight back to London and were poking around the airport shops that it hit me and I said (read: yelled:)
Everyone in a 50 foot radius looked at me like I was bonkers but my husband is used to my strange outbursts and simply raised a brow. I explained that there were no Fraser things to be found because fans of the show must have bought everything. Ewan first looked relieved (they haven’t forgotten the Fraser clan!) and then indignant (all of those posers, wearing our tartan!) and the mystery was solved!
Our flight was 3 hours late but we eventually boarded the plane. In the seat across the isle sat a little old Scottish man. He was a bit grumpy but spoke to Ewan for a few minutes. He’d just retired from his job as an attendant at a castle, but the bloody place had turned into Disneyland and he was using his savings to move to a thinly populated island off the coast of Wales. He eventually turned to stare out the window but we could just hear him grumbling about IKEA rugs and fake Frasers.
Sidney Fraser is an American transplanted to a new life in London, where she explores fannish and geeky places, events and creations, which she relates in the continuing True and Proper Adventures of Sidney Fraser.