My next interview in the ‘Outlander – the fans who make it’ series is with Steve McLeish, owner of the “Outlandish Journeys” tours in Scotland. I had the pleasure of doing a private tour with Steve in September of 2015, where he took me to several Outlander locations. It was a day filled with historical information and beautiful places – Doune Castle, Blackness Castle, Culross, Midhope Castle, Linlithgow Palace- and absolutely amazing.
Here’s my picture of Steve in front of Midhope castle (Lallybroch) on that day.
I hope you enjoy the interview.
- Please tell us about yourself.
My name is Steve McLeish, and I am the owner and operator of Outlandish Journeys, which provides private and personalised tours of Scotland, linked both directly and indirectly to the wonderful Outlander novel series and TV adaptation. I’m a professional Historian and Genealogist, educated at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, where I earned my undergraduate Honours degree in History and my postgraduate degree in Genealogical Studies (with a special interest in the ancestry of the Scottish Clans).
I’m 40 years old and live in Bridge of Allan (near Stirling), in Central Scotland, with my wife and two wee girls. I lived in Canada for 10 years in my youth (aged 2 – 12), and we moved back to Scotland in the early 1990s, when my father began working in the Highlands. I completed my high schooling in the seaside town of Nairn, which will be familiar to Outlander fans, as this is where the British Redcoat Army encamped before the Battle of Culloden. After my father’s company HQ relocated to Stirling, I moved into central Scotland and began my undergraduate studies.
Following university, my wife and I moved to Manchester in the north-west of England, but returned to Scotland after 4 years to start a family…so I’ve been about!
- How long have you been doing your tours in Scotland for Outlander fans? Please tell us a little about the history of your company.
I have been conducting Outlander related tours of Scotland for nearly 9 years (before the TV Series was released), but have been touring Scotland for over 12 years.
I started my business conducting Ancestral Tours for my clients, who were keen to trace their Scottish ancestry, and I would take them to the places linked to their ancestors and also conduct relevant research for them. On one such tour around Inverness, my client from California began asking about Culloden and the local Jacobite history and, as we developed our discussion, I learned that she had knowledge of these topics from a novel she called ‘Outlander’. Although Diana’s books had a strong and loyal fanbase in the UK, I had to admit to my client that I had not heard of the series and, after a surprised chuckle, she was kind enough to gift me a spare copy of the first book, which she was carrying with her.
I put the copy away in my drawer until the Christmas holidays, when I began reading it, and was hooked straight away! The fact that Frank was researching his Randall genealogy immediately piqued my interest (being a professional Genealogist myself) and, once I learned that Claire travels back to the Jacobite period (one of my favourite periods of British/World History) I was a complete fan! I quickly purchased the follow up novels that had already been written at the time, and my love of the story evolved from there.
I began planning tour schedules and itineraries based on the themes in the earlier books; e.g. the Jacobites, 18th century Highland life, witchcraft and Clan histories, most of which were centred in the Highlands and central Scotland. Once the TV Series was announced, I quickly adapted and expanded my tour offering to take in the popular filming locations, many of which are important historic locations in their own right…and I am still sharing my passion for the novels and TV Series today!
My tours are personalised to my client’s requirements, giving them a great deal of control and say in where we travel to on our tour days. I do not do tour sharing, as I prefer to conduct personalised tours for my guests, so that they have me at their disposal. This helps with planning flexible and adaptable tour schedules. I conduct tours of any duration and cover the whole of Scotland, which again adds to the flexibility of my tours. My personal vehicle seats up to 7 passengers, though I have regular tours where numbers are higher and, in those cases, I work with several high quality coach contractors, giving vehicle sizes right up to 52 seats, if required.
I have been fortunate enough to build my reputation into a consistent 5-star (TripAdvisor) rated tour business and have been awarded multiple Certificates of Excellence for my work, of which I am extremely proud.
- Which Outlander location is your favourite and why?
Its really difficult to choose a favourite Outlander location, but if I really must, I think I’d go for Blackness Castle, which doubled as Fort William for Seasons 1 and 2. It’s such an amazing castle, with a long and fascinating history and, like Brianna when she visits with Roger in Season 2, it really does give you those chills! The weight of history is fully felt as you wander the halls and courtyard of this medieval fortress, and it was a fantastic location (in the best possible sense!) to host Jamie’s brutal flogging at the hands of Black Jack in Season 1.
- Please tell us about the Outlander related events you organise/ attend in Scotland.
While I don’t really organise Outlander related events myself, I have been fortunate to have been invited to the official UK Season premiere launch parties and screenings in Glasgow. As many fans will know, Amazon is the official show partner in the UK and I was offered an invite to these wonderful events, where we also met with some of the cast members, including GrantO’Rourke, Gary Lewis and Duncan Lacroix.
I also offer a fun addition to my tours, working closely with the fabulous Gillebride Macmillan, who fans will know played Gwyllyn the Bard in Season 1.
Gillebride has been kind enough to offer private audiences for my tour guests and his immense talent and friendly nature make him a huge hit for my clients!
I have also donated my day tours to several raffles and giveaways linked to Sam, Caitriona and Graham’s chosen charities/groups, including World Child Cancer, Cahonas Scotland and My Peak Challenge.
- Please tell us about the filmings you have seen of the show.
As I live in central Scotland, I have been VERY fortunate to witness filming for Seasons 1 – 4, as many of the locations used are not far from my home. These include filming for Cranesmuir, Castle Leoch, Fort William, Inverness 1940s and 1960s, a plethora of small street scenes and many more!
This has been a wonderful experience and has cemented my view that the cast and crew are some of the most friendliest in the business and always make time for their fans, despite the gruelling filming schedules and long days/nights of filming. They are so hard working but there’s always a good atmosphere at the set with jokes and banter continuing throughout the day!
I was lucky enough to get some pics with various cast members and have filmed many fan interactions and autographs signings with the cast…being EXTREMELY careful and respectful of those not wanting any spoilers for upcoming seasons!
You can view many of my Outlander filming BTS videos on my YouTube Channel here: http://www.youtube.com/c/Outlandishjourneys2014
- How much time do you spend every day on Outlander?
As Outlander now makes up about 80% of the tours that I conduct through the year, I am ‘Outlander focused’ every day of the year, which includes my tours, obviously, but also keeping up on news from the show, cast, crew, etc. and planning and expanding my tour itineraries for the next season.
- What do you like most about the Outlander books and show? What do you like the least?
In terms of the Outlander books, I love them for the historical context and just the plain fact that it’s such a gripping story, with so many complex characters, which we all love and hate! My only complaint is that I know the series will eventually end, so we’ll all have to prepare for that sad day!
In terms of the TV Series (and of course you could echo this sentiment with the books), I LOVE the fact that they have inspired so many people, of all ages, to learn about Scotland’s history and culture, and really put Scotland on the map for many that were perhaps vaguely familiar with our long and rich history! The books have obviously been drawing folks to Scotland before the TV Series, but I think for many, seeing Scotland on screen in all its glory has helped with tourism immensely and gained the series a new host of fans!
We are so thankful for the legions of passionate and dedicated fans who travel to Scotland to visit key historic and TV series locations across the length and breadth of the country…the money that the fans spend here and the increased popularity ensure that many of our historic and cultural sites will continue to be protected for generations to come.
- Which character in Outlander is your favourite? Please explain why.
My favourite character would have to be Roger, as I most readily relate to him, and he’s just a great guy! I think the main draw is that we share the same passion and profession in history, and I love his wardrobe from Season 2…I’m a bit of a Harris Tweed fan…as my previous tour guests will tell you!
- How has Outlander affected your life and/or lifestyle?
Outlander has had a HUGE impact on my life, especially in that last 9 years, as it’s been my passion and focus in building my tour business. I hope that I can play my part in expanding the knowledge of our wonderful country with my tour guests, past, present and future, through their love of Outlander!
Since I started Outlander touring in Scotland, my wife has been an easy convert to the cause, though I suspect Sam Heughan may play a wee role in that too! Like many fans, we’ve introduced the show/books to our extended family and friends, so it’s been a wonderful journey and one that I look forward to continuing for the foreseeable future…
- Is this the first fandom you are a member of? What made you decide to join this fandom, rather than any other one? What do you like and dislike about this fandom?
This is certainly the first series/TV show that I have been so heavily involved in and have had the privilege to meet so many wonderful fans on my tours and also at Outlander related events!
My involvement in the fandom really relates directly to the tours that I provide, and I so enjoy discussing the various aspects of the books and TV series, hearing a range of viewpoints and perspectives…
I love the fact the novels and TV Series have brought so many strangers together, in their common passion. I even had a wonderful tour group a couple of years ago, who began conversing on their Twitter pages, planned a tour of Scotland with me, and my tour was the first time many of them had met in person! It’s such a community driven fandom and Outlander has given so many folks the chance to bond and share their love of Diana’s wonderful creation.
- Which personality did you enjoy meeting the most? If not, whom would you like to meet the most?
I have found all of the cast and crew that I have met to be super friendly and so accommodating to their fans! It’s just such a thrill to see them in action and then get the chance to respectfully interact with them (time and location permitting) on their breaks in between scenes…Caitriona and Graham were so warm and welcoming when we chatted with them during Season 2 filming. Sam is amazing too, and takes his time to interact with the fans on a personal level, never rushing away, and ensuring that he signs every available autograph…they are all just wonderful when I have seen them at close quarters during filming.
- What keeps you connected to the Outlander fandom?
Through my tour business and the many friends/contacts that I have made in the Outlander community, I am always engaged with the fandom and series every day, whether that is via Social Media, visiting/scouting tour locations or communicating with my tour clients.
- What do you have coming up next?
I am currently updating and expanding my website (www.outlandishjourneys.com) to construct new tour schedules for the 2019 season and beyond and will be launching this updated site over the summer.
I am also in the process of filming a series of high quality Outlander-related videos which I will be sharing across my Social Media platforms later this year, so watch this space!
My contact details are: