Last year, Outlander stars Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish set off for the Scottish Highlands in a questionable campervan, keen to explore more of the country they grew up in. From Glencoe to Culloden and countless lochs and castles in between, Clanlands is a record of their adventure filming what would eventually become Starz doco series Men In Kilts, due to hit TV screens early next year.
Heughan (young, adventurous, terrible driver) and McTavish (older, grumpier, accustomed to the finer things in life) make for an interesting pair. Clanlands is divided between Heughan’s version of events and McTavish’s, with both peppering their side of the story with a good chunk of Scottish history. Their friendship, though often hidden behind jabs and gripes, and their shared love of and fascination for their home country is the best part of Clanlands.
The tales of Jacobite uprisings and clan feuds are well handled, delivered in an engaging and uncomplicated way. Leaning, naturally, towards a layman’s view of history, it’s hardly an in-depth exploration. But, that’s really not the point here, so it’s no worse off for it. There’s plenty of quirky personalities dotted around the impressive landscapes too – historical and otherwise – and both Heughan and McTavish have a knack for capturing a character and bringing them to life on the page.
It stands to reason that Clanlands would be inescapably linked to Outlander. It is, after all, how the two actors met, and its effects on Scottish tourism (pre-pandemic, of course) cannot be understated. So coming to it as a reader with no experience of the global book and television phenomenon, I expected a few references to fly right over my head. That said, they do come almost irritatingly thick and fast. For something that is marketed as a boys-adventure-turned-travel guide from two men who just so happen to be on Outlander, everything comes back to the show and their experiences on it. Fine for the diehard fan, sure, but truthfully there’s only so many jokes regarding that “Black Jack” Randall episode in Season One that can successfully land in a single three hundred page book.
The writing style, too, leaves something be desired. It almost feels like (a messy) transcript of a podcast, with the men interrupting each other’s sections to poke fun and tell jokes. Of course, this would be fine – even if a joke falls flat – if it wasn’t for the formatting. Sometimes italicised, sometimes not; sometimes in speech marks, often not, it’s a confusing series of choices that lacks consistency, and added to the ever shifting tenses, it came as a bit of surprise to learn at the end that they had a co-writer alongside them.
That said, there’s some truly lovely description throughout. And the musings on friendship, belonging, and the incredible scenery offer some of the most poignant moments of Clanlands. And though, as McTavish in particular acknowledges, it’s all a bit rose-tinted and romantic, Clanlands captures the richness and the misty allure that makes Scotland so enticing to so many.
Overall, Clanlands mostly does what it says on the tin. Led by two engaging characters, and never taking itself too seriously, it’s a love letter both to the place they call home and the US show that is the latest to romanticise it. Definitely better suited to the Outlander faithful rather than someone on the hunt for the next great travelogue; it’s sense of adventure and history is often shoved aside in favour of on set anecdotes and a sense of humour that borders on mean, rather than razor-sharp wit. Ultimately its a mixed bag, one that might work better on screen, when Men In Kilts arrives in 2021.