History, Memoir/Autobiography, Nonfiction, Travel

Clanlands by Sam Heughan & Graham McTavish

Whisky, Warfare, and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other

My heart has ached to return to Scotland for two years and I’ve been looking for every method of revisiting it that I possibly can. When I saw a customer requested this book at the bookstore, I knew I had to have it.

Synopsis

From the publisher marketing:
Two men. One country. And a lot of whisky.
As stars of Outlander, Sam and Graham eat, sleep and breathe the Highlands on this epic road trip around their homeland. They discover that the real thing is even greater than fiction.
Clanlands is the story of their journey. Armed with their trusty campervan and a sturdy friendship, these two Scotsmen are on the adventure of a lifetime to explore the majesty of Scotland. A wild ride by boat, kayak, bicycle and motorbike, they travel from coast to loch and peak to valley and delve into Scotland’s history and culture, from timeless poetry to bloody warfare.
With near-death experiences, many weeks in a confined space together, and a cast of unforgettable characters, Graham and Sam’s friendship matures like a fine Scotch. They reflect on their acting careers in film and theatre, find a new awestruck respect for their native country and, as with any good road trip, they even find themselves.
Hold onto your kilts… this is Scotland as you’ve never seen it before.

Review

I’m not the diehard Outlander fan that this book is marketed to, but I am a diehard fan of Scottish men going on road trips with their best friends and writing about it/filming it (Ewan McGregor, Charley Boorman and the Long Way series) and I’ve desperately missed reading fun travel stories and antics like Anthony Bourdain’s. If you care nothing for Outlander but love Scotland, you will enjoy this book. If you are watching/reading Outlander, be sure to get caught up with the show first as there are spoilers. And if you love Outlander already, then yes, you will enjoy this book.

I fall into the camp of people who have watched a few episodes of the show and I didn’t particularly care if any plot points were spoiled for me before I watch them because I’m not overly invested as a fan, I’m here for SCOTLAND. Give me more Scotland, tell me when I can go back, please oh please Covid go away so I can spend a month driving around the west coast of my favorite country.

Ewan McGregor sees Scotland in every place he visits, and I say everywhere looks like Pennsylvania, which also looks like Scotland. It just feels familiar, like a place I’ve always loved and known. The Cairngorms of the Highlands look like the Appalachians of my home state. My husband and I took a road trip from Edinburgh to Orkney and back and we were absolutely mesmerized. We stopped at many places the Top Gear/Grand Tour trio did on their Scottish road trip and I’ve added every visit of Graham and Sam’s to our itinerary for the next visit already.

But back to Sam and Graham. I’m publishing this review today because the series they filmed to accompany the book, Men in Kilts, airs today on Starz (which I do not have but now want to get). The intergenerational pairing of the men with rhyming names is dynamic and fun – their friendship jumps off the page and the oral history style to the book makes you feel like you’re trapped in the camper van sitting between the two of them and watching them bicker over Sam’s driving skills (or lack thereof).

Their adventure starts, as every good Scottish road trip should, with a whisky tasting (though as the boys are being responsible, one should not then drive immediately after imbibing). Sam’s (occasionally reckless) pursuit of adventure is balanced by Graham’s cautious (and as he contends age-appropriate) refusal to potentially put himself in harms way. Occasionally, we get the full treat of Graham putting his latte down and hoping on the tandem bike or in the WWII era motorcycle sidecar and he enjoys himself (mostly) to Sam’s great delight.

Clanlands is a fun buddy adventure, but also an informative trip through Scottish history, particular of the Jacobite uprising/rebellion depicted in Outlander. The rhyming men visit the battlefields from the show as well as some of the castles and I learned a great deal about a time I know a great deal about, but through an American lens. While the Brits were dealing with us ungrateful colonists throwing tea in the harbor and rebelling, the Scottish had been in a constant state of rebellion since the Stuarts were exiled to France (Bonnie Prince Charlie) and the Hanovers from Germany crossed the Channel and took over (the Georges I-III).

The Jacobites, supporters of James (father and grandfather of Charlie, both James), saw the Stuarts as the rightful monarchs of Scotland (which they were – the King of Scotland took over the monarchy of England when Elizabeth I died and he was a Stuart). Bloody battles were fought and the English won out, a frustration for the proud Scots. Sam and Graham focus on the roles of the Clans in the battles, as well as their fights amongst each other and how some chose to support the English during this period.

Graham, the historian of the pair, offers the most historical political insight and the political science student and historian in me was captivated. But Clanlands isn’t just a history book. There’s adventure, whisky, shenanigans, more whisky, re-enactments of Outlander battle moves, and much more. It’s a great adventure and friendship story and a worthwile read for anyone who loves a good road trip story.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Where to Buy
In the USA, I recommend purchasing through BookShop or your local independent, in the UK, and many other parts of the world, I recommend Blackwell’s, and if neither of those cover where you live, I recommend checking out your local booksellers! Independent bookstores are vital parts of every local community and I wholly endorse supporting your local stores versus Amazon. Click the image below to add the book to your Goodreads TBR!

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