IT is teatime on a Wednesday as the faces of Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish pop up on my computer screen. We’ve arranged to talk – via the wonders of Zoom – about their new TV show, Men In Kilts, a travelogue which sees them criss-cross Scotland in a campervan.

The Outlander stars are a likeable double act. Think Ant and Dec. A dash of The Two Ronnies. The 1970s sitcom George and Mildred springs to mind briefly – perhaps because in one episode Heughan and McTavish end up haring about in a vintage motorcycle and sidecar.

Across the eight-part series, the duo goes in search of places steeped in history and lore. The idea was sparked by McTavish’s love of clan heritage, something that Heughan equally became fascinated with while making Outlander, a time-travelling drama set in 18th-century Scotland.

Heughan describes Men In Kilts as “a love letter to Scotland”, while McTavish bills it as “the trip of a lifetime”. Their enthusiasm is infectious as they delve into everything from langoustine fishing and the art of making whisky to witchcraft, ancient rituals and standing stones.

Sweeping landscapes and dramatic aerial shots abound, but the best bits are when McTavish and Heughan are trundling along in their trusty campervan exchanging witty banter and mock barbs.

HeraldScotland: Graham McTavish and Sam Heughan go langoustine fishing during their Scottish road trip for the TV series Men In Kilts. Picture: Robert Wilson/StarzGraham McTavish and Sam Heughan go langoustine fishing during their Scottish road trip for the TV series Men In Kilts. Picture: Robert Wilson/Starz

It takes mere seconds for our interview to descend into this territory as I innocently enquire where they each are this fine evening. McTavish, 60, proffers an apologetic grin as Heughan, 41, pretends to act suspicious about his co-star’s whereabouts.

Graham McTavish: “I am in England.”

Sam Heughan: “In an undisclosed location.”

McTavish: “I can’t talk about where I am because it would give away what I am doing.”

Heughan: “He doesn’t want to tell anyone, otherwise I would find him and make him do more Men In Kilts.”

McTavish: “I am in a safe house. Secret undisclosed location. To keep me away from Heughan.”

Heughan: “I thought as much.”

It has since been confirmed that McTavish, who played Dougal MacKenzie in Outlander and Dwalin in The Hobbit movie trilogy, has joined HBO’s upcoming Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon, with filming under way in Cornwall.

Heughan, meanwhile, is in Scotland shooting the sixth series of Outlander, the big-budget historical drama that launched his career around the globe thanks to a starring role as dashing Highlander Jamie Fraser.

Men In Kilts is a markedly different project. Glasgow-born McTavish and Heughan, who is originally from Balmaclellan in Galloway and spent his teenage years in Edinburgh, hit the road last summer after the first lockdown lifted.

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The pair published an accompanying book, Clanlands, in November. The TV series was shown in the US earlier this year and has newly begun airing on this side of the Atlantic, available via the on-demand streaming service StarzPlay.

Each half-hour episode centres on a theme, journeying through food and drink, sport, song and dance, witchcraft and superstition, Scotland by land, air and sea, as well as tradition, clans and tartans, and the Battle of Culloden.

The end result is proper feel-good telly. Fans of the funny, life-affirming Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing will find Men In Kilts similarly entertaining viewing – it is in that same rich vein of two good friends enjoying a shared pilgrimage and zest for adventure.

It is an odyssey fuelled by lashings of caffeine, good humour, adrenalin, drams of whisky, and apparently, in Heughan’s case, a desire to devise increasingly fiendish methods to terrify McTavish (there is a lot of scaring McTavish – it is rather amusing).

Coming up with the itinerary, they admit, was a tricky business. “We had to narrow it down because we wanted to go to loads of places,” says McTavish. “We had to be realistic about where we could actually go. There were logistical factors involved.

“Given the fact that we did manage to get across to Lewis and Islay and go up to Inverness, it was an extraordinarily circuitous journey. We based it on things that we were interested in.”

HeraldScotland: Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish at Clava Cairns near Inverness during their Scottish road trip for the TV series Men In Kilts. Picture: Peter Sandground/StarzSam Heughan and Graham McTavish at Clava Cairns near Inverness during their Scottish road trip for the TV series Men In Kilts. Picture: Peter Sandground/Starz

Heughan takes up the thread. “We were originally basing it on certain clans,” he explains. “Then we came up with a theme idea, didn’t we? We looked at where we would base ourselves and where we had always wanted to go – our bucket list of Scotland.

“It is the bucket list of myself and McTavish. Places we can eat, places we can drink …” McTavish starts laughing as Heughan reels off their criteria. “… Places we can learn about history and places I can throw him off a cliff.”

McTavish chimes in. “Islay was definitely always on the itinerary because Sam was very insistent. There were possibly two things you were insistent about: the Islay distillery and the surfing [on Lewis]. You were very enthusiastic about the surfing.”

The series is aimed predominantly at a US audience – co-produced by Sony Pictures Television which makes Outlander for Starz – but there are subtle cultural references woven throughout that will give many Scots a good chuckle.

How did they go about striking a balance between trying to entertain and impart knowledge, in the first instance, to viewers who may not know Scotland all that well, while ensuring that the programme didn’t potentially jar with those watching on these shores?

“The way we approached it was to be as spontaneous and organic as possible,” says McTavish. “We certainly didn’t want to come across as lecturing anybody about the history and landscape and world of Scotland. It was driven by our own enthusiasm for all of the places and people we encountered.

“With the audience, as long as they feel that they’re with us, as part of the journey, then our job was done. What we wanted to impart, if anything, was the sense of us all going together and discovering all this stuff.”

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Heughan agrees with this summary. “Because of lockdown and travel restrictions, people have started to rediscover this beautiful country,” he says. “We were among the first people to shoot in Scotland after the first lockdown.

“It came out of us having almost a love letter to Scotland. We wanted to share it with the rest of the world. I hope when people in the UK watch it as well, they realise what is on their doorstep.”

The timing of Men In Kilts is serendipitous. As restrictions ease further and many Scots contemplate a summer break on home turf, it offers plenty of inspiration. If Heughan and McTavish could go anywhere right now – with no work ties or commitments – where would it be and why?

“Somewhere I would love to go and have never been is the Applecross peninsula,” says McTavish. “At one point we were thinking of cycling up that hill [Bealach na Ba]. It is part of the North Coast 500. Maybe one day we will. I have always wanted to go there.”

How about Heughan? “I have a great love of getting on ferries,” he says. “There was a point where we did build up a schedule for going to visit the smaller islands.

“Some of the Inner Hebrides – Eigg, Muck and Mull, I think Rum – we were going to do. But then with timing and the schedule it didn’t happen. There is something very magical about the wildlife and the history. That is somewhere I would love to be, especially with good weather.”

HeraldScotland: Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish at Borthwick Castle near Edinburgh during their Scottish road trip for the TV series Men In Kilts. Picture: Robert Wilson/StarzSam Heughan and Graham McTavish at Borthwick Castle near Edinburgh during their Scottish road trip for the TV series Men In Kilts. Picture: Robert Wilson/Starz

The duo is rarely without a mischievous twinkle in their eyes. They share a similar sense of humour and seldom go more than a few moments without some light-hearted teasing. How would Heughan and McTavish describe each other – in only a few words – as travelling companions?

McTavish swiftly passes the buck. “You go first, Sam,” he coaxes. Heughan looks pensive. “I can guess what his would be,” he says. “It will be something like: ‘A pain in the a***.’”

His co-star gasps in horror. “No! Not at all,” insists McTavish. “I would never describe you as a pain in the a***. Feel free to describe me as that. But you are not a pain in the a***.”

Heughan mulls over his reply: “I was going to say something like ‘good clean fun’. But really, there is nothing clean about Graham McTavish’s humour. I would say: ‘A dirty good time.’”

McTavish: “If you are wanting a dirty good time …”

Heughan: “… call McTavish. McTavish Holidays: A Dirty Good Time.”

McTavish: “Well, yours would be: ‘An unpredictable, bowel-loosening time.’”

Heughan: “Oh, lovely.”

They are grinning now. Testament to the latter description are McTavish’s not-so-subtle gripes about Heughan’s driving, coupled with Heughan’s love of high-octane pursuits and a knack for making McTavish jump out his skin when visiting spooky locations.

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Throughout the series, the pair utilise several modes of transportation – everything from a rowing boat to a tandem bicycle. Did they have a favourite steed?

“The campervan for me,” says McTavish. “It was the most comfortable. It had heat. You weren’t getting blasted [by the elements], and your backside wasn’t being ruined by a piece of ironmongery that masqueraded as a bike.”

Heughan lays his cards on the table. “To be honest, the real premise of the show was for me to try find ways to put Graham McTavish in uncomfortable situations and I did try to find other means of transport and other ridiculous things to make him do.

“He did refuse point blank to do some. There are things I made him do that he then regretted. Well, maybe not regret …” McTavish interjects. “No, I regretted them,” he deadpans.

There’s one thing they do agree on: a love of the amber nectar. Heughan is a bona fide connoisseur who has launched an award-winning blended Scotch whisky, The Sassenach, while McTavish – by his own admission – is more of a bluffer, confessing to faking his expertise over the years.

HeraldScotland: Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish learned how to cut peat at the Laphroaig distillery on Islay while filming Men In Kilts. Picture: Robert Wilson/StarzSam Heughan and Graham McTavish learned how to cut peat at the Laphroaig distillery on Islay while filming Men In Kilts. Picture: Robert Wilson/Starz

Men In Kilts saw them visit the Laphroaig distillery on Islay where they were given a masterclass in cutting peat, got to dive headfirst into a malted barley store and – surprise, surprise – enjoy a few drams. What else did they learn?

“I learned of Sam’s ability to hide whisky all about his person,” says McTavish. “I have no idea how he managed it sometimes. I think he actually had some in his wetsuit when we were surfing. It was just incredible how you managed to secrete it.”

Heughan plays along. “It was to keep me warm,” he says. “You pour it down the wetsuit. It keeps you warm. Saves you peeing yourself.”

McTavish doesn’t even bat an eyelid at that last quip. “Whatever the situation, Sam would be able to celebrate it with a dram,” he attests. “That was always quite lovely for him to surprise me with. He would just suddenly pop out a flask.”

Heughan, meanwhile, is clearly in his happy place talking about whisky. “It is such a strong part of Scottish heritage and culture,” he says. “That was interesting to dig into. Even going back to the historical side with the illicit stills. It is synonymous with Scotland, so why not celebrate it?”

Something I am keen to ask them about is the notion of “Scottish cringe”, a term used to describe embarrassment at overt expressions of national pride or cultural identity. It is a construct best captured by Renton’s infamous “it is s**** being Scottish” speech in the 1996 film Trainspotting.

HeraldScotland: Graham McTavish and Sam Heughan at Cawdor Castle during their Scottish road trip for the TV series Men In Kilts. Picture: Peter Sandground/StarzGraham McTavish and Sam Heughan at Cawdor Castle during their Scottish road trip for the TV series Men In Kilts. Picture: Peter Sandground/Starz

In recent years, it has been suggested that Scottish cringe could be diminishing. Is that something they have experienced?

“I think you are right,” says McTavish. “There has been a change. Now, being from Scotland is something not to hide. Certainly, for my father’s generation, it was hard. You were often the butt of jokes if you were from Scotland. But not anymore.”

Heughan is in fervent agreement. “Absolutely. I think it is the reason I wanted to make the show,” he says. “Something I noticed working on Outlander was obviously this huge ‘Outlander effect’ of people being interested in Scotland and Scottish history.

“I remember when I was growing up there was [this idea of] a very dour Scotsman. It was dreich and dark, and we Scottish people put ourselves down – or used to.

“There is this new positivity and, dare I say, it’s because of a strong identity and because we are a great little country and we have so much to celebrate. We are showing other parts of the UK how things should be done, maybe. It is certainly interesting.”

Over the series, they cover a lot of ground. Culloden, though, gets a big standalone episode to itself. This, says McTavish and Heughan, was something they felt passionately about.

“It is a pivotal moment, not just in Scottish history but British history and arguably world history,” says McTavish. “You see the ramifications of Culloden. Certainly, for the Highland culture and what that then did to Scotland – good or bad – is undeniable.

HeraldScotland: Graham McTavish and Sam Heughan enjoy a dram beside their campervan while filming the TV series Men In Kilts. Picture: Robert Wilson/StarzGraham McTavish and Sam Heughan enjoy a dram beside their campervan while filming the TV series Men In Kilts. Picture: Robert Wilson/Starz

"We were lucky enough to have some fabulous people to talk to about it, such as [the author and historian] Alistair Moffat. Going to Culloden and having Iain MacGillivray play the pipes on the battlefield – those were standout moments for me.”

Heughan says they wanted to challenge some of the myths about the Culloden story. “It is a battle that most Scottish people have heard about, but they probably think the Scots got beaten by ‘the English’ or the British,” he says.

“As Graham says, it was this huge pivotal moment that had repercussions all around the world. It is a fascinating story and one we wanted to tell.”

McTavish is warming to his subject. “I think as well that Culloden represents somewhat of the distillation of the myth and romanticism of Scotland, which I was interested in exploring,” he continues.

“Because when Sam says the Scots and ‘the English’ in inverted commas, of course, the reality was not that at all. It was Scots against Scots.

“There were more Scots on the British side than there were on the Jacobite side. So, it is important, when you look at history, that you look at it and see what really happened – not just what you would like to have happened.

"That is something I think that we both learned about. Not just with Culloden but generally doing the show.”

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It is almost time to wrap up our conversation. They evidently had a blast filming Men In Kilts. Would they do a second series? “Definitely. Love to,” says McTavish, answering without hesitation.

Heughan echoes this sentiment. Well, at least, I think he does ... “There are plans afoot,” he declares. “The campervan is being renovated right now. We are putting in some roll bars, safety devices, a larger toilet and a kitchen. Hopefully, it will be ready to go.”

Men In Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham is available on StarzPlay now