IT’S spring 2017 and like every parent who has ever decided to do a last-minute jaunt with a toddler and baby, we have regrets. At eye-watering cost we have the last room at the MacDonald Aviemore Resort – my husband is in the room eating a cheese sandwich in silence in the pitch black with the two-year-old who will not sleep and I’m going into the bar with a pram, a changing bag, and the hope of someone heating up some formula milk to exactly the right temperature in a wine cooler filled with boiling water.

I’m struggling, haha! The bar is rammed. I beg two American women for the last seat at a table and literally juggle a tiny human, some liquid, some implements, while a perfectly cold and sparkling gin sweats at me as I have no hand to lift it to my mouth. I talk instead. “Where are you from?” “Connecticut!” the ladies sing at me. It’s noisy – English, French, Dutch, Australian and American voices all chatting. And women, it’s only women, maybe 300 of them.

These women are all here for the 2017 Outlandish Convention. The two I’m talking to have made the most of it, a couple of days in Edinburgh before joining this sprawling group for tours of Culloden, Beauly Priory, a treasure hunt, talks at the hotel on herbalism and Gaelic classes and Highland dancing.

One of the producers and a costumier have dropped in to a huge welcome. “I like Outlander,” I venture. “My friend Paul is an extra in it.” This stops them, mouths have dropped. “Have you got any pictures?,” says one of them, vaguely suspicious.

I quickly invent a new limb and juggle my phone while the baby burps on my shoulder. Here’s Paul gaily laughing in a 60’s sweater behind star Caitriona Balfe and her screen husband Tobias Menzies at an on-screen graduation. There’s Paul covered in mud and in full battle gear about to be slaughtered. “That’s amazing!” they exclaim.

I realise that being IN Outlander as opposed to a fan of Outlander is something else, something supreme, something a little bit holy to this particular demographic. “Yes, it’s a great show,” I enthuse. “Paul’s been in it for years now, all sorts of different places, different scenes. I’ve seen all of it.”

They finally ask what my baby is called, for the life of me I cannot get even a fingertip on the gin. “Jamie” I reply, the “ie” fading on my lips. In this crowd, a Scottish baby called Jamie is the most exciting thing, suddenly their friends are being called over, there’s selfies and cooing and he is being passed around and, finally, finally, the gin.

One of the women bedecked in a conference branded hoodie kneels down before me – I’ve got a baby Jamie and a pal who is actually, really in it, IN IT, in Outlander, this TV programme that has brought them all here to Scotland to see the places, taste the food, wear the tartan, smell the air that these characters fictionally walked through.

They are super fans, super dedicated people, super sure this is their thing, the thing they’ll travel for, blog about, consume over and over, spend money to experience every part of, this is adventure they can watch and dream about but also participate in, they have built their community within it and around it.

She whispers, very softly, this is obviously important: “Would you like to join our secret Facebook group?”. I drink my gin.

THE TV adaptation has cemented Outlander, which first aired everywhere but the UK in 2014, into a phenomenon, one that is having a massive impact on the Scottish tourism industry and on our film and TV production sector. But the story starts with author Diana Gabaldon’s sprawling series of books, eight in print with two new titles rumoured to be published this year and next year, which have more than 25 million copies in print and have sold in 40 countries. On this foundation, a huge following has grown which is bringing important benefits to Scotland’s economy.

The inspiration for the Scottish setting for the romantic, time-travelling, military historical fiction came to Gabaldon after watching an old episode of Dr Who which features a Scottish soldier in 1745.

In a 2014 interview, she speaks of her relief that the story was adapted for TV instead of being impossibly crushed into a two-hour movie. She was delighted that filming took place in Scotland, adding: “The photography of the TV series is just amazing … [in planning]

Scotland would be as much a character in the show as any of the actual cast members, and it certainly is. It’s just spectacular.”

Outlander is solidly enjoyable TV, with ratings for the first seasons in the US hitting the five million mark. Scotland, shot beautifully and carefully, looks captivating – misty hills, standing stones, castles, estates, cobbledy streets, flagstone floors and candles and furs. If coorie was a real word that’s how every set could be described. The costumes are lavish, and Balfe and Sam Heughan, who play the lead couple Claire and Jamie) are strong leads with palpable chemistry.

And there is something of being in the right place at the right time. Scotland’s expertise in marketing itself is now sophisticated and meaningful – the long runs of Outlander mean campaigns can be planned and executed really well. In the past year Outlander content on the VisitScotland site has been viewed 716,000 times, 77% of those clicks from women.

Undeniably part of the success of Outlander is that what you see on screen is physically accessible – the places, the food, the clothes, the books. A huge sub-industry of tours and guides has grown up around the TV series.

Jenni Steele, film and creative industries manager at VisitScotland said Outlander fans are looking for high quality experiences when they come: “It’s had a fantastic impact on tourism in Scotland. [The fans] want to delve beneath the story lines and visit a lot more historical sites, places connected to Jacobite history, heritage and ancestry, food and drink and even textiles – all the historical things that you see in Outlander as well as physical locations are of real interest to visitors.”

It was challenging to bring the tourism industry up to speed at first about the flood of visitors that were about to arrive – although the show aired in the US in 2014, emails revealed by Wikileaks suggested that the then prime minister David Cameron met with Sony representatives 10 weeks before the referendum on Scottish independence to discuss the release date for Outlander, which didn’t make it to TVs in Scotland until 2015.

Steele added: “It was broadcast in the US and Europe and other parts of the world before it was broadcast in the UK so there was a real interest in it from further afield.

‘‘We had to educate the tourism industry about this series that was going to have a big impact on Scotland so there were challenges there as no-one had seen it or were familiar with it.

‘‘But what we’ve seen now is the demand for different products growing and growing, and we’ve worked hard with the industry to help them make the most of the opportunities. It’s a huge and diverse fan base and it’s a fantastic thing that the series has brought this community together to be so interested in Scotland.”

The most recent figures for tourism visits to Scotland are for 2017 – these show clearly that business is booming. Office for National Statistics data shows a 17% rise in the number of overseas visitors to 3.2m, with tourist spending increasing by almost a quarter (23%) to £2.3 billion.

On the TV production side, the long form of Outlander which recently finished its fourth season and has at least two more planned, has given some structure for industry investment.

In Cumbernauld the Sony/Starz partnership has built a dedicated studio and production base at Wardpark Studios for Outlander, and now a private developer has planning permission to expand this into a TV and film studio complete with six sound stages, production offices, ancillary spaces and a back lot.

Screen Scotland, rebranded and on a more focussed footing, has been funded by £20m from a range of partners to boost production, improve employment opportunities, and grow and improving Scotland’s screen infrastructure.

This includes the much anticipated “world-class” major studio space at the Port of Leith, and backing for the Outlander Training Programme. To date more than 100 trainees have been supported with a further 28 traineeships created for season five, opening the door to young people across a range of screen trades.

Latest figures show that film and TV producers – including Outlander – spent, in total, a record £95m shooting in Scotland in 2017. And that means real employment to a lot of people – in season one alone, Outlander commissioned a crew of around 200 with over 2000 supporting artist roles cast from within Scotland and the rest of the UK.

STEVEN Cree, who plays the elder Ian Murray, says the experience for him has been “fantastic”. As an actor I’ve been given a gift, a character that has lasted through different seasons of the show.

“When I was cast I didn’t really appreciate the scale of Outlander. It was when I was sent for a fitting for my prosthetic [Cree’s character has a wooden leg] that I understood this was going to be a properly developed series.”

Cree deeply appreciates the legions of fans, who have raised tens of thousands of pounds in the last few years for the chosen charities of the cast. The actor was blown away when his appeal to crowdfund a short film, The Little Princess, quickly raced past its fundraising target.

“There is a real community out there of people who enjoy the show, who’ve come on this journey with us,” Cree says. “They have supported us in other projects and with our charities as well. The fans have given us so much.”

What, if anything, could slow down the Outlander effect? Some fans really disliked the ending the show’s writers had crafted for the end of series four, claiming major dramatic turning points had been squandered and that the story is drifting too far away from Gabaldon’s narrative.

There has also been a divisive row within the fan community about “shipping”, says Lynette Rice, editor at large of Entertainment Weekly magazine and co-host of the Outlander Live! radio show and podcast. “Yes, shipping is not a term in the common language but it’s when fans demand that on-screen relationships exist in the real world.”

Although the attraction between Heughan and Balfe on screen is quite lovely to watch, they are, of course, not an item and are in relationships with other people.

Last year Rice questioned Sony co-president Chris Parnell about his gentle warning to the fan community not to “ship” the actors so frequently on social media – the reaction was ferocious and bitter. “Yeah, one of the showrunners had to quit social media afterwards,” says Rice. “The reaction was so bad. Some of the fans really, really wanted Caitriona and Sam to be together in real life and went way too far in some posts. It got really nasty for some people involved in the show for a while.”

And in writing this piece Sony have been guarded about granting access to cast and crew – right now it’s Droughtlander, the period between seasons, and my requests to them are met with a shrug. Outlander is a powerful brand. The fans are still fans even faced with a long wait until series five. New viewers will find it on Amazon Prime without much searching, the books will still sell, the tours will still be booked. It’s difficult to see what could seriously derail the Outlander phenomenon, it’s a juggernaut of fiction and telly that might be the catalyst to the tourism industry and the production sector for Scotland for at least the next generation.