Following the Harry Potter Trail in Edinburgh and London



The Hogwarts Express train
Glenfinnan Viaduct

Since watching the Harry Potter series with my son Omar, I've become a huge fan of JK Rowling's books.  I came into it quite late in the game though, and just really began reading them when there were only 2 books left to be released.  It's quite a good thing, especially if as you are reading this, you're just now becoming a fan.  You can go without sleep for a week and cover the whole series with no anticipation of waiting for another release!  Or cheat and just watch the movies in a long weekend, although I have to say the books have so much more detail.

I watched the interview from British television with JK Rowling- "A Year in the Life", from 2007.  You can watch the full show on You tube.  It gives rare insight into who she was and how she came into writing the books that changed her entire life.  After this, I was inspired to visit the places where she wrote while she lived in Edinburgh, and the buildings and people that inspired the storyline.  We also took a day trip to the highlands of Glen Coe and Fort Williams,  where they filmed much of the outdoor scenes. Seeing the viaduct and the train shown above were very interesting, as was seeing the peat bogs and foggy mist where Hagrid's hut had been.  We didn't have much time to stop and take photos, but the stories and seeing those places firsthand were fun.

 I'll include the BBC's documentary here so you can learn more about the author with a dark past who wrote her way into the homes of millions.  Her books are available in 65 languages!  I love that she says she wants to be remembered as someone who did the best she could with the talent she had.
So how do you know where to visit?  Rick Steves, the travel guru, works with a writer Gene Openshaw,  who made an extensive list of places where the movies were made.  There is also a comprehensive UK tour map which also includes many London spots.  Of course, London has the bulk of the list, and I had been to some of those places unexpectedly last summer. I revisited the Thames river near the tower of London with my husband on this trip, when we had just one free night, before leaving the UK because the place is simply magical after dark.  This is the place where Harry takes a night broom ride in the film, "The Order of the Phoenix".
Tower Bridge on the Thames
Once you're in Edinburgh, there's a free tour (donations are accepted) that starts every day at Greyfriar's Bobby bar for 90 minutes of Harry Potter trivia- much about the author, inspiration to write, and local flavor.  You'll get a nice walk and enjoy stories from young people who seem to know everything about Harry Potter.  You can read about The Potter Trail at their website, but you can learn more by reading reviews on Trip Advisor by people who have recently gone on the tour.  Well worth your time, if you're a fan.  If you want to do this on your own, you can download the JK Rowling & Harry Potter Walk & Map of Edinburgh.
Meeting place for the Potter Trail Walking Tour
Just behind the bar is Greyfriar's Kirk- a church and graveyard with the headstones for characters featured in the books, including the place where Voldemort is reborn- the grave of Thomas Riddell.  This is a fun place to browse and enjoy the variety of historic graves, which are in pretty good shape when you consider how old some of them are.  Walk to the back of the churchyard and peek through the iron gates to see George Heriot's School, said to be the inspiration for Hogwart's School of Wizardry.
Voldemort is reborn here
George Heriot's School- possible inspiration for Hogwart's 
During the Potter Trail walking tour, you visit some of the coffee shops where JK Rowling used to sit and write journals for the books.  She wrote everything long hand in spiral notebooks, so I've learned. We had dinner at the Spoon Cafe (formerly Nicolson Cafe) one evening.  It's been said they brought it back to its original state, after it had been a Chinese buffet for awhile.  It's quite cozy and unique.  On a rainy, cold day we sat by the window and watched people walk by with umbrellas overhead. You will likely notice that although none of the furniture matches, and the menu is quite limited, it is a great experience.  The food was fresh and delicious, and I will now forever want to eat homemade fries with rosemary.  We also stayed at the Balmoral Hotel during our 4 nights in Edinburgh because it has such an original Scottish flavor.  Of course a writer could get some peace here and be inspired by those surroundings.  The room where she stayed there has a signed marble bust, and they have kept it exactly as she found it.  You can stay in that room for 1000 pounds per night.  Perhaps if you need a little inspiration to write the book that is within you, it will be worth it.  For many others, a tour through the lobby will suffice.  Just ask the kilted door man for a peek.  Or have afternoon tea here and relish the beauty of the place.  It will be an experience not soon forgotten.
The Balmoral Hotel where she stayed and finished her 7th book in privacy
The Elephant House has a small sign in the window indicating she was there
The Spoon Cafe where JK Rowling wrote in early days

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