I have a lot of love in my heart. For Ryan, for my family, for our little loves Sascha and Max. However, there’s a large part of my heart that only has love for two people: J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. One of my favorite things about Edinburgh is that Rowling once walked the same streets that I currently walk each day. It gives me chills to think about, and I get a little thrill every time I’m on a bus and I see something that reminds me of the world of Harry Potter. Maybe Rowling saw it too, and it made it’s way covertly into her novels.
We did a walking tour of Old Town a few weeks ago. It wasn’t a bad tour, but there were a lot of people on it. It was hard to jockey a position where I could hear and see. We didn’t really have much time to linger anywhere or take decent pictures, because there was so much information to learn. But one of the places they took us to was Greyfriars Kirk, where we saw some of the graves that provided names to Harry Potter. Of course, I had to go back and get better photos and spend some time looking around. I happened to turn it into an event: a morning spent walking in Rowling’s shoes.
We started the morning at The Elephant House, ordering coffees and sitting in to enjoy the atmosphere. It seems that every inch of the place is covered with elephants. But that’s not what makes the place famous. The cafe markets itself as “The Birthplace of Harry Potter”, which I suppose it is. It was here that J.K. Rowling wrote a good deal of her early novels. Sitting in the back room you get a view of George Heriot’s School, the school many say influenced Hogwarts. There’s also a perfect view of Edinburgh Castle, which I bet also gave her plenty of inspiration. The whole cafe feels like a celebration: of Rowling, Harry Potter and Edinburgh.
I recommend getting a coffee and pastry and sitting in the back room, enjoying the feel of the place. They do ask for a donation to charity if you’re just coming in for pictures, so why not make a morning of it?
After enjoying our drinks, we walked down the street to revisit Greyfriar’s Kirk. Visiting a cemetery for the second time? I grow bold with my newfound worldly independence. If I were back home, I probably wouldn’t have given this cemetery a second glance. But I wasn’t at home, this wasn’t a normal cemetery, and knowing J.K. Rowling drew inspiration from here was enough to make me go in and try to see it through her eyes.
Greyfriars was the first church built in Edinburgh after the Reformation. Mary Queen of Scots granted the land to the Town Council to use as a burial ground in 1562. By the year 1602 building had started, but building was slow and the new church didn’t open until Christmas Day in 1620.
The graves that drew the eye of J.K. Rowling are found in the cemetery towards the back of the lot, closer to the side of George Heriot’s School. You pass through remains of the Flodden Wall, the old town wall, before you reach them.
There’s Mary Turner Scrymgeour and Henry Scrymgeour Wedderburn, the people behind Rufus Scrimgeour, one time Head of Auror Office and later Minister of Magic.
One of my favorite characters, Minerva McGonagall got her name from William McGonagall, a poet. He is arguably the world’s worst poet, which could be why I’d never heard of him until seeing this placard. At least he provided his name for one of the most amazing characters ever, right?
Mrs. Elizabeth Moodie provided a name worthy for Mad-Eye Moody. I like to imagine she was also a little rough around the edges but she also stood up for the smaller people around her. Probably not, but it makes for some good imagery: an older woman in period dress, turning her nemesis into a ferret.
And finally, the grave of a man I feel bad for. Thomas Riddell, Esq. Every story needs a villain, it’s true. I think that Rowling did a superb job with all of her character development and when it comes to Tom Riddle, she hit it out of the park. I remember being legitimately afraid of him growing up, like if I said his name out loud he would come visit me with the Killing Curse.
Can you imagine being the descendant of someone who had their name used for one of the greatest villains of all time?
We ended our morning walking down towards Grassmarket, and passed a fantastic mural on the side of a building. The mural depicts someone falling through a box and into a magical world with broomsticks and dragons. It’s said that the street running next to Greyfriars is the inspiration for Diagon Alley.
It’s also argued that this inspiration came from Victoria Street, on the other side of Grassmarket. Personally, I’ve walked up and down numerous streets in the city that look like they could be a real-life stand in for the famous alley. I am not sure which street was the first, but I think that Rowling had many Edinburgh streets influencing the landscape of her books.
We’ve learned from our hosts that Rowling actually taught at Leith Academy, a school that is right around the corner from where we’re staying. It makes me insanely happy to think about her walking around Leith, popping into my Tesco before or after work, or maybe stopping for a pint at one of the places we’ve gone to. To say she’s my favorite author is an understatement. Having a chance to see what she saw is really cool for me, and I’m not afraid to admit how much I nerded out over the whole thing.
Now, I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever done some sort of writer’s tour? Either run by professionals or one you made on your own? What was the author, where was the city? How did you feel? Did you get chills? I know I did! Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and relive my childhood.