In 1993, a woman fled a failed marriage and moved, with her infant daughter, to Edinburgh. While struggling with financial worries and clinical depression, she spent her evenings writing a (quite literally) magical children’s book. The book became more popular than anyone had dreamed possible, and J.K. Rowling still lives in Edinburgh.
The Scots aren’t just aware of their connection to the Wizarding World, they celebrate it. When we arrived at the Arcadia Center for orientation, we were given a map of the city and sent off on a Harry Potter scavenger hunt. Here are the results of this endeavor:
When people discuss Harry Potter’s connection to Edinburgh, they will inevitably mention The Elephant House, a café in which Rowling wrote. Today, a prominent sign in the window deems the café “The Birthplace of Harry Potter.” Beware the droves of tourists. When I visited with a friend, we chose a window seat overlooking the street. The two of us are now lurking in literally hundreds of family photos and vacation albums.
Although The Elephant House is choked with tourists, the drink menu is extensive and the food is above average. And then there are the bathrooms. Rather than paint over inevitable graffiti, The Elephant House encourages it. The bathrooms here are a veritable shrine to Potterdom. Not an inch of wall space is untouched (people have even scrawled quotes on the ceiling) and I counted a dozen Hallows signs scratched into the paint.
Near the café are two streets with Potter connections. The first is Victoria Street, said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley. Although I personally see little resemblance, the area is filled with bookstores and coffee shops, and is well worth a visit. The second is the curiously named Potterow. Rowling has mentioned in interviews that the name “Harry” came almost immediately, but “Potter” took some time. We can only hope that while traversing this underpass, which connects the University of Edinburgh with the National Museum of Scotland, she had a bolt of inspiration.
Edinburgh’s single most important Harry Potter site is a tranquil cemetery called Greyfriars Kirkyard. Beside the grave of a frankly terrible poet named McGonagall (a possible connection?) is the gate to George Heriot’s School, an academy which, due to its architecture and four house system, is thought to be the inspiration for Hogwarts.
Although McGonagall’s grave is intriguing, an even better Potter attraction lies only a few rows away. With a little luck, a keen-eyed visitor can spot the tombstone of a certain Tom Riddell.
Anna Cain is a student at Colorado College and is blogging from her summer abroad with the Scottish Heritage Management Internship Program in Scotland.