For all the Harry Potter fans out there, this is a must do. Firstly, it’s free, yes you read that right. Though same donation/tipping rules apply, secondly it’s so much more fun when you can live the trivia then read it. So if you are in Edinburgh, and a Harry Potter fan, the Potter Trail should be on your to-do list.
In order to not take the whole fun out of the experience for you, in case you actually go there, I thought that we could play a game. I’ll ask some questions and place the answers in some form of trivia somewhere else, but I won’t tell you what belongs to which. Think of it somewhat like ‘Match the Following’ things we did as kids. Interested? Then read on.
My tour guide was named Jody. She reminded me of Madam Hooch, her salt & pepper hair cut short in a pixie cut and of course, the black robe. Not to the miss the wand she was carrying. It was amusing that she was wearing shorts and a t-shirt with a cape, but according to her, it was one of the hottest days Edinburgh had seen. (I wore my jacket throughout). She was such an amiable person with a good sense of humour and was a delight. She escorted our group of around 50 people to the first location. The tour started with Jody sorting some people with her hat into houses and giving them wands.
The Potter Trail begins now…
Rowling like all muggles had a day job in the government. She had the idea for the book while being stuck in a train from London to Manchester. But she would not start working on the manuscript till 5 years later, when she moved back to Edinburgh with her kids. Her children studied in a school in Edinburgh. She modeled the houses in Harry Potter from this school’s four houses. The schools’ house names are Castle, Greyfriars, Lauriston and Raeburn.
What is the name of this school? Can you also guess which house was Gryffindor?
Rowling took inspiration for the names in the book from multiple places. Two very well known ones are from a cemetery called Greyfriars Kirkyard which can be found next to the George Heriot’s School. You see a plaque at the cemetery of an author called McGonagall. But unlike Rowling this person is regarded as the worst ever author. He was paid to be a part of a circus act where he would orate his poems and people ridiculed him by throwing things at him, depending on how bad the poems were.
An relatively unknown fact is that when Harry Potter was being made into a film, Rowling asked that Maggie Smith be the first person to be asked to do the part of Minerva McGonagall. She had seen Maggie Smith in a 1969 drama film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie where Smith was in the title role as an unrestrained teacher at a girls’ school in 1930s Edinburgh. Rowling felt that McGonagall was Jean Brodie in a wizard hat and the rest as they say, is history.
In the graveyard the second name that Rowling used was changed to fit into an anagram used often in the films. The middle name of this character changes in different languages. In the French version it was Elvis.
Which is this famous character that is being referred to above?
Another stop on the tour is an area called Potters street. Harry Potter didn’t get his name from this area but from Rowling’s two closest friends while growing up. Their last names were Potter. This area is the inspiration for one of the scene’s in the movie.
See the picture on the right, does it remind you of any scene?
There are two cafe’s which Rowling wrote the first few Harry Potter’s in. After which she became a little too famous to sit out in cafes, as people recognized her easily. There was even one reporter who followed her around and kept asking for interviews without calling first. One cafe is owned by Rowling’s brother in law, where she wrote the first two novels, while the other is now the more popularly known landmark where she wrote novels 3 & 4. One calls itself the “birthplace” of Harry Potter, while the other says its the “true birthplace” of Harry Potter.
Can you name the two Cafe’s? Hint: One is a form of cutlery while the other is an animal species.
There are two versions to the story of why Rowling worked in cafe’s while writing the book, which do you think is True?
True or False.
1. Rowling worked in cafe’s because she didn’t have central heating in her flat and it was cheaper to sit in a cafe’ ordering coffees in the cold winter, than to be at home.
2. Rowling had a small child who used to cry a lot. The child stopped crying when there was background noise. She went to cafe’s because it kept the child quiet and gave her a space to write.
Which one out of the following characters is written from a person Rowling encountered in real life?
a) Rita Skeeter b) Nearly Headless Nick c) Professor Minerva McGonagall
While walking around on the tour, the group kept answering questions asked by Jody. We kept getting points for our house, I was in Raeburn, Harry Potter’s original house name of course, while Lauriston or the Slytherin’s did pretty well too. After we crossed the area where Dementors got a hold of Dudley, we moved along to an amazing street. Rowling is known to have sent the people at Warner Bros, drawings or sketches of places within the city she envisioned to be places that she had written about. This street was something she sketched.
On this street there is a shop called the Diagon House, which sells a lot of Harry Potter merchandise. The street it is located on, is said to be the inspiration for a famous street used in Harry Potter. It’s even where Ginny got a hold of Thomas Riddell’s diary. This winding road also has a joke shop which is supposed to have inspired Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes.
Muggles call it Victoria Street, what would wizarding folks call it?
Even though she worked in Cafe’s like Spoon and Elephant House in the beginning, she wrote the last parts of the series at the Balmore Hotel. She even signed a marble bust in room 522 when she finished the book. The hotel kept that bust and now you can go see it, if you dole out the extremely exorbitant room rate.
In the end I’ll leave you with a wonderful story our lovely guide told us. This is not a “fake story” but a real one (according to our guide at least). Before the launch of her sixth book (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince) in 2005, Rowling held a children’s story writing competition in Edinburgh. The winners didn’t know what they were going to get. So the top 100 stories that Rowling liked and their young authors turned up on the said day not knowing what was going to happen. They were first brought through Diagon Alley, on the same carriages as we see in the film, to the Edinburgh castle. The castle’s big hall was actually turned into the Harry Potter hall with a full dinner laid out and it even had real owls there. The kids were ecstatic and to add to that at the stroke of midnight Rowling came out from a secret passage behind a portrait and read out the first few chapters of the next book that had not yet been published.
Wouldn’t you have liked to be there? I know I would have.