“How are we going to recognise her?” whispered my friend Grainne as we stood outside Edinburgh’s famous ‘Greyfriars Bobby’ pub.
“I don’t know. Maybe she’ll be wearing a cape!” I replied.
I was not wrong. Indeed, Becky our guide arrived wearing a long black cloak, and brandishing a sparkly wand in one hand. We had found our guide for the Potter Trail tour in Edinburgh.
The Potter Trail began as an attraction for Edinburgh’s famous Fringe Festival in 2012, but has continued to delight Harry Potter enthusiasts ever since.
We read about the tour when researching how to spend our time in Edinburgh, and were immediately keen to go. However, disappointment followed quickly afterwards when we discovered that the tour would not be running on any of the days that we would be in the city.
Not quite ready to give up we sent an email asking if any other tours might take place during the week we were visiting. Becky quickly replied, and arranged an individual tour with us completely at our convenience.
Potter Trail is an independent tour that although not officially endorsed by JK Rowling, is well researched and offers an insight into the city where the books were written.
Starting at Greyfriars Bobby, the tour takes an initial look around Greyfriars kirkyard where Rowling took inspiration for the names of a number of her characters, including Minerva McGonagall and Tom Riddle. While in the churchyard we were issued with wands, took part in a duel (I won), and sorted into houses. I was in Gryffindor, and my friend Grainne was a Hufflepuff—much to my delight.
The tour then leads through Edinburgh showing a series of the coffee shops where Rowling famously wrote the books, Victoria Street—one of the supposed inspirations for Diagon Alley, a school that has a House system similar to Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin, and the City Chambers where JK Rowling’s hands are imprinted in stone. Although some of the links seem tenuous, Becky was a well-informed and inspirational tour guide. She knew the books and Rowling’s history inside out, and even provided us with a bag of sweets reminiscent of candies from ‘Honeydukes’.
As a Literature nerd, I actually found the information about Rowling herself more interesting than the Potter tidbits we learned. Becky was most passionate about Rowling’s work with a Multiple Sclerosis clinic set up in her name in Edinburgh. I had no idea how much Rowling has given to charity, and as a sufferer of MS herself, Becky clearly admired Rowling’s gifts to the MS foundation.
The tour is a free walking tour, but donations are asked for at the end. It was made clear to us that we were under no obligation to donate, but we were willing as Becky had been an enthusiastic guide, putting herself out for our private tour despite having had a minor MS relapse a few days earlier. Two American girls who had joined our tour part way through walked away without donating anything, which I thought was pretty bad form.
Grainne and I decided to end our tour by heading into the Elephant House for a cake. Boldly declaring itself as ‘The Birthplace of Harry Potter’, we thought some of Rowling’s talent might brush off on us while there—although we had learned on our tour that the title ‘Birthplace’ was fabricated. The coffee shop has somewhat of a colonial feel to it, and I could easily imagine groups of expats, writers, artisans and wannabes setting up base there—but I suspect that it is a far cry from the cosy place Rowling chose to write in before Potter became famous. With newspaper clippings of Rowling adorning the walls, and a guest at every table devouring a copy of Harry Potter in languages from all over the world, The Elephant House has become a caricature. Rowling rarely visits these days.
The toilets were my favourite part; Potter fans from all over the world have daubed Potter quotations, quips and messages to Rowling all over the walls. It is a touching sight. For many, Harry Potter is the voice of their generation. A character who grew up as they did. A character who, despite being famous, was different, awkward, argumentative, lonely, overshadowed by his friends, and often unlikeable. He is a character that most teens can relate to. And that is the genius of Rowling. The heartfelt outpouring of thanks on the walls is a poignant testament to just how much literature can influence lives.
The tour is definitely worth a visit. It takes about 90 minutes, and although you will initially feel a bit silly walking around Edinburgh following a cloaked guide and waving a wand, you will soon be drawn into the magical world of Potter.
For more information about the Potter Trail, visit their website.
Do you love Harry Potter? Would you go on this tour? Have you been on the tour already? Please leave a comment below!