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On the Harry Potter Trail in Edinburgh & Special Edition Book Giveaway

Gandalf works his magic on the streets of Edinburgh
Written by Kirstie

On the Harry Potter Trail in Edinburgh
plus Special Edition #HarryPotter20 Book Giveaway

Are your kids Harry Potter mad? One of the best fun and value city tours we’ve come across is in J.K. Rowling’s home town of Edinburgh. On The Harry Potter Edinburgh trail a potions master or witch will enlighten you on the locations that inspired J.K. Rowling. And at the same time teach you spells that can stop traffic. All for just a small donation to the wizarding fund. Read on for a round up of Edinburgh’s Potter magic plus details of a great giveaway in which you could to win a set of all four Special Edition hardback copies of the 20th anniversary editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. 

I am a witch

“I need to warn you I am a witch. It comes with the job and I don’t understand any of this muggle traffic.” says the Potter Trail tour guide Charlotte Leandro.

She then proceeds to lead us towards the muggle traffic of a main Edinburgh junction. If you are a parent you might find this slightly terrifying. But fear not. At the start of your Harry Potter tour you will be given a wand. And taught a traffic stopping spell. And hurrah, it seems to work. But then Edinburgh is a magical place. After all it invented Harry Potter.

Charlotte of PotterTrail at Victoria Street, or is it Diagon Alley?

Charlotte on The Potter Trail at Victoria Street, Edinburgh. Or is it Diagon Alley?

J.K. Rowling’s magical Edinburgh

Or rather its most famous daughter J.K. Rowling did. And today we are following in her footsteps, finding out the stories, myths and facts about how she created the child who was brave enough to stand up to the one so evil he has no nostrils.

“The story starts two decades ago. It begins on a train stuck somewhere between Manchester and London.“ says Charlotte, as we stand in Greyfriars churchyard next to some spooky looking graves. Eh? I thought the story began in Edinburgh? But no, the germ of the books predates J.K. Rowling’s time in the city.

“In 1990 the young Joanne Rowling was returning from her job as a secretary. Her train was delayed and she found herself staring out at an uninspiring sight; fields speckled with cows, when the kernel of Harry Potter popped into her mind. A very enviable way to get ideas,” explains Charlotte as she marches us further into Greyfriars Kirkyard all the time briefing us on the author’s creative methods.

“She didn’t have a pen so she was unable to capture the ideas that came into her mind. She later said it turned out to be a good thing, because instead of writing all the ideas down, she was able to focus on the ideas themselves and get more detail. She set herself a little test; if she remembered the ideas before returning home she deemed them worth writing down.”

And these ideas weren’t just worth writing down; as we all know they went on to become a global phenomenon. Twenty years on from the publication of the first book on 26th June 1997, children are still discovering the books. And soon whole generations of people who queued up for the first novel will be reading them to their own children.

On the Harry Potter Trail in Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh

Follow the witch on the Harry Potter Trail in Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh

Graveyard secrets revealed

“They were standing instead in a dark and overgrown graveyard; the black outline of a small church was visible beyond a large yew.” Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

“Now I’m going to reveal some graveyard secrets” says Charlotte, pushing her witches cloak behind her. “You’ll notice we are at the final resting place of William McGonagall. J.K. Rowling has confirmed he was the inspiration for Professor Minerva McGonagall’s name. He wasn’t a novelist but a poet. A notoriously bad poet, In fact he has been called the world’s worst.”

Charlotte announces she is going to perform some of his poetry.

“Tay bridge disaster.” She pauses for a moment.

“Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away.”

“Feel free to throw soft fruit in my direction.” she interrupts herself. “Someone the other day chucked an apricot and it was very exciting!”

George Heriot school seen from with grounds of Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh

George Heriot’s school seen from Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh. Or it is Hogwarts?

The sorting hat ceremony

After a short period of awful verse, Charlotte is drowned out by a loudspeaker coming from a gate in the churchyard wall. We run excitedly to the gate, and are greeted by outline of Hogwarts. Well, not actually Hogwarts, but the school that is thought to have inspired it.

George Heriot’s school is a storybook sight of towers and turrets, domes and castellations. Charlotte confirms it’s likely that J.K. Rowling based the school on a combination of this and Edinburgh Castle. We look in at the ceremony taking place before us. Is it a sorting ceremony? I can’t see a hat or wands. Perhaps it’s just sports day.

Charlotte is not being upstaged by a school, even a school that inspired Hogwarts!

“No visit to Hogwarts is complete without some sorting. Does anyone want to be sorted today…?” says Charlotte. Is she kidding? Who is going to say no to that? Except perhaps a Slytherin candidate.

The sorting hat works its magic on a Harry Potter Trail in Edinburgh, Greyfriars Churchyard

The sorting hat works its magic on the Harry Potter Trail in Edinburgh, Greyfriars Churchyard

Picking our houses

“Or perhaps in Slytherin,
You’ll make your real friends,
These cunning folks use any means
To achieve their ends.” – Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone

“The colours of the houses at the school correspond perfectly to the colours of the houses at Hogwarts,” our guide says, asking us to choose the house we are drawn to. I pick one that corresponds with Ravenclaw, (for the clever children) and the kids pick Raeburn which is red like Griffindor (for the brave children). Stuart picks Lauriston that is green like Slytherin (for the evil children). No one mentions evil husbands but I’m sure we are all thinking it.

“Greyfriars is cream like Hufflepuff (for all the remaining children). We have no yellow wands for Hufflepuff, simply because no one ever wants them,” says Charlotte, adding that J.K. Rowling sent her own children to the school for a short while.

Now feeling slightly sorry for all the kids running the three legged race for Greyfriars in the George Heriot’s sports day, I follow Charlotte across the churchyard to the inspiration for Voldemort’s grave. In real life this is the resting place of Thomas Riddell; an aristocrat who was buried with his son in the cemetery. Charlotte tells us it used to be strewn with love letters until the council started removing them. Weird?

The grave of Thomas Riddell in Greyfriars Churchyard, said to be the inspiration for Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter stories

The grave of Thomas Riddell in Greyfriars Churchyard, said to be the inspiration for Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter stories

The demented underpass

At Potterow Port, an underpass in the student area, we hear J.K. Rowling worked at her idea of a school for wizards on and off for years, jotting down notes and names. Meanwhile she met and married a Portuguese journalist and had a daughter called Jessica. “Unfortunately the marriage ended in divorce leaving her alone with Jessica and she describes this period as the darkest period her life; one which inspired the dementors.” In the dark urban part of the city I can imagine dementors flying.

Charlotte continues to fill us in. Joanne was thrown a lifeline by her sister Dianne who encouraged the author to move to Edinburgh to be near her. “She set herself a one year deadline where she rented a flat and lived on social security, writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Potterow Port, Edinburgh

Someone is looking for magic in Potterow Port, Edinburgh

The birthplace of Harry Potter

We move on to the building that housed Spoon Café (formerly Nicolson’s Café, owned by the writer’s brother in law) to see where The Philosopher’s Stone came to life while J.K. Rowling rocked the baby to sleep with one hand. More interesting is the Elephant House cafe, back towards Greyfriars, where some of the later books were written. It has a great view of the castle where the stadium being erected on our visit looks very much like a quidditch pitch. It also has table drawers stuffed with fan mail to the author, toilets that have been transformed into an art installation by fans with marker pens and queues of Japanese tourists.

“They leave the messages in the tables and on the walls in the hope that J.K. Rowling will find the time to return one day and see them,” Charlotte explains. Unlikely, I’m thinking. She’d be mobbed.

Tourist shooting the Elephant House in Edinburgh

Tourist shooting the Elephant House in Edinburgh, said to be the ‘birthplace’ of Potter

The hotel suite with a steep price tag

Far more likely, I imagine, is that she’ll return to suite number 522 of the Balmoral Hotel, another stop on the tour.  In this hotel, next to Waverley Station, she wrote her version of ‘J.K woz ‘ere‘ in a black pen on a marble statue after she’d finished writing the last book.

“You can rent the J.K. Rowling suite for a weekend break,” says Charlotte. I know this as I have already been in to ask about it. At a rack rate of £1620 a night. A bit steep for anyone who isn’t a million dollar novelist. Perhaps if I was to book a Travelodge and start writing I could be finished by the time of Rowling’s thirtieth anniversary.

Balmoral Hotel Edinburgh

Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh. Could you afford to stay in the J.K. Rowling suite?

Wizard alley

It isn’t hard to believe Victoria Street is the inspiration for Diagon Alley. It’s cute and colourful. At the head of it is a bank that looks exactly like Gringotts (there’s even a little goblin outside – or is that the security guard?). It has a joke shop that could be Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, a pub that could be the Leaky Cauldron, a Knights’ shop and a shop that mostly seems to be selling signs that say Diagon Alley. And wands too. But of course we have our own. As we leave the parade we stop the traffic with the spell Charlotte has taught us. The traffic halts as if by magic as the little man becomes green. (Not the Gringotts guard – keep up!) . Charlotte really is a very good witch and seems to understand muggle traffic lights, if not the whims of Scottish drivers.

Victoria Street, Edinburgh. The inspiration for Diagon Alley?

Victoria Street, Edinburgh. The inspiration for Diagon Alley?

Money in the hat

At the end of the tour she hands around the sorting hat. The tour is free to all but donations are welcome. Clearly an apricot isn’t enough after all. But no one minds paying for such a fun and informative walk. Although it must get a bit cold in the winter, hanging around all these graveyards trying not to say the name of Voldemort.

Whoops! Does that mean I am damned to wandering Edinburgh’s dark side for ever more? If so I reckon Charlotte would happily bring a tour to visit me. Despite the fact that Edinburgh is packed with tours of different kinds, these are getting pretty popular. In the summer they run in every weather and once during the fringe, 200 people turned up.

“The city has provided so much inspiration and different little pieces of the books. It is very exciting to walk around, Its infectious really,” says Charlotte, waving her wand and heading off in her black cloak to introduce another set of people to the city’s magic and J.K. Rowling’s inspiration.

J.K. Rowling handprints in Edinburgh

J.K. Rowling’s handprints in Edinburgh

Harry Potter 20th Anniversary Giveaway

To say thanks for reading this far and in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the publication of the first Harry Potter book (first published 26th June 1997) we are pleased to invite you to take part in our free to enter giveaway of one set of all four hardback Hogwarts House 20th Anniversary Edition copies of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” (1 each of Griffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin editions) (Total RRP £59). Illustrated by Levi Pinfold, Kate Greenaway Medal winner, each of the four front covers features a crest for one of the Hogwarts houses in house colours with sprayed edges. Each edition also has exciting new extra content including fact files, profiles of favourite characters and line illustrations exclusive to that house.

All you have to do is enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. It’s free and simple and with some options you can enter every day if you wish to increase your chances of winning. Entries open Saturday 17th June, close on Friday 30th June 2017 and a winner will be selected at random using Rafflecopter shortly after.

Harry Potter 20th Anniversary Limited Edition Hardback Books

Harry Potter 20th Anniversary Special Edition Hardback Books

How to enter

There are several ways to enter:

  • Comment: Leave a comment on this blog post telling us your favourite quote from a Harry Potter book. Then enter via Rafflecopter with same email address used to comment so we can validate.
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Do check the full terms and conditions below. Good luck!

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Diagon Alley sign outside Context, Victoria Street, Edinburgh

Diagon Alley sign outside Context, Victoria Street, Edinburgh

Read More Harry Potter Stories

Giveaway Terms and Conditions

  1. Acceptance of Terms and Conditions: By taking part in this promotion, you agree to be bound by the giveaway rules and by the decisions of the Administrator and Promoter which are final in all matters relating to the giveaway. We reserve the right to disqualify any entrant and/or winner in our absolute discretion for any reason and without notice in accordance with the competition rules.
  2. Eligibility: This giveaway is open to all residents of the UK and EU. No purchase is necessary to enter. Entries must be submitted by an individual, and, unless otherwise stated, are limited to one per person. Entries by Agencies or similar are not permitted. There is no charge for entry.
  3. Timing: The giveaway opens 00.01am on Saturday 17th June 2017 and will run until 23.59 on Friday 30th June 2017. All entries must be received via Rafflecopter during the period in which the competition is open and late or incomplete entries will be disqualified. No responsibility can be accepted for entries which are lost, delayed, misdirected or corrupted during delivery to Rafflecopter for any reason whatsoever.
  4. Prize: There is one prize and there will be one winner receiving one set of four hardback special edition 20th Anniversary copies of “Harry Potter and the Philosophers’s Stone” (1 each of Griffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin editions). There is no product substitution or cash alternatives for prizes. Any images are illustrative and do not necessarily exactly represent the exact contents of the prize.
  5. Winner: A winner will be selected at random shortly after the closing date using Rafflecopter. The winning entry will be checked to ensure it is valid and complies with entry requirements specified in the Rafflecopter entry widget. If the first drawn entry does not meet eligibility or entry requirements, a further entry will be drawn until a valid winner is drawn.
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About the author

Kirstie

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

59 Comments

  • This tour we will try this summer. Those books my daughter would love. And the rafflecopter, it sounds just like the sort of things muggles would invent. See if I can operate it right, without a wand. And my, it’s been twenty years? So it’s indeed about sixteen that we’re in it, too.

  • “But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I love it because it’s so true.

  • “I can teach you to betwitch the mind, ensnare the sensesbeven put a stopper in death.”
    “Congratulations Mr potter so good is 6 years of magical education are not wasted on you ghost are indeed transparent.”
    “Where there’s strife and where theres trouble call on peeves he’ll make it double”

  • Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic from the Philosophers Stone – All the magic depends on words so this is one of the most apt and truthful quotes

  • It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that. – Albus Dumbledore. this is a great way of thinking

  • But from that moment on, Hermione Granger became their friend. There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.
    Philosophers stone.

    I love this quote as it’s a very often during the most difficult times that we find our true friends.

  • Light can be found in the darkest of times as long as someone remembers to turn the light on! Love this quote xxxx

  • “Better wizards than you have lost buttocks that way!” It cracks me up. I tend to shout it at the screen when I watch a TV show where a character sticks a handgun in his waistband without a holster.

  • Oh gosh, I don’t really have a favourite quote, I love them all! My daughter is constantly saying “Wingardium Leviosa!” though 🙂

  • “But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light” from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
    We need to cling on to this notion as the darkest times seem to be upon us at the moment.

  • “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are” -Sirious Black, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

    My son understood this as being good and bad, and he knows it’s his choice to be bad so has to be responsible for his actions on that choice. He’s learned a lot from Harry and friends 🙂

    We did the Tour in Edinburgh in May! Great fun!

  • We cannot choose our fate, but we can choose others. Be careful in knowing that. harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix I like it because its so true, others can affect your fate, if you pick incorrectly.

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – I thought it was very poignant, a real coming of age tale, and I am glad they finally defeated him who’s name can;t be said, and their own demons x

  • “I am what I am an’ I’m not ashamed. ‘Never be ashamed,’ my ol’ dad used ter say, ‘there’s some who’ll hold it against you, but they’re not worth bothern’ with.’” – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

  • “But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

  • “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

    Harry Potter and the Philoshophers Stone

    Another great gem from Dumbledore which it made it all the more poignant when he died. How would Harry manage without this wise oracle to guide him?

    I like it because it’s so true. We can often get wrapped up in fantasy and forget to live. It could be a game, social media, or anything really. And being as you expect children to be reading this first books, it’s a gem which can be applied in modern day as much as any other time.

  • “Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears.
    “After all this time?”
    “Always,” said Snape.”

    From Deathly Hallows. It means a lot to me, it’s always for me too.

  • What a great sounding tour, I used to be a tour guide in London but I fear my guests never had so much fun as on this one! Next time I’m In Edinburgh, I’ll be there – only problem is I’ll have to magic up some children to come along with me (my pair, to who I read all the stories) have got on their brromsticks and flown the nest!

  • It does not do due to dwell on dreams and forget to live, this comes from harry potter and the Philiosophers Stone spoken by Albus Dumbeldore. These words are true think about it enjoy life

  • Hermione: “It’s kind of fun isn’t it … breaking the rules.”
    Ron: “Who are you and what have you done with Hermione Granger?!”
    – Order of the Phoenix

  • My favourite is when Dumbledore says to Harry “Of course it’s happening inside your head, Harry, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real” in The Deathly Hallows.

  • “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are”

  • “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends” ~ from the first book ~ so true.

  • “You sort of start thinking anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.” Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I love it because it’s so true, if you dare to try in life, you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve.

  • “It does not do due to dwell on dreams and forget to live” from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

  • “you’re a wizard Harry” – My husband says it in a funny voice to my son who ends up in hysterics every time. Its nice to see them together enjoying something they both like!

  • We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” –The Goblet of Fire I love it because it is absolutely true!

  • “But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” – it is such a beautiful quote that reminds me that there is always something to be happy and grateful about, and that darkness does not last forever.

  • “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are” Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

    I love this because we all have potential if we choose to try and reach it and we should all be responsible for our choices and actions.

  • “Our Headmaster is taking a short break,’ said Professor McGonagall, pointing at the Snape-shaped hole in the window.” The Deathhly Hallows. I laughed out loud when I read this.

  • “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light” 💡

  • “But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

    ― Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In these often dark days it’s a quote to live by.

  • We’ve all got light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are. – Harry Potter & The Order of The Phoenix
    My favourite quote because it is so true …

  • “Don’t worry. You’re just as sane as I am” Luna Lovegood from the Order of the Phoenix <3 I love Luna!

  • “But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
    ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

    I love the message of hope this conveys! So positive!

  • “But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light!”

    Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban

  • Its got to be when Snape says “Obviously” in the Order of the Phoenix, when he is annoyed with Umbridge, as its just hilarious 🙂

  • “You look in excellent health to me, Potter, so you will excuse me if I don’t let you off homework today. I assure you that if you do die, you need not hand it in.” ~Professor McGonagall

  • “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” I shoewed this to my daughter when she was being bullied at school x

  • “But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

  • Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain. As i found it a funny quote and was my favourite one

  • I am what I am, an I’m not ashamed. ‘Never be ashamed,’ my ol’ dad used ter say, ‘there’s some who’ll hold it against you, but they’re not worth botherin’ with.” Hagrid in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire because it’s encouraging, just be yourself!

  • It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. -Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

    Very true – I love this!

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