Posts Tagged With: castle

Finding Magic in Scotland

Scotland. The land of thick accents, plaid kilts and the Loch Ness Monster — the three main attractions that flitted through my thoughts on my 4 a.m. flight to Edinburgh. After four days in the land of the Scots, my three main attractions shifted drastically.

Main Attraction Number One — Magic.

Quite possibly the best realization I had while on this trip was Scotland’s connection to Harry Potter, and by default, magic. I had no idea that many of the scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed in Scotland or that the “Birthplace of Harry Potter” was in Edinburgh. What are the odds of my first international weekend trip being so closely related to Harry Potter? It was a dream come true!

We first went to Edinburgh Castle, which sits on top of a rocky mountain high in the sky overlooking the city below. Oh, and there’s a train station that runs just below it. It’s basically Hogwarts. As we went through the castle and saw the places where canons had once been shot off, where nobles had once sat, argued and played, and where horses once trotted along cobblestone streets. I think it’s safe to say I let my imagination run wild, and who wouldn’t in such an inspirational and magical place?

After visiting the castle, we made our way back down the intensely steep hill (one of many in Edinburgh) to a cafe called The Elephant House, which also known as “The Birthplace of Harry Potter.” Why, you may ask, has this cafe been given such a grand title? Well, this little cafe, with its walls covered in Asian art and its chairs in the shape of elephants, was the same cafe where J.K. Rowling began writing the Harry Potter series on just a napkin.

It was an amazing feeling to think that I could have been sitting right where she sat when she started the Harry Potter series. The nerd in me had a little freak out session, especially when we were seated right beside a window facing Edinburgh Castle. The view we had from our table made it look even more like Hogwarts than from any other angle. That view explained all of the inspiration for Hogwarts Castle in just a window view.

The Harry Potter attractions and references didn’t end in the coffee shop though. Oh no, they continued everywhere we went in Scotland. The three girls I traveled with and myself booked a Highlands tour for the Saturday and Sunday that we were there, and the magic just seemed to ooze from the countryside as we drove around Scotland. The views were absolutely breathtaking and our tour guide, Craig, was a hoot. He even had a “wand” that he carried around when we would stop at different places. He explained to us how he was indeed magical because it would rain most of the time we were traveling, but whenever we would stop, the sun would come out and the wind would stop, if only momentarily. He told us that he controlled the weather with his “wand” and I believed him.

Craig was great, full of stories and jokes, and he was all about the magic, so when we had some extra time left on the first day of our tour, he decided to throw in a surprise visit to a very magical place. He took us to the Harry Potter Train Bridge where the Hogwarts Express actually drove over the tracks and where they filmed the movies for a few months out of the year. It was amazing and I recognized the place instantly from the movies. Craig even waved his wand toward the stone bridge just for the fun of it and when he did, no joke, a train popped through the tunnel and made its way across the tracks. It was magical.

Once we arrived at our hostel that night, we decided to play Monopoly, but being in Scotland, it was a little different than the Monopoly we grew up with. The names were all different and very British and the pieces were a little off, but the best difference was the fact that one of the railroads was Kings Cross, where platform 9 and 3/4 is in Harry Potter. I was beside myself and had to buy it, no matter what the cost was.

Main Attraction Number Two — Movie Sets and Castles

On our tour, we had the chance to visit a number of castles including the castle where scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail were filmed and scenery where Skyfall was filmed. All of this on top of seeing where some of the scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed added up to a wonderful cinematic atmosphere.

We also visited Dunne Castle, which is one of the few living castles still in existence. What makes it a living castle? Well, the family who owns the castle and has owned it for a very long time, still lives in the castle. As we walked through it, there were portraits of older family members, then large paintings, old black and white photographs, Polaroids, and finally, normal, modern printed photographs of the family who currently lives in the castle. The parts of the castle that are open for visitors were well preserved to fit their ancient background, but it was so cool to imagine growing up there as a child in modern day. It would be like living in a fairytale, especially considering the fact that this particular castle was situated on a Loch and was surrounded by absolutely stunning mountains.

As we drove through the countryside on the tour, Craig began to tell us stories of battles that took place in the hills we passed and warriors who gave their lives for their homeland. One such story was connected to William Wallace, the protagonist in the movie Braveheart. He told us the real story of William Wallace, how the royals of the time had burned down his house in retaliation to Wallace’s defiance. The soldiers didn’t realize that his wife was inside the house at the time.

Wallace took out his revenge by finding the nobleman who looked after his village and murdered him. The people in surrounding villages heard of this and joined Wallace in a raid against all noblemen in the country, attacking and murdering them one by one. Not too long after, Wallace was captured and the rebellion ceased. Wallace was tortured and given the most drawn out death imaginable.

Craig also told us the story of where the name “Braveheart” comes from. It has nothing to do with William Wallace at all. It is instead associated with a different warrior. The story goes that on his death bed, all this warrior wanted was to go on a pilgrimage, so he asked his best mate to cut out his heart, place it in a tiny silver coffin to hang around his neck, and take his heart on a pilgrimage.

The best mate obliged and carried his heart across the land until he was met with an opposing tribe. The best mate took off the coffin with the heart tucked inside, swung it around his head and into the battlefield and said to his men, “Follow the brave heart into battle!” This coffin necklace was discovered around the 19th century and is now on display in a museum in the U.K. Craig told us that human remains were found in this tiny coffin dating back to the time of this warrior, so they believe it to be the same “brave heart.”

Main Attraction Number Three — A Writer’s Dream

We continued our journey through the highlands, taking in the most gorgeous mountain views. There was inspiration all around us as we walked and climbed around the highland sites. Before arriving in Scotland, I was expecting it to be the same as Ireland, but it was so unique, so different than the Irish countryside I had grown used to in the past two months.

We even stopped at an overlook spot where there were hundreds of rock stacks situated to overlook the mountains and the loch below, so many that it was hard to walk without knocking one over. It reminded me so much of a friend of mine’s dad who used to make those same rock stacks in the Swannanoa River behind her house when we were little.

Those sights combined with the old feel of Edinburgh and our hostel that was once a church made Scotland an inspiration playground, a writer’s dream. Our hostel had such a cool atmosphere and the way it was set up was amazing. There were rooms set up throughout the main part of the old church and in each room there was a skylight, so you could see the top of the church from your room. It was magical.

And, on our last day in Scotland, I had the chance to visit the Writer’s Museum. It was amazing to see all of the Scottish writers and their works on display in such a cool location. It was especially cool to see the old printing press used to publish works such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

Scotland was a magical place, and I can’t wait to go back sometime in the near future.

Edinburgh Castle









The Elephant House





The Hogwarts Express Bridge




Scenery from the Bridge


Kings Cross Monopoly


The Monty Python Castle



Skyfall Exhibit


Dunne Castle







William Wallace Statue





The Amazing Views









The Rock Stacks




The Old Feel of Edinburgh






The Church Turned Hostel



Loch Ness



Categories: Ireland 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Go To Hogwarts

When I was choosing where I wanted to study abroad, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking for Hogwarts. I wanted to travel to a far off land to a school nestled in the green countryside, surrounded by water where I could row into campus on a boat my first day, and most importantly, it had to be a castle. And when I found a university that fit all of those criteria, how could I pass it up?

So, I chose to study abroad at University College Cork where sitting on the quad is the West Wing, otherwise known as the castle where classes are held, where the River Lee flows through campus and the occasional currach (traditional Irish boat) will be rowed through campus, and where there is lush green scenery every way you look. I found my Hogwarts.

After over a month of living in Ireland and going to classes at UCC, the idea that UCC is Hogwarts has only been further and further confirmed. There are the little things like everyone having either a British or Irish accent, and during my Early Start program, which was deep rooted in the folklore of Ireland, I had an Irish professor who taught us about fairies and leprechauns, witches, legends and tales of the unknown. I think it’s safe to say that during my first month at UCC I learned about magic.

There’s also the unmistakable Peugeot car that seems to crop up everywhere in Cork, and it’s almost always red. The symbol for this car is a lion on a red background, a.k.a. Gryffindor. And you can’t deny that Cork’s colors are red and white with the occasional yellow accent thrown in and the lion appears in the UCC crest. So I think it’s fair to say that Cork is Gryffindor.

Also, I can’t help but make the connection between hurling and quidditch. Both games are fast-paced and dangerous and they both fight for a shiny silver cup. Hurling, in my mind, is a blend of all of the quidditch positions, just on the ground, not in the air. In hurling, each player has their hurling bat like a beater’s bat, they use the bat to hit the ball like a baseball to score points like beaters would do with the bludger, they also pick up the ball and run with it in their hand and catch it in their hand like a chaser would with the quaffle, and of course the keeper is the same as the goalie. The only thing missing from hurling is the snitch.

Then there are the things in the city that are just too similar. Little things like the word “trolly” instead of shopping cart are of course part of the Harry Potter/European atmosphere, but it’s the larger things that really prove that I go to Hogwarts. One such thing is finding out that Treacle Tart actually exists in real life. My flatmate and I found a box at Dealz in the city and we had to get them. They taste absolutely delicious and made me feel more and more like I was in Harry Potter.

Another connection is the English Market — it’s a miniature Diagon Alley. Sure, the English Market only sells food and wine unlike Diagon Alley, but the entrance to the English Market is where I make the connection. The entrance is through a brick walkway that is closed off by a black iron gate when it closes. And, of course, it’s surrounded by pubs, any one of which could lead to the real Diagon Alley.

The largest connections I’ve made have been at UCC. The other day as I was walking to class I noticed about 10 children walking through campus with what looked like a teacher. They were all dressed in long black robes and each robe had a different crest sewn into it. They all were talking excitedly to each other in their thick Irish accents and looking around at the campus in awe, especially when they reached the West Wing, or the castle on the quad. This is where they stopped and stood in a line, while one by one they were called up by their teacher and given a piece of paper to which the rest of the kids clapped and cheered. I think some lucky 11-year-olds just received their Hogwarts letters.

And then there’s the inside of West Wing. It’s drafty, it’s stone, it has a dungeon, the door to each classroom is made like a castle door, but most importantly, there are dementors in the castle. They’re situated at the end of the long hallway with a dull yellow light shining on them. I swear, seeing them on my way to class makes my blood run cold every time I pass them. Although, this may have something to do with the fact that they stand right next to the door that leads outside, causing a nasty draft.

All in all, I go to Hogwarts, a school filled with common rooms, dementors, and of course, magic.

West Wing


River Lee Flowing Through Campus



Peugeot Car Logo


UCC Crest





Treacle Tart


Eating Treacle Tart in My Ravenclaw Scarf and Cork Shirt


English Market



Kids Receiving Hogwarts Letters




Dementors in West Wing


Categories: Ireland 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Follow the River Lee

Last Saturday, my folklore class went on a field trip to Gougane Barra, a small town in the mountains of West Cork surrounded by water and stories. We started our journey in Cork City Centre beside the River Lee and we followed the river, winding through narrow roads and across rock bridges, to its source at Gougane Barra, where the water runs from the mountain tops into the river base and flows all the way through Cork city.

We made a few stops along the way to hear about the folklore and history associated with the structures we visited and also to really take in and understand the beauty and the magic that surrounds the River Lee. During most of this trip, we experienced a lot of rain and wind, making this field trip the coldest we’ve been on yet. But, the wind, rain and clouds only added to the mystery and magical nature of the river. It made everything misty and it also made everything sparkle and shine. It also gave us a much better perspective, while visiting the areas we went to, about the living conditions people faced.

The first stop we made was to the ruins of Carrigadrohid castle which was built in the 1500s. It was situated literally in the River Lee with a bridge running along side it. As we explored the castle and the surrounding area in the rain and the blistering wind, I could definitely imagine myself back in the 1500s when this castle was in its prime, trying to make food and collect fresh water by standing in the rain with a bucket to catch the rain water. The weather definitely expanded my imagination for the rest of our trip.

It was while we were at this castle that our professor told us more about the legend of the leprechaun. Evidently, leprechauns are meant to be small beings that would run around and cause mischief wherever they went and they were extremely fast. The legend goes that if anyone is to catch a leprechaun, then they should be granted three wishes.

But sadly, every folklore story seems to stem from an ugly truth. In reality, the idea of leprechauns came from people who were born smaller, little people. They lived on the outskirts of society because they were different, so they had a much harder time finding work. When they did find work, they knew to value the money they made, so they kept it and didn’t spend it — they were good savers. Because they kept all of their savings, they were considered to be very rich, so whenever desperate people would need money, they would come looking for a “leprechaun” to steal all of their gold. That’s where the folklore about leprechauns came from and that’s also how the pop culture view of leprechauns was born.

After hearing about the leprechauns and about the castle, we then went to an open area near the castle, right across the bridge. The area was the place for dances where the Ceili bands would come to play their jigs. The Ceili bands were just large bands that would play at dances and they would play the same music all together to increase the sound. When our professor was pointing out where people would sit, where they would play and dance and drink and so on, I began imagining a dance taking place right in front of my eyes with a lot of smiling faces clapping their hands together while others tapped and swirled and jumped about.

As the scene was playing out in front of me, I also couldn’t help but think back to our second week of lecture when we were talking about the Dance Halls Act of 1935. This act banned all music and dancing in informal settings, in houses, in the streets, anywhere that wasn’t a dance hall. All dances and music had to be pre-approved and someone from the church had to be present at all dances. This is how the Ceili bands were formed because they needed the music to be loud in a large dance hall, but also to be played the same way (bland and boring if you ask me). This was strictly enforced and was put in place because lawmakers and parents were afraid that the promiscuity of the 1920s would lead to a more scandalous Ireland and would corrupt their youth. Sound familiar? It sounds a lot like Footloose to me. I wonder if the idea for Footloose was taken from the Dance Halls Act. I still can’t believe that this was actually real. I mean can you imagine being arrested for singing in your own house while you’re cleaning or something to that effect?

We then left the castle and wound our way to Gira, the old home of the Irish outlaws. It’s all become swamp land now, but in the past, Gira was the place outlaws fled to to get away from the authorities because it was basically a forest that was very hard to navigate. This was also the place where all the Irish moonshine, or poteen, was made and sold. Sadly, now it’s been reduced to basically a giant lake filled with grasses and tree stumps, but in my mind, I kept imagining the trees growing at a rapid pace to their once full height, the water draining, seeping back into the earth below and grimy outlaws popping up in between the trees, plotting their next move.

As we made our way along the River Lee, we also learned of an entire village that has now been lost to the river — it’s buried underneath the water, still intact to this day. It was evidently flooded and never recovered after the Inniscarra dam was built around the 1950s and when the gates opened, too much water was flowing and flooded most of the land along the River Lee. Some places like Gira have never really recovered from the flooding.

Upon leaving Gira, we then made our way to the Clapper Bridge, which is an old bridge made out of long stones that our professor estimated was built over 2000 years ago. It’s a basic bridge that was built using only stones and stacking them together to make them stay, and it stretches from one side of the river to the other.

Next, we made our way to a town called Inchigeelagh, where we met up with one of the locals that our professor knew at the ruins of an old church and cemetery in town. He led us through the cemetery stopping occasionally at different graves to tell us stories and legends of those who were buried there. He also sang a few songs for us both in English and in Irish. He was quite a spectacular person.

After leaving the cemetery, we made our way to this local’s pub for some much-needed soup and hot tea before hopping back on the bus to our next location. Before making it to our main stop for the day, we stopped to visit a few holy wells along the way. The two that we visited were both tucked away in forests or near fields. As we all circled around each well, our professor began to tell us many stories about the properties these wells are supposed to hold. The main idea ringing true in all of his stories is that people believed that these wells had healing powers.

We also learned that these healing waters would only boil on one day of the year and that’s the one day of the year that the well’s powers were most potent, on Pattern Day. Evidently, on this day, people would come from miles around to their nearest holy well and stand in line for hours and hours, waiting for their turn in the holy well. Women would dip their naked, squealing children in the water right after an old man had taken out his bloody, pus-filled leg from the water. It was extremely unsanitary as people would place the water on their eyes to heal the blind after sick people had just placed their diseased body parts into the well. It was utter chaos.

And this led us to our final stop at Gougane Barra, the home of the most potent holy well that people used to visit on Pattern Day and the source of the River Lee. It was the most gorgeous little place tucked far away from anything else. There’s a little church in the center, surrounded by water and nestled in by mountains. It was absolutely breathtaking. And, when we arrived, the wind was still biting and it was very cold, but the sun was shining through the clouds and hitting the mountains and the river in just the right way. It was stunning.

We explored the grounds for a while listening to more stories and lessons from our very energetic and awesome professor. There were so many cool hidden gems that we discovered while we were there, including The Money Tree. Our professor told us how when he was a boy, his dad would bring him to Gougane Barra a lot and there was an old cross that used to stand in the middle of the little patch of land. He told us that people used to stick coins into the cross for good luck, but it got to a point where the cross was made more out of coins than wood, so it fell and rotted. Now, people place their coins into a nearby tree to keep the tradition alive, so there is a Money Tree in Gougane Barra now with coins hammered into the wood.

For the rest of afternoon we explored the trails and sights of Gougane Barra and only when it began to pour down the rain did we make our way inside for dinner. Overall, it was an amazing day, and even though it was rainy and cold and windy, it made the experience that much more Irish and that much more real.

Carrigadrohid Castle



Dance Platform for Ceili Band





Clapper Bridge






Holy Wells




Gougane Barra











The Money Tree


Categories: Ireland 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at