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.
The Elephant House
The Hogwarts Express Bridge
Scenery from the Bridge
Kings Cross Monopoly
The Monty Python Castle
William Wallace Statue
The Amazing Views
The Rock Stacks
The Old Feel of Edinburgh
The Church Turned Hostel