In late November, Rich & I were fortunate enough to spend a few days traveling through the incredibly beautiful Scottish Highlands.
Scotland, the Isle of Skye in particular, had been on our bucket list for a while... It seemed so silly to live in the UK and to have never been. So, we packed up our trusty steed, our little Jeep named Larry and headed north. We knew it would be beautiful, we knew we'd regret not having visited sooner, we didn't however anticipate our love of Harry Potter becoming a thread that would weave its way and guide us through our magical trip.
When we saw this little Ford Anglia we couldn't help but think we were following Ron & Harry to Hogwarts. And so the journey began...
"You were seen," [Professor Snape] hissed, showing them the headline: FLYING FORD ANGLIA MYSTIFIES MUGGLES. He began to read aloud: "Two Muggles in London, convinced they saw an old car flying over the Post Office tower... at noon in Norfolk, Mrs. Hetty Bayliss, while hanging out her washing... Mr. Angus Fleet, of Peebles, reported to police... Six or seven Muggles in all. I believe your father works in the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office?" he said, looking up at Ron and smiling still more nastily." Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
The Wizarding World and the Highlands of Scotland often seem to cross paths in JK Rowling's books. In turn the film adaptations have used those beautiful, rugged landscapes as a backdrop for Harry's adventures. Even as a Muggle it felt so comforting to be amongst those mountains and glens, feel the biting cold of a Scottish winter and know that Hogwarts was close by.
This blog post is a very self-indulgent one and I apologise for that now. It's simply a little collection of locations that gave Rich & I great joy and felt connected in someway to the Potter books.
- Edinburgh -
Having crossed the border our first stop was the deliciously gothic city of Edinburgh and a trip to The Elephant House café for a mug of hot chocolate. The cafe styles itself as the "birthplace of Harry Potter" which is perhaps a little inaccurate but it is certainly a place where JK Rowling is said to have sat and written many chapters of the early books. Be sure to take your phone into the toilets! Sounds weird but the incredible graffiti shrine to all things Potter that covers the walls is definitely worth a photo.
We didn't spend very much time in Edinburgh at all but already hope to go back. Before we begun our drive west, we visited Greyfriars Kirkyard and found one of the graves that gave a certain character in the books his name...
- Glenfinnan Viaduct -
The famous "Harry Potter viaduct" is located in the West Highlands of Scotland, located at the top of Loch Shiel. As a huge Potterhead, to say I was excited to catch my first glimpse of such an iconic sight is a bit of an understatement. I was instantly taken aback by how beautiful it looked in it's environment, climbing tall out of the autumnal heather, cradled by mountains under a crisp blue sky.
"The train rattled onwards, speeding them out into open country. It was an odd, unsettled sort of day; one moment the carriage was full of sunlight and the next they were passing beneath ominously grey clouds." Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
We were unfortunately just out of season to see the Jacobite Steam Train pass over the viaduct as the service stops throughout the winter months. We couldn't help but pause and listen for a while though, fooling ourselves that we just might hear the approach of the Hogwarts Express.
- Glen Etive -
En route to Glen Coe you pass a single track road that leads you down to Glen Etive. Although this 14 mile detour is often described as the original "road to nowhere" as eventually you have to turn back, it is a place that Rich & I fell in love with. So much so that we came back the next day just to see it in different light. Words cannot describe the beauty of the scenery there; its breathtaking.
Surely Hogsmeade Village is close by...
"The grounds were still and quiet. No breath of wind disturbed the treetops in the Forbidden Forest; the Whomping Willow was motionless and innocent-looking." Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
We made a few friends along the way.
"And then the source of the light stepped out from behind an oak. It was a silver white doe, moon-bright and dazzling, picking her way over the ground, still, silent, and leaving no hoof prints in the fine powdering of snow. She stepped toward him, her beautiful head with its wide, long-lashed eyes held high." Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
"One morning in mid-December, Hogwarts woke to find itself covered in several feet of snow. The lake froze solid and the Weasley twins were punished for bewitching several snowballs so that they followed Quirrell around, bouncing off the back of his turban." Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
"...The snow that had begun in the night had turned into a blizzard so thick that the last Herbology lesson of term was cancelled. Professor Sprout wanted to fit socks and scarves on the Mandrakes, a tricky operation she would trust to no one else..." Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Rich being quite camera shy...
"The sky lightened suddenly to a dazzling, opaline white and the muddy grounds were revealed one morning covered in glittering frost." Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
- The Isle of Skye -
The Isle of Skye was everything we'd hoped it would be and more. We were able to explore so many beautiful locations during our time there that I think it deserves a blog post of its own. Hopefully in time I'll get round to that... For now here are a few images of us amongst the mountains, on the look out for Highland Coos and Hebridean Black Dragons of course. I think we were a little too far south for them though...
"Britain's other native dragon is more aggressive than its Welsh counterpart. It requires a territory of as much as a hundred square miles per dragon. Up to thirty feet in length, the Hebridean Black is rough-scaled, with brilliant purple eyes and a line of shallow but razor-sharp ridges along its back. Its tail is tipped by an arrow-shaped spike and it has bat-like wings. The Hebridean Black feeds mostly on deer, though it has been known to carry off large dogs and even cattle." Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
- Kilchurn Castle -
Throughout our trip and our search for Hogwarts, we discovered three castles in particular that we thought, as Muggles, fit the bill... Kilchurn Castle, located at the northeastern end of Loch Awe is a derelict 15th Century structure that looks every bit as dangerous and inaccessible as Wizardkind would want it to appear.
"Aren't you two ever going to read Hogwarts, A History?" "What's the point?" said Ron. "You know it by heart, we can just ask you." Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
- Castle Stalker -
Castle Stalker is simply magical. It's everything you'd expect a beautiful Scottish castle to be; majestic, weatherworn, romantic and imposing, surround on all sides by earth and water. Its located 25 miles north of Oban on the West Coast and is definitely worth seeing. The silence and sense of solitude are captivating.
We were so lucky to see a rainbow appear out of the rain while walking around the marshland.
- Eilean Donan Castle -
Our journey to The Isle of Skye took us past Eilean Donan Castle, which is located just outside the small town of Dornie.
"Everyone was silent, staring up at the great castle overhead. It towered over them as they sailed nearer and nearer to the cliff on which it stood." Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Unlike the previous castles, this one is nowhere near ruin. It is lovingly cared for still and you can even go inside. Beware of some quite creepy mannequins hiding in the kitchens...
The beautiful view of Loch Luich seen from the castle exterior. It was maybe a little too blue to be The Black Lake but it certainly looked cold and deep. No sign of any Merpeople.
Sunset at Eilean Donan Castle.
I'm not sure that we ever found Hogwarts, we were always doomed to fail with that particular quest. But the adventure we had along the way, exploring such a beautiful country, steeped in so much history and natural wonder was simply irreplaceable and perfect.
"And now Harry, let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure." Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince