If you take a bus tour of Edinburgh, you can climb the narrow steps to the upper deck of the bus and get a bird’s-eye—or sort of bird’s-eye—view of this fascinating city. You will start your tour at the Waverley Station—the train station named for the novels by Sir Walter Scott. The bus takes you up the royal Mile, and under the imposing walls of Edinburgh Castle. The bus wanders through the old town, then travels into new town, built in the mid eighteenth century under the reign of George III. And never once during your one hour bus tour will your entertaining guide say anything about J. K. Rowling or Harry Potter.
Last August, my daughter and I visited Edinburgh Castle, but we didn’t have the chance to visit the elephant House, which claims to be the “birthplace of Harry Potter.” This time, we managed it.
We took the train from Glasgow to Edinburgh. I always love riding the train. We arrived at Waverley Station and walked up the Royal Mile to the Castle, checking out the shops along the way. We found a Harris Tweed shop, which I had a hard time leaving—I love tweed.
We spent time in St. giles’ cathedral, which was beautiful, before going onto the National Museum of Scotland, where we saw a fascinating exhibition of Celtic artifacts. I could say much about the innumerable ways popular culture has come to misrepresent the Celts, but I’m trying to keep this post short.
We ended our day with dinner at The elephant House, the “birthplace of Harry Potter.” I know that Rowling spent time in a café working on the first book, but I also know that calling the café the “birthplace of Harry Potter” is something of an exaggeration. I have read that she started writing the book while living in Spain, and I also read that she had the idea for the book while riding a train in England.
When I visited Oxford last summer, the tour guide on the bus claimed J. R. R. Tolkien wrote most of Lord of the rings sitting in The Eagle and Child—a ridiculous, if quaint exaggeration. First of all, he had a job and a family, and he probably visited the pub a couple of times a week. However, you understand why these places want to lay claim to such writers. Its business, for one, and it’s a way to perpetuate myths about the writers we love. The problem with such claims is that they misrepresent and romanticize the lives of these authors.
Rowling no doubt spent time in The Elephant House working on the book about the boy wizard. However, I won’t for a second believe that she was sitting in the back of the cafe, gazing out at Edinburgh Castle in the distance, when she suddenly got the idea for Harry Potter. Of course, if by birthplace the elephant House means the protracted, painful labour of writing a book, then I’m more willing to accept their claim. Whether it’s actually the birthplace of Harry Potter or not, it was nice to sit and have dinner in the cafe. My daughter had beef casserole, and I had haggis, neeps, and tatties, which is haggis, turnip, and potatoes. A lovely way to end an interesting day.