Road Trip Wednesday – Day Five: Edinburgh, Alnwick Castle, & Durham Cathedral
After getting an amazing full night’s rest, we woke up in the beautiful city of Edinburgh. We set off, walking through the city and taking in its beauty. I have to say, the city has a wonderful energy. I absolutely loved just being in it.
Our main focus of the day was finding one of the most important Potter-related locations. It’s a place that never shows up in the novels, nor the movies – but none of it would be possible without what happened in this place. What is this magical place? It’s The Elephant House, otherwise known as the birthplace of Harry Potter! It was in this tea and coffee shop that J.K. Rowling wrote much of the early Harry Potter series.
It was a bit of a journey to find. The levels of Edinburgh were a bit confusing at first. But at last we came upon the quaint little place. If you weren’t looking for it, you might easily walk right by! Then again, the striking red exterior is pretty eye-grabbing. There’s a sign on the window marking it as Harry’s birthplace and a lovely drawing that depicts Rowling writing away at a table. Though it’s such a small place, it was wonderful taking in where so much of what we love came to life.
We then spent a few more hours in Edinburgh, mostly visiting Edinburgh Castle, which stands high above the city. One of the more breathtaking parts of this visit was the gorgeous view it provided of the city and land beyond.
Next we said goodbye to lovely Edinburgh, and made our way to Alnwick Castle. The grounds and castle were absolutely beautiful. The grounds were so green! I distinctly remember that about the place. The castle was used in the first two Potter films to represent Hogwarts. It was here that Hooch’s flying lesson scene was shot, as well as the crash landing of the Ford Anglia.
Our journey took us next to Durham Cathedral. The exterior and interior both were stunning. I honestly never got tired of seeing such beautiful structures during this trip. As we walked up to the cathedral itself, a remarkable stroke of fortune crossed our path – just ahead of us, entering the castle, we saw three figures who were unmistakable: Harry Potter, Rubeus Hagrid, and Minerva McGonagall. After confirming with one another that we had indeed just witness this, we took off across the grounds, trying to catch up with the trio. (pic 14)
We caught up with the three in wonderfully accurate costume near the cloisters, which were used in the films. This is where Harry sets off Hedwig in the first film, with the grounds covered in snow. It also plays home to the rather gross scene in which Ron vomits slugs.
Harry, Hagrid, and McGonagall took a moment to chat with us. Of course, we had to take pictures. Naturally, I had to get one with Minerva, my homegirl. It was a wonderful addition to our stop at the Cathedral, meeting and talking with people who are quite literally bringing Harry Potter to life.
Eventually, we set off from Durham, journeying back through England. Our road trip across the country was quickly coming to an end, but how eventful it had been so far! But we still had another day’s worth of adventures ahead, so we made our stop, turning in for the night.
Finally feeling rested, we awoke with a renewed vigor and set out for our Edinburgh journey. We gave ourselves an entire morning in the city because we wanted to have the time to walk around and enjoy being in the city that J.K. Rowling calls home – secretly (or not so) I think we were all hoping we would randomly run into her. Sadly, we didn’t.
Our first stop was the famous ‘The Elephant House’ cafe. Jo herself has said that she wrote the first few Potter novels sitting in there, so it was a must see. Once we finally found it (we were below the bridge, like sad, confused trolls – the cafe is ON the bridge. Thanks Google Maps!), it wasn’t hard to miss. The bright red facade is glaring in the muted area it inhabits – as are the crowds. Very respectful, but definitely a crowd of people outside, and rightfully so. It’s hard to resist the pull of a place that Jo first wandered through the Forbidden Forest with Harry, or wrote the first hints of a romance between Ron & Hermione. It was magical. We took a selfie, because why not?, and were on our way. (pics 1-5)
We journeyed through the absolutely stunning Edinburgh Castle – but actually, we only walked up to and around the gates, because we were already short on time and it’s expensive! (pic 6) The views from the top of the city were absolutely stunning, and I would love to go back there some day. Edinburgh in general was a great, energetic city that we all agreed to visit again sometime soon. Maybe next time we would see Jo. Probably not, but maybe. But probably not.
We patted the head of the kitty in our B&B (hi Jack!), and got back on the road towards Alnwick Castle, approximately two hours away. I remember the car ride to Alnwick being very silent. At that point we had been a trio for 5 straight days, Alexandra & I having already been together for two weeks, I think we needed some private time. So, upon arriving at Alnwick, that’s what we did. We all stuck together, but walked around independently and absorbed the atmosphere. We had just missed the end of a flying lesson (boo!) but did get to see a tent full of birds of prey…sadly all chained up. Made me sad, but they looked happy and content, so I didn’t think *too* much on it. (pics 7-12). The grounds at Alnwick are a beautiful, intense shade of green, and very calming. It’s quite within those walls, and it was a nice change of pace. We had a quick tour of the castle itself, had our first and only fight of the entire trip (and it was brief), got back on the road, and headed to our final destination for the day.
Durham Cathedral in northeast England, was used for many scenes in the early Potter films, as Caleb mentioned. The halls were so recognizable in fact, that while walking through them I felt like I was walking to Charms class, or perhaps Transfiguration. It felt the most like ‘Hogwarts’ we had been in since our visit to Gloucester on Day 2. (pic 13 & 15). It didn’t hurt that when we arrived in the cloisters, the aforementioned Harry Potter was sitting on a sill, and catching a glimpse of him from across the courtyard…was unreal, and so very cool. (pic 16)
We went over to the crowd surrounding the trio and waited our turn to have a chance to speak with them – but quickly we learned that the crowed wasn’t going to cease, so we spoke up. We introduced ourselves, let them know that we were from MuggleNet, and they were jazzed! They immediately agreed to pose for some photos for us, even going out onto the grass of the cloisters – something that is NOT allowed by civilians – but we did it! (pic 17 & 18) I felt like such a law breaker, but also very honored to stand in a place that everyday visitors are not allowed to be in. It was a cool experience, and we thank them a million times over for being so kind to us! Follow them on Twitter, and if you’re going to be in the area (or many other Potter locations in England), be sure to look them! They make appearances all over the place, are very kind, and look very much like the characters we love.
Fun fact about Durham, which you might not know or discover unless you do a tour – or are told by Hagrid himself – that besides just the gorgeous hallways and courtyards, (pics 19-21), the Harry Potter production team built a wall to blend in with the current stone at Durham (pic 22). It blends in so well with the real stone, that wouldn’t even notice that a piece of it was left behind. (pic 23) That’s right – there are bits of the real Hogwarts still left at Durham Cathedral! Picture 24 below is a close up detail of the wall. If we hadn’t been told, we would’ve never noticed, that’s how well it blends in.
We left Durham exhausted from a very full day, but also incredibly happy. The little surprises we kept experiencing along the way were like gems that felt special, and it really made the trip all the more worthwhile. Although we were tired of being in the car, sick of sleeping in different hotels every night, and eating at rest stops, we realized that our trip was quickly coming to end – and that this time needed to be savored. We had an absolutely fabulous dinner at our B&B in North Yorkshire, then amongst many laughs, shoulder massage trading, and a lesson in European coffee, we managed to settle down and finally get some rest while the rain poured down. We were to rise early the next day, as we had a bit of a drive to our next stop…which was to be the most epic of all.