Tailing the Boy who Lived

There are three things that are often used as reference points to describe me – curly hair, die-hard FRIENDS fan, and a Harry Potter nerd. It took a while to accept and normalise my dare to hair care, but I am very proud about the other two aspects of describing me! Remember the pipedream I had mentioned? Now place that pipedream on a firebolt, in middle of Quidditch World Cup! Can you picture it? Well don’t worry, my trailblazing avataar will do it for you! Just a warning, the trail literally starts from book to the movie, in the sequence of appearance, easily recognisable by fans.

I found it strangely soothing that JK Rowling employed the same techniques that I use for rambling in my blog. While puns, word games and something equally random will inspire my travelogue, Rowling started the entire franchise of Harry Potter from a cafe, literally from “people-watching”.

Birthplace of Harry Potter

Known as the Birthplace of Harry Potter, there are two unique features of The Elephant House Cafe. When Rowling started ruminating with the draft of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone, she found inspiration in two places – the 17th century old George Heriot’s School, which inspired the setting up of Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry; and the nearby Greyfriars Kirkyard, a graveyard that helped create the beloved characters.

The second notable feature of the cafe is a credit to the fans. Ever since this little known nugget has been made public, the franchise fans have made it a point to showcase their love. And the place that they have chosen? Literally the holy grail – the washroom!! Every surface has been scribbled with “love notes”, and each one equally relatable to a fan standing there, soaking it all in and taking pictures. Apparently, the owners of the cafe had tried to erase this “desecration” numerous times before they finally gave up!

Next stop, Privet Drive – a place where Harry spent a significant period of his life, outside of Hogwarts, reluctantly or otherwise. While the brown brick facade of Dursely home has been debated to be in Surrey, the iconic house of the fictional town Little Whinging, is actually located at 12 Picket Post Close, Bracknell, Berkshire – around 40 miles west of London. Despite finding a perfect house that is close to identical to the one described in books, reportedly, Warner Brothers only filmed on the location for about two weeks during Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone before shifting it to the production set. So, here is the set look for you!

I don’t think I will be exaggerating if I say that every Harry Potter fan has at least once uttered the words “Where’s my letter?” or “How do I get a letter to Hogwarts?”. But the letter is just not about getting you into Hogwarts. It’s about the whole journey that you undertake before you step into the hallowed halls of Hogwarts. The letter introduces you to key places – Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley, and Platform 9 3/4(both my favourites!!!).

There seems to be a great debate on the true contender of Diagon Alley; since Rowling spent a significant period of time in Scotland, some people call Victoria Street in Edinburgh as the inspiration behind the famous shopping centre for all things magical. On the other hand, York claims that its ‘The Shambles’ street that is the true inspiration, with the London’s Leadenhall Market used as the exterior shots for the film. Let’s compare shall we?

Personally, I felt that The Shambles street of York was a closer representation of Diagon alley. Interestin trivia – The Shambles is a narrow, 14th-century thoroughfare with lovely overhanging timber-framed buildings. The wizarding entrance, Leaky Cauldron, in real life is the optician in Bull’s Head Passage in Leadenhall Market. Wanna tap the walls with me while we get a pair of glasses?!

With great words comes greater responsibilities; in this case, the responsibility of getting yourself onboard the Hogwarts Express. A fact that Hagrid understood very well when he personally came to deliver Harry’s letter and took him around on a guided tour of all things wizardry! But somehow, he forgets the importance of Platform 9 and 3/4. As a fan, we can not be negligent of course!

Any self-respecting Harry Potter fan will recognise The Glenfinnan Viaduct, a beautiful railway viaduct on the West Highland Line, that is iconic for the most iconic shot: as the Hogwarts Express in Chamber of Secrets is making its way while Ron and Harry are flying overhead in Arthur Weasley’s flying Ford Anglia. The bridge was also captured in Prisoner of Azkaban when Harry had his first encounter with the dementors. The speciality of the bridge is the Jacobite Express, the real-life Jacobite Steam Train that takes you on a life-changing journey from Fort William to Mallaig, only during the month of April apparently.

Pleasure. You two better change into your robes. I expect we’ll be arriving soon. You’ve got dirt, on your nose, by the way, did you know? Just there.

Hermoine, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone

Let’s listen to Hermoine shall we? Because, its time for Hogwarts. A number of locations have been used to bring the magical school alive for all the die-hard fans. I will list out the ones that I have seen and which have clicked more personally in my head and heart.

Alnwick Castle has over 950 years of history, dating back to the Norman period. Since 1309, its story has been intertwined with that of the Percy family, a family with a history as illustrious as the castle’s own. Known as the second largest inhabited castle in the UK, Alnwick has served as a military outpost, a teaching college, a refuge for evacuees, a film set, and not least as a family home. The fact that “Percy” family is involved is just a mere and a happy coincidence!

More popular for its starring role as Hogwarts for both the first (2001) and the second movie (2002), it is however the Outer Bailey that stands a witness today as small kids (and some grown adults) line up to get a chance to ride on the broomstick just like Harry did on his first Quidditch lesson. Interestingly, Harry and Ron crash-landed the Weasley family’s flying car in the Inner Bailey of the castle.

No I was not one of those “adults” who lined up in the Courtyard of Alnwick Castle. But I did line up at the Studio Tour. Can you see my determination and absolute concentration?!!

Many pivotal scenes were filmed at various locations throughout the Durham Cathedral for the first two movies – The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets such as:

  • The Cloister, or secluded walkways were used to show Harry, Ron and Hermione walking between lessons in Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone.
  • It was also used to show the scene where Harry sets Dobby free (My favourite scene ever!!).
  • The square courtyard or the Garth was a popular set for the scene where Ron ‘eat slugs’ curse backfires.
  • The Chapter House is another location which was used to frame the Transfiguration Classroom. However, since the room is in constant use by staff at the cathedral as a preparation area for services, and for choir practice and events, it is not accessible for public on most days.
  • Also, another interesting fact, the keys carried by Filch the Caretaker were actually the keys of the Durham Cathedral.

Interestingly, Durham University is offering UK’s first course, called Harry Potter and the Age of Illusion, which focuses on the world of Harry Potter through the lense of prejudice, citizenship and bullying in modern society. (Hmm… maybe an online course!!?)

While the fact that there is a course on Harry Potter just tickled me pink, but weirdly it’s Oxford that made me the happiest with its Harry Potter locations. I mean who knew that I would step into the threshold of Oxford because of my obsession with Harry Potter!!

“Lightening has struck! I repeat Lightening has struck!”
Can anyone guess the reference here?

The Bodleian Library at Divinity School was key to the filming of three scenes from the movie – Hogwarts Infirmary (Harry was a very popular guest there afterall!), the dance lessons for Yule Ball led by Professor McGonagall in Goblet of Fire, and the Duke Humfrey’s Library located above the Divinity School framed the Hogwarts library. Unfortunately, when I made the visit to Oxford university, it was the token graduation day of the university and hence it wasn’t possible to visit the third location. But still, leaving behind a reference for those who can take a step in through the famed doors!

No stalking is complete without mentioning the Knight Bus. I really wish there is an exact location/ object which was replicated (maybe its the double decker bus of London), but you still have to mention it, since it is part of the sequence that has been so carefully outlined in this post.

“Step off the Knight Bus” and head towards the Millenium Bridge, a pedestrian-only steel suspension bridge that crosses over River Thames while offering dramatic views of the St. Paul’s Cathedral. It also plays a dramatic role in the opening scene of Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, where the entire bridge snaps and collapses because of Death Eaters.

It is said that scenes for Gringotts Wizarding Bank, in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone were filmed in the grand interior of Australia House on Strand in central London. I personally preferred the drama of the WB Studio Tour, so I will link those images here. And FYI, if anyone is planning a visit, there is an amazing surprise waiting for you at the bank!!!

An elegant building on Edinburgh’s Princes Street, the Balmoral Hotel is an Edinburgh institution. It’s also where J. K. Rowling escaped, in order to avoid distractions and finish writing The Deathly Hallows, the final book of the Harry Potter series. Fans can even sleep in the same room she occupied, now known as the J. K. Rowling Suite.

Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh

The long winding tour, finally reaches the newest kind in the block – the Palace theater, showcasing the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a dramatic sequel to the franchise. Well, I didn’t watch the play, but stepping in front of the neon lights screaming Harry Potter was exciting enough for me!

Palace Theater

What a pipedream isn’t it? Well, I know that there are many more spots located in Scotland, and its a dream to actually sit inside the ‘Hogwarts Express’ and cover the rest of these spots! But Rowling had it right – Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home. After all, we still have Fantastic Beast locations to uncover as well, don’t we?


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