The Wizard’s Guide to Edinburgh

‘I don’t go looking for trouble. Trouble usually finds me.’

Last May I traveled from London to Edinburgh with the idea of visiting places related to Harry Potter’s world.

I took the train at London’s King’s Cross just like every regular Hogwarts student and arrived 4 hours later at Waverley station in Edinburgh.

London's King's Cross

As I only had a few hours in the city I made a list of all the places I wanted to visit.

Here I share with you my Harry Potter schedule in Edinburgh:

Breakfast at the elephant house

the elephant house edinburgh

This nice café located on 21 George IV Bridge was one of the first places where J.K. Rowling wrote her famous books. With a beautiful view of the Edinburgh Castle and a menu packed with delicious cakes (I recommend the purple velvet cake, it was magical) this café is an indispensable stop for every Harry Potter fan.

the elephant house purple velvet cake edinburgh

Open every day from 8 am to 10 pm, the place is often crowded, and as it doesn’t accept reservations, you’ll probably have to wait in line for some minutes.

the elephant house edinburgh

Once you are there don’t forget to visit the toilets. They are completely covered with writings from the visitors. It’s insane.

the elephant house toilets edinburgh

AFTERNOON IN Victoria Street

victoria street edinburgh

Located in the Old Town, this picturesque street with colorful buildings is said to have been the main source of inspiration for Diagon Alley. Many of its stores sell Harry Potter merchandise.

SHOPPING AT museum context

museum context edinburgh

Located in Victoria Street, Museum Context is a store that sells everything a wizard could need.

museum context edinburgh

The store is beautifully decorated and there is a place where you can take a picture of yourself as a Hogwarts student.

museum context edinburgh

DUSK AT Greyfriars kirkyard

Greyfriars kirkyard edinburgh

This cemetery is one of the spookiest in Edinburgh. Its infamous history dates back to the 16th century.

Greyfriars kirkyard edinburgh

It is known that J.K. Rowling based some of her famous characters on the names written on the tombs.

Greyfriars kirkyard edinburgh

Of course some of the names popped up later…

There are several ghost tours that visit this cemetery at night. I recommend City of the Dead Tours. They cost £13 and last 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Greyfriars kirkyard edinburgh

LATE NIGHT DRINKS AT PERILOUS POTIONS BY THE POP UP GEEKS

PERILOUS POTIONS BY THE POP UP GEEKS

The Pop Up Geeks is a bar located in 27 East Market Street that changes its theme every 3 months. During my trip, I was lucky to visit it during its last night as a Harry Potter themed bar.

PERILOUS POTIONS BY THE POP UP GEEKS

Once I selected a cocktail from the menu, I was given a tray with different tubes with ingredients and the instructions to make the drink.

PERILOUS POTIONS BY THE POP UP GEEKS

IF YOU PLAN TO STAY OVERNIGHT:

I recommend staying at the Edinburgh Central Youth Hostel as it is a low-cost option and it is very well located. It offers both single and shared rooms. The hostel is equipped with a self-catering kitchen and a lounge.

 

 

 

 

 

The Lady Mary Treatment: Luncheon at Downton Abbey

‘If you’re tired of style, you are tired of life’

highclere castle downton abbey location

Last May I visited Highclere Castle, Downton Abbey’s main filming location. Given that it was recently announced that the movie is to be released next September, I thought that writing this post would be a great way to lower anxieties.

how to visit Highclere castle

6 months prior to my trip I made a reservation through Highclere Castle’s webpage for a special visit. It included a tour of the castle and gardens, a luncheon and a talk by screenwriter Andrew Davis (House of Cards, Pride and Prejudice).

The castle offers a wide variety of events throughout the year, so I highly recommend checking the web page for more information.

highclere castle downton abbey location

Located in Hampshire, 5 miles south of Newbury and one hour and 20 minutes by train from Paddington Station (London), this impressive Victorian mansion in the Jacobethan style immediately reminds us of another architectonical jewel: the Houses of Parliament. And that is because both buildings were designed by Sir Charles Barry between 1839 and 1842.

GETTING TO HIGHCLERE

I arrived at the Newbury station at 12.15 where a taxi from Broadway Cars that I had previously hired by e-mail, was waiting for me. The only way to get to Highclere is by car and with a reservation to visit the castle, so have that into account when planning this visit. There is absolutely no way to see the castle if you don’t have a reservation because the building is far from the entrance, so don’t waste your time!

Visit: http://www.broadway-cars.com I highly recommend their service, they are very punctual and the drivers are very nice and know a lot about the area.

It takes a 15-minute drive to get to the castle. Once I got there it was like I stumbled and fell inside my TV and entered the world of Downton Abbey. I mean, the first glimpse of the castle is from the same angle in which the series usually depicts it. It’s amazing!

THE GARDENS

highclere castle downton abbey location gardens

Before luncheon (I love saying that word!) I had the opportunity of walking freely through the grounds and the gardens.

highclere castle downton abbey location gardens

Having seen many English gardens, I must say that Highclere has one of the most impressive examples. It is so vast that it would take many hours to see it on its whole.

Jackdaw's Castle highclere castle downton abbey

Souvenirs from the Grand Tour: there are many follies surrounding the castle. This one appears frequently in the show and it is named Jackdaw’s Castle. It was built by Robert Herbert in 1743.

the secret garden highclere castle downton abbey

‘Come war and peace, Downton still stands and the Crawleys are still in it’

THE GIFT SHOP

There is a very nice gift shop where I bought a beautiful tea towel and a mug for my mom that said “her ladyship”. She absolutely loved it! There were also slippers based on the ones that Lady Mary wore in the series, but they didn’t have them in my size. I was truly disappointed…

the luncheon

At 1.15 pm luncheon was on and it was given outside. The Earl and the Countess of Carnarvon (Highclere owners) were there and they were very nice talking to the visitors about the history of the castle.

While eating I had the chance to talk with the butler and he told me about his experience during the filming of the series. He also shared with me where the bench in which Lady Mary sat in many important scenes was… and of course, I ran and had my picture taken.

highclere castle downton abbey bench

INSIDE THE CASTLE

Highclere Castle is a place with a very vast history and that is reflected in every corner of the majestic building. The history of Highclere is strongly related to the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb (1922) as it was the 5th Earl the one who accompanied archaeologist Howard Carter during the discovery.

The Castle hosts an exhibit of Egyptian objects but unfortunately, it wasn’t open the day of my visit. However, during the tour of the upper floor, we were able to see some tiny Egyptian souvenirs hidden inside the walls of one of the rooms.

We weren’t allowed to take any photographs inside the Castle. Most of the rooms downstairs were used in the series. That is the case of the Great Hall, the library and the dining room. Most of the bedroom scenes were filmed in the studio.

details of the exterior

Ung Je Serviray highclere castle downton abbey

This relief that decorates the upper part of every window reads in old French: “Ung Je Serviray”. It translates as “One will I serve”. I wonder who that would be.

highclere castle downton abbey

Goodbye Downton Abbey, I hope I’ll see you soon…

 

 

Travel Through the Stones: An Outlander Guide (Part 2)

‘The sight of the stones was fresh in my mind. A small circle, standing stones on the crest of a steep green hill. The name of the hill is Craigh na Dun; the fairies’ hill. Some say the hill is enchanted, others say it is cursed. Both are right. But no one knows the function or the purpose of the stones. Except me.’

stonehenge at sunset

This is part 2 of the Outlander’s location guide. Hope you’ll enjoy it!

EDINBURGH: WHERE CLAIRE AND JAMIE REUNITE

edinburgh statue

Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland. It is located in Lothian on the Firth of Forth’s southern shore. Edinburgh’s Old Town (medieval) and New Town (18th/19th century) together are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are several parts of Edinburgh named in the books, especially in Dragonfly in Amber during the Jacobite occupation and in Voyager when Claire reunites with Jamie after 20 years apart. There we can trace the character’s steps through the Royal Mile or even visit The World’s End, one of the taverns mentioned frequently in the books.

jamie fraser painting at rabbie's cafe

Look who I found inside Rabbie’s Cafe.

One of the few scenes shot in Edinburgh is the exterior of A. Malcolm press in Carfax Close. This site is located in Bakehouse Close, in the heart of the Old Town. Other points of interest mentioned in Dragonfly in Amber are the Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace.

edinburgh castle

‘The weather was unseasonably warm for November, and the omnipresent clounds had broken, letting a fugitive autumn sun shine briefly on the grayness of Edinburgh. I had taken advantage of the transient warmth to be outside, however briefly, and was crawling on my knees through the rock garden behind Holyrood, much to the amusement of several Highlanders hanging about the grounds, enjoying the sunshine in their own manner, with a jug of home-brewed whisky.’

CULLODEN BATTLEFIELD

The Battle of Culloden was the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745 in which the Jacobite forces of Charles Edward Stuart were defeated by the Duke of Cumberland.

culloden battlefield flag

During season 2, episode 13, Claire visits Culloden moor in 1968 and she finds the commemorative stone of Clan Fraser. In the book, Roger and Brianna are the ones who visit the battlefield and the visitor center.

culloden battlefield fraser stone

‘They sat on patches of smooth grass, widely scattered near the edge of the moor. Each one bore a single name, the carving so faded by weather as to be nearly illegible in some cases. MacGillivray. MacDonald. Fraser. Grant. Chisholm. MacKenzie.’

How to get to Culloden Visitor Center:

Visiting Culloden Battlefield is quite easy from Inverness. It’s only 30 minutes away by public transportation. You can take the bus in front of Marks and Spencer (Academy St.) to the parking lot of the visitor center. Bus tickets cost £4 (return) and you can buy them inside the bus. Once you arrive you should check with the driver when to take the bus back to Inverness (there’s often a bus every hour).

culloden visitor center entrance

Culloden visitor center’s tickets are £11. The audio guide is free and available in every language. Visitor’s hours are normally from 10 am to 4 pm.

My pick:

The visitor center has a nice food court and a big gift shop with official Outlander merchandising.

isle of Skye

Immortalized by the by the modern Scottish song The Skye Boat Song, the Isle of Skye is the largest of the Inner Hebrides archipelago.

isle of skye from the storr

The lyrics tell the story of how Flora MacDonald rescued Prince Charles Edward Stuart from the Hanoverian troops after the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, dressing him as a maid and taking him to Skye by boat. The fragment of the song that appears during the opening credits of the series derives from the Robert Luis Stevenson poem written in 1892:

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,

Say, could that lad be I?

Merry of soul he sailed on a day

Over the sea to Skye

Billow and breeze, islands and seas,

Mountains of rain and sun,

All that was good, all that was fair,

All that was me is gone

In the modified version by Raya Yarbrough and Bear McCreary featured in the show, the word “lad” is replaced for “lass”.

How to get to the Isle of Skye:

From Inverness to Portree (Skye’s most important city) it is a 3 hour and 30 minutes ride by bus with amazing views of Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle, and Eilean Donan Castle. I highly recommend checking bus timetables and purchasing tickets at the Citylink website.

portree isle of skye

What to do:

From Portree, there are several attractions easily accessed by bus such as The Old Man of Storr and Fairy Pools.

the storr

I highly recommend visiting the village of Uig (less than a half hour from Portree by bus). This picturesque village offers several accommodations with incredible views of the bay. From here it is possible to visit Fairy Glen, a magical landscape of green hills and rock formations.

fairy glen

Where to stay:

The Portree Youth Hostel is right in front of the main square where the bus stops and it’s a low-cost option.

The Cowshed Boutique Bunkhouse is a high category hostel that offers both rooms and pods with a mind-blowing view of the Uig bay.

cowshed boutique bunkhouse

Where to eat:

In Uig, The Sheiling & Ella’s Café is an excellent place for lunch. The food is delicious (you certainly cannot miss the brownies for dessert) and in addition to the restaurant, the place has a second-hand shop with books, vinyl’s, vintage clothes and other interesting stuff.

ella's cafe uig

My pick:

In Uig, right by the pier, you can find the Isle of Skye Brewing Co. where you’ll find a wide range of craft beer -the best on the Highlands- and maybe get some cases for your loved ones at home.

finding craigh na dun

stonehenge at sunset

Well…actually…Craigh na Dun doesn’t really exist. The stone circle that crowns a hill near Inverness and transports Claire back in time is a fictional place created by Diana Gabaldon based on several megalithic monuments spread across Great Brittain. The scenes of Craigh na Dun were shot in Dunalastair estate near Kinloch Rannoch, in Perthshire. Unfortunately, you won’t find any reminiscence of the stone circle.

But as I said before, there are several stone circles and menhirs similar to Craigh na Dun around Great Britain and each of them offers a unique experience. Here are some recommendations:

In Scotland:

Callanish Stones are an arrangement of standing stones placed in a cruciform pattern with a central stone circle. They were erected in the late Neolithic era and were a focus for ritual activity during the Bronze Age. They are near the village of Callanish on the west coast of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. It is six hours and a half away from Inverness. You can take the bus from Inverness to Ullapool (one hour and a half). From there take the ferry to Stornoway (2 hours and a half) and from there a bus to Callanish (30 minutes). For bus information visit the Citylink webpage and for ferry tickets go to http://www.calmac.co.uk

To the east of Inverness, you’ll find Clava Cairn, a type of Bronze Age circular chamber tomb cairn. Entrance is free and it’s open every day. You can get there on a bus from Inverness (there is a stop in Academy St. in front of Marks and Spencer) to Culloden Moor and walk 20 minutes to destination.

In England:

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, 2 miles (3 km) west of Amesbury. It consists of a ring of standing stones, with each standing stone around 4 m high and 2 m wide and weighing around 25 tons. Archaeologists believe it was constructed from 3000 BC to 2000 BC.

stonehenge inside the circle

I highly recommend applying for a special visit to the circle during sunrise or sunset. It is a unique experience! For that, you have to make a reservation through http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/stonehenge/plan-your-visit/stone-circle-access-visits/#

stonehenge at sunset

If you are taking my advice and visiting the Stone circle during those hours I recommend that you stay the night at Salisbury (there are several nice apartments offered in Airbnb at economic prices). I also recommend you to take a taxi from Salisbury to the visitor center (call Vic, the best taxi service in Salisbury: http://www.vicstaxi.com/)

 

 

 

 

Travel Through the Stones: An Outlander Guide (Part 1)

‘Many of the lost will be found, eventually, dead or alive. Disappearances, after all, have explanations. Usually.’

This year I traveled to Scotland in May, the same month in which Claire disappeared for the first time. Even though I couldn’t go through the stones (and God knows I tried), I had some amazing experiences that inspired me to write this post.

If you’re planning a trip to Scotland and would like to check out some of the locations related to Outlander (novels and television series) here are some ideas for you:

Inverness: where it all began

‘It wasn’t a very likely place of disappearances, at least at first glance.’

inverness street signs

Claire’s story begins in Inverness, a beautiful city located in the Scottish Highlands. Even though in the series the Inverness parts weren’t shot here (they were shot in Falkland), I highly recommend visiting this gorgeous city. Not only you’ll be able to see great attractions such as the Inverness Castle and the River Ness but also you’ll be near some emblematic places like Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle, Culloden Moor, and Clava Cairns.

inverness church by loch ness

How to get here (train)

Inverness is 3 hours and 30 minutes away from Waverley Station (Edinburgh). I recommend visiting the Scotrail Webpage to get tickets and check out timetables and prices.

Where to stay

The Inverness Youth Hostel is located in Victoria Drive and offers accessible prices and a comfortable environment with shared or private rooms and a self-catering kitchen.

My personal favorite

If you are a bookworm don’t miss Leakey’s Bookshop. Originally the Old Gaelic Church, it was built in 1649 and was used as a temporary hospital during the Jacobite Rising of 1745.

leakey's bookshop exterior inverness

Falkland: Inverness in the series

As I wrote before, the Inverness scenes were shot in Falkland, a small and picturesque village located in Fife at the foot of the Lomond Hills.

falkland as inverness in outlander

How to get here

Even though Falkland is accessible by car, I recommend hiring an Outlander tour where as well as visiting this village you’ll be able to visit other emblematic sites. One of my favorite tours is the one Slainte Scotland offers from Edinburgh or Glasgow. It starts at 9 am and returns at 6 pm.

falkland film locations outlander

Doune Castle: AKA Castle Leoch

‘When I had known it, Castle Leoch was a picturesque ruin, some thirty miles north of Bargrennan. It was considerably more picturesque now, what with the pigs rooting under the walls of the keep and the pervasive smell of raw sewage. I was beginning to accept the impossible idea that I was, most likely, somewhere in the eighteen century.’

doune castle castle leoch outlander

Doune Castle is a medieval stronghold near the village of Doune, in the Stirling district of central Scotland. It was originally built in the thirteen century and after being damaged in the Scottish Wars of Independence, was rebuilt in its present form in the late 14th century by Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany. This fortress was used not only as Castle Leoch (home of Clan Mackenzie) but also it is featured in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and in Game of Thrones pilot (the Winterfell scenes). Admission price is £6 and it is opened from 9.30 to 5.30 pm (April to September) and till 8 pm (July).

How to get here

It is one hour away from Edinburgh by car. Outlander tours usually include this location.

My pick

Don’t miss the gift shop! Not only you’ll find official Outlander merchandising but you’ll have the chance to dress with Outlander outfits for free and take pictures!

Culross: Cranesmuir and Leoch gardens

‘The Duncan’s house stood on the square, as behooved the residence of the procurator fiscal. This was a matter of convenience as well as status; the square could be used for those judicial matters which, by reason of public interest or legal necessity, overflowed the narrow confines of Arthur Duncan’s study.’

culross

Culross is a village and former royal burgh in Fife, Scotland. In the show, this charming village was used for the Castle Leoch garden scenes where Claire and Geillis Duncan gather herbs and for the Cranesmuir scenes.

culross outlander

How to get here

It is 48 minutes away from Edinburgh by car. Usually included in Outlander tours.

Midhope Castle: Lallybroch

“He took me to his own home–Lallybroch, it was called. A beautiful place.’

midhope castle lallybroch

Midhope Castle, also known as Lallybroch in Outlander, is a 15th-century house located 30 minutes away by car from Edinburgh. Since the interior is in ruins, you can only visit the exterior which is very well preserved.

midhope castle lallybroch relief

How to get here

You can only access Midhope Castle by car, and with a previous authorization, from 9 am to 5 pm (April – September) and from 10 am to 3 pm (October – December). Parking permits cost £10 for small cars and £40 for larger vehicles. You can get the permit in Hopetoun Farm Shop or in Hopetoun House Ticket Kiosk, both are five minutes away from Midhope Castle.

midhope castle lallybroch

Keep in mind

I recommend visiting this attraction with an Outlander Tour in order to skip the parking permit purchase. It is also important to notice that the attraction is not prepared for visitors, that means there aren’t any toilet facilities or places to eat.

Blackness Castle: Fort William

Also known as “the ship that never sailed”, Blackness Castle is a 15th-century fortress near the village of Blackness, on the south shore of the Firth of Forth.

blackness castle fort william

In the show, it was used for the Fort William scenes. The castle is open to the public almost every day from 10 am to 4 pm. Tickets are £6.

blackness castle fort william

How to get here

It is 30 minutes away from Edinburgh by car.

blackness castle fort william boats

Glasgow: from Paris to Boston

Glasgow is the most populous city in Scotland and it is located on the River Clyde in the country’s West Central Lowlands. The city was used several times during the show. George Square doubled as London for the scene where Frank proposed to Claire.

university of glasgow flowers spring

The University of Glasgow served as Harvard for the 1968 scenes. Pollok Country Park doubled as Bois du Boulogne where Jamie and Black Jack Randall dueled. Kelvingrove Park was used for several Boston scenes and Glasgow Cathedral was featured as L’Hopital Des Anges in Paris.

university of glasgow arches

How to get here

From Edinburgh, it is a 50 minutes train ride.

Where to stay

Glasgow Youth hostel is located in the West End right in front of Kelvingrove Park and Glasgow University. It’s an impressive Victorian townhouse offering both private and shared rooms. Facilities include a comfortable lounge, TV room, laundry, and self-catering kitchen.