It’s a bit embarrassing to admit. I’m neither a child or teenager and I have celebrated my 29th birthday a couple of times now. But when I read or watch Harry Potter, I become 7 years old again. Like a child I emphasise with the characters, laugh with them and feel their sorrow or fears. I’m awestruck with this magic world, with the cosy cobblestone streets of Diagon Alley, the impressive landscape when riding with the Hogwart’s Express, the majestic dining hall of Hogwarts.
So let’s take a journey into the world of Harry Potter and discover the facts and fairy-tales.
Hogwarts School of Wizards
The adventure begins in old Oxford, some 60 miles west of London. Oxford is also referred to as “the city of the dreaming spires” in reference to the harmonious architecture of Oxford’s university buildings.
In the old part of Oxford we find Christ Church College, which we recognise as Hogwarts and where no less than 12 former British Prime Ministers have studied. In addition, the list of former students who have changed the history of the world is extremely long.
If you’re considering to study in Oxford, check out the Student Accommodation there. It ain’t Hogwarts but it looks very nice indeed!
Next stop is the Bodleian Library, which consists of many buildings of varying age but can boast of the honour of being one of the oldest libraries in Europe. One of its buildings – The Divine School – was used as stage for the Hogwarts hospital wing, and Duke Humfrey’s Library doubles as the Hogwarts library. You might remember a scene from “The sorcerer’s stone” where Harry’s in the library and a book starts screaming at him. That’s the library of Duke Humfrey.
We leave old Oxford and drive into the beautiful countryside around the hills of Cotswold. In this magnificent nature, small villages lie scattered around in small shires in which the houses are often built from the so-called Cotswold limestone which is rich in fossils.
The destination is Lacock Abbey, which was built in 1232, and stands as a landmark of the dark ages. Its buildings, as well as the neighbouring village of the same name, has constituted as backdrop for a wide number of scenes in the various Harry Potter movies.
The cloister buildings themselves were used as framework for the classrooms at Hogwarts, but also the courtyard has been filmed on several occasions.
It’s in Lacock Abbey we follow Harry in his nightly walks around Hogwarts and here, he discovered the Mirror of Erised (desire spelled backwards), the mirror which caused sorrow, as it showed him his deepest wish, one that could not be fulfilled, as his parents were dead.
It’s a 25 mile drive northeast to Gloucester, on the border of Wales. In this 2.000 year old port, we find the cathedral and the adjacent King’s School.
Immediately at the entrance of the cathedral, we recognise the long and dark corridors of Hogwarts. Everywhere, connoisseurs of the Harry Potter movies can recognise exciting details from Hogwarts. For one thing, it’s here the scene with the troll in the girl’s bathroom is shot, and the entrance to the Gryffindor common room can be found. However, the portrait of the Fat Lady was nowhere to be seen, probably because the Gryffindor entrance has been moved..
The journey continues 200 miles to the north in the old centre of York. The Shambles is voted one of the most picturesque streets in England, and is great for drawing in that wizard vibe.
This old part of the city was used for some of the close-ups in scenes from Diagonal Alley, where Harry Potter was set to buy the necessary wizardry equipment.
As we drive further north, we reach the borders of the stunning landscape of North Yorkshire Moors National Park. The park is rough gem with moorland, forest, green valleys and rocky coastline with cosy and typical old English villages and shires with medieval castles. Our goal is the city of Pickering. Here is an old train waiting for us that will take us through this amazing landscape on the same line as the first year students went to Hogwarts.
The North Yorkshire Moors Railway is the country’s most popular heritage railway. The 18-mile line runs through the National Park, between the town of Pickering and the village of Grosmont. We, however, get off at Goathland, the real-life version of the fictional Hogsmeade. We recognise the buildings and the homely feel of the railway station. We pop in for some tea and sconces at the refurbished Warehouse Tea Room before heading back to Pickering to be reunited with our car.
A couple of hours’ drive north, we arrive in the old town of Durham, which history can be dated 2000 years back in time. The city is the essence of a typical English city with its beautiful Cathedral and impressive castle, both of which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The buildings can be dated back to the Norman conquest in 1066, and has inspired Sir Walter Scott in portraying heroic knights and beautiful virgins in the classic novel Ivanhoe.
The Cathedral is one of the largest existing buildings from Norman times in the whole of Europe and is virtually intact. Of course, this historical place was also used in the first two Harry Potter films for both interior and exterior views of Hogwarts. The chapter house was, among other things, used for Minerva McGonagall’s classroom, just as the exterior of the cloisters acted as Quidditch Practice. After a guided tour in the Cathedral we also explore the nearby Durham Castle. Built in the 12th century it certainly looks like something from the movie, but fact is that it was never used.
Not far from Durham lies Alnwick Castle. Already as we approach the very stately medieval Castle we recognise it as the backdrop for Madame Hooch’s broomstick flying lessons, just as some of the tough Quidditch matches were fought here.
Where it all began
It’s a 2 hour drive to Edinburgh, the proud capitol of Scotland. This is where it all started with a penniless mother telling a tale of a dark-haired boy with glasses standing up against evil. We enjoy our afternoon tea in The Elephant House, where Joanne Kathleen Rowling was writing the first Harry Potter book in order to keep warm, as her flat was cold and dreary. It’s easy to imagine this poor woman sitting in the café, rocking the pram with her baby daughter back and forth with one hand, while writing with the other. She too, would have had been surrounded by the old buildings, beckoning to come alive in a writers imagination.
Although Edinburgh doesn’t offer any other Potter-related sites, it’s still worth a visit with is impressive history, its old castle, the UNESCO World Heritage Site listed Old and New Town districts and the kids entertainments.
As we prepare to leave the café and pay for our indulgences we notice the beautiful Glenfinnian Viaduct on the £10 note we get back in change. The viaduct is crossed on many occasions on the Hogwarts Express and is located in the north-western part of Scotland. We skip the 3 hour drive and admire the note instead.
If you want to discover the Harry Potter sights in London, check out our guide to Harry Potter’s London.
Explore the location of the mentioned sites on this Google Map: