Last week my husband I travelled up to Scotland from our flat in London. My husband was born in Edinburgh and we were going to visit his family and to celebrate his birthday. This was my first trip to Scotland and I was beyond excited. We spent months planning everything that I wanted to see, which was everything! I love history and Scotland is a place that provides it in spades. I am also a huge Harry Potter fan and requested that we visit the café that J.K. Rowling sat to write the first novel.
Well, Edinburgh was, unsurprisingly, absolutely beautiful. We spent all day just wandering. We saw Edinburgh Castle from every point in the city because it stands on a large hill (actually an extinct volcano). We saw Holyrood Palace. We saw the statue of Greyfriars Bobby and visited Greyfriars Kirkyard (cemetery). We had a pint of Scottish ale in the Deacon Brodies pub (famous Scottish criminal). And we visited the Elephant House café, that hallowed site of literary magic.
The Elephant House is a gourmet tea and coffee house that opened it’s doors in 1995 on George IV Bridge. In that same year J.K. Rowling worked on her final draft of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Sorcerer’s Stone in the US), and she did much of that work in the back room of the Elephant House, at a window with a grand view of Edinburgh Castle. It was bustling with a breakfast crowd when we arrived (though I got the impression that they’re always bustling) and we took a seat in the back room, with that lovely view of the castle and I wondered if good ol’ J.K. had ever sat at this very table.
We each had a coffee and enjoyed peeking around without being obnoxious to those around us. The Elephant House does request a £1 donation to take photos in the café, which we happily paid, but we didn’t think that people would appreciate being pictured while eating breakfast. Most of the décor is focused on elephants, with some photos of J.K. Rowling here and there. All in all, the Elephant House is just a normal, lovely little coffee house that seems like it would be the perfect place to sit and write.
That is until you go to the restroom. The walls, from floor to ceiling, are covered in messages from Harry Potter fans. I spent so long in the restroom looking at the walls that my husband got worried about me. All of the messages were sweet. Some were favorite quotes from the books/films. Some were ‘I was here’ notes. As well as a few ‘Harry should’ve gone for Luna’ type messages. I considered writing my own ‘I was here’ but couldn’t find a pen in my bag. Somehow it’s the restroom that shows the Elephant House to be a Potter Mecca, rather than the sign outside!
Before leaving Ewan and I took a few discrete photos, had a look at their little shop section (£12.50 for a tea towel! Ouch!) and headed outside. We stepped outside just in time to see an American woman nearly get hit by a car because she wanted a picture of the front of the building and looked in the wrong direction before stepping into the street. Luckily the driver stopped in time and the woman was able to cross the street all in one piece.
There are a few other little Harry Potter shops and sites here and there in Edinburgh, but the Elephant House was my favorite. As a writer myself I can appreciate finding the perfect little café or pub to work in. While I assume that the Elephant House was a much quieter and less bustling place to write in 24 years ago, it remains and comfortable and cozy place to have a coffee and a bagel, with views that are hard to beat. I absolutely recommend a visit next time you’re in Edinburgh. Just be sure to look both ways before crossing the road!
Sidney Fraser is an American transplanted to a new life in London, where she explores fannish and geeky places, events and creations, which she relates in the continuing True and Proper Adventures of Sidney Fraser.