The only thing I knew I wanted to do on my first trip to Edinburgh was to see the sites that inspired or influenced Harry Potter. I didn’t know of any tours that I could join on my limited time frame nor was I totally interested in following others around as they tried to tell me trivia I already know. So instead, I made my own walking tour.
I was about five when Philosopher’s Stone was released (as Sorcerer’s Stone) in the US. The summer going into my freshman year of high school, I read Deathly Hallows the day it came out. I brought friends to see the movies when they came out and even dressed up for the midnight premier of the final movie, which came out my senior year of high school and was one of the points of that year when we all started realize our childhoods were over. When I wore glasses in elementary school, they were legit Harry Potter circular frames. I’m almost positive I cried when I didn’t get a letter from Hogwarts on my eleventh birthday. It was one of the first books I read by myself (I know for a fact I was caught reading Chamber of Secrets in first grade multiple times). It’s a book series I can reread over and over again and still fall in love.
I spent a rainy afternoon walking around the Old Town area when I stumbled upon the Greyfriars Kirkyard, said to not only be one of the most haunted areas in Scotland, but also the resting place of Tom Riddle. To be honest, I was trying to get to the Royal Mile and got lost, but as that is the best way to see a new city and I found a graveyard (one of my favorite places to walk through at home or abroad) so I’m happy.
When you walk in the entrance to the cemetery you see the statue of a dog, the Greyfriar’s Bobby. He stands on top of an open area where the real dog was said to guard his master’s grave, a police officer in Edinburgh named John Gray. His own grave is a little bit more north of the entrance.
As I was walking through, admiring all of the old graves, I overheard a tour group in front of a large crypt. It turned out to be Sir George Mackenzie’s final resting place and apparently one of the reasons the graveyard is said to be haunted. At the end of the last century a homeless man was seeking shelter for the night and decided the tomb would be his best bet for the time. Unfortunately, he broke in and disturbed the area (two big no no’s in the spirit realm) so he fell from the tomb of Mackenzie himself to underneath, where the decomposing bodies of Plague victims still lay.
The homeless man high tailed it out of there, but since then many people claim to have been followed or even hurt by the spirits who have been disturbed. There’s another story that around the mid 2000’s a couple of teen boys broke into the crypt as well and decided to take a skull off one of the bodies in there and play soccer with it. Smart, right?
I’m not a superstitious person, so hearing ghost stories like this don’t deter me from going and exploring. Not when I also knew that JK Rowling walked these same pathways and found inspiration for character names (a pastime I also delve into when I want to find character names or plot bunnies).
If you walk throughout the churchyard, you will see many old headstones, apparently many of them being prominent figures in Scottish history. But for me, I got to see the ancestors of some of my favorites characters. Look carefully at the markers and you will find familiar names such as Moodie, Scrymgeour, and McGonagall. Allegedly Tom Riddle (Ridell) is buried here as well, but I scoured the entire area and could not find the grave, much to my disappointment.
Even so, it felt magical to be walking in the same footsteps as one of my favorite authors. Knowing that I was looking at things that inspired her, gazing at the same things that shaped thousands of lives, including my own. As we Potterheads say, “It’s real to us” and on that day, standing under a grey, drizzling sky, I felt like a kid again, discovering something new in the world of witches and wizards. And knowing that I had this opportunity while working, I was here because of my job, I realized that this life is truly the most wonderful, magical fairy tale.