I was so looking forward to getting out of snowy Winnipeg that I couldn’t think of anything but green grass, lochs, dramatic hills, daffodils, and Scottish shortbread. The weather reports were for ‘rain, rain, and rain’. That chill to the bone cold is something that we got used to I was a student at the University of Leicester. And speaking of Leicester, I was going to get to connect with one of my friends from that era, Hazel, from the Shetland Islands now working for Scottish Museums. Our original plan was to walk through the Old Town part of the city with its cobblestones, public statuary, and beautiful stone buildings. The icy wind and rain meant that we shifted from one sitting spot to another during the course of the morning. Our first stop was for tea and scones (OK, Hazel had an elephant-shaped piece of shortbread).
The Elephant House is located in the old part of the city. It is easy to find and any local can give you directions because this lovely boutique cafe claims to be one of the cafes where J K Rowling wrote Harry Potter.
The Elephant Cafe is one of a few coffee and tea shops that Rowling visited with her baby daughter so that she could write.
Rowling is a true rags to riches individual. As a single mom struggling on welfare in Edinburgh, she had, of course, no idea that two decades later people would travel to Edinburgh to visit the sites of her stories. Rowling’s home was full of books and from a very young age, she wanted to be a writer. Her website says that she wrote her first book at the age of six called ‘Rabbit’ while she finished her first novel five years later at the age of eleven. Rowling went on to University, spent a year in Paris while she was a student and eventually marries a man from Portugal. But, in 1995, that marriage fell through and she returned to Edinburgh only for her mother to die shortly after. In the midst of two tragic events, the divorce and the death, Rowling took the skills she had learned in her Classics courses and set about to finish a book that she had started years before.
In 1990 on a delayed train from Manchester to London King’s Cross, she conceived the idea for the Harry Potters series. She built up the outline for the series of seven books on odd pieces of papers. In 1997, Bloomsbury Children’s Books published the first of the seven books. For many, it is like a fairy tale and it is easy to see from all of the shops selling Harry Pottery memorabilia that the books continue to have a great following. If you travel to Edinburgh, you can go on the Harry Potter tours. But if you just want a great scone or shortbread and a pot of British tea, then step into the Elephant House Cafe. One bit hint, this is a very popular bistro cafe amongst the locals as well and tables at the normal busy times of day can mean a lineup.
We then spent our time catching up on our lives for the past two decades sitting amongst the Titians at the National Gallery. What a beautiful gallery. It was Valesquez’s Old Woman Cooking Eggs that caught my attention after the colossal images by Gainsborough with fabrics you can reach out and touch – it sure feels that way. The Museums in Scotland are free admission and those in Edinburgh are located within walking distance of one another. If you stay in this part of the City, you never have to hire a taxi but you can simply walk from one venue to another with ease.
There are a number of ways to get to Edinburgh. In fact, this trip taught me a lot. If you live in Canada, you can fly via Halifax to Glasgow with WestJet Airlines. You can also fly to Edinburgh via either London Gatwick or London Heathrow. When I booked, Gatwick was the cheapest option. Then you take the Thameslink to London San Pancreas International. The return ticket is 21 GBP. Today that is roughly $42 CDN. It takes about 40 minutes. In San Pancreas you can find some lovely food shops – much better in my opinion from those at King’s Cross. Then you take the LNER train to Edinburgh. Now here is also a big tip: If your train is delayed by 30 minutes you will get some compensation. If it is delayed by an hour you can get the entire cost of the ticket refunded. My train was 78 minutes late in arriving. Bingo!
Edinburgh is a very cultural city and there are festivals throughout the summer. Most of the big manor houses or even Balmoral Castle allow for visitors. They open April 1. There are even cottages to let on the grounds of Balmoral Castle.
I am leaving for Arbroath tomorrow instead of today. The snow is tapering off and melting so I have hope that the 8 degrees C is for real.