Culture Travel Tuesday
Reading (and Visiting) Harry Potter in Scotland
by Jessica Voigts
What’s more fun than reading a book? Going to the location where the book was set – or where the author wrote said book.
As a reader of A Traveler’s Library, I assume that literary travel is your thing. It is one of mine! Reading many books about a place before we go, or being inspired to travel by a book – what could be better?
Well, the trip can be enhanced with books that have also been made into movies. And, literary travel can further encourage reading – not only the blockbusters, but books of all sorts, including local literature, local guidebooks, and more. Head to the bookstores where you travel, and ask which books were set or written there. You’ll come away with many new books to read, and a new appreciation for place.
The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling, changed the face of Young Adult literature. It inspired more reading, new genres, and new interest in books, reading, and the UK. And the Harry Potter books aren’t only for teens – I suspect many more adults than teens read them.
There are now Harry Potter tours in England and Scotland that visit places featured in the books or movies. Some of the most scenic locations from the Harry Potter movies are set in Scotland. What better location to inspire literary travel? Our family went to Scotland and was able to travel in Harry Potter’s footsteps! Watch the movies before you come, and bring your books to read on the long plane ride.
Most of the Scottish locations for the Harry Potter movies were filmed in the western Highlands – of course, because it is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Here’s where you can find the locations for:
** Hogwarts Express
While we all know it starts at Kings Cross Station, in the movies, the train crosses a very scenic viaduct. This is the West Highland Railway line, crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
This railway line runs around 42 miles, from Fort William to Mallaig. The Glenfinnan Viaduct is located at Lochaber, and is 100 feet above the ground! There are 21 large arches that support the railway bridge, which covers over 1,000 feet to cross the valley. To get up close, park in the parking lot of the Glenfinnan Monument. This commemorates the location where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard, thus starting the 1745 Jacobite Rising [corrected date]. The parking is free, and there’s also a gift shop and restroom. Look at the railway schedules to determine when the train will cross. While most of the trains are modern, occasionally there will be a historic “Harry Potter” train taking tourists. You can take a Harry Potter train yourself on the Jacobite Steam Train, running from Fort William to Mallaig. (Here’s a video of the steam train).
Extra bonus – the flying car scene, from the Chamber of Secrets, was also filmed here. Be careful crossing the road to the Monument – there’s no stop sign for cars hurtling around the bend. I don’t move very quickly, and this was a dicey proposition. If you just want to see the train on the Glenfinnan Viaduct, it is viewed easily from the parking lot.
** Hagrid’s Hut
Not only can you see the location for Hagrid’s Hut, but you can stay near where it was filmed and walk there every morning to see the mist rise off Loch Torren, the small lake, as I did. The location is in Glencoe, at the base of Ben Nevis. Stay at the Glencoe Cottages, and talk with owner Victoria Sutherland and hear the stories of the filming. Just 3 minutes walk away from the eco-friendly cottages is Loch Torren, in Clachaig Gully. The flat spot, halfway up the hill, is where the Hagrid’s Hut scenes were filmed. On a cool, misty morning, wander up to the Loch, coffee mug in hand. Sit amidst the bracken and feel the Highlands – and the world of Harry Potter – all around you. Once the mist has cleared and your coffee long gone, skip some stones on the smooth loch and ripple the beautiful reflections. This was one of the highlights of our time in Scotland – surrounded by such beauty, and seeing the books and movies we loved coming to life.
** Quidditch matches
The Quidditch matches were filmed in beautiful Glen Nevis, with Ben Nevis (the largest mountain in the UK) in the background. While you won’t be able to fly your broom, you CAN hill walk (hike) the area. Be sure to take a good map, and possibly hire a local guide. Don’t tackle Ben Nevis on your own – Glencoe Cottages owner Victoria Sutherland told us many stories of the local search and rescue team heading out late at night, to save a lost or stranded visitor. Bet they all wished for a broom and quick exits!
** Outdoor scenes
Many of the outdoor scenes were filmed around Ben Nevis, near Glencoe. Drive around Fort William and visit Steal Falls where the Triwizard Tournament was held (Goblet of FIre), and hike the 7 mile–long Glen Coe, to experience the backdrop of Prisoner of Azkaban. Head to Loch Arkaig to see the gorgeous lake filmed in the Half Blood Prince. Loch Shiel (at the Glenfinnan Monument) and Lock Eilt were used as the backdrop for the exterior of Hogwarts. Wherever you go in the Western Highlands, the scenery will be quite familiar to Harry Potter readers, both from the magical writing and from the movies.
Have you visited any of the locations of the Harry Potter films? Did it bring the stories alive for you? Did it inspire more reading of books set in the Western Highlands of Scotland? What about other films, made from books?
It is the policy of A Traveler’s Library to inform you of affiliate links. If you click on the book title links to Amazon and buy anything while you are there, it helps support A Traveler’s Library, even though it costs you no more. Please do use our links. All photos courtesy of and copyright by Jessie Voigts and Tom Voigts.
(See more Harry Potter locations to visit in this post from Gone With Family. )