Harry Potter’s Scotland Trail – Virtual Online Tour

This afternoon we took part in a virtual tour round parts of Scotland to show us some of the inspiration and filming locations of the Harry Potter books and films run by Eventbrite. It was really good and especially interesting for us, having been to Edinburgh last September and seen a couple of the locations.

The guy who ran the tour was really entertaining. He really played to the kids that were on the tour, asking them which house they were in and awarding them points for their houses.

He even sorted a couple of them into their houses. As you can see from his picture bottom right, he was dressed like Olivander and even had the background of Olivander’s wand shop in Diagon Alley.

We started off in Edinburgh by visiting the Elephant House cafe where J K Rowling wrote the Chamber of Secrets and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Apparently there are lots of references to elephants in the Prisoner of Azkaban as a nod to the hours J K spent here. I’ve never noticed any, so obviously I’m now going to have to re-read it for the umpteenth time! We ate a couple of times at the Elephant House when we visited in September, which was lovely, but what they don’t tell you is that the Philosopher’s Stone was actually written in another cafe round the corner. I didn’t know that till today either!

Next we visited Edinburgh Castle.

Many people think that the castle could have been the inspiration for Hogwarts as J K said she always imagined that the school was on a hill with a lake nearby. Edinburgh Castle, as you can see, does overlook the city and hundreds of years ago it also overlooked a Loch which was drained many years ago and is now the picturesque Princes Street Gardens.

Next we saw the Elephant Castle from the rear where J K apparently sat in the window (we sat there too), and she may have looked out and imagined Knockturn Alley, which is the dark magic street where you can find Borgin and Burkes. Harry ends up here when he accidentally gives the instruction ‘diagonally’ instead of Diagon Alley when travelling by Floo Powder from the Weasley’s burrow.

Our tour guide then asked us to work out which deatheater (follower of ‘he who shall not be named’) could have been roaming around Knockturn Alley. It was Lucius Malfoy and we all had to point our wands (or wand finger) at the screen and banish him with the spell ‘expelliarmus’.

From here we moved on to Greyfriars Churchyard. We were encouraged to open the gates by casting the spell ‘alohomora’.

The graves here may have provided inspiration for many of the characters, including Alastor Moody, Professor McGonagal and even Harry’s arch enemy, Lord Voldemort!

We moved on to George Herriot school next.

This has also been sited as possible inspiration for Hogwarts. It was a school built for Edinburgh’s poor and orphans, it had four houses (although, disappointingly, they weren’t Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin!) and it has four towers.

I have my own theory on where J K found her inspiration for Hogwarts, at least the appearance of it. For me, it’s got to be Holyroodhouse Palace. In particular, the ruin of the abbey next to the main building. I bet, in reality, it was probably a mix of all of these along with a dash of fairy-like imagination on the part of the author.

After this we used floo powder to travel to Diagon Alley! For those of you not familiar with this mode of travel, it involves throwing some floo powder in a magical fire and saying out loud where you want to travel through the floo network.

We arrived in Victoria Street which, I can concur having been there recently, does indeed look like it could’ve led to the creation of Diagon Alley.

We used magic to review the real Diagon Alley for comparison purposes.

Now we had to head to the station to catch the Hogwarts Express up into the Highlands to see some of the delights up there. Ordinarily, you’d obviously catch the Hogwarts Express from Kings Cross or Hogwarts itself but catching it from Waverley Station gave the perfect excuse to show us the nearby Balmoral Hotel where J K, having long made her fortune, wrote the Deathly Hallows.

You can stay here hoping to emulate that winning formula if you like. It’ll set you back the princely sum of £2500 per night!

This is Glenfinnan Viaduct that you see the Hogwarts Express travel over in the films. I learnt today that you can actually take this journey, on a steam train from Fort William, and you can buy chocolate frogs and Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans on the Train! Guess what’s just been added to the top of my bucket list?! Finally a positive to come out of not being able to easily go abroad because of Covid-19 – hopefully we’ll be able to get to Scotland instead and do this!!

Our tour guide suddenly stopped at this point and announced that one of the tour members had missed the train and was joining us by an alternative method.

They arrived in the Ford Anglia that was bewitched by Arthur Weasley to fly.

We chugged our way past Loch Eilt which was the inspiration for the lake used in the second Triwizard tournament task when Harry and his fellow contestants had to find ways to breath under water in order to save their nearest of dearest.

Then we gazed at Dumbledore island, where Lord Voldemort goes at the beginning of the Deathly Hallows looking for the elder wand.

Finally we saw a beautiful waterfall at Glen Nevis which was used quite a lot in the films, particularly as the background in Quidditch matches.

Just before we all said goodbye, our host invited us to help him make a potion to cure Coronavirus using a mixture of veritas serum, unicorn blood and felix felicis.

In the end, he decided a spell would work best so we all aimed our wands and shouted ‘Riddivirus!’

Wouldn’t it be good if that worked? Probably won’t, but in the meantime, this was very very pleasant way to pass an hour, and a perfect diversion from less magical events in the real world.

2020 A Year in Review

2020 may have been the oddest year of most of our lives but it’s done now, and we have to have hope that 2021 will be better. I have, for the most part, managed to stay mentally sound throughout most of the year, which I know isn’t the same for everyone. I thank my lucky stars that this happened now and not a couple of decades ago when we would have been far more isolated that we have been thanks to Zoom, FaceTime and Teams.

I also massively appreciate the fact that we have outside space which, although at the moment isn’t at all enticing due to the inclement weather, got us through the warmer months of the year with relative ease, especially so when we were allowed to have people in our garden.

Here are some of my favourite garden photos of last year.

The garden was reasonably productive in terms of fruit and veg in 2020 …

… and we had quite a few visitors of the fauna variety!

Inside the house, we made a few home improvements. The first was pre-lockdown when, with the help of my Dad, we transformed our bathroom from dingy to sparkly clean safari wonderland.

During lockdown when I was furloughed and hubby’s workplace was demonstrating exactly how a zero hours contract benefits the employer (they still are!) we tackled first our spare bedroom/my home office making it a homage to all things Harry Potter …

… then when I was unfurloughed but hubby was still unbusy with zero hours, he decided to tackle the woodchip in our living room and we completely redecorated including wallpapering, laying laminate flooring, opening out the fireplace and hanging the TV on the wall.

Outside we built a catio on the side of the kitchen so our furry girls can get some air safely.

Away from home, amazingly we did manage to squeeze in three holidays. The first was, to paraphrase Craig Revel-Horwood A-May-zing!! A week long cruise round the Caribbean preceded by a two night stop in Orlando and a trip to Universal to go on the new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures coaster. This was pre-COVID, in fact I remember the first I heard about it was by scanning the Sky news app whilst I was sunbathing on deck, and I assumed it would be like the previous SARS disease. I never even entertained the thought that it could turn into what it has! Blissful ignorance, eh?

In between lockdown 1.0 and lockdown 2.0 we managed a short break to Norfolk which was a game of two halves – lovely to get away and see the sea, but I got bitten by a dog, we had to come home early because hubby had a job interview (which he didn’t get!) and I got a flat tyre!

In September we went to Edinburgh for my birthday. This had been booked pre-pandemic and we didn’t know until the last minute whether we’d be able to go, but I’m so glad we could because we had a fantastic time. One of the best holidays I’ve ever had.

We had a few great days out – we walked alpacas, visited confetti fields, played with meerkats, met gorillas at Twycross Zoo and we walked and cycled many times in Sutton Park and Kingsbury Water Park …

… and we also had a couple of great days in making up for things that we should have been doing. We had a non-Jamaica party for two on the day we were supposed to be flying out and we had a tennis afternoon tea on the day Dad and I were supposed to be going to watch the ATP tour finals in London.

I also did a lot of crafts – mainly crochet, but also knitting, baking, jigsaws (do they count as crafts?) model making, felting and, obviously, mask making!

So, all in all, although it certainly didn’t feel like it at times, 2020 was actually a pretty full year and I achieved quite a lot. Amongst all this, I was also working full time (apart from being furloughed for nine weeks in the summer) in a job that I only started six weeks before we were plunged into lockdown and home working, and I feel that I managed very well to learn the new job (although this is an on-going process) under challenging circumstances. It turns out that home working, while it doesn’t suit everyone or every job, works pretty well for me, and for my team. As I mentioned before, thank goodness for technology!

Now it’s time to look forward to 2021 and I’ll finish with a quote that I recently read in a fiction book, the sixth in the Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley but that is based in fact (the first book I didn’t enjoy as much, but I’m so glad I persevered because they got better and better and one thing to look forward to in 2021 is the release of the final in the series).Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards – Soren Kierkegaard.

Christmas Catch Up

Well, what could’ve been a very sombre and dismal Christmas actually turned out pretty well in the Green Girl Gardener household. We managed to make the most of the restricted circumstances and had a very peaceful and merry, if somewhat smaller, Christmas. I do feel for those who couldn’t see loved ones as planned or had to, not through choice, spend the day alone. Let’s hope that the restrictions have kept more people safe and that next year we’ll be able to make up for anything lacking this year with even bigger and better celebrations.

Our tree had to be rearranged a couple of times this year because we had replacement double glazing fitted in mid-December, but I didn’t want to wait till late December to deck the halls! Especially not after the year we’ve all had – some festive cheer was needed! I was also really impatient to hang my new Harry Potter decorations that I bought in Edinburgh on the tree.

I finished work on 22nd, which was somewhat of an anticlimactic affair given that there was no hugging colleagues and wishing all the best, but merely a walk downstairs! I was supposed to be going to see my Mum in Hampshire, but Covid put paid to that so I had a couple of days of doing not a lot before the big day. I decided to go for a festive run on Christmas Eve …

… followed by not a lot for the rest of the day. By twenty past ten, Father Christmas was busy delivering gifts in Africa …

… so we made sure we were asleep before midnight snuggled under our Christmas duvet …

… to give Father Christmas plenty of time to pop down the chimney and enjoy his mince pie and snowball and take some treats up for the reindeer.

On Christmas morning we met up with some of hubby’s family for a walk in the park in lieu of meeting them inside as we normally would. The park was actually quite busy, probably full of like-minded people meeting up with friends and family that they otherwise wouldn’t see. It was a great way to start the day, with some exercise, fresh air and good company.

We were back home by eleven thirty in time to start cooking dinner. I completely forgot to take any photos of our dinner, but I did snap our girls eating theirs.

I think cooking the dinner is the most fraught part of the day, making sure everything gets done at the right time so it all comes together at the end. Anyway, we had prawn cocktail to start followed by turkey with all the trimmings – roast and mashed potato, parsnips and carrots roasted in honey, peas, cauliflower cheese, sprouts with bacon cooked in cider, pigs in blankets and (ever controversial) Yorkshire pudding. After all that we were too full for any dessert.

We didn’t get round to opening any presents until quite late in the day but Father Christmas was very kind and generous. He’d obviously done his research and found that I am a Harry Potter fan.

The days since Christmas have mostly been spent building Hedwig and Diagon Alley and finding the perfect homes for all my lovely new things. Good job I have a Harry Potter room, isn’t it?

I asked Father Christmas for some USB lamps that I’d seen on QVC. They immediately came in handy to help me put together Hedwig in the perpetual gloom that is December!

I also got a duck!

Ok, so it’s actually a hairdryer, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a duck! My previous one died after thirteen years so I was relieved to get a lovely new one, even if it might quack!

Today I’ve sat down to do some crocheting and my pattern called for a stitch marker and, well what do you know? I was given a gorgeous one by my best friend.

Now the big day’s over and, because of the restrictions, we have nothing planned for the next few days, it feels even more like a perpetual Sunday than this time of year normally does! Normally I’d be planning what I’m going to wear for New Year’s Eve and making preparations for what we’re going to do but this year we can’t do anything or see anyone unless we want to freeze our bits off outside. However, we’re safe and well, we have more than we need and there is hopefully an end in sight, so I’ll finish by saying that I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and wishing you a very happy 2021 and here’s hoping it’s a vast improvement on 2020.