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Fairytale Destinations: The Elephant House Cafe, Edinburgh

The Elephant House cafe, where JK Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter, Edinburgh. On parentshaped.co.uk

The Elephant House cafe in Edinburgh is one of the places where JK Rowling’s rags to riches fairytale began, where she wrote Harry Potter, with the magical views of Edinburgh castle that inspired Hogwarts just outside the window. We took our kids there, on a mission to help them to think about their own dreams, to feel they can write their own fairytale adventures, or rewrite them if needs be. They’ve been brought up with my feminist re-readings of fairy stories; ‘Nooooo! We can’t just “watch it” or “read it” kids’. I want travel to inspire them creatively too, and our trip to The Elephant House Cafe in Edinburgh was such a lovely example of this.

Net flights have put together an awesome list of fairytale destinations which is what first got me thinking about fairytale places to take kids, and planning this post. They featured Duntottar castle in Scotland, the castle that inspired Brave’s setting. Scotland just kept coming to mind for me too, I have so many gorgeous photos in magical landscapes, glens, castles, lochs, fairy pools, lighthouses and giant rock formations.

So much of our trip around the Highlands and Islands in a campervan was like walking into an illustration in an old fashioned book of fairy tales. I’ve written about these places a lot, but it was seeing pictures of Edinburgh that made my heart skip a beat. There is something about Edinburgh that gives me butterflies in my stomach. A magic I haven’t found in other cities.

The Elephant House cafe, where JK Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter, Edinburgh. On parentshaped.co.uk

I have memories of visiting family near Edinburgh as a child. Later Edinburgh was the city where I found my own feet, working as a company manager for my university student theatre company for the summer. I organised so much that first year at university: venues, accommodation, a company of 20 performers and crew. We even made a small profit, which was unheard of.

I felt alive and energised and fell in love with the city. I began to imagine what it must be like to leave university and have a real job, to choose a city to work in. Going back with my kids I was quite overwhelmed by how much those feelings came back to me as we walked around. There are ghosts of a younger me still enjoying Edinburgh. This city feels like a city full of ghosts and of characters who could slip between the pages of a book.

The Elephant House cafe, where JK Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter, Edinburgh. On parentshaped.co.uk

The Elephant House cafe, where JK Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter, Edinburgh. On parentshaped.co.uk

I felt The Elephant House would be a good place to inspire my two, and to remind me to push on with my writing dreams. I started blogging about 8 years ago, to encourage me to write daily, with no idea it would become my full time job or that it would take over all the novel writing time I had planned on creating. It reminded me to find my own creative space to write, away from my usual desk. The setting is beautiful and the tea and cake is great too.

The Elephant House cafe, where JK Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter, Edinburgh. On parentshaped.co.uk The Elephant House cafe, where JK Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter, Edinburgh. On parentshaped.co.uk

The Elephant House cafe, where JK Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter, Edinburgh. On parentshaped.co.uk

Another hope was that it might encourage their interest in the Harry Potter books, I absolutely loved them, I inhaled them in my 20s as each one came out, I read them alongside my students as I was teaching then. I was hoping my own kids might let me read them to them, or read them themselves. I’ve never fully got to the bottom of why they don’t fancy the books, but I think we might have screwed up by letting them see some of the films first.

Imagine sitting and writing here, how inspiring! It’s so easy to see how Edinburgh shaped Harry Potter, but also some of the other authors I love from this city, Kate Atkinson for one.

The Elephant House cafe, where JK Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter, Edinburgh. On parentshaped.co.uk

The Elephant House cafe, where JK Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter, Edinburgh. On parentshaped.co.uk

The kids loved the visit, but were most impressed by the toilets where the graffiti covers every spare space. Would you get sleazy for Ron Weasley?

The Elephant House cafe, where JK Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter, Edinburgh. On parentshaped.co.uk

May all your travel dreams come true! Our trip to Edinburgh, the highlands and islands really did feel like a fairytale and I always recommend Edinburgh to families as its so walkable, pretty and magic.

Fairytale ending photograph by my youngest:

The Elephant House cafe, where JK Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter, Edinburgh. On parentshaped.co.uk

What’s your family travel fairytale?

Post in collaboration with Netflights, thanks for collaborating and encouraging us to think about fairytale happy holiday endings! Do check out their fairytale post too, I can heartily recommend Bavarian castles, Greece and Iceland for fairytale adventures.

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