Sarah Dara - The Elephant House

Edinburgh: History and Literature

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Edinburgh's Charms
  • Edinburgh: History and Literature

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and the 7th most populated city in the United Kingdom. Located on the Firth of Forth’s southern shore, it is cited as

the UK’s second most popular tourist destination because of its historical and cultural attractions. It has also just been voted the world’s most beautiful country.

I visited Scotland with my friends in April during the Easter holiday. We had planned the trip two weeks before, booking a flight and hotel deal for £59 through Expedia. Our flight was from London Stansted to Edinburgh with Ryanair. Our chosen airport was a mistake as it was difficult for us to get from Central London to Stansted Airport; we had to take a coach from London Victoria Coach Station which cost us £8 each. Despite this setback and a bumpy Ryanair landing, we made it successfully to Edinburgh.

On leaving the airport, we were greeted by sunny skies and freezing winds. Although it was warm in London, which didn’t feel that far away, the temperature in Edinburgh was much colder. While waiting at the bus stop, we wrapped up in our gloves and hats, excited to see our hotel. The bus arrived in 10 minutes and after paying £4.50, we headed in the direction of Western Harbour, the nearest stop to our accommodation. The journey took around 30 minutes which gave us time to travel through Edinburgh, noting the bigger houses and greener lawns.

Montserrat Labiaga Ferrer

The view of the Forth Bridge as seen from various points across Edinburgh’s coast.
(Photographer: Montserrat Labiaga Ferrer; Flickr)

On arrival at Western Harbour, we were greeted by a view of the roaring blue sea and white seagulls squawking deafeningly. It was a 10 minute walk to the hotel, City Suites, and when we arrived, we were welcomed with a smile by the reception staff. We were handed a key and went rushing up to explore our room. On opening the door, all four of us headed in different directions. We had booked an apartment which included two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a lounge and a kitchen. Spotless and spacious, it was the perfect place to stay. The facilities were fantastic – the kitchen came complete with cutlery, oil, butter, sugar, milk, coffee, tea and hot chocolate and we even had a washing machine. We were beyond happy with the apartment; one of my friends even did a quick dance before we headed out to explore the city.

Our first destination was Edinburgh Castle. Taking the 10 Lothian bus which cost £1.60 per person and conveniently went from outside our apartment to the city centre, we got off for a cheeky Nandos to soothe our growling stomachs. A delicious and extra-spicy meal later, I used trusty Google Maps to get us to the castle. It took us a while to walk there as Edinburgh wasn’t signposted very well and Google Maps sometimes stopped working. After a few wrong turns and an uphill walk, we arrived at the castle, which is huge and sits grandly overlooking the city; unaffected by the tourists taking pictures, it stood firm against the azure sky.

chas B

Edinburgh Castle: one of many, many reasons to visit Scotland. (Photographer: chas B; Flickr)

We joined the other tourists, taking countless photographs of its greyish-brown walls that attract millions of visitors each year. We did not venture inside this symbol of historical conflicts, but spent some time gazing out at the city that stretched below. The view was gorgeous; the city was filled with busy residents who went about their daily tasks despite the chilling wind and continuing to smile as brightly as the cloudless sky.

After we’d had our fill of the castle, we made our journey to Greyfriars Church. Just over ten minutes later, we arrived at the church which is one of the oldest surviving buildings outside the Old Town of Edinburgh. It is a sandy-coloured structure with large windows gazing out towards the entrance path. A graveyard rested on a large patch of green, where numerous well-known people are buried. For many people, the graveyard is associated with Greyfriars Bobby, a dog who guarded his master’s grave for 14 years. There is a statue in the dog’s honour on the road outside the church. We entered the church, which was quite modern-looking with its white washed walls and wooden roof. The only traditional part of it was the stained-glass windows whose colours and designs telling religious stories always seemed to attract me as I wandered around.

Rebecca Siegel

The view of Greyfriars Church from the graveyard – an unusual building to say the least. (Photographer: Rebecca Siegel; Flickr)

The church was housing an art exhibition which included watercolour, charcoal, sketches and other work by various local artists. Quietly I assessed every image, enjoying looking at sunsets, popular Edinburgh spots, animals and people in the church’s peaceful atmosphere. My friends and I sat for a while after looking at the artwork, taking in the spiritual feeling all religious places seem to have. On our departure, we avoided the graveyard which we would later be grateful for, as a spot of midnight research back at our hotel would reveal that it was said to be haunted by the restless spirit of the infamous Sir George Mackenzie, a former Lord Advocate, and encountering the spirit caused fainting spells, bruising and cuts.

Our last stop for the day was the Elephant House café. Famous for being the location where J.K Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter, it attracts thousands of Harry Potter fans and I was one of them. The café is just before Greyfriars Church with only a few shops between them. Painted bright red, it stood out on the busy street and a sign stating, ‘Birthplace of Harry Potter’ hung in the window. My friends and I entered with the desire for a warm cup of hot chocolate and were immediately greeted by the crowd in the café. The interior is quite large and in keeping with its name, the café is decorated with colourful glittering elephant ornaments, rugs and paintings. We sat down and on our table stood a small green elephant with orange, red and yellow carvings on it. I got up and started exploring; reading excerpts about J.K Rowling and the café, and looking at photographs of her pasted on the walls. I was surprised to find that she had had fierce red hair at the time she wrote Harry Potter there!

Sarah Dara - The Elephant House

The Elephant House: a Potter fan’s dream. (Photographer: Sarah Dara)

After getting a hot chocolate, I decided to pop in to the toilet before heading home. When I opened the door, I sucked my breath in and stopped for a second. All the walls of the toilet were covered in graffiti as were the doors, the mirrors and even the hand dryers. Harry Potter quotes, well wishes to J.K Rowling, signatures and what the books meant to fans decorated the walls in red, green, black, yellow, pink, blue, orange and every other colour you can think of. I was overwhelmed because the graffiti really showed how much the books had impacted people all around the world and, as a fan, I felt like a part of this giant family. I rushed out to get one of my friends who is also a fan and we spent a long while taking photographs of the toilets. We even added our own little messages with a pen that was not meant for writing on walls, but we just had to add our piece to the graffiti so a bad pen didn’t stop us. This probably sounds silly to people who aren’t fans of the books, but writing my message on those walls was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life and I’m so glad that I got the chance to do it.

We left the café at around 6:30pm, ready to go home for a well-deserved rest. Catching the bus from Princes Street – the nearest stop that we knew of – we headed to the Asda that was 10 minutes from our apartment. From there, we got some rice, vegetables and noodles for a homemade dinner which turned out to be a delicious and relaxing end to an exciting day in eventful Edinburgh.

Featured image © Sarah Dara