A castle, a shopping street lined with coloured fronts, the gothic style of architecture… There is definitely a magical vibe in the streets of Edinburgh. It might not come as a surprise that the city was a great inspiration for JK Rowling’s famous Harry Potter series.
Armed with a wand made of chopsticks, a cloak, a wizard hat and actual Harry Potter glasses, there is no mistaking what kind of tour guides Will Naameh (24) and Richard Duffy (24) are. Together with four other guides that work for them, they run The Potter Trail. This walking tour takes tourists through Edinburgh’s Old Town. It covers the locations that inspired characters and scenes in the series or that have ties with JK Rowling.
The famous author even wrote her first book in cafés around Edinburgh. “But not here, in The Elephant House,” says Will as he waves around him in the overcrowded café. “This one was not built until after she wrote the first one – which was written in what is now called the Spoon Café. So those kind of things we tell on the tours as well.” Not that it seems to matter to the fans: a sign on the window of the café claims it ‘The Birthplace of Harry Potter’ and the bathroom walls are covered with graffiti.
Lord Volde(r)mort’s grave
The tour starts at Greyfriar Kirkyard, the cemetery where JK Rowling got inspiration for a lot of her characters, mostly for their names. The guides take people to more places like that: George Heriot’s School that has big similarities with Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and even has four houses, the University of Edinburgh where JK Rowling studied and the Balmoral Hotel where she finished writing her last book. There are many more stops. Even Potter Row is visited: “Where JK Rowling did not get the name Harry Potter from, by the way!”
“It is not just a Harry Potter tour, in some ways it is more about JK Rowling and her life here in Edinburgh”, explains Richard. That life, of course, has great ties to Harry Potter. Will continues, “We know the books inside out because of the job, but I think we know her biography by heart.”
“The best stop of the tour for me is visiting Tom Riddle’s grave. The reaction of the fans is priceless. When you tell them the next stop they really go: ‘Oooooooh!’”, laughs Will. Richard agrees: “The build-up to that is just great, because you have taken them so far into the graveyard already, but that is the thing they want to see most.”
The graveyard is indeed much more crowded than you would expect an average graveyard to be. Most people seem to be specifically looking for the grave of Tom Riddle – which is the real name of villain Voldemort in the books – like it is some sort of pilgrimage. Someone has even written Voldermort on the gravestone. Funnily enough that is not the correct spelling.
Tips and magic tricks
Both guys are not from Edinburgh. They came to Edinburgh to study there and right now they can see themselves living here for quite some time. “This job is a big part of wanting to stay here permanently”, admits Will. He graduated in linguistics two years ago, Richard studied chemical physics and graduated a year ago.
The Potter Trail is something that came on their path while studying. They started out as guides. “After 1,5 years into the job the founder asked somebody to take over because it became too much beside her daytime job. Me and Richard decided to take over together,” Will says. They still have other jobs besides The Potter Trail, but according to Richard that is only just manageable because the tour is a lot of work.
Everyone who works as a guide on the tour has a common background, as Richard explains, “Everyone has either been sourced from the theatre society or the comedy society. That is what we do as well, and we see ourselves as comedians. Almost everyone who works at the Potter trail right now is a comedian or has some sort of performance background.” That is also what they like most about the job.
“I am a Harry Potter fan of course, but initially I took the job because it was a performance acting job and seemed like a really really fun one to have. Most tours here are historical ones or ghost tours and this was so different,” says Will. “I really love this job. I love the flexibility of it. I love the terrible jokes we tell and the fact that you get to show people bits of Edinburgh they don’t usually see.”
Richard adds that no two tours are ever the same: “We have complete control over the tour, but at the same time everyone really gets to make the tour their own. We have our own jokes for example.” That is proven when they tell that one of the guides even does little magic tricks on his tours. “Yes, Muggle tricks”, laughs Richard.
The tours are free. But because of the tips people give, Will and Richard say they still earn enough to consider it a job. On average people tip between 5 and 10 pounds (€6-12). The popularity of the tours is increasing which means that there is an average of 40 persons per tour, but the most they can take is sixty to seventy. “Even though I had tours with over a hundred people”, Richard says. It is amazing that after so many years Harry Potter still manages to lure in numbers like this.
The Potter Trail attracts a lot of diehard Harry Potter fans. Some even come especially to Edinburgh because of the popular wizard. “I love how enthusiastic people are about the tour! Some even get dressed up.”
Will thinks the tour gets more popular because more and more people get to know about it, but also because JK Rowling keeps pumping out new books, and a new play and film are coming. “Harry Potter will never not be popular.”
“We can never beat some of the people that come to the tours. I once had someone who quizzed me to test if my knowledge on Harry Potter was strong enough!” tells Richard. “Being a guide here, you need to be able to speak comfortably and confidently about a niche like this, so we make everyone reread the books as they join”, explains Will. That doesn’t seem like a problem however because every guide loves Harry Potter. One of the guides even went to school with actress Emma Watson and met JK Rowling one day.
“Harry Potter might not be Scottish, but he has definite links to a Scottish city. It is weaved into Edinburgh, this place has the magical vibe.” Seeing Richard and Will dosed out in their costumes, one would just believe that might be because of the groups of wizards strolling the streets a couple of times a week.