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Spending the Day with J.K. Rowling in Edinburgh

Published in The Battle Creek Enquirer

It was a glorious, sunny morning in Edinburgh, Scotland, a hilly town of about 500,000 residents with a long and fascinating history. Our family had crossed the Atlantic to spend some time in a truly unique destination. The view upon our arrival did not disappoint. Edinburgh’s iconic castle, atop an extinct volcano, is visible from almost all parts of the city.

As part of our week-long itinerary, we had planned a trip to Rosslyn Chapel, an active church since 1466. Some might remember it from Dan Brown’s 2003 novel, “The Da Vinci Code.” Instead, a snafu with our tour company resulted in a completely empty and unplanned day.

A friend recommended breakfast at the Elephant House Café. Not only are the lattes very good, but it was one of the cafes where J.K. Rowling wrote the first of the Harry Potter series. As big fans of Harry, we thought this was a wonderful start to our day. Ms. Rowling has lived in Edinburgh since 1993 and wrote many of her books there.

A big sign on the front window proclaimed that “Harry Potter was born here,” although this may not be entirely accurate, as the author says the idea for her first book came to her on a train.

Several news clips on a bulletin board added details to the café’s story, including that, as a single mother, Rowling had brought her infant daughter to the café because it was easier there to get her daughter to sleep so Rowling could write.

As we looked out the window from our wooden table in the cheery café, we saw Greyfriars Kirkyard, a 16th century graveyard surrounding the church of the same name. Why not visit the grave of Thomas Riddell? He was a real person buried in the cemetery, but more on point for our visit, the namesake of one of the most important characters in Rowling’s series — the boy who would become Lord Voldemort, Tom Riddle.

Once in the churchyard, we wandered by the slate gray monuments to the Mackenzies and the Murrays. A nice lady took pity on us and directed us through an archway to a small, enclosed corner of the graveyard.

“You’ll know the grave because all the grass is worn away,” she said with a smile. Sure enough, there was the grave of Thomas Riddell. Some

clever fan had spray painted the name of another Potter character, Sirius Black, on a nearby tomb.

We decided to have high tea in the hotel where the final Harry Potter book had been written, the five-star Balmoral. If you’ve never had high tea, put it on your bucket list. At the Balmoral, tea starts with an amuse bouche, a small treat from the chef. In this case it was a minted pea soup served in a tiny Chinese teacup. Pots of steaming tea were poured, followed by a three-tiered tray of savories that included cheese sticks, chicken curry tarts, pastrami wraps, Scottish smoked salmon on rye and, of course, cucumber sandwiches.

It was after we had tucked into the sandwiches that my daughter noticed a blond woman sitting across the restaurant.

Could it be?

Could it be?

“That looks like J.K. Rowling,” she said.

“It couldn’t be,” I answered, until she showed me a picture of the famous author on her iPhone. While we couldn’t really tell from across the room, it certainly looked like the author. We decided we couldn’t march over and ask for her autograph; plus, the sweet course had just arrived.

This three-tiered plate of treats included strawberry cheesecake on a spoon, pear smoothie in a shot glass, chocolate mille–feuille, passion fruit tarts and traditional current scones. After that, we were offered slices of cake!

We did keep sneaking glances across the room, as the Ms. Rowling lookalike and her party enjoyed the same menu. After the last cake crumb had been eaten and the last drop of tea consumed, I braved a question to our waiter.

“Is that possibly J.K. Rowling across the room?”

He asked me to repeat the name. “It’s our policy that we don’t divulge the names of any of our guests.”

Then, I swear, he winked at me—or maybe it was a nervous tick.

What had started as day without a destination had turned into a spectacular and memorable day with one of our favorite writers. How many people can say they had tea with J.K. Rowling in Edinburgh, Scotland? Maybe we can.

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