Etching of Edinburgh Castle from St Cuthbert's church beside the Nor Loch

Fettes college, Teviot, the Castle,
Hunting Hogwarts

The Harry Potter series is over 30% longer than the King James bible, over a million words. For every Muggle born Mudblood and millions of fans, the kingdom of heaven is Hogwarts.

Rowling said if she’d written the books anywhere else they would have likely been quite different, so let’s counter the unplottable charm and explore four possible inspirations that may have lent on her imagination... ‘Everyone in?’ shouted Hagrid, who had a boat to himself, ‘Right then – FORWARD!’

And the fleet of little boats moved off all at once, gliding across the lake, which was as smooth as glass. Everyone was silent, staring up at the great castle overhead. It towered over them as they sailed nearer and nearer to the cliff on which it stood.
The journey from platform 9¾, The Philosopher’s Stone

Edinburgh’s ‘Harry Potter Castle’ #1

Edinburgh Castle with a great lake below, eerily like Hogwarts

The black North Loch used to sit beneath Edinburgh Castle rock and the view from St Cuthbert Kirk’s orchards on the lake’s shore, with the ancient turreted fortress towering over you, would be more than a little Hogwarts.

The lake had no mer-people, but according to ghost tour guides witches and wizards were drowned there, a bit like the old Triwizard tournaments.

Edinburgh univeristy’s professor Julian Goodare calls this bunk, stating that there’s only one report of ‘Witch dooking’ in Scotland from the 1590s and that being when it was being discredited as evidence of Satanic bondage.

The professor added that the government never drowned anyone anyway, suspects had a rope tied to them to haul them out if they sank. He said “they weren't stupid… They burned them.” 🤷

Guess it’s the only way to be absolutely, positively certain.

Bizarrely, I’ve come to live in the shadow of what could be a lot like Hogwarts, except Hogwarts has a lake.
JK Rowling on Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh castle is a jumble of buildings, towers and battlements zig zagging the top of the rock. This is seen most clearly from the visitor approach across the Castle esplanade. Some of my visitors call it a city Castle and at night it’s lit up a warm Gryffindor gold.

JK Rowling visualised Hogwarts…
“A huge, rambling, quite scary-looking castle, with a jumble of towers and battlements. Like the Weasley’s house, it isn’t a building that Muggles could build, because it is supported by magic.”

Well a scary building the Magic-less couldn’t build might better fit Fettes after dark.

Pre-book Edinburgh Castle

I asked the Castle for the best time to visit and they said this:
We advise customers to pre-book online to guarantee entry and best price [ £3 off ].

If you book in advance, you can either:

  1. print your tickets before arrival,
  2. or collect them from our self-service ticket machines.
  3. You would therefore skip the queue for the ticket office and head to the scanning point.
  4. We do not currently have scanning from a smartphone, and all visitors must have a printed ticket.

I would also advise mornings tend to be the busier timeslots, and the site is quieter after 3pm.

In July and August the only way to guarantee entry is to book online, since the Castle is now limiting visitors when it’s busy because “we want everybody coming to the castle to have a relaxed and enjoyable time”.

Edinburgh Castle Free Tour

by Historic Scotland runs every half an hour, of the castle grounds.
“Each tour lasts roughly thirty minutes and covers the main external areas of the castle, leaving you free to explore the various other parts by yourself at the end.

Please note that you cannot pre-book your tour, but simply join the tour group at the meeting point when you visit.

The meeting point is through the Portcullis Gate, next to the audio guide booth, where you will find a clock detailing the time of the next tour

Guided tours are delivered in English, although there are audio guides in a variety of languages available to hire at an additional cost.”

Historic Scotland will also tell you the Castle is the jewel in the Captial’s crown. They obviously don’t get out on our Harry Potter tours much.

Teviot Row House

Edinburgh university's gothic Teviot Row House, an inspiration for Hogwarts?
Outside Edinburgh University’s Teviot, Dumbledore’s Army practices Defence against the Dark Smarts

The Gothic architecture of Teviot Row House is very much in the spirit of Hogwarts.

It’s a 16th century Scottish palatial style with pointy drum turrets and crow stepped gables. Doesn’t the cavernous entrance look welcoming and inviting? All those feelings Rowling conjures when Harry first enters Hogwarts... Hagrid raised a gigantic fist and knocked three times on the castle door.

The door swung open at once. A tall, black-haired witch in emerald-green robes stood there…

She pulled the door wide. The Entrance Hall was so big you could have fitted the whole of the Dursleys’ house in it. The stone walls were lit with flaming torches like the ones at Gringotts, the ceiling was too high to make out, and a magnificent marble staircase facing them led to the upper floors.
the Philosopher’s Stone

If you wish to visit and it’s open, go ahead. You can walk inside and chat to the nice person on reception, perhaps ask them “What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen the Harry Potter society do?”. Then grab a photo from inside looking out of the Hagrid-doors to Bristo square. Or...

book a Potter tour for a richer experience

Fettes College

Fettes College skyline, all gothic spires & gargoyles, is this Harry Potter's Hogwarts?

Fettes rises impressive on the skyline of Edinburgh, with a huge spire with a clock at the top and gargoyles gazing out on every corner. The grounds are beautifully kept and huge. I can easily imagine the cloaked silhouette of professor Snape pacing a window, inducting a new intake... “You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion making,” he began. … “I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses … I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death — if you aren’t as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach.”
the Chamber of Secrets

Fettes College was built in memory of Sir William Fettes son who died in 1818. William was a wealthy city merchant & twice the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, he bequeathed £166,000 for the ‘the maintenance, education and outfit of young people’, specifically orphans and sons of needy parents.

Mortality rates were much higher back then, so it was considerably more likely you would lose your parents before reaching adulthood.

After Sir William’s death the money was used to acquire 350 acres of land for the school. The colossal size of Fette’s legacy enabled golden boy architect David Bryce to pursue a grandiose design, the building is all spires, towers and pointy bits, a fusion of french château with strong elements of Scottish Baronial style.

In William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace’s times the French and Scots were allied against the English in the ‘Auld (or Old) Alliance’, and the school is ‘auld alliance gone over the top’.

Architectural experts agree ‘it is undeniably one of Scotland’s greatest buildings’.

What is Hogwartian architecture?

Gothic Fettes College defines Harry Potter's Hogwart-ian style
An achingly gothic style with an impossible confusion of soaring towers topped with dreamy pinnacles. It’s Fettes.

The school attracted a formidable first headmaster, opening in 1870 and quickly gaining a reputation for academic and sporting excellence that has grown richer with time.

Indeed if you walk the palatial grounds on a lazy Sunday morning and cast a disillusionment charm you might find the air suddenly dense with whooshing broomsticks.

Fettes in the 21st Century

It is the most expensive school in Scotland, costing £33,000 a year, it is nicknamed ‘the Eton of the North’ and when their alumni Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 1997 they were able to bump up the fees.

In the 20th century demand for boarding schools had been falling, they were historied in peer bullying and teacher abuse children couldn’t escape, we no longer felt this built character.

Dudley Dursley on Harry’s new school Stonewall High: ‘They stuff people’s heads down the toilet first day at Stonewall,’ he told Harry. ‘Want to come upstairs and practise?’

‘No thanks,’ said Harry. ‘The poor toilet’s never had anything as horrible as your head down it – it might be sick.’ Then he ran, before Dudley could work out what he’d said.
the Philosopher’s Stone

The Harry Potter books were teaching a generation of children to read and children began begging their parents to go to boarding school; competition for places soared by a third. It had to be a boarding school to sustain the fantasy. Harry had to go somewhere that’s an enclosed world to have his adventures. Kids are incredibly powerless because everything is determined for them, so a rich fantasy life in which they do have power is almost inevitable.

And a middle-class boarding school is a world where they are free of their parents. Being an orphan is very liberating in a book. I think it’s a common fantasy of children that somehow these parents aren’t their parents.
JK Rowling

Not all the pupils are so dewy eyed. On September 10th 2017 (after the Corn moon), a 16 year old boy was expelled after turning up agitated to Sunday chapel on ‘ecstasy’. Typical. Poor kid probably has Lycanthropy and was coming off Wolfsbane.

How is Fettes different to Hogwarts?

Ian Fleming, had a rough time at Eton, bullied by his red faced, port-fond House Master. Ian was unpopular amongst the boys too, being blackballed from an elite society 4 times.

He richened 007’s backstory by having James Bond attend Fettes, after being expelled from Eton for a dalliance with a maid. He never changes. Bond at Fettes: Here the atmosphere was somewhat Calvinistic, and both academic and athletic standards were rigorous. Nevertheless, though inclined to be solitary by nature, he established some firm friendships among the traditionally famous athletic circles, at the school.

By the time he left, at the early age of seventeen, he had twice fought for the school as a light-weight and had, in addition, founded the first serious judo class at a British public school.
You Only Live Twice, Ian Fleming

So why Fettes?

Ian Fleming wrote You Only Live Twice after Scot Sean Connery had become James Bond and was triumphant, he owned the part, so Fleming began to re-imagine his hero with a Scottish emphasis.

In fact in Flemming’s final Bond novel, The man with the golden gun, Bond says he regards himself as ‘a Scottish peasant and will always feel at home being a Scottish peasant’.

Prior to becoming Bond, Sean Connery was an Edinburgh milkman.

JK Rowling had a ‘dreamy’ internal childhood and began writing stories when she was age six. She also read widely, whipping through Ian Fleming at age nine. Her first Bond was Thunderball, she was fascinated by his Bloody Marys. She said ‘There was something wonderful about a drink with tomato juice in it. I love Bloody Marys now’.
Fettes College shield echoes Harry Potter's Hogwarts Fettes College coat of arms, the bee up top is the origin of the school’s motto ‘Industria’, Industry! Bees and beehive motifs feature throughout the school grounds. But some kids forget.

“Dumbledore" is the old English word for bumblebee. I chose it because my image is of this benign wizard, always on the move, humming to himself, & I loved the sound of the word too.
JK Rowling

Like Hogwarts, Fettes has a vigourous board of governors and a few years ago 15 pupils were suspended for smoking Cannabis and 3 pupils expelled for providing it. It’s actually been featured in a novel called Body Politic as a base for drug traders, the authorities blow the place up.

French chateaux? Free minded students? Perhaps it’d make a more fitting Beauxbatons. We hope to ensure that our students leave Fettes as kind, interesting, independent minded individuals who are willing to take on responsibility and motivated to contribute to society.
Fettes’ Headmaster

Visit Fettes

If you want to squeeze Edinburgh for every last gothic drop then you can approach the gates by walking down Fettes Avenue. Or do a Reeta Skeeta, give them a call and ask if there’s an open day for prospective parents on, if not, just fly in as a greeny beetle.

Fettes contact page

Or try Dean Village

If Fettes is too far, or you feel too shy you could more easily venture down to Hogwartian Dean village, a secret oasis nestled in a valley beyond the New Town precipice.

Stone built Dean village echoes Harry Potter's Hogsmeade

Make sure to pop inside picturesque Well Court beside Dean pedestrian bridge, then enjoy a pleasant stroll along the Water of Leith to Stockbridge imagining the Dean’s 11 old flour mills, huge water wheels churning the powerful river sounding like the Hogwarts Express.

After dark our rule breaking prime minister would break out of Fette’s dorms trekking this route in reverse to meet his day-pupil girlfriend who lived in Dean Village. It was his Hogsmeade, Butterbeer has a lot to answer for.


A refreshing hours

Walk 📍 From:
  1. Scotland’s largest Cathedral
  2. Across the Dean gorge to Gallery of Modern Art I
  3. Winding down & along the Water of Leith through Dean village
  4. Meandering through the Instagram cornucopia of Stockbridge
  5. Onto the Royal Botanic Gardens for lunch.

Without stops it’s an hour. To explore the Cathedral, Gallery, Botanics then that’s a happy half day.
Venues tend to open at 10am, they're free, although donations appreciated & the Galleries of Modern Art as of writing need prebooking, but they have good availability.

Dean Village has a certificate of Excellence on Tripadvisor

Is Fettes College Hogwarts?

No! Harry Potter’s fiction, primarily made up. Conceptually Edinburgh’s strongest Hogwarts analog is George Heriots. However JK Rowling’s imagination is without restraint, Fettes gothic majesty is rampant, the building beats with her heart.

For Rowling’s true feelings about Fettes & to witness the ‘grand entrance’ just ask for a detour on my

Greater Edinburgh bike tour

To explore Edinburgh’s UNESCO world heritage site & its cafés beloved by Rowling

Make it easy, book a Harry Potter tour

Of course my blog guides too.



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