This weekend Emily and I had a magical adventure. It is common local knowledge that J K Rowling went to University in Exeter. Being American however, this was not known to Emily! So, seeing as Exeter is the next city over from Plymouth – just 40 minutes away – I decided to show my favourite Harry Potter fan (a Potthead?) some of the places that influenced J K Rowling’s writing and actually feature in the books! We woke up early, headed to the train station and 3 stops later were in Exeter.
The impressive Exeter Cathedral
First on our list of sights was Exeter Cathedral. The most impressive building in the city, Exeter Cathedral provided influence for the gothic architecture of Hogwarts. In particular the high arched ceiling of the great hall was in part due to Exeter Cathedral having the longest uninterrupted vaulted ceiling in the world – some 315ft. It is incredibly imposing, and easy to see why it would have influenced someone as creative and imaginative as Rowling. Entry to the cathedral is valid for a whole year and while we were there we took part in the free guided tour – it goes without saying that a 1000 year old structure has a fascinating history and having someone walk through it really adds to the experience.
Vaulted ceiling – the inspiration for the high arches of the Great Hall
Staying in Cathedral Close we found what is rumoured to be the inspiration for the Room of Requirements – a beautiful and ornately decorated ancient oak door. Hidden away and around the corner from the Cathedral, it took us a few minutes to locate – our advice would be to look out for the brickwork. It’s pretty easy once you narrow down the buildings it can belong to! It really isn’t a stretch to imagine this door disappearing and reappearing magically at any given location at a time of great importance. Whether this is truly the blueprint for one of the most important locations in Hogwarts is open to debate, but it is clear that the real locations and experiences that shape an author’s life find their way into the words they write. So I like to think it is!
Emily getting ready to open the Room of Requirement
Leaving Cathedral Close behind we headed to The Old Firehouse – a pub and pizzeria – that has long been held to have been the real life Leakey Cauldron. Melted candles, musty portraits, fairy lights and chandeliers certainly give the atmosphere of a pub that witches or wizards would frequent! I have since seen that J K Rowling quelled this rumour however, so the true location of the Leakey Cauldron is yet to be discovered! A really cool, traditional English pub nonetheless, it is still the location for Harry Potter themed University socials.
A very cool pub even if it isn’t the Leakey Cauldron
After a couple of great beers we headed to Gandy Street. Or should I say Diagon Alley? A narrow street off of the main high street, filled with independent and vintage shops, Gandy Street looks and feels like Diagon Alley. You really can imagine yourself as Harry or Hermione buying your books and robes. Full disclosure: you’re more likely to end up with a vintage jacket instead! You can even visit Gringotts Bank – The Vaults – half way along Diagon Alley. Less chance of a dragon bursting through the ceiling though!
Yup… it definitely looks like Diagon Alley and Gringotts!
After a fantastic meze lunch at Comptoir Libanais (my favourite Exeter restaurant) we headed to our final location: Exeter’s very own Harry Potter themed bar, The Cauldron Inn. Having read mixed reviews we didn’t aim to stay long, but after exploring the various floors and themed rooms we will be going back to enjoy the full augmented reality experience. Plus the cocktails looked pretty good… Definitely one for a boozier day! As the afternoon drew to a close we headed down to the Quay and back along the River Exe to St. David’s. From there it was just the short train back to Plymouth. A wonderful day out and a reason to return in the not too distant future. Until next time…
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Next time – full AR Harry Potter experience!