Chugging north along the M1 from Tackley, the van purring like only a Transit can. Grey sky, Australian tunes, my hands on the wheel and my mind on the road – the one that lies behind us and the one that stretches out ahead. My reverie was interrupted by a deep and convincing Hagrid voice coming from the back seat. Ellie was reading “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” aloud to her sisters, invoking the different characters as she read them. Although Ellie herself is reading the sixth volume in the (literally) phenomenal Harry Potter series, Zoe is feverishly keen to read the first but finding it a little beyond her still, so Ellie, Tully and Matt are taking it in turns to read it aloud to her.
We’re heading north you see, to Scotland, and in the very far north of Scotland we will ride the Hogwarts express.
There has been a tradition and a rite of passage in our family that no Harry Potter movie can be watched until the book has been read. Tully has read and seen them all so many times she can almost recite them verbatim. Ellie had an hiatus after the fifth volume broke in half and was lost to China somewhere, though is now ploughing through again. But the wonderful words and enchanting movies are still as yet unknown to Zoe, although she is remarkably familiar with all the characters and their propensity to good or evil. So we’re under the pump to read aloud the next 17 chapters before we reach Fort William so she can watch the movie and see the train in it, and be just as excited by riding the ‘Hogwarts Express’ as the rest of us will be.
We have much to thank JK Rowling for, pages bursting with wizardly tussles and magical ball games aside. While we adults marvelled at the gothic architecture and vast history of the Bodlien Library in Oxford, the girls were on a mission to find the room that was used as the infirmary in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”. Instead of being bored while we gaped at the chair made of wood from Sir Francis Drakes ship, they entertained themselves re-enacting the dancing lesson scene from the same movie. Unfortunately the Grand Dining Hall with the floating candles and never ending platters of food was closed when we visited, but there was much excitement seeing the window in front of which Dumbledore sits at the Hogwarts High table. Wow, Oxford wasn’t boring after all. We’d visited Platform 9 and three quarters at Kings Cross Station – the highlight of the girls’ visit to London, but place names also meant more – Bristol, Surrey. As we walked the cobbled lanes of the nations capital, Matt and I awed by the age and history by which we were surrounded, the girls were wide-eyed looking for the Leaky Cauldron – the Free House in which Hagrid enjoys a pint. London could be interesting too, thanks to Ms. Rowling.
Oxford was anticipated not only for how close it brought us to the wizard world’s hero Harry Potter. A quaint little pub with low ceiling and exposed beams called The Eagle and Child was frequented, in days past, by C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, two more master story tellers. A quiet pint has often not been that for us, but sitting in what felt like the birthplace of Bilbo, Froddo, Gandalf and the rest, the girls were awed to quiet. Imagine, Tolkien may have sat in this seat! they almost whispered. We paid our respects to the great man as we left Oxford, at a humble grave in a cemetery on the outskirts of town. He who has given us so many joyful nights reading the adventures of his true hobbit heroes, and who obviously still inspires the generations. On his grave was a thank you letter, written by a graduating student of Oxford University, a testament to his enduring ability to inspire.
The passing Manor House could be Daphne de Maurier’s Manderley, we visited King Arthur’s Tintagel, felt Robin Hood’s presence as we passed Sherwood Forest and waited for the silhouette of John Snow to break through the fog in the Peak District. This land is alive with those we have read.
The tent is now up on a hill in the Peak District, the van laid out with sleeping bags and pillow pets. The inevitable call comes, “Can you read Harry Potter? Can you read it until we finish?” Thank you J. K. Rowling and Mr. Tolkien, for filling my children’s heads with wizards and magic, making them want to read and giving this green and ancient land another dimension.