In Edinburgh: Snakes in the City and Harry Potter

My mum and I are both fans of the Nat Geo Wild series Snakes In The City, which follows snake-catchers Simon Keys and Siouxsie Gillett as they carry out their work in Durban, South Africa. Their job is to catch and remove snakes that have gotten into populated places, ensuring the safety of both the resident humans and the snake – species commonly featured on the show include highly venomous black mambas and Mozambique spitting cobras. What makes the show even more personally interesting to me is that after finishing my degree, I spent a month volunteering at a reptile park in South Africa, where I had been able to work with many of the snake species that Simon and Siouxsie have to capture (though not the park’s mambas, as they were considered too dangerous for volunteers).

When Simon and Siouxsie announced they were going on a live tour in the UK, my mum and I were both eager to see them – so last weekend, we took the train up to their nearest stop to us, in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh. Neither of us have visited Scotland many times; it was only my second time in this particular city.

The event was being held at Gorgie City Farm, a small city farm close to Haymarket railway station. It was a charming little place with a range of traditional, friendly farm animals, including chickens, pigs and goats.


The room in which Simon and Siouxsie gave their talk was also relatively small, making the experience feel more intimate. The talk was just as enjoyable and interesting as we had hoped, with Simon and Siouxsie taking turns: they covered Simon’s early interest in reptiles, how both the snake-catching business and the show got started, behind-the-scenes details, and how the show has helped to educate people who originally believed that the only good snake was a dead one. Afterwards, we were able to get our pictures taken with Simon, Siouxsie, and a reticulated python named Fluffy. Two other snakes, a radiated rat snake and a milk snake, were also passed around the audience. While my mum enjoys watching the show, she isn’t as fond of the snakes themselves as I am, but she very bravely handled the rat snake and touched Fluffy, commenting that they felt surprisingly soft.


After we’d had a walk around the farm, we took a bus into the city centre, with a few hours to kill before our train home. My idea was to look around some of the Harry Potter-related landmarks; Edinburgh is an important place for Potter fans, as J.K. Rowling lived there for many years, including when she was actually writing the books. There are a few organised Harry Potter walking tours in the city, but their timings didn’t line up with ours, so we did it ourselves, heading for some of the locations highlighted in this useful post.

First, we went to Greyfriars Kirkyard, making sure to pass the statue of Greyfriars Bobby on the way. One of the graves in this churchyard is for a father and son who were both named Thomas Riddell; apparently Rowling has never actually confirmed that this grave inspired the name of Tom Riddle, a.k.a. Lord Voldemort, but it would be quite a coincidence if not, particularly as Voldemort also shares his name with his father.


A short way north is a cafe called The Elephant House, advertised as the “birthplace of Harry Potter”, where Rowling spent time doing some of her earlier writing.


Further north still is Victoria Street, a curving, cobbled street with multi-coloured buildings, which – according to text painted outside an antique store – may have been the inspiration for Diagon Alley. This is where you can find the local Harry Potter shop, The Boy Wizard.


Lastly, we headed up to the City Chambers on the Royal Mile. On the ground here are the handprints of notable residents of Edinburgh who have won the annual Edinburgh Award – including J.K. Rowling herself, who received the award in 2008. It turns out her hands are quite a bit smaller than mine.


About R.J. Southworth

Hi there. I've been blogging since January 2014, and I like to talk about all sorts of things: book reviews, film reviews, writing, science, history, or sometimes just sharing miscellaneous thoughts. Thanks for visiting my blog, and I hope you find something that interests you!
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