Travel

Miriam Thaler: My guide through Cambridge for all the witches and wizards


A few weeks ago, I first set foot in Cambridge and ever since, I have been constantly wondering whether during my travels here from London King’s Cross, I might accidentally have boarded the train at Platform 9 ¾. The grand gothic colleges, the small alleyways lined with crooked redbrick houses, old gnarled pubs, hidden bookshops, students in long black capes roaming the streets all weave an air of “olde English magick” making me feel like I have fallen into a “Harry Potter” spin-off.

Of course, no “Harry Potter” scenes we actually filmed in this town and as a faithful “Harry Potter” movie adept, you might want to hop on a train to Oxford and visit Christ Church, where several of the Hogwarts indoor scenes have been shot. And yet, Cambridge, apart from being a travel destination in its own right, with its own, fascinating history, constantly evokes a dreamy déjà-vu, a sense of memory and imagination fusing. If, like me, you cannot help but feel nostalgic for those blissful moments when you left the muggles behind and dreamt yourself following Harry, Ron and Hermione into the world of wizardry, I am writing these lines for you.

Come forth and let the magic of this old university town bewitch you.

And here is the ultimate list of absolutely everything you shouldn’t miss on a magical tour
through the University of Cambridge:

Trinity College

Take a tour of Cambridge’s colleges

To be honest, it was hard to decide which of Cambridge’s colleges reminded me most of my favourite wizarding school. It’s a neck and neck race between St. John’s college, with its beautiful old, dim library, King’s College, with its impressive gothic Chapel and Trinity College, whose old majestic walls give the impression of a huge mediaeval castle jutting out of a gothic monastery.

Ultimately though, for me, Trinity College emerges as the strongest contender due to its overall Hogwartian atmosphere. It was founded by the infamous Henry VIII (yes, the one with the merciless wife-killing habit) in 1546 and is one of the largest colleges in the United Kingdom, and the richest.

Maybe most famously, Isaac Newton worked and lived there next to a whole bunch of other historical figures. And while no “Harry Potter” scenes were shot here, on a guided tour of the college we were told that the producers of the “Harry Potter” movies, allegedly took some inspiration from Trinity College in Cambridge for the stylings of the movie set.

I highly recommend to take part in one of these tours and let yourself be dazzled by the knowledgeable and charming porters of the college – your tour guides – who with their black coats and bowler hats definitely look like they visit the same hat maker as the minister of magic, Cornelius Fudge.

You can book a tour (usually they take place twice a day, but timings can vary) by calling the Trinity College Porter’s Lodge.

Visit the Evensong at the King’s College Chapel

The Evensong is a traditional church service open to the public, with beautiful choir music. During terms, I doubt there is a single evening in Cambridge where you wouldn’t have the possibility to attend the service in one of the many College Chapels. and it will be a magical experience in any of them!

I was particularly enchanted by the Evensong at the King’s College Chapel, a beautiful church dating back to 1446, which – with its insanely high gothic arches and dark wooden wall panels – instantly reminded me of Hogwarts’ great hall.

While being carried away by the ethereal voices wafting through the candle lit air, I could have sworn for a moment that the candles had started to hover in air and when I looked up towards the ceiling, instead of the intricate fan vault, I might have seen a glimpse of the night sky over Cambridge.

Stroll through Rose Crescent

The Rose Crescent is one of the most picturesque of small streets in Cambridge lined with small shops in little brick houses. It immediately reminded me of Diagon Alley! If you are desperately searching for a magic wand or a scarf in the colours of your house, you’ll even find the “Department of Magical Gifts” there – a small store, selling everything an aspiring wizard or witch might need.

Visit the Haunted Bookshop

The small shop stuffed with stacks and stacks of second-hand books might not be able to compete with the vast offer of the majestic Flourish and Botts, where Hogwarts students get their school books every year, but for everyone who wants to have the chance to encounter a friendly ghost, this is the place to go.

Legend has it that the store is haunted by the White Lady, who occasionally appears between the bookshelves and when she vanishes, leaves the distinct scent of violets. Now, admittedly, the chances are low, that you are one of the lucky ones she decides to show herself to, but maybe browsing through the old books can console you and I would not put it beyond the realm of possibility that you might find a signed copy of one of Gilderoy Lockhart’s classics (I personally have been on the lookout for his gripping “Break with a Banshee” for years) or another handbook for the study of magic.

Get to know all about Cambridge’s ghosts

Yes, the quaint bookshop is not alone in being haunted. There are many, many spooky corners in Cambridge and there surely is no better way to learn about them than on one of the various ghost tours that you can book online. I personally attended a tour by “Haunted Cambridge”, where our guide masterfully narrated ghostly and ghastly stories, all local legends that have been handed down from ear to ear, some of them for centuries.

Search for Cambridge’s “Dinky Doors”

Despite studiously leafing through Newt Scamander’s “Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them,” I could not determine what or who lives behind what are known as “Dinky Doors” in Cambridge. All throughout Cambridge at different corners, you’ll find these enchanted little doors that give you a glimpse of the magic that lurks behind them. (Muggle’s believe they are made by two anonymous street artists). You might enjoy stumbling into them by accident or you’ll acquire this map for 1 pound to be guided to find them.

Visit the local Gringotts franchise (Lloyd’s Bank)

Your magic spree through Cambridge might cost you a few Sickles, so sooner or later you might want to stop by at Lloyd’s Bank, which clearly looks like a small, but nonetheless monumental, franchise of Gringotts. Enter the beautiful Victorian building and be welcomed into a huge hall with a polished marble floor and a gold embroidered dome. Now, all you have to do is find a Goblin who is ready to show you to your vault.

Buy Sweets at Hardy’s Sweetshop

In this old-fashioned candy store, you will find Harry’s favourite sweets, such as Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans or Chocolate Frogs. If you are truly courageous though, I dare you to ask for their Sour Plooms. Those seemingly innocent, round, sugar-coated candies will create an enormous acidic sweet implosion on your tongue and I do believe that the sentiment this evokes is the closest I have ever come to how apparating must feel like. (According to Harry it’s like being “forced through a very tight
rubber tube.”)

Visit the Eagle Pub

Opened in 1667 as a coaching inn, this is the second oldest pub in Cambridge (after Pickerel Inn, which is also well worth a visit), steeped in history, and – how could it be any different? – haunted by ghostly appearances.

Now there are different versions of the story and it is unclear if the pub is haunted by the ghost of a poor maid named Mary who died in a fire in the pub or the ghosts of three innocent children who fell victim to the flames. But as a matter of fact, the pub always keeps a window open in the upper floor for as not to trap the poor souls yet once more.

Despite these ghostly chills, the cosy pub offers an old-fashioned, dark-wooded, dim atmosphere inside and a friendly, rustic beer garden outside as well as good English Pub food and different sorts of beers.

The perfect place to end your day and to imagine for a moment that you are holding a jug delightfully overflowing with butter beer.

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Read more from Miriam here.

 | Website

Miriam Thaler is a PhD student in Culture Studies in Lisbon. Exploring foreign places and getting to know different people, their stories, ways of life and worldviews has always been her passion. After finishing school she lived and worked as a volunteer for one year in the South of Chile.

Her B.A. in Cultural Anthropology brought her to Munich and Paris. Iceland called her during her Masters for an ethnographic research stay and the shooting of a documentary.

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