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Riding the Hogwarts Express

Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland

Potter fans will recognise the views and the Glenfinnan Viaduct as they chug along the West Highland Railway through the Scottish Highlands from Fort William to Mallaig. This is the route of the Hogwarts Express. The 21-arch viaduct appears in several of the Harry Potter films, most notably in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets – we won’t be surprised if you find yourself looking out for a flying blue Ford Anglia! For a truly magical moment, travel the line on The Jacobite steam train, which runs from May to October.

Day 1: Scottish Highlands

The Highlands are a film location (pdf) scout’s idea of heaven, so it’s not surprising that so many films have been shot here, including numerous Bond and Harry Potter films, Stardust, The Queen, The Dark Knight Rises, 2015’s adaptation of Macbeth and, of course, Braveheart. For an unbeatably filmic experience, board the legendary Jacobite Steam Train – also known as the Hogwarts Express – and chug through countryside you’ll recognise from various Harry Potter films. Just don’t try to board it at Platform 9 ¾ in London’s King’s Cross Station!

You won’t be able to stop gazing out of luxurious Eilean Donan Cottage’s windows. They overlook the point where three sea lochs meet and have uninterrupted views across the water to a castle you’ll more than likely know from the silver screen. Iconic Eilean Donan Castle was the Scottish headquarters of MI6 in The World is not Enough and featured in Highlander, Loch Ness and many TV ads and fashion shoots.

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Do your best Bond impersonation as you take a luxury Aston Martin for a spin through Glen Coe, a deep valley of towering mountains renowned for its walking trails and on-screen presence in Skyfall. This is where Daniel Craig’s Bond drove Judi Dench’s M in a classic Aston Martin to Bond’s Scottish family home, Skyfall Lodge. And if that’s not dramatic enough for you, just remember that you’re actually driving through the mouth of an ancient volcano.

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Get off the train at Glenfinnan Station and you’ll be caught between two Harry Potter locations. In one direction is Loch Shiel, also known as the Black Lake near Hogwarts. In the other is the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which the Hogwarts Express steams across somewhere between Platform 9 ¾ and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. If you don’t have a broomstick to hand, explore them on your own two feet or two wheels.

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Day 2-3: Isle of Skye

Take a ferry or drive across the Skye Bridge to the spectacular landscapes of the Isle of Skye. The island is so theatrical it’s no wonder that Snow White and the Huntsman, Highlander, Made of Honour, Prometheus and Stardust were all filmed here. But the scenery really takes centre stage in the 2015 version of Macbeth. Hike through the eerie, brooding Quiraing at the northern tip of the Trotternish Ridge and you’ll understand why.

Skye was the perfect setting for Stardust, a magical fantasy adventure starring Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro, and Loch Coruisk provided a particularly dramatic backdrop. Hop on a boat trip from Elgol to see it up close. On the way, you’ll notice the unmistakable small islands of the Inner Hebrides on the horizon, spot wildlife such as puffins and golden eagles and sometimes even whales and dolphins.

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The opening scenes of 1980’s Flash Gordon were filmed at the small airstrip near Broadford, in the southeast of the island. It’s a stunning spot for an airfield, with views stretching from the rocky Cuillin mountains across Broadford Bay to the Scottish mainland. Book a flight with Loch Lomond Seaplanes and soar over the Isle of Skye and Scotland’s rugged northwest coast. Flights usually include a water take-off and landing in pretty Portree Harbour.

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The Old Man of Storr is visible from miles around. It’s the most impressive part of the already remarkable Trotternish Ridge: towering, jagged splinters at the edge of the ridge. Despite its threatening appearance, the hike to get here isn’t too challenging, so take a picnic and admire views of loch, sea, Skye and across to the mainland. It’s easy to picture Fassbender’s Macbeth riding to battle from this spot too.

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Day 4: Edinburgh

Make time to enjoy the spectacular drive (5 hours 45 minutes) from Skye to Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, which has starred in a long list of films including One Day, Chariots of Fire, Cloud Atlas, Sunshine on Leith and Trainspotting. Then stretch your legs on the Reel Edinburgh Tour walking tour, which takes in prime filming locations and places that are important to those who left their mark on the movie-making world, such as JK Rowling, Ewan McGregor and Sir Sean Connery.

Edinburgh International Film Festival has been around since 1947, making it one of the world’s oldest film festivals. Taking place in cinemas, theatres and halls across the city every June, it shines a spotlight on the best, most innovative new cinema through a fortnight of events, awards, screenings and premieres. The 2016 festival saw Meg Ryan’s directorial debut, and a screening of newly restored cult classic Highlander.

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Before she became a multi-millionaire author, JK Rowling was a struggling single mum. She wrote the first pages of Harry Potter in the back room of The Elephant Café, overlooking Edinburgh Castle. Take a notebook and hope to start your blockbuster over a cup of tea here too. If the words don’t flow, follow in Rowling’s footsteps to nearby Greyfriars Kirkyard where she found inspiration in plaques to Thomas Riddell Esq and William McGonagall…

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The reward as you stand at the top of Arthur’s Seat after a 45-minute hike is the sight of Edinburgh’s castle, crescents and spires mapped out all around you and beyond to the Forth Bridge, the east coast and the Highlands. Pick up a picnic from one of Edinburgh’s fine food delis, and cuddle up on a woollen blanket for a lazy lunch, like One Day characters Em and Dex.

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Day 5: Northumberland

Drive (1 hour 35 minutes) or take public transport (2 hours) south to England’s northeastern county of Northumberland, known for its amazing landscapes: endless beaches, castles, brooding hills and the largest International Dark Sky Park in Europe. It also has a rich array of wildlife, from wild goats to red squirrels. Movie buffs should head to the beach by Bamburgh Castle, which was the backdrop to scenes from the recent adaptations of both Macbeth and The BFG.

It’s the second-largest inhabited castle in England and is filled with one of the country’s finest private art collections, but Alnwick Castle appeals to fans of Harry Potter and Downton Abbey for other reasons: Alnwick stood in as Brancaster Castle for Downton’s 2014 and 2015 Christmas specials, and as Hogwarts in Harry Potter; Harry had his very first Quidditch lesson in the grounds – and you can have a broomstick training session here too!

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Sycamore Gap, where Kevin Costner saves a boy from the Sheriff’s men in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, is along Hadrian’s Wall, the most significant monument built by the Romans in Britain. The wall stretches across the very top of England, and you can explore it on foot or bike on the Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail. Take in breathtaking scenery and nearby historic sites, such as Housesteads, Britain’s most complete Roman fort, and 13th-century Lanercost Priory.

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You might recognise medieval Warkworth Castle from the film Elizabeth; it doubled up as the Tower of London. Despite mostly being in ruins, this mighty Northumbrian fortress continues to dominate the surrounding countryside, and the Great Tower is still largely intact. Here’s an interesting aside for literature buffs: William Shakespeare also set some scenes of Henry IV Part 2 here, as it was the home of Sir Harry Hotspur.

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