Whether you read a chapter or two each night to your children, or grandchildren, or enjoyed secretly devouring page after page by wand light, er of course I mean lamp light; the Harry Potter novels and later film franchise, are sure to have had some kind of impact on most denizens of Britain's green and pleasant lands. With its messages of tolerance, bumbling wizards inhabiting tumbledown cottages, filled with eclectic and magically misbehaved nick-knacks, and scenic descriptions of swathey Scottish landscapes, it's obvious to any discerning reader that good old Blighty is almost as much a leading character throughout all seven books as Harry himself.
And while the big screen is notorious for botching adaptations of literary masterpieces, Warner Brothers undeniably did a pretty good job of representing our unique country in all its eccentric and drizzly glory. This means that we as residents now have dozens of genuine film sets we can explore, (pretending not to be a muggle is optional) from the soaring Romanesque architecture of Durham Cathedral to the ancient limestone formations at Malham Cove.
Twenty years ago, a slim volume entitled 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' was first released onto an unsuspecting public; back then few would have been able to imagine the success it would achieve across the literary, cinematic and later theatrical worlds. And there have been events up and down the country in the past week celebrating the prestigious anniversary of our inaugural encounter with the humble boy-wizard of Privet Drive, some of which held special interest for rail enthusiasts too. One of the most iconic scenes from the movie sees the camera swoop as effortlessly as an owl over the scarlet Hogwarts's express as it puffs merrily across the fragile looking Glenfinnan Viaduct - a piece of engineering so impressive for its time, many of the Victorian era would have believed it to be built using magic.
Now you too can make the journey to Europe's premier school of witchcraft and wizardry, or at least a part of it, though you might have to pack your own pumpkin pasties. Reigniting enthusiasm for the golden era of steam trains for a whole new age group, the West Highland Railway has understandably cashed in on the popularity of Harry Potter and his friends, and now is one of the main features on Visit Scotland's brand new Harry Potter themed holiday itinerary. But this isn't the only steam train you can board for a taste of the bewitching world conjured up by JK Rowling in a small, otherwise unremarkable Edinburgh café.
Climb aboard the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, one of the UK's longest heritage railway lines that runs through the beautiful North York Moors National Park, connecting the picturesque market town of Pickering and the village of Grosmont. Along the route you'll pass through the diminutive yet distinctive station of Goathland which, with its wrought iron footbridge, some might know better as the all-wizarding village of Hogsmeade. Somehow, (enchantment most likely) Hogsmeade is actually a century or two older than Goathland, being founded over 1000 years ago by medieval wizard Hengist of Woodcroft as he was fleeing persecution by muggles, as well as being a few hundred miles too far south.
Then there's Alnwick Castle in Northumberland which has racked up an impressive filmography over the years (we won't hold that against it), having featured not only as Hogwarts itself, but also as the summer residence of Lord Grantham in 'Downton Abbey' among a host of other well-known productions including the BBC's 'Hollow Crown' series, that focussed on adapting Shakespeare's history plays, as well as taking a starring role in both 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves' and 'Elizabeth', starring Cate Blanchett.
Intergenerational, the Harry Potter series in whatever guise you may be familiar with it, has been bringing folk together for two decades now, and no matter your opinion, that's an impressive feat by anybody's standards. So join us as we echo Hagrid when we say; "Harry, a very happy birthday to yeh".