Once upon a time in Scotland

As the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature winds down in the UAE, we turn the page to look at places in Scotland that inspired some much-loved children’s tales

Little girl reading to her teddy outdoors near sun down in rural Scotland in late summer. Getty Images
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With March being the UAE's Month of Reading and the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature drawing to a close, we're turning our focus to Scotland's love of the written word. The Celtic nation is steeped in literary history, with many Scottish backdrops serving as the inspiration for some of the world's most beloved children's stories. From Treasure Island and Harry Potter, to Peter Pan and Katie Morag, Scotland is tied to renowned literary tales – and the Story­book Trail offers a way to explore these links. This self-drive tour of some of the country's most famous children's literature landmarks is a great way to let little imaginations run wild.

Harry Potter-filled Edinburgh

Edinburgh has long been known for its literary associations. Scotland's capital was the world's first Unesco City of Literature – it was designated in 2004 – and it also has the largest tribute to a literary figure on the planet by way of the towering Scott Monument, which is dedicated to novelist, poet and playwright Sir Walter Scott. The city is also where Harry Potter author J K Rowling penned much of the boy wizard series.

Born in England, Rowling moved to Edin­burgh in 1993 and has said ­previously that it was "the place where Harry evolved over seven books and many, many hours of writing in cafes".

The Elephant Room in Edinburgh bills itself as the birthplace of Harry Potter. Courtesy Nicolai Schäfer
The Elephant Room in Edinburgh bills itself as the birthplace of Harry Potter. Courtesy Nicolai Schäfer

Head to The Ele­phant House in the city's old town to tuck into breakfast in the same place Rowling wrote much of the hit series. As well as seeing a sign claiming to be the "Birthplace of Harry Potter" and Potter-related-graffiti-filled bathrooms, this is a good place to soak in the characterful atmosphere while tucking into a big Scottish breakfast, complete with obligatory haggis.

PIC: VisitScotland
Harry Potter fans can see Tom Riddle's gravestone at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh. Courtesy VisitScotland

After breakfast, walk for a few minutes along George IV Bridge to Greyfriars Kirk and a place that will capture kids' imaginations – the grave of Tom Riddle, aka Voldemort. It's located to the right of the Flodden Wall arch in the churchyard, surrounded by waste ground. Locals will tell you that's because even grass doesn't want to grow too close to He Who Must Not Be Named.

Suitably spooked, lighten the mood with a drive west towards Whitburn and the Scottish Owl Centre. Here, children can get ­acquainted with some of Hedwig's feathered friends, in what is the largest collection of owls in the world.

The Jacobite steam train passing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct at the head of Loch Shiel, Lochaber, Highlands of Scotland
Take your own Hogwarts Express journey with a ride on the Jacobite steam over the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Courtesy VisitScotland

For the big Potter finale, take a ride on what's often described as the greatest railway journey in the world. The Jacobite steam train runs from Fort William to Mallaig, travelling across the 21-arched Glenfinnan Viaduct, the same bridge that the Hogwarts Express crosses over in the Harry Potter films. If the weather is nice, the driver will pause on the viaduct, overlooking Loch Shiel and the Glenfinnan Monument, for perfect Potter photo opportunities.

Comic book central

Oor Wullie – part of the successful bucket trail now situated at The McManus Art Gallery & Museum
Oor Wullie is one of Scotland's most popular comic book characters – and you can find him sitting in the centre of Dundee. Courtesy VisitScotland

Then move on to the coastal city of Dundee, which is undergoing serious regeneration, much of which can be attributed to last year's opening of the V&A Dundee, the first Victoria and Albert museum outside of London, and Scotland's first design museum. The city is also home to stalwart publishing company DC Thomson, the brand behind many of the country's most-loved comic books, such as The Beano, The Dandy and Oor Wullie. A comic book staple across Britain for decades, The Beano's Dennis the Menace went on to find movie fame around the globe. Despite being Scotland's fourth largest city, Dundee is easily walkable and a great place to go on a character hunt to find the cast bronze statues of some of DC Thomson's most recognisable characters, including Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx.

A real-life Neverland

Statue of Peter Pan in Kirriemuir Town Centre, Angus (Birthplace of writer J.M. Barrie, Creator of Peter Pan)
Statue of Peter Pan in Kirriemuir Town Centre, Angus - the birthplace of writer J.M. Barrie. Courtesy VisitScotland

About a 30-minute drive from Dundee, the Angus town of Kirriemuir was the birthplace of Peter Pan author J M ­Barrie. Known as the Gateway to the Glens thanks to its scenic location at the foot of the Braes of Angus, the author's birthplace is now a museum packed with theatre posters, costumes and life-sized cut outs of characters from Peter Pan. There's also a Peter Pan statue right on the High Street.

Then take a wander to the camera ob­scura, a gift to Kirriemuir from Barrie, which is a great place to see stunning panoramas of the Scottish countryside. In his later life, Barrie moved south to Moat Brae in Dumfries, which is credited with inspiring the enchanted world of Neverland. Right now, there's a big restoration project under way at the author's former Georgian home, with the reopening set for spring this year. When it's complete, the enchanted garden will have a pirate ship and lagoon, and be the site of Neverland-inspired trails along the banks of the River Nith.

Swashbuckling Aberdeen

Celebrating Robert Louis Stevenson day in Edinburgh, the first UNESCO city of literature. Courtesy Edinburgh City of Literature / Chris Scott
Celebrating Robert Louis Stevenson day in Edinburgh, the first UNESCO city of literature. Courtesy Edinburgh City of Literature / Chris Scott

In terms of historical literary figures, Scotland's Robert Louis Stevenson is perhaps the most famous. The author's birthday, November 13, is celebrated each year in Edinburgh, and further afield. Known for his 1886 Gothic fiction classic Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Stevenson was also the man who wrote the children's adventure story Treasure Island. The tale follows Jim Hawkins, Captain Flint and Long John Silver in pursuit of buried treasure and is a classic pirate fable that has influenced almost every adventure story written since. For an overnight stay to remember, book a night in Aberdeenshire's Treasure Island Cottage, the traditional stone house in Braemar where Stevenson penned some of the book.

Fidra Island in the Firth of Forth seen from Yellowcraigs Beach in East Lothian where Robert Louis Stevenson would holiday as a child. Courtesy Visit Scotland  

Take a day trip south to Fidra Island, where Stevenson holidayed as a child. The natural cove beach there was one of the inspirations for Treasure Island and kids will love spotting puffins, gulls and razorbills on its grassy slopes.

Northern Treasures

NessieLand is situated at Loch Ness
NessieLand near Loch Ness is one of the few places kids are guaranteed to see the legendary creature. Courtesy VisitScotland

Head north with a drive towards Loch Ness, which is meant to be home to Scotland's mythical monster. Deep, dark and freezing cold, the loch stretches for over 37 kilometres between Fort Augustus and was the source of inspiration for Dick King Smith's novel The Water Horse the story that inspired the movie Babe. The Water Horse was the author's Scotland-­inspired tale that depicts an almost-believable story about an American tourist who learns about a young boy who discovers an egg washed up on the shores of Loch Ness. According to this easy-to-love children's classic, the egg hatched to reveal a magical water horse.

Let the kids wander the shorelines of Loch Ness looking for their own washed up objects and a chance to live out their own magical tale, or take a trip on the water to look for the real Nessie. If you are disappointed in your search, head to nearby Drumnadrochit to see imitation figures of the monster.

Island hopping

Beach and seaweed, Cliad beach, Island of Col, Inner Hebrides, Scotland. Getty Images
Cliad beach on the Island of Col was the inspiration behind one of Scotland's most famous redheads, Katie Morag. Getty Images

Staying on a northerly trail, wind your way towards the ferry crossings from the mainland to the Hebrides, Scotland's most remote locations and some of its most beautiful. This scattering of more than 50 islands offers remote beaches, emerald ocean waters and amazing wildlife. The region has also been the inspiration for a handful of children's tales, including Katie Morag – one of Scotland's most-loved redheads. The naughty heroine of these storybooks is from the fictional Isle of Struay, a place that's believed to have been inspired by the tiny island of Coll in the Inner Hebrides.

Writer Mairi Hedderwick used the island, which is known for its sandy beaches, to create Morag's home town. If adventures, mishaps and getting up to all sorts of mischief resonates with your kids, then the 17 Katie Morag books will be well-read. Make like Katie and take a picnic to Torastan beach or explore the village of Arinagour where the author used to live.

Emirates Literature Festival for Kids

You don’t have to travel to inspire your children’s imaginations. Head to this weekend’s Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai and let tiny minds run wild at these kid-centric sessions.

Kathy Hoopman

The co-author of Elemental Island, a story that follows 11-year-old Astatine, who lives in a place where implied, exaggerated autism is the norm, will be speaking at 10am on Friday. Hoopman’s session focuses on weaving story ideas around photographs and writing about special needs. Tickets cost Dh50 each.

Harriet Muncaster

Author and illustrator Harriet Muncaster is known for her fantastical tiny characters, such as part-vampire, part-fairy Isadora Moon. She will talk about creating magical worlds in words and pictures on Saturday at 10am. Tickets cost Dh50 each and the session is geared towards aged five and up.

Courtney Brandt

This is a good pick if you have young adult readers. Brandt is part of a session taking place on Saturday that focuses on history colliding with fantasy. She’ll be joined by Leo Carew and Rehan Khan at the session, which costs Dh75 and starts at 2pm.

Benji Davies

Should you keep your whale in the bath tub? Let award-winning author and illustrator Davies tell you what might happen if you do, at a session on Saturday that’s all about friendship. It starts at 2pm, and tickets cost Dh50 each.