Where is the Burrow—Harry’s second home (his first is Hogwarts, of course, not Privet Drive!)?
Ottery St. Catchpole
The books give the Burrow’s location as just outside the village of Ottery St. Catchpole, but give no direct clues as to where this is. The similarity of the name to Ottery St. Mary, in Devon has led many commentators to suggest that it is in that area, about 150 miles south west of London and ten miles east of Exeter. However, names of this general format are common throughout England, for example Terrington St. Clement in Norfolk, Chalfont St. Giles in Buckinghamshire, or the fictional Fenchurch St. Paul in Dorothy Sayers’ “Lord Peter Wimsey” mystery, The Nine Tailors, so this is not conclusive. Apart from the similarity of names there is little to suggest the area.
The only other information we have about Ottery St. Catchpole is that it is overlooked by a prominent hill, named Stoatshead Hill, which the Weasleys and the Diggorys climb to reach the Portkey to take them to the World Quidditch final (GF8). The Burrow, we are told, is on the other side of the village from the hill.
The Journeys to London
The books give several accounts of journeys made between the Burrow and London. Careful analysis of these journeys suggests that Ottery St. Catchpole must be much less than 150 miles from London.
Let us look at how the Weasleys get to King’s Cross each September 1st. In Harry’s first year, we do not see this journey, but perhaps Molly’s remark, “packed with Muggles,” which first draws his attention to them, is a reference to a journey by public transport?
In Harry’s third year, they are staying at the Leaky Cauldron and use Ministry of Magic cars to get to King’s Cross. This doesn’t tell us much, except that the Burrow must be far enough away from King’s Cross to make an overnight stay at the Leaky Cauldron worthwhile. We aren’t told how they got to the Leaky Cauldron, but we know from Chamber of Secrets that Diagon Alley is on the Floo Network.
In Harry’s fifth year, they walk to King’s Cross from Grimmauld Place.
However, in Harry’s second, fourth and sixth years, the Weasleys (and Harry) travel from the Burrow to King’s Cross on the morning of September 1st. In the sixth year (HBP6) they again use Ministry cars which, as magical artifacts, need not obey the normal Muggle laws of physics (indeed, some of their behaviour seems to resemble that of the Knight Bus). But in Harry’s second year (CS3) they use Arthur Weasley’s Ford Anglia, and in his fourth year (GF11) they use three Muggle taxis. Let us look at these two journeys in more detail, starting with the events in Goblet of Fire.
The Taxi Journey (Year 4)
In Harry’s fourth year (GF11) they travel in three Muggle taxis. Route finding programs such as Transport Direct suggest the journey from Ottery St. Mary to King’s Cross takes just over three hours to reach the outskirts of London, and then a rather optimistic 45 minutes for the final sixteen miles in London itself. If the Burrow is in Devon, this implies a departure of about 7 am. But Arthur Weasley leaves for work, in London, shortly before the rest of the family—and as he can Apparate, his commuting time is virtually zero! Note that Arthur is not going in to work at the crack of dawn, as he has a conversation in the Burrow with Amos Diggory, who has already been at work for some time. This indicates that Arthur, and therefore the rest of the family, are all setting off much later in the morning than 7 am.
Anyway, why are they taking a 150 mile taxi journey when Honiton railway station is only five miles from Ottery St. Mary? Frequent trains from Honiton reach London Waterloo in only three hours. Faster trains from Exeter station, ten miles from Ottery St. Mary, could get them to London Paddington in just over two hours.
Indeed, why bother with Muggle transport at all when the Leaky Cauldron, which is on the Floo Network, is only a short distance from King’s Cross?
The Car Journey (Year 2)
Let us now look at the events in CS5 (Year 2) At Molly’s insistence, they do not use magic, so we can use the same travel criteria as for the Muggle taxis. Therefore, given these timings, they finally set out at 7 am, but first they make three false starts because they have forgotten things. Still just about possible were it not for the need to get “almost to the motorway” before returning for Ginny’s diary. The direct route from eastern Devon to London uses 100 miles of ordinary roads before it reaches the M3 motorway near Basingstoke, so the return trip from there to retrieve the diary would add about four hours (two hours each way) to the total journey time, requiring a 3am start! Anyway, if they had got that far before Ginny realised she’d forgotten it, she would surely have been told she’d have to manage without her diary (and what a lot of trouble that would have saved!), or her parents would have promised to forward it by owl.
The mention of the motorway suggests they actually use a different route, using the only motorway in Devon, the M5 from Exeter to Birmingham. This meets the M4 (South Wales to London) near Bristol. The M5/M4 route to London is therefore quite circuitous—it first involves heading ten miles away from London, and is about 200 miles in total. However, if you force it to go via the M5, Transport Direct suggests the journey from Ottery St. Mary to King’s Cross takes just a few minutes short of four and a half hours—fifteen minutes to the motorway (nine miles), over three and a quarter hours to the outskirts of London (180 miles further) and a rather optimistic 45 minutes for the final sixteen miles in London itself. To this must be added the round trip back from the motorway to collect Ginny’s diary (only half an hour this time!), to make a total of five hours. They arrive at King’s Cross at 10:45, so this means they left the Burrow at about 5:45. But we are told they get up at cock-crow (dawn in Devon in early September is about 6:15 am). Moreover, before they leave they also have to get dressed, breakfasted and packed, which we are told takes a long time. So, using either route, there is simply not enough time to get to London.
“Oh, you’ll never get to Devon in an old Ford car: ‘cos an old Ford car won’t get that far!”
My own experiences driving between London and Devon suggest the times given by Transport Direct (outside London at least) are achievable in a modern car, but the journey in CS5 is being made in a Ford Anglia carrying eight people and a large amount of luggage. (We are told the make of car at the beginning of CS5). Ford Angliasceased production in 1967, so at the canonical date of 1992 the Weasley’s car was at least 25 years old. Moreover, even the 1.2 litre engines installed in the last Anglias produced only 48 bhp—less than half the power of my fairly ordinary modern car. (A longer discussion of Ford Anglias is attached as an appendix.)
Arthur claims that the car could fly from the Burrow to King’s Cross in ten minutes. If the Burrow is in Devon, that implies a cruising speed of 900 m.p.h.—so the sonic boom would make them highly conspicuous even if they were invisible! Such a speed also would also make it possible for the car to reach any part of the UK in rather less than an hour—so why does it take Harry and Ron from 11 am until nightfall, about nine hours later, to reach Hogwarts?
(For those who don’t know it, the original song quoted above had “heaven” as the unattainable destination—and discussed various other unsuitable means of locomotion—“on roller skates: you’d roll right past them pearly gates,” etc.)
This is, in fact the clue which leads us to where the Burrow actually is. Hogwarts must be on the British mainland, because the Hogwarts Express crosses no extensive stretches of water. (Hermione also says in PA5that she has read that Hogsmeade is “the only entirely non-Muggle settlement in Britain.”) If the flying Ford Anglia could get from the Burrow to King’s Cross in only ten minutes, but it took nine hours to reach Hogwartsfrom King’s Cross, Hogwarts should be over fifty times further from London than the Burrow is. No part of the British mainland is more than 700 miles from London. It follows that, if Arthur is right, the Burrow must be within fourteen miles of King’s Cross. And this is an upper estimate—if Hogwarts is closer to London, so must the Burrow be also.
Hogwarts is generally assumed to be somewhere in the Scottish Highlands—although the only specific reference, to it being near Dufftown in Aberdeenshire, (about 550 miles from London) is in the film of Prisoner of Azkaban and therefore non-canon. However, Ron and Harry see the train pass a snow-capped mountain as they fly towards Hogwarts—snow remaining on any British mountain until early September is very unusual, but traces might be found on the very highest peaks in Scotland.
The Hogwarts Express takes from 11am until nightfall to get to Hogwarts, and no part of England or Wales is more than four hours from London at express train speeds, so Scotland it must be. This is also consistent with the train leaving from King’s Cross, Harry and Ron following it north (CS6) and the Ford Anglia being sighted over Peebles, in the Scottish Borders (Although Peebles lost its railway in 1969, the Hogwarts Express, being magical, may still be able to go that way!).
The sighting over Norfolk is rather more puzzling, as although the time is about right (some time around noon would suggest a speed of about 80mph, the maximum (road!) speed of a late-model Ford Anglia), Norfolk is much too far east of any reasonable course for Scotland—after passing the north Norfolk coast, they would see nothing else until they reached the Norwegian coast 800 miles away. But then, the sightings of the car are not actually canon: they are what witnesses claimed to have seen—or rather, what The Daily Prophet—not to be relied on as a journal of record—says the witnesses said they saw. Maybe the witness was actually in Northampton!
A possible location
So the far north of Scotland is plausible for Hogwarts—which could be any distance between 500 and 700 miles from London. As explained, Arthur Weasley’s estimate of ten minute’s flying time puts the Burrow within fourteen miles of King’s Cross. Is it really possible for the Burrow to be this close to central London? It is, after all, well within the Greater London conurbation, usually taken to be the area enclosed by the M25 London Orbital motorway, which is on average about twenty miles from central London.
Let us look at the journey in CS5 again. The key is, once again, the mention of the motorway. There are very few motorways as close to central London as 15 miles, and most of them lead away from the centre, so would not be used by someone driving into London. However, the M11 London to Cambridge motorway does have a London-bound access point at about the right distance and, unusually for somewhere so close to central London, the area to the east of the motorway at this point is quite rural, dotted with villages like Passingford Bridge, Abridge, Stapleford Abbotts, and Chigwell Row, in Essex.
It is about an hour’s drive from King’s Cross, depending on traffic conditions. This is close enough to make the road journey more attractive than using the Floo Network, given that the Leaky Cauldron, on Charing Cross Road, is itself nearly two miles from King’s Cross. The area is close to Epping Forest, a large area to the north-east of London preserved from development. However, the terrain in this area is undulating rather than hilly, so it is difficult to identify Stoatshead Hill.
Spreading the Net Wider
Of course, it is possible Mr. Weasley’s ten-minute estimate is an exaggeration—he hasn’t previously made the trip himself, after all, and usually travels to London by Apparating. Or maybe the Anglia was capable of faster speeds on short journeys than it achieved on the way to Scotland, when the length of journey (and the need to follow the train) slowed them down. If we were generous, and allowed a forty-mile radius, much of the North Downs (to the south of London) and the Chilterns (to the north-west) are in range. From that far out, several motorways head towards London, notably the M40 and the M1 through the Chilterns. Both ranges have chalk escarpments with some quite large hills, and the Chilterns in particular have some very quiet valleys where the Burrow could be hidden. In fact, Ivinghoe Beacon, near Tring, was used as Stoatshead Hill in the film.
APPENDIX: Ford Anglias
The Weasley’s car is identified in CS5 as a Ford Anglia. (The Daily Prophet also reports sighting a Ford Anglia, but this report cannot, on its own, be considered canon—it is a newspaper report of what an eyewitness says he saw)
A fairly comprehensive illustrated history of the Ford Anglia can be found on Wikipedia. They were built between 1940 and 1967, during which time three very different body styles were used—the “sit up and beg” (E494A) used until 1953, the “three-box” (100E) used between 1953 and 1959, and the type used in the film, and on the book covers, the “reverse-angle rear window” 105E (1 litre engine) or 123E (1.2 litre), produced from 1959 to 1967. The registration number of the one in the film—7990 TD—was issued by Lancashire County Council in about 1962.
Interestingly, all Anglias were two-door models—four-door variants of the two earlier styles (but not the 105E/123E) were produced, but these were badged as “Prefects.” (A 100E Ford Prefect is show in the film of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy narrowly avoiding running over the humanoid character of the same name). All Anglias and Prefects were saloons (“sedans” as the Americans call them), except for an estate (“station wagon”) variant of the 105E, also with only two doors.
Knowing that the Anglia is a two-door model makes the account of Harry’s rescue from Privet Drive in CS3 difficult to follow. As only the windows in the doors can be opened, Ron could not lean out of the window from the back seat, nor could Harry wind a window down. It would also be impossible to manoeuvre a large trunk into the back seat of a two-door car. The filmmakers got round the problem by changing the seating arrangements, having Ron, and not George, in the front passenger seat, and Harry’s trunk in the boot, not in the back seat.
Of course, Arthur Weasley has enchanted it, but if his modifications have gone as far as converting it into a four-door car it would no longer be recognisable as a Ford Anglia—if it was one of the earlier models he would in fact have transfigured it into a Ford Prefect!