Fred brought the car lower, and Harry saw a dark patchwork of fields and clumps of trees.
“We’re a little way outside the village,” said George. “Ottery St. Catchpole.”
Why do we assume that Ottery St Mary, an actual town in south Devon, is the same village as the one called Ottery St Catchpole in the books? There are a couple of good reasons for this. For one thing, the name “Ottery” means that the town is located along the River Otter, a small river in south Devon. If Ottery St Catchpole isn’t Ottery St Mary, it has to be located very, very near to it.
Another clue is the fact that quite a few places in the stories are found in that immediate area. Rowling attended university in Exeter, which is located there. She set a significant part of the stories in that corner of Britain and borrowed a lot of names. If you look at the map, you’ll find Buddleigh Salterton near Exeter, which lends its name to Budleigh Babberton, where Slughorn had been hiding out in a Muggle house. You’ll also find Chudleigh, the home of the Chudley Cannons — spelled differently so it’s not quite the same name but very close, just like Ottery St Catchpole. It does make sense that Ron would be a fan of the local Quiddtich team. You’ll also find the town of Dawlish there, whose name Rowling borrowed for the Auror, John Dawlish.
The most important clue is also the coolest, I think. If you drive a mile or so south of Ottery St Mary, exactly where the books say you’d find the Weasley homestead, you’ll find a farm called The Burrow Hill Farm. No kidding. I visited that very farm while researching my book In Search of Harry Potter. Weird thing is, my GPS quit on my just as I drove down the little lane that led to the farm.
I can’t help but suspect that Rowling used that name intentionally. As I said, she spent several years here going to university, so it is certainly possible that she saw that name — Burrow — and saw it as the perfect name for the home of the Weasley family, even describing it as being in the exact same place just south of the village … whose name she also borrowed.
In the Harry Potter Lexicon Minute podcast you’ll hear the voices of our editors sharing some of the many little things which delight us about the Wizarding World. In each podcast, one to two minutes in length, we’ll talk about anything from cool trivia and interesting canon passages to the latest Wizarding World news. We hope you’ll join us! And we’d love to hear from you as well. Feel free to use the comment section on the blogpost for each podcast to post your thoughts.