Travel Tales: Trying to Hang Out in a Writer's Cafe

It only took 5 tries…

I started planning my trip to Scotland before I had even left for New Zealand in 2017.

But we couldn’t go in 2018 because we went with our church to the Dominican Republic, and then we got married a month later!

Then we couldn’t go in 2019 because our church’s national conference (which was my dad’s last one before he retired from being a pastor) was in ORLANDO. What this means is that naturally we had to plan a road trip to Florida (AKA Disney World) to go to the “conference.”

2020 was the year… Finally. I bought the tickets. There was nothing that could stop us…

So obviously we went in 2022…

The point is that some of the things I had planned to do in 2017 NO LONGER EXISTED in 2022!

So here is the tale of how we went to not 1, not 2, but FIVE different cafes where my favorite writers used to hang out until we found one that was actually opened!

Attempt #1: The Eagle & Child

The Eagle & Child is the famous pub in Oxford where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien hung out with their writer’s club, The Inklings.

I was super excited to visit this pub, especially after reading a blog by somebody who had found (and left) a secret message for fellow fans in one of the books on display here.

Unfortunately, it actually closed down in 2019 to be refurbished and turned into a hotel…

As of February 2023, it is still closed. Maybe someday…

Attempt #2: The Lamb & Flag

Thankfully, in my obsessive researching, I found that there is ANOTHER pub in Oxford where the group also hung out!

At the time, this pub was also closed down (from the pandemic), but was set to reopen in February. Plenty of time before our trip in May.

It didn’t open in February.

It didn’t open in May.

It reopened in October (cue annoyed face emoji).

So the good news is, you can now plan to visit this pub! But obviously the best I could do was get a picture of it across the street.

Attempt #3: The Bell Inn

Not to worry! Because I also found out that Tolkien liked to take the 30 min. train ride from Oxford to the adorable Cotswold Village of Moreton-in-Marsh to hang out with his brother in a pub there!

This pub was open!

This pub we could visit!

But… our train was delayed an hour due to a swan being on the tracks…

We arrived in Moreton-in-Marsh (for lunch…) at 3:30 pm. The Bell Inn was in fact open, but they stopped serving food at 3. So I took a quick picture of the Middle Earth map on the wall, and then headed down the street to another cute pub to finally eat lunch.

Attempt #4: The Elephant House

If you know anything about Harry Potter, you know that this cafe is famous as the “birthplace of Harry Potter.” It was a place often frequented by J.K. Rowling when she was writing the first Harry Potter books. Many a fan have left a note to her and HP on the bathroom walls.

We arrived in Edinburgh around 3, once again very hungry from not having had lunch yet. Jason looked up the directions to The Elephant House.

“It says it’s not open,” he said.


“It’s not open…”

I stared at him in disbelief, then took to Google myself. Yes, it was true, the building next door had caught fire the summer before, and devastated the inside of The Elephant House! They had managed to save the “J.K. Rowling table,” but pretty much the whole cafe was destroyed.

And as of February 2023 is still not reopened.

I literally lay down on the bed with tears in my eyes. Why can’t we just go to one place where my favorite writers hung out???

Then Jason saved the day. He found Nicolsons.

Attempt #5: Nicolsons Cafe

The history of Nicolsons is complicated. Because it is on the second floor of a building, it’s a hard location to keep in business.

As far as I can tell, the original Nicolsons was open here when J.K. was writing the first Harry Potter books, and she spent a lot of time here as well as at The Elephant House. The draw of Nicolsons was that her brother-in-law was one of the owners, so they didn’t mind the manuscript toting, espresso drinking, nothing else eating regular.

That actual cafe closed down, and who knows how many places have opened and closed there in the years since.

Recently, it was open as SPOON, and was a pretty popular cafe in Edinburgh. And yet, that wasn’t enough, and SPOON closed down, only to be reopened soon after once again under the name of “Nicolsons.”

Now, to be perfectly honest, I can’t really tell from Google, but it sounds like Nicolsons might have closed down as well… So this one will be a bit of a gamble if you plan to visit.

BUT, it WAS open when we were there (and that’s all that really matters, right?)!

I had the most amazing cheesecake here, and the tastiest cup of tea I’ve ever had! I was perfectly happy and forgiving of all the other pubs that had let me down up to this point. Even if Jason was embarrassed by me taking pictures of all the Harry Potter paraphernalia on the walls.