Kelso inspiration for Rowling book?

Katie Eyre thumbs through a J K Rowling novel in Kelso.
Katie Eyre thumbs through a J K Rowling novel in Kelso.

KELSO could be in line for a magical tourist boost as it is believed to be the real-life inspiration for JK Rowling’s first adult novel.

The Casual Vacancy, which is published in September, charts rivalry and political strife in Pagford, a seemingly tranquil town.

While the 46-year-old Harry Potter author is remaining tight-lipped on where Pagford is based, Kelso has emerged as a strong frontrunner.

Pagford is described as an “idyll”, with a “pretty facade, a cobbled town square, a population of around 5,500 and a 12th-century abbey” - and the Roxburghshire town fits bill.

The book hints that Pagford could be further south but that could be Rowling – born in Gloucestershire and now living in Edinburgh – using fictional licence.

With the potential of a mini-tourist boom, Kelsonians are keen to stake the town’s claim.

Veteran community activist Trevor Black said: “Kelso is one of the oldest towns in the country and the square is very worldly, especially at this time of year with so many visitors to the area.

“Nearby Roxburgh, which does not exist anymore, used to have 16,000 people living there and was the capital of Scotland in the 11th century.

“Certainly the motorbike show brings in a lot of tourists to the town, as do all the events at Springwood Park.

“But Kelso’s cobbled square inspiring JK Rowling’s first adult novel would simply be something else given the massive success of the Harry Potter books.”

Isabel Gordon, chairwoman of the Friends of Kelso Museum, said: “It could indeed be Kelso, if it was in Scotland.

“Kelso developed gradually as a market town because the abbey was there – and the market square may once have been the monks’ garden.”

She said the most scandalous thing to happen in the town was in late 19th century, when the council continued charging people a penny to cross the bridge over the River Tweed, despite the bridge being long paid off.

Ralph Brooks, owner of Ednam House Hotel in Kelso, added: “We certainly have a very unique cobbled square, and an abbey – though we’re not English.

“Kelso is very beautiful: it’s green hills and fields, not heather and lochs, and we have the River Tweed running through.”

The details of Rowling’s 480-page novel, published at the end of September, are one of the most tightly guarded secrets in publishing.

Publishers Little, Brown – who insist Pagford is fictional – have revealed the tale involves the town being ripped apart by a parish council election.

Councillor Barry Fairbrother dies in his early 40s and the vacancy for his seat becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen, with: “Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with pupils”.

Despite the strife in Pagford, towns will be keen to be associated with Rowling’s £620million imagination, especially when the time comes, inevitably, to make the book into a film.

King’s Cross became crowded with tourists after including a Platform 9¾ sign, to signal the journey to Hogwarts.

While Kelso is the favoured inspiration for the world famous author, there are other contenders including Richmond in north Yorkshire and Tewksbury in Gloucestershire.