Last weekend, my daughter and I drove to Leavesden, near Watford, to the Warner Brothers Studio for the Harry Potter Studio Tour. My daughter grew up with Harry, Hermione, Ron and Dumbledore and has always been a big fan. She raved about the books so much I ended up having to read them to see what all the fuss was about. Yeah, you’ve guessed it – I got hooked too! So it was with great excitement we set off on Sunday morning for the seventy-five minute drive.
Thanks to Sally SatNav (GPS to my friends across the pond), we found the place quite easily and once parked, took a few photos and collected our tickets before entering the enormous building.
The large reception area’s walls displayed huge photos of the key characters; my one disappointment of the day was the lack of a picture of the original Albus Dumbledore, Richard Harris. Hanging from wires hooked into the ceiling we found the ‘flying car’ from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as well as the trolley loaded with Harry’s trunk and Hedwig’s cage which was used at Kings Cross Station to get Harry onto Platform 9 3/4. As we passed the barrier to enter the tour, we saw the staircase from 4 Privet Drive as well as Harry’s bed in the cupboard beneath. I also noticed the following inspirational quote from J. K. Rowling:
“No story lives unless someone wants to listen”
Once through the doors, and after a short cinematic presentation, we wandered through the hallowed doors into the Great Hall. WOW! It’s very large and, apart from the CGI ‘enchanted ceiling’, it was exactly as you see it on the films.
From there, we walked into one of the sound stages. In here were the sets for the Gryffindor Common Room, Harry’s dormitory, the Potions Classroom, Dumbledore’s office, Hagrid’s hut, Umbridge’s pink office, The Burrow (complete with working props like the self-washing frying pan) and the fireplaces from the Ministry of Magic. It was amazing! I was imagining them in the films my daughter and I have watched (and enjoyed) over and over.
These sets were interspersed with some of the most memorable props from the films: the ice palace from the Yule ball; the door to the Chamber of Secrets; various costumes; the door to vault 713 in Gringotts; the massive pendulum, the Griffin which guarded the stairway to Dumbledore’s office; Hagrid’s motorbike and sidecar; and, of course, the Nimbus 2000 and Firebolt. There were also the two massive statues from the Ministry of Magic.
In between all these (and much more I haven’t mentioned), were information cards displaying interesting details about certain aspects of the films.
It must have taken us more than two hours to work our way round this first area and I’m not convinced we saw absolutely everything!
From there the tour led us onto the ‘Backlot’ where we found the Knight Bus, the Potter’s Cottage from Godrics Hollow, 4 Privet Drive (these last two were almost full size properties build on the Lot – unbelievable), Hogwarts Bridge, the Riddle family gravestone (you might remember it from the Goblet of Fire), but best of all – BUTTERBEER. OMG! If you have a bit of a sweet tooth like I have (and we both blame my father for that particular trait, lol), Butterbeer is a non-alcoholic nectar from the Gods. Both my daughter and I loved it so much, we went back for second helpings! DE-LI-CIOUS!
After enjoying the fresh air for a while (and more photo opportunities), we proceeded to the second sound stage. The first part of this was all to do with the creatures, how they were made and the animatronics used – very interesting. As I predicted, my daughter’s complexion paled a little when she saw Aragog (she is a chronic arachnophobe), and being the wicked mum I am, I just had to take a photo of it for her. *sniggers*
Suddenly, we were in Diagon Alley. Another ‘WOW’ moment. All the shops and Gringotts bank are real buildings. You can actually look through the windows and see the shop’s wares laid out as they are in the films. The only exception was the animals were stuffed.
The penultimate section was the work that went into building the sets, from concept drawings and ‘artists’ impressions’ paintings to detailed plans which most architects would be proud to display, and miniature models made from white card of the most widely recognised buildings from the films.
Then . . . the pièce de résistance . . . we round a corner and there it was – a huge model of Hogwarts. It was the wow-est WOW moment of the entire tour. The way it was lit and the sheer magnitude were breathtaking. You could actually walk around the whole model and see it from different levels. I have to say, it was a fitting end to the tour and putting this magnificent structure anywhere else would not have done it justice.
On our way out to the gift shop, we suddenly found ourselves in Ollivanders, where there were literally thousands of wand boxes – each one was labelled with a cast or crew member who had been involved in any one of the eight films. I thought that was a lovely touch. My daughter was overjoyed to see the name of her nephew, who was an Assistant Director on the last two films, on one of the wand boxes and insisted on taking a photograph (even though it was about four foot above her head) and instead of stepping back, she decided to crane her neck and then wondered why it was aching a bit.
On a TV-type screen was the following quote, again from J. K. Rowling:
“The stories we love best do live in us forever, so whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home”
We spent over six hours there altogether and the time just flew by – we were totally mesmerised by everything we saw.
So, was it worth the money and would I go back again? Too right! The gift shop wares were rather over-priced, but apart from that I couldn’t fault it.
Now I’m home, I’m filled with even more inspiration than usual and am pouring it all into the final revisions of my second book, Heart Search: Found. With a bit of luck, it’ll be ready by the end of the month. J. K. Rowling may write for a younger audience than me, but she’s no less of an inspiration!