Travel: The Harry Potter Studios Tour and nearby Grove hotel make for a magical weekend
Jane Haase and family enjoy a wizard weekend in Hertfordshire
WITH two Harry Potter-mad youngsters to keep entertained over the half term holidays a trip to the studios where the wizarding film franchise was made was top of our wish list.
Located in Leavesden, Hertfordshire, just outside Watford, the excitement was palpable (and that was just the grown ups!) as we pulled into the large free car park in front of the huge hangars where Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint spent much of their formative years.
Opened in March this year Warner Bros Studio Tour London – The Making Of Harry Potter is a slick operation. You can only buy tickets in advance and are allocated either a morning or afternoon tour so it doesn’t get too crowded.
We just had time for a quick coffee in the large cafeteria style restaurant and a peek in the gift shop – with a promise to eight-year-old James, and Nina, six, to return later – before our tour began.
After being ushered into a cinema we watched a short film presented by the aforementioned Potter stars who explained all about the behind-the-scenes skill and dedication that went into bringing JK Rowling’s fantastic books to life.
As it ends the screen rises to reveal the elaborately carved doors leading to the Great Hall. A nice touch, this elicited the first wow of the day.
The Great Hall was hugely impressive with its real stone floor and long wooden tables set with goblets and jugs as if waiting for the students of Hogwarts to file in for one of their grand feasts.
At the far end was the staff table with the authentic costumes from the films and Dumbledore’s robes adorn a mannequin positioned at his lectern as if in readiness to welcome this latest intake of wizarding wannabees.
Clasping their special Potter passports, which get stamped as you visit the various sets and spot the golden snitches hanging about the place, James and Nina excitedly ran from one discovery to the next. James was spellbound by Professor Snape’s potions classroom with its hundreds of labelled bottles and bowls which magically stirred themselves.
We saw the Gryffindor common room and the boys’ dormitories with the four poster beds which the growing cast had to dangle their legs over - out of shot of the camera.
We were amazed at the attention to detail displayed in both the sets and props. The stunning gothic Goblet of Fire was carved out of a single Elm tree; the horcruxes are all accounted for in a glass case; Dumbledore’s study looks just as marvellous close up and you even get to don robes and ‘ride’ a broomstick as you fly over Hogwarts and London Bridge.
We sampled a glass of Butterbeer in the back lot (it tastes like cream soda) which includes Hagrid's motorbike and sidecar as well as a 22ft-tall triple-decker purple Knight Bus; part of Hogwarts wooden bridge and recreations of Number 4 Privet Drive and the burnt-out cottage in Godric's Hollow.
There were more wows inside the second sound stage where intricate prosthetics and models from the special effects workshop are on display including an 18ft-wide animatronic model of Aragog the spider. We also walked on the cobbles of Diagon Alley and peered into the windows of Slug & Jiggers apothecary and Ollivander's Wand Shop.
And the last big wow of the tour was the stunning hand-sculpted 50ft wide scale model of Hogwarts Castle itself which was used for the exterior shots for the first six films. The attention to detail is incredible, with 3,000 fibre optic lights fitted inside and turned on as the night sky darkens. It took six months to build and is testament to the skill of the production designers.
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