London: Potter & the Pitfalls of Travel

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So…I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. Are you? Yes? No. Whatever – it really doesn’t matter because if you are, that’s great and if you aren’t….well then we can’t really be friends anymore. I’m kidding. I think.

The final day of our visit to London was spent in Watford Junction, where Leavesden Studios is located. If you are a fan of Harry Potter (Potterheads Unite!) then you’ll know that Leavesden Studios is where all eight Harry Potter films were made. The people of Warner Bros. Leavesden Studios know that some folks love them some Harry Potter and so they took sets, costumes, props, sound stages, creatures, models and more from all eight films and displayed them on sound stages J and K.

That’s right people – the sound stages used to display all the Harry Potter film paraphernalia are J and K. And if you don’t get that – seriously, good grief. I cannot help you because you are too lost.

We hopped a train from Euston to Watford Junction and climbed aboard a bright purple double decker (too bad it wasn’t triple decker, eh?) bus for the quick ride to Leavesden Studios and there is where the fun began. Although the train ride was pretty good fun in and of itself…..

The “magical” Christmas tree in the lobby….
Harry’s room….err….the Cupboard Under the Stairs…
We arrived a bit early for our 1:30 tour, so we had lunch in the cafe to start the experience. No Butterbeer at this cafe, although we were promised that the Backlot Cafe did have it. Rejoice! I played it safe and got a jacket potato with cheese; which is a baked potato but I think from now on I need to always call it a jacket potato…because, duh – that’s more fun! My Dad got some vegetable soup that I think was literally every vegetable ever created, blended to a frothy chicken poop green sludge…which tasted about the way it looked….or so I’ve been told. I wasn’t going to dare taste it myself. 
We poked around the gigantic gift shop for a wee bit and then finally…finally it was time to join the cue. We snaked along past a JK Rowling quote and the set for the cupboard under the stairs before entering a small video room where we watched a short snippet about the initial thought of making Harry Potter into a movie. We were then whisked along into a theater where we watched a video; hosted by Dan, Rupert and Emma, and told all about filming on the sets at Leavesden Studios. The video ended with the doors to the Great Hall of Hogwarts – and then the movie screen rose, leaving everyone in the theater face to face with the actual doors to the Great Hall. We were invited to come forward, the doors were opened and we stepped out of the middle of the rainy English countryside and into Hogwarts Castle, decorated for Christmas. 
Absolutely amazing. 
A dessert much too pretty to eat – thank goodness it’s a prop! 
Costumes for the professors, located at the Head Table. 
The tour can really best be described through the pictures – they had sets from all eight movies as well as costumes; oh so many costumes, props and anecdotes from the years spent filming the movies. I took over 150 pictures with my camera and probably close to 100 (if not more) with my cell phone. We were told at the start of the tour that it can take up to three hours on average to complete the tour…it took us over four hours. We’re above average, which is always nice to know. Ha! 
The Great Hall is obviously meant to start the tour with a sense of awe – which completely worked – they even lit some Christmas puddings on “fire” for us. Not real fire of course, the magic of the movies and all that. You could take as many pictures as you liked but for obvious reasons, you couldn’t touch anything…although I sure would have liked to. We were ushered out of the Great Hall and onto a sound stage that contained sets from the Gryffindor Common Room, Gryffindor Boys Dormitory, Dumbledore’s office, the Potions classroom, the Burrow and Hagrid’s Hut. All of these sets were filled with original props and costumes and there were gigantic props and set pieces scattered throughout the sound stage. 
The gates to Hogwarts – complete with winged boars on top.
I can’t imagine who this bed might belong to…can you?
*Harry Potter Fun Fact – the size of the beds never changed, but obviously the size of the boys playing Harry and his friends did. As they got older and taller, they had to tuck their legs or hang them off the sides of the bed to fit!*
An invisibility cloak is certainly a nice thing to have in your closet….
The giant clock that is featured heavily in The Prisoner of Azkaban…
A small peek into Dumbledore’s Office….
*Harry Potter Fun Fact – Dumbledore’s office is filled with books; they’re everywhere. They are also almost all old phone books wrapped in covers and sprinkled with dust. Who knew?*
The Potions classroom…complete with Professor Snape’s costume, of course! 
The door to the Chamber of Secrets…
Inside the kitchen of the Burrow!
So many of the sets were much smaller than I’d have ever imagined they’d be. This was especially true for the Potions classroom, the Burrow (the Weasley’s house…) and Hagrid’s Hut, which was the larger of the two built for filming. I guess the ability to remove the walls and ceilings allows for so much more freedom but I was continually amazed by how small these sets really were! The Potions classroom and the Burrow both had a bit of magic in them; the cauldrons in the Potions classroom were stirring, stirring, stirring…all on their own. The Burrow was busy as could be, even with no one in it. The dishes were being washed and knitting was being taken care of as well….all the while being overlooked by the costumes. 
One of the last large scale scenes we saw before we made it to the halfway point and the Backlot Cafe was the scene at Malfoy Manor where Voldemort suspends a woman above the meeting and has his snake, Nagini roaming up and down the length of the table. The costumes, the set and of course, the gigantic snake weaving along the table were all pretty impressive – as was the scene from the film that the set represented. 
After rounding the corner into Kings Cross Station and boarding the Hogwarts Express, we also chose to have our picture taken seated inside cars made to look like they belonged inside the Hogwarts Express…complete with scenes from the movies playing on the windows “outside” the train. We made a pitstop at the Backlot Cafe for some Butterbeer (in souvenir mugs, of course) before continuing our tour – and I must admit, I don’t know if it was because it was cold outside or what, but the Butterbeer did not taste quite the same as it did at Universal Studios. Was it still delicious? Yes! It just wasn’t quite as delicious…. *sigh*
No. 4 Privet Drive….anyone know who lives here?
Fawkes the Phoenix
Buckbeak the Hippogriff.
Diagon Alley
The creature shop and special effects area was pretty interesting – they had numerous models of creatures that had been designed for the films as well as masks of different actors faces. I think one thing that was supremely creepy were the life size “dummies” used for filming; they were incredibly life like and looked as if someone had taken Daniel Radcliffe and stood him upright in a clear glass box…asleep. I’ll say asleep because that’s nicer than the alternative – they kind of looked dead! There were also several models of animatronic creatures created for the movies, including the Monster Book of Monsters, a model of Hedwig and the creepy “baby” Voldemort creature seen in the last film. If you pressed buttons by each of these models, they would come to life and people were shocked and creeped out over and over when the tiny Voldemort began breathing and struggling to raise it’s head… It was gross. 
We were able to walk down the street of Diagon Alley, which was quite fascinating…but I must admit, having been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando…this version of Diagon Alley didn’t seem as…impressive? I guess that speaks very highly of the people who created the theme park; I for one can attest to how much it immerses you in the world(s) of Harry Potter. The Diagon Alley of Leavesden Studios was impressive in it’s own way, just on a smaller scale.
And speaking of things on a smaller scale – scale models. After walking through a hallway that exhibited some original artwork; all of which was incredibly breathtaking, we entered a small hallway with scale models of Hogwarts, the Burrow, the carriage for Beauxbaton’s School, the ship for Durmstrang…absolutely filled with these models that looked like you could scoop them up and take one home to play with it. Incredibly detailed and the lead up to the final “act” if you will, of the tour. The final scale model was truly a sight to behold – as you rounded the corner into the final room, you were met with an enormous (although I guess small, in reality) and 100% complete scale model of Hogwarts Castle, blanketed in snow. It was so incredibly detailed, I was absolutely blown away by it all. I wasn’t the only one – as people rounded the corner into the room, their jaw would drop and they’d slowly walk toward the castle, mouth agape…in utter awe at what they were seeing. 
Of course – I took about thirty pictures. I’ve only shared six here – you’re welcome. Ha-ha!  
Don’t you just want to walk across the bridge and into the castle? I do!
We ended our trip on such a high note with this tour – it was absolutely fabulous and completely intriguing. Once the tour was ended, we boarded our purple bus again and caught the train back into London…back to our flat to pack up our bags. 
The next morning we made our way to the airport and were lucky enough to get moved from our original flight with American Airlines, which involved a connecting flight in Charlotte, to a straight flight with Virgin Atlantic. I can say lucky now because while we were separated from our bags for a couple days, we got them back and so I’ll chalk it up to all’s well that ends well. I’ve never flown Virgin before but I was fairly impressed – from take off to landing it was a good flight, filled with lots of delightful things. 
We were welcomed onto the plane to find a pillow, blanket and bottle of water in our seats. Once the plane was airborne, we were served something to eat over and over and over…first a snack, then our lunch, then an ice cream bar, then a piece of chocolate and lastly, an afternoon tea complete with a wrap, crisps, a chocolate brownie and mints! As we left the plane, we were given a roll of Sweet Tarts! Happily, the trip through Customs was fast (no bags – so, you know…) and we were home three hours earlier than we’d planned. Once we were reunited with our bags, like I said – it all seemed like a perfectly good ending.
It’s always been a dream of mine to go to London – and I was lucky enough to have that dream come true. I’ve listened to Big Ben chime the hour(s) as they pass, I’ve floated down the River Thames, I’ve seen castles that have stood for hundreds of years and cities that have seen one empire after another rule. I don’t know if I could ever accurately put into words how wonderful this trip was…but in keeping with this final post…in keeping with our final tourist destination…in a word, this dream come true trip was truly….magical

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