Warner Brothers Harry Potter Leavesden Studios Tour.

As you will frequently hear me say- OH-MY-EVER-LOVING-EAGLE-OWLS!!!!!!

So you are aware of my oddities and my real addiction (which is extremely well hidden in the presence of other Muggles) to all things magic and especially all things Harry.

Last Sunday I packed up my little black Corsa and set out on my pilgrimage to Watford, the home of Harry in movie form. The drive was fairly unspectacular as myself and several thousand other Muggles decided Sunday night was the best night to hop on the M3 North. Lovely.

Despite this crawling journey I made it to our overnight stop at the fabulously simple, occasionally decrepid and trashy Premier Inn. I think ever since Lenny Henry put his face to the brand they’ve spruced their hotels up a tad. This one was small, clean and comfortable. But first, I met my Dad, who’d driven from Yorkshire and had still managed to arrive before me and who was also sitting at the bar in the nearest TGI’s. Luckily this was less than 20 meters from where I’d accidentally parked. Beer drunk, burgers eaten, we retired for the night. I will recommend the Premier Inn in Garston for anyone getting to Watford the night before their tour, it’s easily found (sort of) and next to an eatery (try the blue cheese burger) 1.7 miles from Leavesden Studios and the SatNav didn’t have any problems getting from A to B.

I was so excited about the tour, I didn’t sleep a wink.

WARNING!! IF I’VE DONE MY JOB CORRECTLY THERE WILL BE SPOILERS (of some kind) WITHIN THE NEXT FEW PARAGRAPHS. AS WELL AS PHOTOS. OMG.

The area is empty looking but a very new and expensive industrial park. The roads and signage are all still brand new and sparkling (or it could be the Impervius charms they put on all of it…) the free buses they put on from Watford train station pull into the compound frequently and the car park is run in an extremely American fashion. Men in Hi-vis direct you from the front gate to the next empty spot, moving down the rows so people don’t go crazy and start parking in all manner of ridiculous ways. Wonderful.
I bet you’re practically yelling at me right now to ‘just get on with it!’ Well, I will…

The building is a low hangar with new frontage and giant chess pieces in front (HPCoS). Here you go, have a look.

I bet you’re all screeching for more. Shall we go in?

The atrium is typically American in set up (after all, this is all Warner Brothers dosh) with large format images of the highest ranking cast members from the various films around the top of the room. The cafe is to your left, the gift shop to your right. You guessed it, at two hours early for our tour we made a B-line (broom line) for the overpriced, ridiculous array of Harry Potter merchandise.

And we LOVED it.

Chocolate frogs, Every Flavour Beans, Gryffindor scarves, quidditch robes, brooms, horcruxes, diaries, owls (stuffed toys only) key chains, mugs,  t-shirts, sweatshirts, jumpers, hoodies, socks, ties, hats, caps, posters, fridge magnets, badges, earrings, Dumbledore replica costumes (pricey… Pricey.) the list went on and on and on and on. Warner Brothers have not missed a thing.

After that (and after spending a small Gringotts fortune) we made our way over to the cafe for a Starbucks coffee and a nice rest.

At 11:35am we decided to get up and collect our audio guides (more on these later) and our guide books from the booth under the flying Ford Anglia.

A little pause here to reveal that the audio guides were, for us, a complete waste of time. They were over complicated and took too much fiddling with to get not much information from in the end. We decided to hang them round our necks and take them for a good long walk and not use them for fear we’d miss something actually interesting while trying to figure the damn things out. For the kids around us, they seem pleased with them but for me and my Dad, like I say… Pretty much a waste of time.

So, after dropping bags in the cloak room we gathered ourselves up and got straight to queueing. We Brits don’t half queue well, although the same could not be said for our European friends (well, a lot of them there anyway…)

We tootled past another icon of the magical series…

We were then taken into a small room as a group of about 40 or 50, chatted to by a lovely guy while the theatre beyond the doors in front of us emptied out and then we carried on into this and took our seats.

The cinema we sat in was as wide as the huge screen in front of us. We settled into huge seats and watched an intro to the tour, filmed by the stars of the series; Harry (Dan), Hermione (Emma) and Ron (Rupert).

After that and the almost cried, tears of joy I nearly shed, came the fun part. The female guide asked if there were any birthdays being celebrated and I yelled a bit and pointed at my Dad, celebrating for the next day. He was asked to come forward and open the doors to the Great Hall (along with some help from a couple of others).

I was jealous, I can tell you but I know I take better photos so I was glad I was the one watching!

And now, for the really good bits!

Note the beautifully hand painted and ancient looking symbolic murals on the back wall which were hardly ever seen on screen…

A technique called ‘Forced Perspective’ was used on this 6ft long model to recreate the appearance of a fifty foot long corridor when the cameras rolled…

There are many many hundreds more to come but my poor post can’t cope with the volume and still publish properly so I will get round to adding the rest…

Happy looking!

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Fort Nelson visit…

On Tuesday we ventured up to Fort Nelson. A wonderful piece of architecture that lies across Portsdown Hill like a cat along a windowsill; sleepy but still elegant.

Here’s what we found there…

As you can see, I love me some Architecture. Red brick is unusual where I come from (Yorkshire, Yellow stone) so I still find the colours fascinating.

I may well add more information into this post as and when I think of it… Be prepared 😉

Our day trip to Winchester.

We don’t own a car. Yet. I say yet as after three years of not owning a car I am starting to wonder what possessed me. And has it now been excorsised? We struggle with the food shop. EVERY TWO WEEKS. We own a house and have to use up a whole day off just to get to a DIY store and back on a bus. That’s BEFORE we’ve even done any DIY! We rent cars when we visit family, expensive I can tell you. We take trains everywhere. No fun when you have to rely on the train people’s schedule and not your own.

So when we have a whole week off we do all the DIY we can and throw in a few day trips to break things up.

Today, dispite the patchy rain and intermittant sunshine, we journied by train to Winchester. It’s a ten minute bike ride to the local ferry port, a seven and a half minute ferry ride to the train station and then an hour on a train to Winchester. I’m sure we could get there quicker if we had a car but that’s a story for another post.

We hit the high street, grabbed a coffee and pastry and then found ourselves a Primark; and might I say, the NICEST, TIDIEST, CLEANEST, NEWEST, QUIETEST and most remarkable Primark I have ever had the occasion to visit. After this we needed culture. For that OH and I need Museums.

I wanted to go to the Cathedral so we worked our way up the high street to the Concil buildings and the Great Hall- a Medieval looking creation with arched, vaulted cielings, gothic arches and a Round Table, complete with King Arthur portrait and the names of every Knight painted around it’s edge.

Then we found ourselves the Winchester Military Museums and had a really nice wander through the ‘Horse Power’ exibit (The King’s Gaurd) with the whole place all to ourselves.

After that we headed out and back into town for lunch at The Pitcher & Piano. All I can say is. Yum. And… With the BBQ burger, you’ve got to be ready for a challenge; an 8oz juicy burger with bacon, jalepenos, tangy bbq sauce and creamy cheddar cheese toppings and fries.

Back to Museums and we journied half-way up the high street again to The City Museum located at the edge of the Cathedral’s boundary gates. An incredible building and some really fantastic early Winchester history- from the Iron Age to Tudor society.

Then, The Cathedral. Apart from the fact that it is the only Cathedral/Abbey/Church I’ve ever paid a rather excessive and irritating addmission fee for the interior was stunning. I will admit my heart lies in Durham Cathedral; it’s architecture, it’s atmosphere, it’s setting. It is magic. So close to my heart now that even the incredible Winchester Cathedral cannot come close. It’s beautiful but the volunteer at the door immediately offended me by insulting my northern accent. This is one reason why I do not like talking to volunteers in religious settings. They assume as I am under twenty five I am undeserving of common courtesy as I’m probably a rude lout myself. But any way, we saw the memorial for Jane Austen and marvelled at the amazing stained glass and (my favourite feature in Cathedrals) the ceiling…

All in all a wonderful day, Winchester is a beautiful city. The history is well presented and obviously a key part to city, I wouldn’t just visit for shopping although there are some great boutiques and variety. As far as the Cathedral is concerned it was awe inspiring but the thing is… I still love Durham. It’s magic has woven itself into my bones.

I am monogomous when it comes to architecture 😉