SARAH BLAIR-DICKINSON loves Harry Potter – probably too much – so she was more than excited when she visited the Harry Potter Studios in Watford, North London.
When I heard that Leavesden studios was opening up a Harry Potter tour AND that it was in Watford and less than an hour away from me, I nearly fainted with excitement. You mean I can see the film sets? And actual props? I’m so there.
Even with a booked tour, you have to wait in line. A long, winding line that feels like a proper cattle call.
But to make the wait a little more bearable there are a few props on display (ie the Ford Anglia, the cupboard under the stairs) as well as giant colourful posters of various Potter characters staring you down from the walls.
At Warner Bros studios, they’re all about anticipation.
After waiting in line for a good half hour, you’re herded into a big room with panels on the wall.
These panels eventually light up and show a brief film about how the books gained in popularity and became films.
And then you’re herded once again into an even bigger room that is actually a movie theatre.
Once again you are shown a film about how awesome Harry Potter is, in case you didn’t already know.
This film features Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson talking about growing up on the set and their appreciation of the staff.
It ends with them opening up those big familiar wooden doors and slipping into the Great Hall.
The lights come on, the screen goes up… and there are the doors! Eep!
Then you get to enter The Great Hall as a Hogwarts first-year.
The tables are set for a meal, the torches are burning on the walls and here and there among the tables you can see the actual outfits worn by many of the Hogwarts staff and students.
This is the only ‘guided’ part of the tour; a guide gives you some fun facts about The Great Hall and then you’re turned loose.
You’re now free to explore two giant warehouses (aptly named J and K) full of Harry Potter goodness.
Said goodness includes the front gates to Hogwarts, the Gryffindor common room, Dumbledore’s office, Hagrid’s hut and the kitchen at The Burrow, complete with a self-knitting scarf and a sink full of dishes washing themselves up. (I need one of those in my house.)
There’s also more bits and pieces regarding the making of the films such as the animal actors and how they were trained and how Quidditch and other flying scenes were created. And if you’re willing to wait in line for a ridiculously long time, you can get your photo taken on a broomstick. Take your time in this bit – there is so much to see, you can be there for hours and still not see it all!
After leaving the first studio you get a small break outdoors where you can grab a bite to eat and enjoy a glass of butterbeer.
I have no idea what’s in this butterbeer (and they certainly won’t tell you their top secret recipe) but it is GOOD.
It’s sweet and frothy and I would totally be addicted if I had regular access to Hogsmeade!
Also in this courtyard you will find Number 4 Privet Drive, the Knight Bus and Tom Riddle’s tomb. And if you want to be silly there’s a Ford Anglia you can climb into for a photo opp.
On to Studio K. This is where you’ll find all the creatures (including Kreacher) and various other weird stuff like ‘baby’ Voldemort and a very unsettling Dead Harry.
Then you have the artwork and blueprints etc and suddenly you turn a corner and there stands Gringotts.
Turn another corner and you’re on a cobblestoned street lined with shops.
It’s a cross between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley; there’s Flourish & Blotts, Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and several other stores full of magical wares.
To end the tour, there is an absolutely breathtaking model of Hogwarts and the grounds in the centre of a large room.
A ramp circles around the castle from top to bottom so you can see it from all sides and angles.
It is truly beautiful and a lovely ending to a fabulous tour.
With the Hogwarts theme music playing in the background, ambient lighting and hushed atmosphere, you leave the studio feeling very magical indeed.
SARAH BLAIR-DICKINSON, based in Hertfordshire, is the founder of London Haunts and Horror meetup.