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 ~ J.K. Rowling

In the late 1990s, English film producer David Heyman decided to look into children’s literature for the next big movie project. Staff at his production company Heyday Films pushed the recently published J.K. Rowling book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone under his nose. He pitched the concept of creating the adaptation to Warner Bros and with acceptance from the writer, work could begin on making one of the most talked about movie series of all time. The eight films have captured the hearts of fans of the books over the teenage years of the young stars of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson et al. Due to the buzz and excitement of the fantasy stories brought to the cinema, it was decided to allow the props and costumes along with parts of the film set to remain in Leavesden, Hertfordshire. The movie studios are now the former aircraft factory and airfield and cover eighty hectares in size.
Being a massive Harry Potter fan since my time watching the first film in the cinema with my mum back in the winter of 2001. I had put this experience on my to visit list for some time. Admittedly it took until watching the adaption of Philosopher’s Stone that I really fell in love with the world J.K. Rowling had created and I returned home to read through the book version of what I had viewed. I will always be a purist for the books over the eight movies of the seven books but I have watched all of the films both at the cinema and on home release and still find them very enjoyable and feel that a lot of the cast choices were great and the attention paid to detail in the sets, props and costumes were stunning and really helped bring the story alive.

The movie studios were opened to the public in early 2012 and is continuously expanding, with new exhibits opening and different themed occasions possible. The visit detailed in this post was two and half weeks before they unveiled a new section detailing the Forbidden Forest creatures such as Buckbeak the Hippogriff and Aragog a blind Acromantula (Giant Spider).

Despite never read or watched anything related to Harry Potter before, my dad purchased a couple of tour tickets for me and him from the website (https://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk) for a belated birthday treat, so instead of attending on my actual birthday, we postponed celebrations till middle of March which we drove down from Derby to Hertfordshire in just over two and half hours. Once there we picked up the tickets outside the studios and entered the main lobby which displays mugshot photos of many of the actors and actresses who starred in the movies along with a model of the Weasley family’s Ford Anglia hanging from the ceiling.

After picking up the audio guides (which in the end we hardly used, but provide extra information on the different sets and things to see) we were advised we could queue up ahead of getting into the main section however we had a quick browse through the shop, which we would return to after walking through after making our way around the studio. Next the queue is the infamous stairs and room underneath in which the Dursley family (portrayed the late Richard Griffiths, the talented Fiona Shaw along with Harry Melling) had offered the young Harry Potter after the title character had been left there after his parents murder, as a place to sleep until he was given his own room during the summer ahead of the Chamber of Secrets story.

Once snaked round, visitors are taken into the only part of the tour which is watching things on big screens before invited into the Great Hall which minus the enchanted ceiling is preserved as it does in the movies along with costumes on mannequins resembling the notable professors and the caretaker Argus Filch. After the ticket holders have explored, they are invited to enter the main part of the old aircraft hanger and are allowed to self tour themselves through the different sections be it the Gryffindor dormitory and common room to the headmaster’s study or even the potions dungeon.

Around the area where the tour shows off artifacts based on the wizarding sport of Quidditch, people are invited to get paid for images of them sitting on a broomstick in front of a green screen showing different backgrounds used in the movies, I did not do this on this visit however should I return, I will explore this option.  Continuing through various different sections one can see within the Weasley’s home (The Burrow)’s kitchen and dining room along with a measuring gauge where they stand against the heights of Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe from the first film and against the perception of Rubeus Hagrid (played by Robbie Coltrane and for height proportionality by former Rugby Union player Martin Bayfield who stands at six foot 10 inches).

At the halfway point, it is possible to imagine what it was like to board the Great Western Railway 4900 Class steam locomotive which became the Hogwarts Express train in the movies. Also on the Platform 9 and 3/4s exhibit are a halfway through the barrier photographic point and a shop with a lot of memorabilia relating to the popular mode of transport. Visitors can step inside the railway carriages and look at the different compartments which each show how it was redecorated for the different journeys for students travelling from Kings Cross to Hogsmeade (the fictional village where students disembark prior going up to the Hogwarts castle). Similar to the Quidditch green screen, you can get a photo opportunity of what it is like to be aboard the locomotive on your way up to the Highlands of Scotland, again I bypassed this but if visiting again, I will certainly look into it more.

The tour then allows people to take a breath of fresh air and perhaps a small bite to eat, with a small cafe which for those who wish to try the fictional beverage of Butterbeer (from what I’m told it’s a butterscotch flavoured soda drink) they may do, this is before going briefly outside where sits the Knight Bus, a bridge which was purely there for the movies and not featured in the books depiction of the Hogwarts castle, the house in Godric’s Hollow (another fictional hamlet) where Harry’s parents met their end, models of both the Ford Anglia and motorbike and sidecar. Also visitors can walk through a rebuilt away from the real version of the house which was used as the exterior for Number 4 Privet Drive.

After the being outside, visitors are guided back inside where they can look at a lot of the models and prosthetic articles which created a lot of the magical elements in the films. A lot of features were done via computer graphics but there are many which were models and animatronics of which one can look around and see close up.

After walking through a gallery of architectural designed drawings and scaled models of the Hogwarts castle and other architectural buildings, one is led up through the street which displays the shop fronts of those witches and wizards can buy various things on Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Making your way up the cobbled street you can find the amazing detail that has gone into making it as realistic and tangible before being presented with a large scale model of the castle which visitors can see the very detailed finer areas of the fictional school. It really is a stunning piece of artwork and still closely monitored to make sure that it continues to look it’s part by staff.

The tour concludes with a walk into what is meant to resemble the back end of Ollivanders’ wand shop in Diagon Alley with many boxes upon the walls all with every member of the cast and crew who worked on the movies having their name able for all to see, it is a staggering amount of people who have helped make the stories leap from page to the big screen. Once you have finished in there you come out back in the retail outlet previously discussed.

I had taken some of my birthday money plus got a bit out of the ATM cash machine the previous day, so I decided to buy a Ravenclaw themed t-shirt (as according to the official resource website and sorting hat developed by J.K. Rowling herself, Pottermore; I fit into that particular house most, and in a future post I shall explain why I feel that judgement may have it’s merits however illustrate why I feel I’ve got traits from the other three houses also but probably in a more minor aspect of my personality), an illustrated version of the first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (you can also at the time of typing this post purchase an illustrated version of the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and I’m sure the others are in production), some small notepads each bearing the crest of the school houses and a pull back model of the Hogwarts Express locomotive. Included in our tickets was a copy of the guide to the whole studio and advice on what artifacts you saw and may have missed as there are so many!

Before leaving me and my dad went to the canteen / restaurant where we both enjoyed a meat pie, mashed potatoes and peas meal, other hot meals and sandwiches are available but it was what we fancied to eat, while eating we discussed what we had seen over the course of the afternoon before making our way back up to Derby as I had to return back to work in the morning albeit I certainly felt I wanted to look around the studios again.

As previously discussed my dad has never really embraced the Harry Potter universe, however I feel he certainly had an enjoyable occasion seeing the level of detail and hard work gone on to making things possible translating J.K. Rowling’s work into a series of movies which have brought it to life for many more people. As for me, being someone who is now very much in love with the wizarding world, it truly was a very positive day and I would more than happily return in the future with other people and look more at some sets and props I may have only scanned with my eyes due to trying to soak it all in and also share my thoughts with my dad.

The tour is worth attending for those who may have never really felt an affinity with the series and the level of devotion and love which has gone on to make the project believable and enchanting is mind blowing. It may not be a cheap day out for many but I do feel you get your value for money and you’ll certainly have a magical beaming smile come the end of your time exploring.

I would like to hope I can visit the studios once again and take it in with an individual or group of people who are a little more aware of the stories so I can have conversation about what is being shown rather than perhaps explain things but I still thank my dad for taking the time to enjoy the day with me. As mentioned earlier since my visit a further section has been opened to the public, so I wish to take that in as well.

Since this day trip and at the time of typing, I have re-watched the first two movies with my dad on evenings when we are both free and not feeling too exhausted from our working days, so he has a better idea of what he witnessed, hopefully soon we shall build time to watch the other six however there is no rush to achieve this by a certain date or time.

The Harry Potter universe is often revisited by me by the form of the audiobooks more than actually reading the books myself along with the movies and each time I still start my journey of embracing the work of J.K. Rowling I do feel a warm tingle of emotions as the story twists and turns and teaches some important messages and it is ridiculous to think that there have been those put off by the stories purely by the magical content.

However to me her work in this series is certainly worth it’s value among other authors as it educates the reader how to find one’s place in a world which can be unforgiving but surround yourself with the right people and show compassion along with love and that can defeat the many struggles we face.

Some of my favourite Quotes from the series:

“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are” ~ Sirius Black

“No good sittin’ worryin’ abou’ it. What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.” ~ Rubeus Hagrid

Albus Dumbledore Quotes:

“It is our choices, [Harry,] that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”  (note this quote only appears in the movie adaption of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

“The consequences of our actions are always so complicated, so diverse, that predicting the future is a very difficult business indeed”

“There are all kinds of courage…It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”

“Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”

“The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”

“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”

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