Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Summer Holls part two

On Monday, being close to London, we all went off for a trip to Diagon Alley. 

Yes we did!
I have the pictures to prove it; look, Flourish and Blotts. The camera never lies.
Click on the pictures to enlarge
It is all real but you have to know how to find it.   We were able to get on the Knight bus and looked around Hogwarts, bought some butterbeer and had a look at Privet Close, although the Dursleys have moved out now. 
If all this is meaningless to you, then all I can say is for goodness sake go out and buy the Harry Potter books, or at least watch the movies, but the books are better.
To get to J K Rowling’s world we had to drive from Kent more or less half way around the dreaded M25.  This under funded and under laned motorway was originally planned to be much wider but in its wisdom the then purse string holders decided it was unnecessarily expensive to make it more than three lanes so they then had to spend much more than it cost in the first place to add extra lanes when it proved inadequate.    It was not too bad for our trip, because we travelled outside rush-hour but it was still busy by anyone’s standards.

We needed to use two cars for the whole family and had allowed plenty of time.  Of course, Diagon Alley is a part of the Warner Brother’s film set that was used to make the Harry potter series of films and we had booked a tour for the saucepan lids (kids) at the Warner Brothers Studios in Leavesden Green.  This ex airfield is close to where some of my cousins, and in particular for those cousins reading this, very near the flat where your Mother and Father lived.
We rendezvoused at South Mimms services to buy lunch which we planned to eat on arriving at Warner Brother’s car park.  I love that name South Mimms and often wonder what it is derived from and since there is a South Mimms, is there  a Mimms, or a North Mimms?  I have never seen them on a map.
A few years ago my two sons and I were travelling to see my mother who still lived in Clacton.  As was our habit, we had stopped off at South Mimms services to have a comfort break and a coffee, when the fire alarm went off.  No 2 son had just gone to the toilets and I was half way through a coffee, but No 1 son and I went out hoping No 2 had enough sense to do the same.  As we passed a fast food franchise, we could see the cause of the alarm, a chip fryer was blazing away merrily.   Outside we found No 2 son and watched as the place was evacuated.   Many of the people there got in their cars and headed for the exit, creating an instant traffic jam, so realising it was impossible to leave for some time and it being a nice sunny day, we hung around and watched as the fire spread and the fire service arrived. 
I was impressed by the building’s design.  When the fire service arrived in their red fire engines, they took one look and realising the cause was not an easy fire to deal with safely, simply cleared everyone back a few dozen feet and let it burn itself out. 
What impressed me was how long it took for the fire to spread.  A chip fat fire is a very intense and sustained fire, but the whole place took well over an hour to become engulfed.   A credit to the designers of a public building that it gave the occupant plenty of time to get out before the place became a death trap.  Very different from the fire that happened at Bradford football ground in 1985, which became a ferocious killing fire after only three minutes!
South Mimms is now rebuilt and I hope the same safety standards went into the new building that was so obvious in the earlier one.
Harry's bedroom
One of the tables in the Great Hall
In the studio, we were able to wander through the various sets.  These had been left standing, firstly because they were used over and over for about ten years whilst the eight movies were filmed and secondly because they now form the Harry Potter experience and are earning money as a tourist trap.  Both kids have read Harry Potter from beginning to end and are familiar with all the movies so they were very keen on this trip and were delighted to be photographed in various recognisable sets from the movies.  Us older kids were quite enthusiastic too, having read all the Harry potter books and watched all the movies as well, so it was rather like seeing where an old friend lived.  The studio has all of the props that were not actually destroyed during the making of the movies and we were able to get a good look at things which were pure fantasy up until then.
The teacher's podium in the Great Hall

The Gate to Hogwarts school, a favourite photo call for visitors, but Boo from Monsters inc seems to have wandered in from the wrong movie
The Knight bus

The tour took us about three hours and the entry was at pre-booked and timed so that it never became too crowded.  It was very impressive seeing the workmanship that went into the props.


Privet Drive but no Dursleys
Harry's jacket in various states for different scenes

Some of the pre-production artwork was fine art in its own right
This picture is of Godricks Hollow pre production
Most impressive was the set piece at the end of the tour which was a scale model of Hogwarts.  I am not sure to what scale it was built, but it was easily over fifty feet across.
Another part of Diagon alley
The huge scale model of Hogwarts
 The kids loved it all almost as much as us grownups.  And of course we found ourselves in the souvenir shop at the end of the visit and I am now the owner of a rather special wand that I can assure you, chose me just as Mr Olivander would surely tell you it would.
 We managed to hit rush hour on the way home but were able to make it back in reasonable time for the Fish and Chip shop to still be open.

More to follow in our next, stay tuned...


  1. OMG! That is so cool! I want to go there!

  2. What a great experience for you all - must have been fascinating to see the sets and props that you were so familiar with. But for someone who believes in a place called Hogwarts and owns his own magic wand, I would expect a little less sarcasm about floating feathers, if you please :)

  3. I'm not a fan of JKR. I find her work highly derivative and after about volume two/three, designed to make a movie script rather than tell a good tale. I know I'm in a minority.

    Wouldn't mind trying the butterbeer though.