I have had the pleasure of visiting London, England, numerous times and have certainly seen many of the tourist destinations. From Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square and from the National Museum to Selfridges, they are not to be missed, and I have visited most of these sites more than once. I thought I had seen it all, but on my recent trip to England's capital city I was stunned to learn of a new destination, which I found amazing.
Just outside of London is a Warner Brother’s Film lot, which in itself is quite interesting. They have an entire set of sound stages, which house the original sets, costumes, props and everything else from the complete series of Harry Potter films. If you are a Potter junkie, like I am (I read all the books when they first came out and saw the films as soon as they were released), this attraction will make your trip. If you are mediocre about the Potter franchise, or not familiar with it, you will still be mesmerized by what you see, and will no doubt rent all of the series as soon as you return home.
Warner has taken a page from the Disney book and only allows a small number of people inside at a time. A reservation will assure you entry so you can experience it all. Initially I thought a couple of hours would do me, but once you are inside you can progress at your own pace. My early arrival time allowed me to stay all day; however, you cannot retrace your steps, which means you have to take it all in as you leisurely stroll through the place.
The adventure begins when you arrive at Victoria Station (the starting point for the tour). They even have a place marked 'Platform 9 3/4', where you await your transport to the studio. The trip can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on London traffic, but it doesn't matter, as you begin your adventure as soon as you are guided to the bus. A double decker, typical London bus is totally decked out in a Harry Potter wrap. Once inside, the conductor takes your ticket and as soon as the journey begins, video screens play the first installment of the Harry Potter films.
You become engulfed in the story and forget you are travelling through London. In fact, I did not want to leave the bus, as there were still a few minutes left on the film. Alas, I have seen it before and I knew the ending so I decided to leave the coach and head for the entrance. Once inside I was greeted by a very friendly attendant who motioned me into a queue.
Suddenly, right in front of me, was a staircase with the actual room where Harry spent most of his days when he lived with the Dursley's. It was not a replica, not a scaled version, but the actual room where all the filming had taken place. I was enchanted and hardly noticed three sets of massive doors open into a large hall. There an attendant explained that photos and video were allowed, and then proceeded to quiz everyone about Harry Potter. I was outdone by the younger generation who grew up with Harry, Ron and Hermione, and I soon realized, as much as I felt they were part of my life, it was nothing like kids who were engulfed by the characters.
Another set of doors opened, and as I walked through, I found myself in Daigon Alley and all the magical shops seen in the films. The most intriguing was Ollivanders Wand shop, which housed more than 4,000 boxes of wands. The attention to detail was amazing and each box was carefully detailed down to the name of its owner on the end flap. In actuality, the names on the boxes were people who, over the years, had been part of the productions.
The cobblestones on the road were real, as were the weathered stones of the buildings. The only thing that was missing was the sky. It had been replaced with green screen in order to change the look in the magic land of CGI (Computer Graphic Imagery). Green is a colour used in the production of motion pictures as backdrops for scenes or parts of stages that will be graphically added later with computers. Most films in today's world are shot on green screen stages with the special effects put in afterwards.
On an aside, it may interest you to know that most of the recent Star Wars film was shot almost entirely on a stage with green screen backdrops. For that reason Harrison Ford was able to complete all his filming in one day; a day for which he earned $24 million (He was paid $10,000 for his appearance in the first Star Wars film back in 1977).
As you progress through the Potter film sets you pass not only houses and buildings, but all of the costumes worn by the cast. All the sets are real, including Dumbledore's office, Hagrid’s Cottage and Professor Snape’s classroom. The most unique set is the scaled model of Hogwarts School, which is 15 metres (50 feet) long, and it takes a good half hour to walk around.
Another fantastic area is the replica of Victoria Station, complete with the life size train used in the film. It is difficult to tell that you are not standing on the real platform at the real Victoria Station.
All in all, the Warner Brother’s Harry Potter set is one of the most unique touristy things I have experienced. It whisked me back into the magical world of the boy who was taken away from 4 Privet Drive, and exported to the world of magic and mystery on the other side of platform 9 3/4.
Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit photosNtravel.com