Of the many exciting experiences I have had at the University of Leeds over the past couple of months, a visit to the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studios in London ranks high. The trip was organised by the Leeds University Union Harry Potter Society on the day after the end of mid-term exams . Having signed up for the trip at the beginning of last term, it wouldn’t be amiss to say that the anticipation played a significant role in keeping me going through the last few days of exam stress and all-nighters.
I am a proud torchbearer of the Harry Potter generation. I have grown up reading these books, staying up all night in bookstores for the launch of the latter ones, going to the movies dressed up in Harry Potter scarves and t-shirts, spending hours on online fan communities discussing spoilers and theories, waiting for my Hogwarts letter, crying over the deaths of favourite characters, and sincerely believing that Hogwarts would always be there to welcome me home (letter or not). For me, then, this trip was almost a realization of childhood dreams.
We started off amidst a light drizzle on the morning of the big day in a coach the society had arranged for us. There were about twenty of us, and while excitement ran high, we were all tired from the exams and several of us (including me) dozed off along the way. We arrived in time for the evening tour, and the first sight of the studio and the imposing signages in the all-too familiar lightning font was enough to charge us all up.
We grabbed our tickets, clicked our selfies, did our check-ins and headed in. We were greeted by huge portraits of the cast around the entrance foyer and a floating car (a blue Ford Anglia, for those who are familiar with the canon). A few of us had met up over coffee the day before, so when the bigger group split into natural clusters of twos and threes, it was easy for me to fall together with two other Potterholics I knew from Spain; Inés and Irene.
First Stop: the Fan Store. For a student with no money and a Harry Potter obsession, this is a hazardous place to be in. From Hogwarts houses merchandise and wands to confectionery and stationary, this place has it all. I believe I got away easily (buying only a Slytherin water bottle, a box of Honeydukes chocolates and a postcard) because we were short on time and couldn’t afford to spend a couple of more hours browsing and shopping.
Once inside the actual studios, the tour begins with a pop quiz and a big-screen welcome from the main cast of the films, after which the Great Hall doors are thrown open and you enter the – well – Great Hall of Hogwarts, complete with banquet tables and Christmas trees straight out of the cinematic universe. For a first time visitor, it’s a whirlwind from hereon – quick stops along the way include Dumbledore’s office, the Potions classroom, Hagrid’s cottage, the Gryffindor common room, and Quidditch training (where you can pose on broomsticks for an augmented reality experience of flying through magical landscapes).
The Forbidden Forest was a favourite stop, and I wish it went on for longer, although admittedly we didn’t want to go in there alone. There is on-demand lighting and thunder here, and a run-in with everybody’s favourite hippogriff Buckbeak. Survivors of the Forest can make their way to the warmth of a cafe where they serve not only Butterbeer (and Butterbeer gelato!) but also snacks and Starbucks! While the taste of butterbeer may be too sweet for some people, I am glad I got to try it and would definitely recommend it should you happen to find yourself in its vicinity.
Next we came across 4 Privet Drive, the home of the Dursleys, with the Cupboard Under the Stairs and the ‘room full of letters’, outside which are some interesting photo opportunities with magical and not-so-magical vehicles (hint: Knight Bus and Sirius Black’s flying motorcycle). Since it was mid January and freezing outside, we quickly made our way back indoor, and emerged on to Platform 9 and 3/4, where if you do not pose for a photograph with a luggage trolley at the wall, did you even go on the tour really?
We didn’t have much time left on the tour at this point, so we quickly walked through the Hogwarts Express and took a stroll down Diagon Alley, and arrived finally at the climactic end of the magical sojourn – Hogwarts itself. Built as an enclosed 36o degree replica, this was a fitting end to the tour and felt as comforting and familiar as if we had arrived home. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say there were a few loud sniffles and muffled sobs all around, and yours truly may have been guilty of one as well.
All the clichés are true. At the risk of sounding like a tourism advert, I simply have to say that it was a magical experience for me. There are so many details in every nook and corner of the tour that I would definitely go back for a second visit, but the first will always remain special, thanks to the LUU society who made it possible and the friends and memories I made here.