Monthly Archives: November 2016

Best Harry Potter Experiences Trip

It’s hard to believe the boy wizard is no longer young, but it’s 20 years since the publication of the first in JK Rowling’s beloved series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Over 500 million book sales and a record-breaking film franchise later, and Pottermania is a world-wide phenomenon, driven by fans eager to connect with the wizard’s wonderful world.

In 2017 the UK is celebrating in style, with events, exhibitions and homages galore. That’s on top of permanent attractions including Oxford colleges, Victorian shopping arcades and a Highland viaduct.
See artworks, props and plays in the West End

Arguably the biggest event in the anniversary celebrations is a special exhibition at London’s British Library, running from 20 October 2017 to 28 February 2018.
The British Library, with St Pancras visible in the background © Pawel Libera/LightRocket via Getty Images
The British Library, with St Pancras visible in the background © Pawel Libera/LightRocket via Getty Images

Exploring the Potterverse from many angles – from medieval manuscripts on griffins and manticores to rare treatises on wizardry and treasures straight from JK Rowling’s own archive ­­– this is sure to be huge. Tickets go on sale in spring 2017 (watch bl.uk/harry-potter for exact dates).
South of here in the West End, the Palace Theatre is the venue for the wildly-popular Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts I & II, which takes up the wizard’s later life as an ‘overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children’. Tickets aren’t easy to come by but it’s worth checking the website (harrypottertheplay.com) for future releases, and returned and cancelled tickets also frequently come back up for sale.
Hunting out Hogwarts in London
Not only is London home to the biggest events of Harry’s 20th, it’s base camp when it comes to Potter film locations.
The King’s Cross area alone boasts two mandatory stops on any Potter pilgrimage. King’s Cross Station, an atmospheric wrought-iron grand dame of Victorian architecture, is the site of platform 9¾, mythical departure point of the Hogwart’s Express. A luggage trolley ‘disappearing’ into the brick wall beneath the platform sign makes for perfect photo opportunities. Be warned, the queue to take this shot can be long: things are quieter later in the evening. And there’s no need to bring your own wand or Gryffindor house scarf, the adjacent Harry Potter Shop – a wood-panelled cornucopia of wizarding necessities modelled on Ollivander’s Wand Emporium – has you covered.
Step out from King’s Cross onto Euston Rd, walk a few steps west, look up and you’ll find yourself gawping at the looming Neo-Gothic façade of St Pancras International Station, another Victorian masterpiece, and the immediately-recognisable exterior of ‘King’s Cross’ in the film versions of The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets. A hotel (the St Pancras Renaissance) now occupies the front of the station, but you’ll probably spot some Potterheads trying to get selfies against the ornate red-brick backdrop, or find the exact spot Harry and Ron parked their Ford Anglia in The Chamber of Secrets.

Where the magic comes to life

Every Harry Potter film was shot at Warner Bros’ vast Leavesden studio complex, which sits on a former airfield near Watford – accessible by train from Euston, a short walk from St Pancras. In 2012, part of the complex was turned into The Making of Harry Potter, five warehouses packed with sets and props used in the making of the films, and one of the UK’s biggest attractions.
You’ll find everything from the Great Hall to Dumbledore’s office here, alongside Dobby, sickly-sweet butterbeer and a gasp-inducing scale model of Hogwarts that was used for exterior shots. Unsurprisingly, it’s regularly booked out for weeks in advance so plan your dates early.
A wizarding bank and a secret well

The grand Edwardian interior of Australia House on the Strand is equally recognisable as the interior of the goblin-run Gringotts Wizarding Bank. Adding real interest to the site was the discovery of a 900-year old sacred well in the basement, still drawing potable water from an underground river. As it’s the office of the Australian High Commission in the UK, you’re more likely to find no-nonsense security guards than goblins attending to your needs, but you can duck your head in during business hours if you have identification on you.
Diagon Alley and Leadenhall Market

Like most London Potter locations, Diagon Alley is a composite: while its fictional location is off Charing Cross Rd, the filmic equivalent is set in the elaborate wrought-iron interior of Leadenhall Market, a covered Victorian market towards the eastern end of the City, London’s historic heart and now its financial district. Once inside, hunt for the blue door in Bull’s Head Passage, used in the films as the entrance to wizards’ watering hole The Leaky Cauldron.

The best of the rest in London

A number of other London landmarks feature in the films, including Tower Bridge, Lambeth Bridge and Westminster Station in The Order of the Phoenix. The Millennium Bridge was destroyed by Fenrir Greyback and a group of Death Eaters in The Half-Blood Prince, while Piccadilly Circus can be seen in The Deathly Hallows: Part 1.
These are easy to take in if you’re doing a bit of sightseeing already, but if you’re keen to dig deeper it’s worth checking out walking tours such as the popular Tour for Muggles (tourformuggles.com) and the Brit Movie Tours Harry Potter Walk (britmovietours.com). You can also download a free pdf (the-magician.co.uk) to follow a route written up by Londoner Richard Jones.
Another spot for a classic Potter fan shot is the reptile house at London Zoo, the world’s oldest scientific zoo (founded in 1828). Sprawling across the northern end of lovely Regent’s Park, it’s here that Harry first discovers his talents as a ‘Parselmouth’, when a python strikes up a conversation with him.
Books, ferrets and 13 prime ministers in Oxford

Centred on one of the world’s oldest universities and studded with historical and architectural riches, gorgeous Oxford is also rich with Potter locations.
Perhaps the one most appreciated by Potterheads is venerable Christ Church college, founded in the time of Henry VIII and alma mater to no fewer than 13 British Prime Ministers. The college’s grand staircase features in both The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets, while its cloisters also pop up in The Philosopher’s Stone, and the magnificent Great Hall directly inspired the Great Hall of Hogwarts.

More rich associations can be found in the 17th-century Bodleian Library, home to the second-largest book collection in the country (after the British Library). The delicately-vaulted interior of its Divinity School, the oldest extant teaching room in the world, crops up as the Hogwarts infirmary in four separate films, while Duke Humfrey’s Library proved the ideal double for the School of Wizardry’s own library in The Philosopher’s Stone.
Lastly, there are the Cloisters of New College, where ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody turns Malfoy into a ferret in The Goblet of Fire. Its name is misleading – it was founded in 1379.
Visiting the real Hogwarts

But no single place can so proudly claim to ‘be’ Hogwarts as Alnwick Castle, in the Northumbrian town of the same name. This splendid and much-filmed pile first dates from the late 11th century and has been repeatedly extended over the years. The ancestral home of the dukes of Northumberland, it plays a starring role in both The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets.
Knowledgeable Potterheads can point out the place where Harry took his first Quidditch lesson, or where he and Ron crash-landed their flying Ford Anglia. Alnwick makes much of its credentials, with behind-the-scenes tours, Potter-inspired characters in full costume and broom-flying lessons, as well as occasional special events that you can plan your visit around.

The Glenfinnan Viaduct

Further north, the last place on a truly dedicated fan’s UK itinerary should be the splendid railway viaduct at Glenfinnan, near Loch Shiel in Scotland. Part of the iconic West Highland line, this impossibly photogenic late-Victorian viaduct forms a towering curve above the River Finnan, and has been used in no fewer than four Potter films. It also overlooks the place where, in 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard in defiance of the British crown, and the Jacobite Rising began.

Find The Truth Behind The Legend Of King Arthur in Britain

The story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is one of Britain’s most enduring myths. Whether you seek the Round Table in Cumbria, Excalibur in Snowdonia or Arthur’s resting place in Glastonbury, nothing brings the legend to life like a visit to one of the many ancient sites across the country with links to his tale.

The real King Arthur

Arthur’s story is full of romantic embellishments, and historians have identified many figures who could be the real king. Was it Owain Ddantgwyn, who ruled the Dark Ages kingdom of Powys around 500 AD and was victorious against the Angles, Saxons and Picts? Or Riothamus, a 5th-century Roman British leader who fought against the Goths?
If King Arthur existed, he would have been a Dark Ages warlord, not a late-medieval knight, but his legend is

The truth is, no one knows which (if either) of these warriors the legend was based upon, but that hasn’t stopped the story from becoming woven into folklore. Ever since its popularisation in the 12th century, the legend has inspired countless writers and artists, from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s solemn poetry to the surrealism of Monty Python, and most recently Guy Ritchie’s blockbuster King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (released on 24 March 2017).
A legend is born

With any good story, you must start at the beginning. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th-century work Historia regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), Arthur was conceived on the site of Tintagel Castle in North Cornwall.
Much of what was taken as fact from Geoffrey’s book at the time has now been dismissed as a cocktail of legends, family stories and his own fervent imagination, but the association has stuck.
The castle ruins date from the 12th century – it may even have been built as a ploy to tap into interest in Arthur’s story and draw pilgrims here – but it’s dramatic nonetheless. The location would have been an important trading post during the Dark Ages, when Arthur is said to have ruled, and relics from this era are still evident.
If the tide is out, you can step inside Merlin’s Cave, carved into the bedrock beneath the castle, which is just about mysterious enough to pass as a plausible hideout for the famous wizard. Be warned: you’ll have to clamber down the rocks onto the beach to access it.
Chasing Camelot

According to Geoffrey’s depiction, Arthur held court in Caerleon in south Wales. The Roman amphitheatre, which today forms part of the excellent National Roman Legion Museum, provides a handy embodiment of the Round Table, but it’s far from the only place to vie for the title.
Target practice at Caerleon’s amphitheatre. The real King Arthur may have been a Romanized Britain fighting Saxon

Cadbury Castle in Somerset has been linked to Arthurian legend since Tudor times. Excavations of the Iron Age hill fort show that it was indeed fortified at the time Arthur is said to have lived, and that it had a degree of wealth, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility, although if the recent claims of a retired Bangor University professor are to be believed, the real site could have been at a small but strategically important Roman fort on the outskirts of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.
Visitors to Scotland’s capital would be forgiven for thinking the hill that looms large over Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat, is in some way linked to Arthur’s legendary court. Evidence is scarce and it’s more likely that the name is a corruption of ‘archer’s seat’, but the walk up the crag still offers arguably the best perspective on a city packed with history.

One other popular theory is that Camelot was actually in Carlisle, in Cumbria, with Arthur’s Round Table a Neolithic earthwork henge located outside the city. If you do make the pilgrimage here, tie it in with a visit to Hadrian’s Wall, which was where Arthur’s last battle, Camlann, was said to have been fought, though historians disagree about whether it was near Birdoswald Roman Fort or Castlesteads, just outside Carlisle.
Lancelot and the Round Table

Near England’s northeastern tip, Northumberland’s Alnwick Castle is, according to 15th-century writer Thomas Malory’s account, the castle of Lancelot, the greatest knight of Arthur’s court – and the man who ultimately betrayed him with his beloved Guinevere. Its imposing walls house several rooms of wonderful Italian art.
At the other end of England, while the magnificent round table that hangs in Winchester Great Hall in Hampshire does look the part, it most likely dates from the 13th century and was restored during King Henry VIII’s reign – hence King Arthur’s striking resemblance to the Tudor monarch.
Shropshire’s claim

This rural county between Wales and the Midlands has more King Arthur sites than most, perhaps because one of the contenders for the ‘real’ Arthur did actually hail from near here. If Owain Ddantgwyn, known as ‘the Bear’, was Arthur it’s likely he would have ruled from Wroxeter, now a small village outside Shrewsbury, but then one of the most sophisticated cities in the country.
The King Arthur Trail (shropshiretourism.co.uk) highlights many places of interest including mystical Whittington Castle, where some say the Holy Grail once lay hidden in the castle’s chapel, while the nearby Bronze Age Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle (english-heritage.org.uk), on Stapeley Hill, is known locally as the site of the famous ‘sword in the stone’ – the legendary moment when Arthur proved his right as king by retrieving the sword.
Epic adventure

There are countless sites across Wales with Arthurian connections, including Llyn Llydaw and Llyn Ogwen, both in Snowdonia National Park, which both claim to be the watery resting place of Arthur’s sword, Excalibur. Llyn Ogwen is a popular stopping off point for people attempting the dramatic scramble up Tryfan.
Tryfan is one of Snowdonia’s most recognisable peaks and the legendary final resting-place of Sir Bedivere, the knight who returned Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake – it is also one of the locations for Ritchie’s film.
Away to Avalon

According to the legend, the injured Arthur was taken to the magical island of Avalon following his bloody clash with the usurper Mordred, and both he and Guinevere are buried there. Popular culture puts the real Avalon at 7th-century Glastonbury Abbey or nearby Glastonbury Tor, which would have towered over the marshy Dark Ages landscape like an island in the sea, and is regarded as one of the most spiritual places in Britain.
Other possibilities for Arthur’s resting place include Bardsey Island, off the northwest tip of Wales – said to be the burial place for 20,000 saints – and Craig y Ddinas in Brecon Beacons National Park, where Arthur and his warriors lie in wait until they are called upon once again to defend Britain.

Amazing Malta

The islands of Malta and Gozo are brilliant for a family holiday, packed with fun places to visit whatever your children’s ages. The islands’ small size means everywhere is within easy reach. In the space of a day you could fire a cannon at a fort and later relax at the beach, or visit a film-set theme park and then take a dip in a lagoon.

Sandy beaches and swimming spots

One of Malta’s best beaches for families is soft-sanded, sheltered Golden Bay. Older children can try activities such as stand-up paddleboarding, sailing or windsurfing, while the gentle slope of the beach makes it easy for younger kids to safely paddle in the sea. The whole family can go boating around the craggy, cave-pocked local coast from here too. Neighbouring soft-sanded Għajn Tuffieħa Bay is also good for families, though slightly wilder and less accessible, as the approach is down more than 100 steps.
Malta’s many rocky bays, such as Għar Lapsi and St Peter’s Pool, are better for older children, provided they can swim, as they have deeper waters. St Peter’s Pool in particular is a great teenager hangout, perfect for showing off by leaping off the rocks into the refreshing sea, and evening barbecues. The resort of Sliema also has a long rocky beach, suitable for older kids, but with shallower pools that work for younger children.
The most family-friendly sandy beaches on Gozo are the copper-red sanded Ramla Bay and dramatically pretty San Blas Bay. Rockier bays such as Wied il-Għasri and Mġarr ix-Xini are photogenic, hidden-feeling coves that are also good for swimming and snorkelling. Dwejra, on Gozo, is another wonderful spot for kids of any age, with fantastic rock formations for clambering around, and access to the Inland Sea, a sheltered sea lake that’s great for swimming and boat trips.
The trip to the small, almost-deserted island of Comino is great for all the family, starting with a fun boat trip, usually stopping to explore coastal caves, followed by plenty of time to explore the island and swim in the Blue Lagoon.
Bringing history to life

There are a bunch of thrilling museums and sites to visit with kids in Malta. Among the best is the recently rebooted National War Museum housed in Fort St Elmo on the tip of Valletta’s peninsula, which has engaging animated displays that bring the island’s long and dramatic history to life. Various audio-visual exhibits around Valletta use special effects to immerse visitors in the islands’ exciting history, such as Malta 5D where history comes complete with smells and moving seats.
At Fort Rinella, just outside Valletta, you can watch historic re-enactments and even get to fire a gun or a cannon. In the small city of Vittoriosa, just across the Grand Harbour from Valletta, the prison cells in the Inquisitor’s Palace have some intricate graffiti on the walls inscribed by bored prisoners, and Fort St Angelo has been restored, with hands-on interpretative exhibits. In Mellieħa, to the northwest, there are fascinating Air-Raid Shelters to explore, tunnels dug by hand to shelter the town’s population from WWII bombs.
The prehistoric temples at Haġar Qim in southeast Malta have a breathtaking setting that is ripe for exploration, with some coastal trails, and the visitor centre offers the opportunity to try carving different types of stone, as well as a 3D audiovisual introduction. Nearby, the prehistoric Għar Dalam Cave is deep and mysterious, full of stalagmites and stalactites.
Theme parks and watersports

The film set for the 1980s film Popeye has been turned into fun theme park Popeye Village, where you can take a boat ride, and make and star in your own short movie. A perennial favourite for kids is the Splash & Fun water park, with flumes making for a fun day out in the summer sun, whilst the smaller free Buġibba Water Park is best for children under the age of 12. Built in the shape of a starfish, the Malta National Aquarium, just outside Buġibba, has huge tanks of mesmerising fish.
All of Malta’s main resorts offer watersports such as sailing, kayaking and windsurfing, and the islands are an ideal place to learn to dive. All the local dive schools offer taster ‘bubblemaker’ programs for kids aged 8 to 10 and over, offering the chance to find out what it’s like to breathe underwater.
Eating out

Children are welcome at most restaurants, though more upmarket places often only accept older kids. There are often kids’ menus that tend to offer nuggets, pizza, etc, but you can always ask for a half portion of a starter dish (portions are huge in Maltese restaurants). With a wide range of cuisines on offer, children are bound to find something they’ll like. Maltese food is strongly influenced by Italian cuisine, so there’s pizza and pasta galore, and some kids will love the national dish – fried rabbit or rabbit stew.
Accommodation

There are masses of self-catering options around the islands, as well as child-friendly hotels with facilities such as pools, beach access and beach clubs. Try to schedule at least a few days on Gozo as there are lots of self-catering farmhouses with pools to rent and it’s even easier to get around than Malta. Smaller boutique hotels in Valletta usually only accept older children.
Transport and other tips

The easiest way to get around Malta and Gozo is to drive, but the local bus service is reliable, easy to use, and fairly inexpensive. Buses are frequent between major towns, but only roughly hourly to and from smaller places. Ferries run between Malta and Gozo, and you can take tourist boats over to Comino.