A Harry Potter Tour of London

One of the places I wanted to visit most in London was King’s Cross Station. I wanted to see the hustle and bustle of the train station where Hagrid took Harry Potter for his first trip to Hogwarts. I wanted to see platform nine and three-quarters.

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The great arched roof of the station was so far away that it managed to make the hubbub of commuters and vendors seem small and muffled. We got there right at the end of the day and wandered right up to the line in front of the platform nine and three-quarters sign. A girl was just clipping the rope closed on the line when she saw us.

“Do you want to take a picture? We’re closing up for the night.”

We said yes and jumped in line. We were the last ones that night. More back pocket blessings.

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My phone didn’t work well enough to take pictures from the other side of the barrier, but it was definitely magical on the other side.

You know, J.K Rowling’s parents met on a train from King’s Cross and it was on a ride from King’s Cross, so it felt right to celebrate our six-month wedding anniversary going home from King’s Cross.

I learned several other tidbits about Harry Potter and the movies while in London. For example, I learned that for the final Harry Potter movie released (number 7, part 2), around twenty thousand people jammed into Trafalgar Square in front of the National Gallery (remember the Van Gough sunflower?) which is only meant for twelve thousand.

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Also, we saw the street that was used for the muggle world entrance to the ministry of magic. When J.K. Rowling gave David Yates permission to film the movies, she made him promise not to do any computer rendering on the streets of London. So, Yates (who got the city parliament to vote on and then sign an agreement to shut down streets to use for filming) decided to physically build or remove all the parts of the street he wanted to change in the shot. Rowling, of course, was furious that he defaced the streets of London (including removing a lamppost and adding a fake bridge). But there was no CGI for that scene. But don’t worry, they put the street back together. And now I’ve seen the street as is.

If you remember from the books, Diagon Alley is to the right off of a street called Charring Cross. Well, Charring Cross is a real street, so the street in the pictures below, Cecil Court, is the street that claims to be the real inspiration for Diagon Alley. It’s right around the corner from the David Garrick Theatre where they are currently showing Young Frankenstein (Garrick was the first name of Olivander, the wandmaker.) Cecil Court is home to Watkins books, the first place in London to get a legal permit to do oculus readings (fortune telling) and several book shops, including one which specializes in selling rare and signed first editions of children’s books.

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At the end of Cecil Court is a small business that used to be a pub with a sign in the shape of a cauldron. Today it is a Greek food restaurant. Legend has it that when it rains, it looks like the cauldron is leaking . . .

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Just across the street from Cecil Court is a street that claims to be the inspiration for Nocturn Alley. It’s a historically protected private street called Goodwin’s Court. The street has small businesses and crowded, old windows that are warpled and thick.

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Nearby, we saw the South African embassy, the building that inspired Gringotts Wizarding Bank. In fact, the designers used the bank as a model when making Gringotts for the movies. You can see the resemblance.

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Of course, we got to see the theatre where they show Cursed Child, but we didn’t see the show. I’d like to someday, but I’m still a little reluctant to include it with the rest of the Potter cannon.

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Probably my favorite stop on the Harry Potter route was Craven Street, the street that likely inspired Grimmauld Place, headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix. It was very peaceful and quaint. You can almost image the building sliding to make room for a hidden house.

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On the history side of things, I learned that King George the third of England, who was king for the last half of the 1700s, went deaf in the right ear at the end of his life. His father, Frederick, Prince of Wales, died unexpectedly relatively young. Our tour guide, Alex, who has a degree in history, said that Rowling was alluding to the two rulers when she wrote Deathly Hallows. Not only that, but everyone in Ron’s family (except Ron) has a name from the kings or queens of English history.

In terms of the Harry Potter experience, London helped me appreciate how much work J.K. Rowling put into her work. And now I have a better understanding and picture of what it’s like there and what may have inspired it. It was so cool, and—dare I say it—magical.

—M.M.

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3 thoughts on “A Harry Potter Tour of London

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    1. Yes. It was a lot of fun. The company that does the tours (Strawberry Tours) is great. The tour is free and each tour guide customizes the tour to what they think is most interesting. Our tour guide happened to be a history buff, so we got a lot of English history along the way too. At the end, you are invited to pay as much as you think the tour was worth. It was a blast. I highly recommend it. Thanks for reading!

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