How to improve holidays with children

Hey Mum, let's track down Harry Potter

We've been busy doing guided tours of secondary schools this week, but my son's not sure he wants to go to any of them - he reckons they all look too scary. I find this surprising, because not so long ago I can remember him announcing that he wanted to go to Harry Potter's Hogwarts, which is surely top of the league table of scary schools.

I can see his reasoning, though; after all, my little wizard's strongest subject has always been magic: you'd be amazed at how he can make his school bag "disappear" whenever he happens to have maths homework.

Being a kind parent, I thought we should at least look at Hogwarts, but as with all things Potter, it's not that simple. The school doesn't have a real-life location; it has several. The makers of the films had to travel far and wide to gather the bits that make up the scenes, so we've got a whistle-stop tour of England to look forward to.

First there's Alnwick Castle in Northumberland (01665 510777; alnwick castle.com), the set for many of the outdoor scenes in the films, including Harry's first broomstick-flying lesson. This is one impressive castle - it's still home to the Duke of Northumberland, and has lots of other interesting ex-patrons, from the perpetrators of the gunpowder plot in 1605 to Kevin Costner, who filmed Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves here.

The countryside and coastline are glorious too, so there's a good excuse to find a cosy cottage and stay a while. Rent one within a stone's throw of the castle's grounds with Northumberland Estates Holiday Cottages (01668 219941; alnwickcastle cottages.co.uk). Or stay by the sea: check out Nook End (0191-285 1272; coastalretreats.co.uk), a lovely stone cottage with log burner and iron beds.

Next stop, Gloucester, where the cathedral (gloucestercathedral.org .uk) provided the spooky setting for several scenes - beware the talking pictures and escaping trolls. The guided tour should please all Potter fans, but if you've still not had your fill, you can go on to nearby Lacock Abbey (01249 730227; national trust.org) where some of the classroom shots were taken. And after all that hard work there's a perfect excuse to stay over in a luxurious Cotswold retreat. Check out Calcot Manor (01666 890391; calcotmanor.co.uk), which has won several awards for its family friendliness (and it also has a rather good spa).

Our tour finishes with a day trip to Oxford. Many well-known scenes, including those really scary ones with you-know-who, were filmed at the university's Christ Church College (christchurch.net), part of Oxford University, where the Great Hall and cloisters will be instantly recognisable.

No doubt Patrick will be disappointed to learn that he won't be attending Hogwarts, but there is at least a short-term alternative to appease him: a dedicated summer camp for Potter fanatics. Camp Beaumont (0870-499 8787; campbeaumont .co.uk) runs some great weeks for all those Muggles who want to learn a touch of wizardry, including everything from broomstick manoeuvres to crystal-ball reading. A refreshing change from next year's national curriculum, if nothing else.

Katy's top tip

For an authentic Harry Potter experience, take the steam railway from Pickering to Goathland, aka Hogsmeade Station, in the Yorkshire Dales (01751 472508; northyorkshire moorsrailway.com).

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