Step this way for the Hogwarts Express
As Harry Potter hits the big screen for the third time, Paul Rodgers reveals the schoolboy wizard's haunts
Sunday 30 May 2004
Pack your wand, your wizarding robes and your Care of Magical Creatures text. Anyone who hasn't had enough of J K Rowling's Harry Potter after five books and three films - the latest, The Prisoner of Azkaban, opens this Friday - can visit the most famous places in the magical world.
Take the Hogwarts Express
The Hogwarts year begins at King's Cross station in London. Scenes from the films were shot on platforms 4 and 5, and the sign marking Platform 9 3/4 has been moved to the west wall of the station. The red-and-black Hogwarts Express can be boarded only by students of the school of witchcraft and wizardry, but muggle steam trains can be caught across the country. Visit www.uksteam.info for schedules. The North Yorkshire Moors Railway, for example, runs steam trains between Grossmont and Pickering, with a stop at Hogsmeade (Goathland). Adult tickets cost £12 return, children £6.
Dedicated fans will want to take the West Coast Railway Company's Jacobite Express from Fort William, Scotland. The route crosses the 21-arch Glenfinnan viaduct seen from the air in The Chamber of Secrets. Glenfinnan is also where the soul-sucking dementors stop the train in the latest film. The 84-mile, day-return trip to Mallaig costs £25 for adults and £14.50 for children and departs at 10.20am, Monday to Friday, 7 June-8 October.
Purists should head for the National Railway Museum in York, where 5972 Olton Hall, the locomotive that pulls the Hogwarts Express, is appearing until 7 June in a celebration of 200 years of rail. Olton Hall can be chartered at around £12,000 a day. The museum, though, is free, and opens daily from 10am to 6pm, except 24-26 December.
Wander in the castle grounds
Making its debut in The Prisoner of Azkaban is Virginia Water, Surrey, as the lake and grounds outside Hogwarts, including the paddock where Hagrid's pupils meet Buckbeak the hippogryph. This man-made lake is seven miles around and features the Temple of the Gods, a Roman ruin imported from Tripoli, a waterfall over stones from the ruins of a Saxon settlement, The Robber's Cave and a 100ft totem pole to commemorate the Duke of Cumberland's victory at Culloden.
Perhaps the closest muggle game to quidditch is polo, with riders on horses instead of brooms. Some of the best chukka-watching is near Virginia Water at Smiths Lawn, the home of the Guards Polo Club (01784 434 212; www.guardspoloclub.com). Tickets to the Hildon Queen's Cup Final on 13 June cost from £15.
Search for Hagrid's hut
Hagrid's Hut, the sundial garden and a set nicknamed "the bridge to nowhere" - reportedly part of the route from Hogsmeade to Hogwarts - had to be demolished after filming for The Prisoner of Azkaban in Glencoe last summer. But you can still see the dramatic views of Torren Lochan and Signal Rock forest which drew director Alfonso Cuaron. Visitors can enjoy walking, cycling, sailing, horse-riding and fishing in the glen while staying in the Clachaig Inn (01855 811 252; www.clachaig.com), directly across the road from the film location, where b&b costs from £30 per person.
Explore the castle
Alnwick Castle in Northumberland was the scene of Nevile's uncontrolled flight in The Philosopher's Stone and the flying car's crash-landing into the Whomping Willow in the second film. Young wizards and witches will get hours of entertainment racing down embankments on broomsticks (£2.50 at the gift shop). Tours of the castle cost £7.50 for adults or £10 for a joint ticket covering the gardens, with children under 16 entering free. The castle is open from April to October from 11am (last admission 4.15pm), and the gardens are open from 10am every day except Christmas. GNER (08457 225 333; www.gner.co.uk) runs trains to Alnmouth from stops along the east coast main line and an Arriva (08701 201 088; www.arriva.co.uk/northeast) bus will take you close to the castle entrance.
Go south across the Tyne to Durham where the cathedral's cloisters were used in The Philosopher's Stone for the musical interlude with Hedwig. The cathedral plays down its connection to Harry Potter, but visitors will not be disappointed. Among other wonders, it contains the treasure of St Cuthbert, the seventh-century bishop of Lindisfarne. The cathedral is open until 8pm during the summer and entrance is free, although a donation is requested. The treasury, the monk's dormitory and the tower have varying hours and charges.
Sneak into the library
The great hall at Christchurch was too small for Hogwarts, but it inspired the dining room used in the films. Numerous other shots were taken at the college. Visitors are allowed in at any time but some areas are off limits during term time. Entrance costs £4 for adults and £3 for students. Unless you have an invisibility cloak or a reader's card, the only way into the Bodleian library is with one of the four daily tours. For £4, you get to sneak into Duke Humphrey's library, the restricted section in The Philosopher's Stone, and the Divinity School, better known to fans as Madam Pomfrey's infirmary. Unfortunately, no one under eight is allowed.
Visit the Leaky Cauldron
The purple triple-decker Knight Bus was last seen on the streets of South London around Borough Market. Stoney Street, where Harry is dropped off at the Leaky Cauldron, is a hive of activity between 2am and 9am, when the wholesale food market closes. Visitors may want to try the gourmet retail market on weekends, which features more than 70 stalls.
The other famous London location is Gringott's Bank, known to muggles as Australia House, in the Strand. Unfortunately, the goblins only allow two ways in to the Exhibition Hall, either by invitation to an event or on London Open Day, which this year falls on 18 and 19 September.
Paul Rodgers travelled to Alnwick and Durham courtesy of GNER (see above) and stayed at Farnley Tower, Durham, b&b from £70 per double (0191-375 0011; email@example.com).
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