Thursday 12 May 2016

Reflections on the A-Z Challenge

I wrote a reflection post over at Fangirl Stitches.  This is pretty much going to be the same as that one, so if you're reading both of them I'm sorry for the repetition - there's only one of me to do the reflecting!

The A-Z Challenge is done and dusted for another year, and now is the time to breath and think about other things for a bit - like where I am going to go travelling next
This was my second year in doing the A-Z Challenge, and I set myself a mammoth challenge this year: cross stitch two alphabets AND write about my Harry Potter travels.  Why did I do this to myself?
  1. I've been wanting to write a blog about my Harry Potter travels for a while and this seemed like the perfect opportunity
  2. I didn't want to write about Harry Potter traveling under the Fangirl Stitches blog since that one is linked to my online cross stitch store
  3. I wanted to get back into blogging on the Fangirl Stitches page (after being absent for about 6 months)
  4. I couldn't choose between the two cross stitch alphabets!
  5. Which all led to a crazy, busy, whirlwind month and a half.
Onto the reflections:

I completed the challenge on all three projects - which is the most important thing.  I managed to include all my favourite (and least favourite) places in the Harry Potter tour, along with photos and screenshots. I have a few other places to add that didn't fit into the alphabet, which I will get to soon... I hope!  Both stitched alphabets are also finished and you can see them over at Fangirl Stitches.

I met some new people and discovered some new blogs.  I've shared a few of my favourites over at Fangirl Stitches.   I didn't visit nearly as many as I wanted to, and didn't get back to visit people as regularly as I wanted to either.  Moving, not having internet for a few days in the lead-up, Easter, travelling, work, as well as trying to finish to cross stitch alphabets AND write two blogs took up most of my time, leaving very little time to read and comment on other blogs.  I'm hoping to do the Blogging Road Trip and get back to visit some of the ones I missed/didn't read enough of, as well as find some more to read.  Thank you to everyone who visited my blog, even if you didn't leave a comment.  Big thanks to those who did leave a comment, and those who managed to visit regularly.  I take my hat off to you.

I got back into the whole blogging thing.  Hopefully it will stick with me a bit longer this time!  I'm  not sure how regularly things will be posted to this blog now that the challenge is finished.  I do want to write about the places that didn't make it into the A-Z Tour, and this blog will give me a place to "geek out" over things like going to Comic Con (which I will be doing twice this year!).

I'll certainly do the challenge again next year, although again I'm not sure if I will do it here as well as at Fangirl Stitches.  It will depend on if I have another tour/adventure theme I can come up with.  I could always go into more detail on the studio tour - there's enough there to fill an alphabet I'm sure!

Happy travels,


Saturday 30 April 2016

Z is for London Zoo

We’ve reached Z!  Hurray!  Thanks for sticking with me through this crazy journey.  It’s not over yet though, so on that note…

The final stop on our A to Z Tour of the Harry Potter Film Locations is one of the first to appear in the series - London Zoo.

London Zoo, or Regents Zoo as it's sometimes known (being as how it is in Regents Park), is the world's oldest scientific zoo.  It opened as a research facility in 1828, and then to the public in 1847.  According to Wikipedia (and why would they lie?), it houses 756 species, with 17,480 individual animals.
At the beginning of The Philosopher’s Stone, Harry and Dursleys visit London Zoo, where Harry talks to, and then frees, a boa constrictor in the Reptile House.  The actual glass cage used is now an information board, however the cage opposite (where Dudley can be seen looking at reptiles in the background) now sports a sign identifying the use of the zoo in the Potter film.  
The large gorilla seen at the entrance to the Reptile House has since been relocated to the Zoo entry gates.
In the Reptile House, you can still find a Burmese Python, as well as a real Basilisk – a rather cute, harmless green lizard.  There’s also an “Australian toilet” display filled with green frogs.  No Potter link, but since I’m Australian it intrigued me.  I’ve stepped on a green frog in the past, when it made its way into our bathroom via the toilet.  Not a pleasant sensation and I’m pretty sure I screamed – to the amusement of my housemate!

And with that exciting note, our Harry Potter adventure is over.  The Hogwarts Express has reached its final destination, the Knight Bus has called “last stop”, the straw has fallen out of the broomsticks.  I’ll be feeding back on my experience in a couple of days, in line with the dates set by the Challenge Hosts.
Because I hadn't had the chance to use this photo yet.
Meeting Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), 2015
Congratulations to everyone who made it through the A-Z Challenge.  And thank you to everyone who stopped by and left comments – I really appreciated it!  It was definitely a crazy experience – writing two different blogs complete with photos AND trying to get two cross stitches finished.  Head on over to Fangirl Stitches to see how they turned out.

Now to work out where to go next…

Happy travels,


Friday 29 April 2016

Y is for Y Bother? Mistaken or Pointless Trips

Okay, so that's the second time I've cheated.  It's the second last day - I'm doing well!

On the A-Z Tour of Harry Potter Filming Locations, Y is for Y Bother.  This is the list of places I visited by mistake (they weren't really in the films) or places that really weren't worth the detour/journey because either it's so hard to see the link, or they are really boring.  This is the list of "Places to avoid when planning your own Harry Potter tour".  It's also an excuse to show off more of my photos.  Again, we're going to be jumping around the country a bit - hold on tight.

Cape Wrath

Cape Wrath is the most north-western poin of mainland Britiain and accessbilt only by hire-boat-and-bus, or on foot.  It was reported to be the location visited by Dumbledore and Harry in their hunt for the horcruxex, however as we learnt in the M post, this was really the Cliffs of Moher.  Besides which, if you are not into bird-watching, there is nothing to do at Cape Wrath during the hour or so wait for the return but.  Nothing except take a few photos and drink some very bad coffee.

Power Station, High Marnham, Nottinghamshire
The Power Station Cooling Towers in High Manham were used as one of the many hideouts for the trio during their hunt for the horcruxes.  However due to the dark and the very out-of-the-way-and-creepy village, I made do with a distant photo from the roadside, and probably wouldn't recommend anyone try to get too close.  Honestly, it was creepy and about the only time in the two years I was in the UK that I felt unsafe. Maybe I've watched too many episodes of Midsomer Murders...

Australia House
The Exhibition Hall at Australia House stood in for the interior of Gringotts Wizarding Bank.  Security concerns mean visitors aren’t allowed inside, so they only chance you’ll have of seeing the Hall is if you are a diplomat or some other fancy official person invited to a fancy official event.

Green Lanes, Bourne Hill and Park Avenue, Palmers Green, London
The Knight Bus tears along these roads on its way to deliver Harry to the Leaky Cauldron in the Prisoner of Azkaban.  It zooms past the locations so fast it's difficult to work out exactly where the Knight Bus is, unless you live around the area and are familiar with the streets and shops.  It's an ordinary main street, and not really worth the hunt.

Gypsy Lane, Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire
The open field off Gypsy Lane in Abbots Langley, just south of the Leavesden Studio, was used as the home of the Weasley’s Burrow in both The Chamber of Secrets and The Goblet of Fire.  It’s an open field in the middle of nowhere.  There’s not a lot to see, and it’s pretty hard to get to!

Abbotsbury Swannery, Dorset

For The Half-Blood Prince, the Burrow moved from Gypsy Lane to the village of Abbotsbury in Dorset.  The reeds of the Swannery can be seen surrounding the Burrow, both when Dumbledore apparates Harry there and later during the attack by the Death Eaters.  This listing is more of a timing one.  If you visit in the winter when the place is closed and the reeds have all died (like I did), there is nothing to see .  From the pictures on line, when the park is open it's very interactive and you may even get to see cygnets.  So pick your timing better than me! 

Tomorrow is the last day - hurray!  Which means my cross stitch alphabets over at Fangirl Stitches are also almost finished.

Happy travels


Thursday 28 April 2016

X is for Not Crossed Off - the ones I've missed

Yes, I cheated with that one.  But it's the first one I've really cheated with (I don't count "R"), so I think I'm doing pretty well to have got this far! :) 

In our A to Z of the Harry Potter Filming Locations, X is for the ones I haven't crossed off my list - the places I'm yet to visit. and my reasons for another trip to the UK in the future.  This post is going to be jumping over the place a bit so hold onto your broomsticks.

Fourth Form Room, The Old School, Harrow School, Middlesex
Flitwick's Charms classroom was filmed in the Fourth Form Room at Harrow School in Middlesex.  It is a working school, and therefore only open to the public for tours at set times each year.  Each time I looked it up thinking "I'll plan a visit", it was only to discover that I'd either just missed the tour, or it wasn't for another 6 months.

Rannoch Moor Railway, Scotland
As mentioned in the J post, Rannoch Moor was used for sections of the Hogwarts Express journey.  Rannoch Moor is really only accessible by railway.  The train runs from Glasgow to Fort William, which made it a bit difficult to plan a trip, given that I needed a hire car for the rest of my trip in Scotland, and Fort William doesn't really have car hire options. 

Spean Bridge Railway Station, Scotland
Spean Bridge Railway Station, north of Fort William in the Scottish Highlands, was used for the Hogsmeade Station in The Half-Blood Prince.  I'd driven through Spean Bridge before I realised it and missed the station completely. 

Grassington Moore, Grassington, Yorkshire
Grassington Moore in Yorkshire was used as the backdrop for the Lovegood house.  One of those out-of-the-way places I didn't get to.  Another time.

Queensway Tunnel, Liverpool, Merseyside
The interior of the tunnel Hagrid and Harry fly/ride through in The Deathly Hallows, part 1 was filmed in Queensway Tunnel in Liverpool.  The tunnel is part of a toll road, and since I wasn't heading to Liverpool for anything else, I didn't make it to the tunnel. 

It's going to be an interesting trip trying to fit all these places in next time.

Over at Fangirl Stitches I'm cross stitching two alphabets for the challenge - Pokemon and Supernatural themes.  I didn't even have to cheat for the X post... well, only slightly!

Happy travels


Wednesday 27 April 2016

W is for the Warner Bros. Studio Tour

The A to Z of Harry Potter Filming Locations tour has finally brought us to the biggest site of all - the Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden.

Leavesden wasn't the only professional studio used, with some scenes being filmed in ..., however Leavesden was the main studio used throughout the 8 films, and is the one that has been turned into The Warner Bros. Studio Tour - The Making of Harry Potter.

It is incredible.  It is breath-taking.  It is awe-inspiring.  Even my non-Harry-Potter-fan friend loved it - particularly appreciating the behind-the-scenes information and displays: the special effects, prop making, robotics, costume design, etc.

So basically today's post is going to be one big photo-share fest, with a few trip-planning suggestions:

1. BOOK YOUR TICKETS! Tickets are not available at the door, they must be bought in advance.  A lot of the major hotels have tickets available for sale, including on-the-day, but you cannot buy them at the studio. I've heard of people who rock up thinking they can just get straight in.  Don' be those people.
2. The Studio is open all year round.  The first/last tour times vary so check the website for exact details.  The Studio itself doesn't close until 3hours after the last tour time so even if you are in the last group to go in, you will still have plenty of time to explore.  Also, allow time for the gift shop - it's almost like a whole other set.
3. On the gift shop note - the gift shop on the railway platform set sells different things to the main gift shop at the end of the tour.  I didn't realise this - there were a couple of things I though "oh, I'll get that at the end so I don't have to carry it around with me" but couldn't because the shop at the end didn't sell it.
4. It's a self-guided tour.  The tickets and times are used to space people out so you don't have a huge crush of people going through at once.  You can spend as little or as long as you want there - the three times I've been I've stayed at least 3 1/2 hours if not longer.
The tour guides holding my cross stitch figures :)
5. If you are going during the UK term time, remember that local schools do excursions to the Studio.  I didn't take this into account the last time I went.  It was a Monday, school had gone back a week or so earlier, I thought we'd be fine.  We weren't.  There were at least 4 large groups of over-excited 10-14 year olds.  A later session would probably be a good idea, as usually by then school groups have left and local parents are less likely to bring their kids in on a week day afternoon.  Of course, you still have to allow for the tourist kids... I don't think there is a "child-free" time.
6. If you speak English, don't get the audio guide.  There is so much written information available and video clips playing that you won't get a chance to listen to even half of the audio guide so it's not really worth it.
7. Check the website and social media pages - they regularly run different promotions and events, so it's worth keeping an eye out for what's coming up when you're planning your trip.  They do Halloween (Dark Arts), Hogwarts in the Snow, Animal actors (where they have the animal actors at the studio for you to meet), a Hagrid special... the list goes on.
8. Green screen shots - line up and have a go!  You get to sit on green screen sets to drive the flying car, and ride a broom stick.  There's a video portion to each - you can watch yourself on a TV monitor as you have a go so you can actually see yourself flying.  Also, if you know your House, ask for your House robes. 

*sigh* so much fun!

Apparently there are plans afoot to open up other stages with sets and props from other films that have been made at Leavesden, but I've been hearing that for 4 years and so far nothing more has happened (apart from the addition of more Potter sets).

Until tomorrow, happy travels!


P.S.  Don't forget - I'm also cross stitching for the A-Z challenge, over at Fangirl Stitches.  W today is Weezing and Mary Winchester.

Tuesday 26 April 2016

V is for Lacock Village

The A-Z Tour of Harry Potter Film Locations today visits Lacock Village.

Lacock Village is located near Chippenham in North Wiltshire.  The village dates back to the 13th century, and is owned almost entirely by the National Trust.  Lacock is Heritage listed - meaning that no physical changes can be made to the outside of any of the buildings.  Electricity, telephone and television cables all run under the ground to preserve the look of the place.  As such, it is a popular filming location, having been used for Pride and Prejudice, Downton Abbey, Cranford, Emma, and Harry Potter to name a few.  Lacock was one of my favourite places to visit in the UK - the old-world feel was incredible, and the buildings were beautiful.  It was one of the places I visited a couple of times, taking my mother back there when she visited me in 2013.

Lacock Village
The village itself appeared in The Half-Blood Prince, standing in for the village of Budleigh Babberton.  Professor Dumbledore and Harry apperate to the centre of the village at the foot of a monument in the middle of the junction between Church Street, West Street and Chapel Hill.  The monument itself was a fibreglass model constructed by the production crew.  Dumbledore and Harry then head down along Church Street, before (magically) appearing in front of a muggle house on Chapel Hill.  This house had become the temporary hideout of Professor Horace Slughorn.  Slughorn, on the run from the Death Eaters.

Lacock Abbey 
Lacock Abbey was founded in the early 13th century as a nunnery of the Augustinian order.  It remained a nunnery until the 16th century when it was turned into a residency.  In the 19th century it was the home of William Henry Fox Talbot, a pioneer of photography.  Lacock Abbey was used to film several classroom sequences in the first two films – back when they didn’t have the budget to build studio sets.

The Sacristy was used for Professor Snape’s classroom in The Philosopher’s Stone
The Warming Room, with its in-situ cauldron, was used for Professor Quirrel’s classroom, seen when Professor McGonagall asks to speak to Oliver Wood.
In The Philosopher’s stone, the Chapter House was the original home of the Mirror of Erised, which shows Harry his heart’s desire, while in The Chamber of Secrets it had been converted into the study room where Harry becomes the topic of whispered conversation after it is revealed he speaks Parseltongue.  A popular place, the Chapter House reappeared in The Half Blood Prince as the room in which Professor McGonagall and Professor Snape examine the cursed necklace.
The Abbey's Cloisters were used for some of the Hogwarts corridors.  They can be seen in The Philosopher’s Stone when Professor McGonagall is walking to find Oliver Wood, and again in The Chamber of Secrets when Harry first hears the voice of the Basilisk snake.

Over at Fangirl Stitches I'm drawing near the finish of my mammoth A-Z stitching challenge - cross stitching both a Pokemon and a Supernatural Alphabet.

Happy travels


Monday 25 April 2016

U is for Westminster Underground Station

Today's A-Z Tour of Harry Potter Filming Locations once again takes us to a train station.  This time it is Westminster Underground Station in London.

As Arthur Weasley and Harry are travelling to the Ministry of Magic in The Order of Phoenix, they travel through Westminster Underground Station, where Arthur gets caught in the ticket barrier.  Second barrier from the right – it became my favourite ticket barrier whenever I exited through Westminster Station. 

On another note - Harry and Arthur travel down the escalators (from the Underground Station) to the ticket hall – these escalators would actually lead to the Jubilee Line, under the ticket hall.  Ever since someone pointed it out to me, it’s bugged me each time I’ve watched the film!

I'm still cross stitching away, completing two alphabets as part of the A-Z challenge.  You can see my progress at Fangirl Stitches.  U is for Uriel (Supernatural) and Unknown (Pokemon).

Happy travels,


Saturday 23 April 2016

T is for the Thames

The A-Z Tour of Harry Potter Film Locations once again returns to London (what can I say, it's a big city).  This time we are taking a trip down the Thames.

This map shows the various bridges and their locations
to some of London's landmarks.
The River Thames flows from the Thames Head in Gloucestershire, through Oxford,  Windsor and London to the Thames Estuary in Southend-On-Sea, emptying into the North Sea.  A total length of 380km, it is the longest river in England, and the second longest in the United Kingdom.  The twisting section that flows through London is iconic, featuring regularly in souvenirs, television, and company logos.

The London section of the Thames and its bridges appear at various stages of the Potter film franchise.  Scene-setting shots in The Philosopher’s Stone and The Half Blood Prince feature the Thames.  The Order fly under and around various bridges as they head from Privett Drive to Grimmauld Place in The Order of the Phoenix. Mind you, the Order take a crazy route, flying east and then west along the river at different stages.

  However a couple of the Thames bridges get more than just a fleeting glance:

When the Millennium Bridge first opened, it was nicknamed the Wobbley Bridge, after the pedestrians felt is swaying as they walked over it.  It closed two days after it first opened, and was closed for two years as modifications were made to strengthen the bridge and entirely remove the wobble.  As a small nod to the people of London, the Millennium Bridge is wobbled, twisted and destroyed by Death Eaters at the start of The Half-Blood Prince.

The Knight Bus squeezes between two red London buses as it crosses Lambeth Bridge – although in actual life the bridge only has one lane in each direction, meaning the scene couldn’t actually happen.  What – Hollwood doesn’t match real life?!

Don't forget - because I'm crazy I'm busily cross stitching two pieces for the A-Z Challenge at Fangirl Stitches.

Happy travels,


Friday 22 April 2016

S is for Scottish Lakes

The A to Z of Harry Potter Film Locations takes us up into the highlands of Scotland to visit its many lakes, or "lochs" as the Scots call them.  There were 5 different lochs used over the course of the 8 films, so get ready for a long and photo-heavy post!

Loch Shiel
Loch Shiel is a 28km lake, extending from Glenfinnan in the Scottish highlands to Loch Moidart, a sea loch.  On the banks of Loch Shiel stands the Glenfinnan monument, marking the place where Charles Edward started the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Loch Shiel has already been mentioned a couple of times in this A-Z tour, its size and location making it a popular one for the film crew.  I've already mentioned that the loch is seen behind the Quidditch stadium, and as the Hogwarts Express crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
Loch Shiel has been used as Hogwarts' Black Lake in three of the Potter films.  In The Chamber of Secrets, Loch Shiel can be seen in the background aerial shots of the castle, and in The Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry flies Buckbeak over the loch.  In The Goblet of Fire, the loch was the setting for the second Triwizard task, Victor Krum's training ground, and in aerial shots of the Durmstrang ship. 
To be honest, a lot of the lochs look the same, and it can be a little difficult to work out which loch was used in which scene.  However once you are there, just occasionally, you get a real sense of "yes, this was the spot where..." Loch Shiel and Vicktor Krum's training ground was one of those moments, because you stand on the exact spot where he walked up and down. 

Loch Etive
Loch Etive was one of my favourite lochs in Scotland - because it is so peaceful, quiet and out of the way... the northern end anyway, which is the section I want to talk about.  The northern banks of Loch Etive are located 14 miles south of the main road through Glen Coe - a small twisting road that leads nowhere else.  It runs for 30km south towards Oban, and is reported to be home to a colony of 20 seals.
Loch Etive can be spotten in background aerial shots of Hogwarts in The Order of the Phoenix.  It was also used in The Deathly Hallows as the lake the trio camp near before Ron leaves in a huff.

Loch Eilt
Loch Eilt is located between Glenfinnan and Lochailort in the West Highlands of Scotland. 
Because of its position next to the train line, Loch Eilt has appeared in several Harry Potter films, both during aerial footage of the Hogwarts Express and through the carriage windows.  
In The Prisoner of Azkaban, Hagrid stands on the banks of the loch, skimming stones as he informs Harry, Ron and Hermione of Buckbeak's execution.  The loch's other claim to fame is that Eilean na Moine, one of the loch's small islands, was the place where Dumbledore was buried.  However Loch Eilt wasn't used in these scenes; instead the Eilean na Moine was superimposed onto footage of Loch Arkaig.  Speaking of which...

Loch Arkaig
Loch Arkaig is located north of Fort William and west of the Great Glen.  It is 12 miles long and reaches a depth of 300 feet.  
Loch Arkaig was used in The Deathly Hallows as the location of Dumbledore's grave.  Stephen Elson, the managing director of special effects firm Baseblack, said in an interview "We used technology to plop the island in Loch Eilt seamlessly into the middle of Loch Arkaig."  Apparently helicopter footage of the loch was use in The Half-Blood Prince, with the loch at sunset situated behind the astronomy tower.  To be honest, it looks like most other lochs in this scene, so who knows.

Torren Lochan
Situated in Clachaig Gully, the small lake of Torren Lochan is difficult to spot on a map, and it took me several drive-by's to find it.  It's located in the area of Signal Rock, and there's very little information (if any) about it on line.  There are some beautiful photographs though.  Check out this webpage for a good view of the lake as my photograph really doesn't do it justice - clearly I was on the wrong side of the lake.
Torren Lochan is seen in The Prisoner of Azkaban, at the bottom of the gully behind Hagrid's Hut.  It was also used as the lake where Harry fights the Dementors.  However, due to the midgies, close ups were filmed at Virgina Water (from yesterday's R post) in Surrey. 

At Fangirl Stitches I am cross stitching two alphabets for the A-Z Challenge - it's keeping me rather busy!  Stop by to see today's Pok√©mon and Supernatural characters - Sandshrew and Sam Winchester.

Happy travels,