Thursday, January 12, 2012

How to Visit the “Real” Hogwarts Castle – a Guide for Harry Potter Fans

Hogwarts of School of Witchcraft and Wizardry plays a key role in the Harry Potter books and movies, providing young Harry with his education in the ways of magic and hosting many of his most exciting adventures. It is housed in an imposing castle close to the village of Hogsmeade, and seems to have a life all of its own. No wonder many Potter fans are desperate to visit the "real" Hogwarts Castle, to admire its towering exterior and explore its mysterious corridors and classrooms.

Unfortunately, visiting Hogwarts is something of a challenge. The producers of the Harry Potter movies didn't simply select a single, real-world castle to film in and around - instead, they found attractive locations all over the UK and then spliced them together using the magic of computer-generated imagery. Therefore, the only option to explore a full physical recreation of Hogwarts at present is to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park land at the Universal Orlando Resort.

For those willing to cover a greater distance, though, exploring the actual locations that were used to create Hogwarts is an incredibly rewarding experience. As well as stepping into the world of the movies, you’ll also discover a wide range of magnificent historical buildings, each of which is famous in its own right. Here's a run-down of the key sites featured in the films.

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle, located in Northumbria close to the England-Scotland border, dates back to around 1096. It is the second-largest inhabited castle in the UK behind Windsor Castle, having been refurbished and expanded on multiple occasions over the past nine centuries. The castle has had an eventful history, with the Dukes of Northumberland that own it having been involved in all manner of intrigue and plotting with British monarchs of the past. Today, it is possible to explore the castle’s impressive State Rooms, with guided tours on offer throughout the summer season.

One of the tours takes in the areas of the castle that were featured in the first two Harry Potter movies. This includes the site of Potter's first ever broomstick-flying lesson, as well as the spot where the Weasley's flying car crash-landed into the Whomping Willow.

Gloucester Cathedral

The magnificent Gloucester Cathedral sits at the heart of the city that lends it its name. Constructed between the 11th and 15th centuries, it is some 130 metres long by 44 metres wide, with a central tower that tops out at 68 metres tall. No wonder its stunning cloisters became part of Hogwarts, being used as corridors in both Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Hopefully when you visit you won’t encounter a troll, be whispered to by the walls, or find the bathrooms overflowing.

Christ Church College, Oxford

Christ Church College provided one of the most enduring images of the Harry Potter movies, with its Great Hall having been the inspiration for the Hogwarts dining room. The hall stands out among the sites on this list as being one in which fans can truly feel immersed in Harry’s world – it’s easy to picture Professor Dumbledore making one of his trademark speeches while excited pupils look on in awe. The college is open to visitors is open every day except Christmas, although the Great Hall is closed between 12pm and 2pm.

Bodleian Library, Oxford

Not far from Christ Church College is the Bodleian Library, renowned for being one of the oldest libraries in Europe. While it still acts as the main research library of the University of Oxford, it is possible to explore the interior of several of its impressive buildings when purchasing various ticket options. This includes the 15th century Divinity School, which played the role of the sanatorium in the first two Harry Potter movies. Another of the library’s buildings, Duke Humfrey's Library, acted as Hogwarts own library in the first film and can be seen as part of a guided tour. Remember to bring your invisibility cloak.

Durham Cathedral

The second cathedral to form part of Hogwarts is located in Durham, and dates back to 1093. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the city’s biggest tourist attraction offers incredible views from the top of its 66 metre tall central tower. In Harry Potter’s first outing, he can be seen walking through the cathedral’s cloisters with Hedwig the owl, who flies off between its twin towers. You may not recognise them, though, as a spire was digitally added to them by the movie’s creators. You will recognise the Chapter House, which acted as Professor McGonagall’s classroom.

Lacock Abbey

The pretty village of Lacock is a fitting setting for Hogwarts, and its famous Abbey did indeed feature in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, with Harry freeing house elf Dobby in its cloister walk. Professor Snape's somewhat basic classroom is also housed at the Abbey. The unusual building is a mesh of architectural styles, much like the fictional castle that it helped create, and can be visited almost year-round. The Potter producers liked it so much that they returned to film scenes for the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, in 2007.

Hogwarts Castle may not be real, but it is perhaps appropriate that this mystical place of learning was created using elements of some of the greatest real-life buildings in the UK. Explore all of the sites listed above, and you’ll feel like some of Harry Potter's magic has rubbed off on you.

Image credits

Alnwick Castle.jpg - Fiona James
Gloucester Cathedral.jpg - James Clark
Christ Church College Great Hall.jpg - mtcv
Bodleian Library Divinity School.jpg – Beth Hoffman
Durham Cathedral.jpg - Karmin Photography
Lacock Abbey.jpg - Ben Bawden

Nick Sim is a major fan of the fictional worlds seen in both the Harry Potter movies and the UK's wide array of theme parks. Be sure to check out his listings of Alton Towers 2-for-1 vouchers and Thorpe Park deals when visiting the country.