To begin our Most British Visit Yet, we were greeted at the train station in Durham by our couch surfing host, Zoe, and her kids: twins Nathaniel and Jared, and sister Meadow. They’re a family of wizards, and even ventured out in public in their wizard attire so we’d recognize them.
Back at their house, we met the pet wasp in the back garden, watched an episode of Planet Earth narrated by Attenborough (the twins’ choice, which earned them one million points on Ryan’s Official List of Officially Cool Kids), and ate mac’n’cheese, everyone’s favorite. After dinner, the kids were behaved enough to earn some reading time. They’re on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and we got to take turns reading it out loud to them. It was so cool, reading Harry Potter to these British kids, who sat entranced and laughed at all the right parts.
When the kids had gone to bed we absorbed even more British culture by drinking Pimms with Zoe and watching The Mighty Boosh and Qi.
For even more Stephen Fry, we listened to him narrate stories about Paddington Bear the next day as we all drove up to Alnwick Castle – the exterior of Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films. If you don’t know how to pronounce “Alnwick,” don’t panic. When pronounced correctly, it rhymes with “panic.”
Here we are at the original entrance to Hogwarts.
To our surprise, Hagrid and Harry were there doing a magic show, right in front of the area featured in the first broomstick lesson in HP1! That gatehouse to the right of Hagrid is indeed the one through which Neville Longbottom flies before getting hooked by the statute.
Harry and Hagrid announced that there were some celebrities in the audience, and called a bunch of people up front (including Karen!), all with red hair, and introduced them as Ron’s cousins.
This was July 31, so we got to sing Happy Birthday to Harry with a crowd of British families. Everything was very British, all around us. The Britishness was so thick you could cut it with a knife and spread it on a scone and eat it with tea with your little finger out.
When the performance was over, they were swarmed for photos, and Karen got one with Harry even though she was very polite and didn’t swarm aggressively.
Here’s the courtyard where the trio walks after Professor Flitwick’s Wingardium Leviosa lecture.
Here’s the area occupied by the Whomping Willow in the second movie, we think.
There was a courtyard with lots of medieval activities, including costumes. Ryan asked for “leper” or “urchin,” but all they had was “valiant knight,” which he played as “fancy dancy vampire.”
In the gift shop they had a few framed props from the movies, including a Hogwarts letter and Gringotts coins, not for sale, alas.
We drove back to Durham in glacial traffic, stopping for pizza for relief from the trudge. The kids were all awesome and well behaved. The only incident was the next morning when the twins were sent to their separate rooms for fighting about – get this – whether or not to do the tango…!
After saying goodbye to the coolest family in Durham, we ventured into the city to tour the cathedral, which was featured in the first two Harry Potter films, just like Alnwick.
Here’s a view into the Chapter House, which was used for Professor McGonagall’s classroom, where Harry gets detention in the first film, and the students are taught to turn animals into water goblets in the second.
Here in the cloister is where Quidditch practice takes place in the first film, the trio talks with Hagrid, Ron barfs up slugs, Fred and George walk with the trio, and Harry walks in the snow with snowy owl Hedwig, and also something with Snape.
Whew! What a visit! But it gets even better, so stay tuned as we catch you up on our last few weeks. Cheers for now!