Leavesden Studios

The first thing we did upon our return to London was to leave it again, heading outside the city to Abbots Langley, where Leavesden Studios are to be found. The official name of our adventure there was: Warner Brothers Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter, and until an unexpected event two weeks later it would be the shining highlight of our trip already ablaze with shining highlights. If it sounds like our experiences keep getting better and better, that’s because they simply do and we simply can’t help it.

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The tour is comprised of two giant studios named J and K (get it?) with an outdoor backlot in between, and pretty much everything that went into the movies, save the actors themselves, is on display. Sets, costumes, props, concept art, scale models, robotics, and infinitely more are here for your casual perusal. We spent seven hours wandering the wonders, and more than once my jaw actually dropped as we passed into a new room and were confronted by some new icon from the films materializing before our very eyes.

Just a little more gushing before we treat you to the best of the 400+ photos we took. The tour wasn’t anything like an amusement park attraction, which I had feared it might be. Before we entered, I worried we’d get to see maybe a couple sets preserved behind a glass wall, a few displays of costumes and props, and be spit out into a gift shop at the end. Fortunately, I grievously underestimated the scope and purpose of this place. Rather than an attraction, it is a celebration. Everyone who attended, everyone who worked there, and, as became evident as we made our way through, everyone who worked on the films, was a fan first and foremost. We were treated like intelligent humans being let in on the secrets of filmcraft. We walked through the sets themselves, sat in the actual vehicles used in the films, and even after seven hours of exploring, still hadn’t read every paragraph on every sign, seen every prop, or watched every behind-the-scenes clip. It was a wealth of movie magic stacked, heaped, arranged, and explained by the people who very genuinely loved making the films and now had the chance to show us how they did it. All the sets, props, and costumes are endowed with far more detail than anyone would ever notice in the films, from the thousand individually hand-labeled potion bottles to the cameos of crew members in the moving portraits to the dials on Dumbledore’s telescope. It was almost as if they’d planned on eventually showing it all off in a tour from the very start. But I think there was a different reason. Jo Rowling’s magical world is just so fun to create within and inhabit. And for a day we got to inhabit it too. Here’s what we saw.

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The Great Hall

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Luna Lovegood’s costumes

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Fleur Delacour’s costume

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Harry’s jacket from the last movie in increasing states of disrepair

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The wall of decrees

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The gates of Hogwarts

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The Gryffindor boys’ dormitory

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Wands!

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The Fat Lady

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The Gryffindor Common Room

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The invisibility cloak

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Various props. Look closely!

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The Goblet of Fire

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Dumbledore’s office (Ryan’s favorite set)

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The Pensieve

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The Potions classroom

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Info on every animal actor

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Hagrid’s Hut. This entire set was actually airlifted to the spot we visited in Glencoe! It still smells musty from the rainy weather it experinced up in those hills.

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Green screen magic

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Doors, stairs, and chests, all which actually moved mechanically on their own

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The Burrow

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Death Eater masks and costumes

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Voldemort’s robe

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The Ministry of Magic

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Umbridge’s office

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Crystals from the Crystal Cave

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Graphic design

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Yum, butterbeer!

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The Knight Bus

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Hagrid’s motorbike

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The Ford Anglia

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Tom Riddle’s father’s grave

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Privet Drive

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The Bridge

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Godric’s Hollow

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Giant Wizard’s Chess pieces

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Creature Effects Department

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Diagon Alley

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Paper models

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The grand finale was the scale model of Hogwarts, filmed in all eight films for every exterior shot. It’s much bigger than it looks in these pictures, but every brick was hand painted.

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At the end was a room of wand boxes from floor to ceiling labeled with the name of every person who worked on the films.

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What an incredible tour. We’re figuring out how to live there without anyone noticing.

More adventures in London next time!

-k&r

York & Gloucester

In York, we found a campsite in the middle of the city next to a park and in that park there was a dog who looked like Aslan. There was also a beautiful pond.

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We took a free walking tour of the city from a man named Alan, which is Aslan minus a letter, but his mane was just as glorious. Alan also writes historical thrillers and just got back from hosting stand up comedy in Edinburgh. Some of the sights on the tour included:

Alan in front of a Roman wall…

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… York Minster…

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…an alley called the Shambles…

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… Clifford’s Tower…

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… historic streets.

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We found a National Trust site called the Treasurer’s House, and took a grand tour.

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We also met some owls on display for an organization that helps birds of prey. Here’s looking at you, owl.

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On to Gloucester, which, when pronounced correctly, sounds like lobster if you move the b to the beginning and change it to a g. The cathedral here was used for various interiors of Hogwarts in HP 1, 2, and 6.

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Behold the corridor prowled by the troll!

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Quick, hide here in the lavatorium!

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Marvel at the marvelous ceilings!

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Beware Ryan, who appears!

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Knock upon the entrance to the Gryffindor Common Room!

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Gasp as Ryan reenacts the Discovery of Petrified Mrs. Norris by Anguished Filch at the very place the haunting words were written upon the wall!

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Moan as Myrtle floods the toilets!

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Read on next time for more tales of adventure and excitement!

-k&r

The Lake District

We spent some time in England’s gorgeous Lake District, which is a district filled with lakes in England where we spent some time.

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Here are some photos in and around Keswick and Hawkshead.

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We trekked out to Hill Top, the farm where Beatrix Potter lived and farmed after the success of her books, most notably Peter Rabbit.

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Beatrix Potter’s garden!

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Beatrix Potter’s watering can!

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All around the Lake District you can find Peter Rabbit shops. Savannah and Lily would love it here.

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More of that other Potter next time!

-k&r

Alnwick Castle & Durham Cathedral

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.

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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.”

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Here we are at the original entrance to Hogwarts.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Here’s the courtyard where the trio walks after Professor Flitwick’s Wingardium Leviosa lecture.

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Here’s the area occupied by the Whomping Willow in the second movie, we think.

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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.”

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In the gift shop they had a few framed props from the movies, including a Hogwarts letter and Gringotts coins, not for sale, alas.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

-k&r

Edinburgh

As much as we enjoyed Glasgow, we liked Edinburgh even more.

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Everywhere you look there’s a pretty old pretty building looking back at you. The Old Town’s medieval and Reformation-era buildings and the New Town’s Georgian terraces slope down sharply into the valley of central Princes Street Gardens, and we walked all over all of them.

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Here’s a view of Old Town from across the gardens.

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This is the Sir Walter Scott Memorial.

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We camped in nearby Kinross and took the bus in to the city every morning. On our way too the bus stop we’d pass this very new pony…

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…and we’d buy a baguette for the day, which the self-checkout called a “crusty stick.”

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We were there on a Sunday, and thought it would be neat to attend a service at St. Mary’s cathedral. There it is way at the end of the street.

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Here it is closer up.

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An imposing interior.

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The choir was on holiday, but the gigantic pipe organ wasn’t, and it boomed and swelled with great power.

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There was a man next to us who sounded like Werner Herzog when he talked and Mr. Bean when he sang, especially on the “allelujahs.”

We also visited the National Gallery of Scotland, a couple National Trust properties: Gladstone’s Land and the Georgian House, and the incredible Museum of Scotland, where Karen found a lighthouse for her mom, and we played Where’s The Ryan On The Steam Locomotive.

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A view was viewed from the roof.

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After walking through the entire history of Scotland, we thought we’d seen the whole museum. We were about to leave when we came through a doorway into these massive, cavernous galleries, housing natural history, science, anthropology, and space exhibits.

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Ryan posed with his favorite terrestrial mammal.

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But the jewel in the crown that was Edinburgh, which was perched gloriously on top of the shaggy head that was our trip so far, was certainly a visit to the Elephant House, the coffee shop where J.K. Rowling conceived the first Harry Potter novels.

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Karen drinks a flat white in honor of Jessie and Bebe Cave.

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Here’s Ms. Rowling’s view from the window, in which you can see Edinburgh Castle towering in the distance above the city. Could this have been the inspiration for Hogwarts?

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Ryan also sketched the castle from a different viewpoint.

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Let’s end up with some random photos of this beautiful city.

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Alright, okay, one last round of Which One Is Ryan.

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-k&r

The Jacobite Steam Train

In Scotland, “Glen” means glen, and “Ben” means mountain. We camped in Glen Nevis beneath Ben Nevis, in probably the largest campground we’ve been to yet, sprawled across numerous fields beneath the misty mountainsides. We were afraid our impressions of Ireland and Scotland would be sunny and blue, but the rain and clouds finally set in during our stay in the Glen.

We took the Jacobite Steam Train out of nearby Fort William. This was the train they filmed for the Hogwarts Express, and its route passes a few key filming locations on its way to Mallaig.

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Here’s the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which can be seen in the movies.

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Here’s Loch Shiel, used as the lake near Hogwarts.

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Here’s Loch Eilt. The unique island is Dumbledore’s final resting place. The loch is also featured in the scene of Hagrid skipping stones, and as the location of the second task in the Triwizard Tournament.

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Keep in mind the amount of soot we breathed at the open windows in order to capture these visions for your casual perusal. Most of the windows, in fact, were open, since a bit of the recent heat wave decided to linger over the train during our journey, and every time we plunged into a tunnel the whole cabin would fill with black smoke. It became difficult to see, but we didn’t panic because whenever we were able to dimly glimpse another passenger, they would be acting like a cabinfull of black smoke was ordinary. But this was probably only because everyone was dimly glimpsing each other acting normal. And thus was order maintained every time we plunged through a tunnel and the train was filled with black smoke.

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Here is a selection of photos from times outside of tunnels when the smoke and steam rose into the sky where they’re supposed to be, and our vision was clear to behold the wonders of the land.

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At the end of the line, on the coast, awaited the town of Mallaig, and this statue. Let’s play Which One Is Ryan.

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Also, Ryan sketched a boat.

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We returned to Fort William on a normal train, and saw the sights in reverse. Next stop: Edinburgh!

Skye

We discovered that our bus passes would allow us to visit the Isle of Skye, since there’s a bridge that connects it to the mainland of Scotland. The trip up there was a breathtaking ride through the Scottish highlands.

Our destination was the harbour town of Portree. Here you can see the bay.

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That dark mound on the right of the sketch is where they host the annual highland games.

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We camped a mile outside town in the hills with the sheep. Sheep are omnipresent here. When we get home and don’t hear sheep bleating pitifully at all hours of the night, it will feel like something is wrong and we’ll stay awake fretting in the haunting silence.

To pass the time on trains, buses, and in the campgrounds we’ve been reading a lot a lot. So far I’ve read Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist…” (while in Ireland, of course), Ian Fleming’s “Thunderball” (corresponding to the second best Bond movie, behind Goldfinger), Jo Walton’s “Among Others,”  the first half of Wuthering Heights until it got too cheerful, Edmund Crispin’s hilarious crime caper “The Moving Toyshop,” one sentence of “Finnegans Wake,” more than one sentence of “Ulysses” (I was on a Joyce kick for a while), and am currently in the middle of Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose,” Neal Stephenson’s “Reamde,” and, just for some fun light reading, Longfellow’s translation of Dante’s “Inferno.” Karen’s read or is reading: “The Seamstress,” “The Stone of Terror,” all of “Wuthering Heights,” and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” If these selections seem random, it’s because they were the best we could find at campground book trades and charity shops. We also play a lot of Golf (the card game), which was our favorite card game at Base Camp for one whole day until Molly taught us a new one called Garbage (the twins prefer to call it Recycle).

We spent a couple days walking and hiking around Portree. Have I made a point of mentioning how much we just walk around the places we visit? That’s the best way to get to know a place, according to Werner Herzog, and according to us. We don’t really feel at home in a town until we can get around without using a map and/or until we know the locations of the free toilets and/or free WiFi.

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Perched on the rocks on the coast was some kind of black bird darting its head here and there to spot fish. It had a long orange beak that looked like a carrot glued to its face and we laughed at it, which was probably cruel because it was unaware.

After we had successfully navigated Portree without a map and had visited the free toilets, we took a bus down to Eilean Donan Castle, which we have documented in both the photographic medium and the pen and ink.

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Next post is a big one, Harry Potter fans! Can you guess where we’re going?

-k&r

Glencoe

On our way up to Glencoe we camped for a night on the shore of Loch Lomond, Britain’s largest stretch of inland water. Here’s the view from our tent. It looks like we’re adrift!
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From a resort across the lake the house band was playing a rock version of Gangnam Style. We cringed ourselves to sleep.

Next day we bussed up to Glencoe, and Ryan sketched it straight away. Also, his hat looks like a donut.
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We asked around for the filming location of Hagrid’s hut in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and were eventually directed up a hillside, “just about a hundred yards that way, where the trees come down.” Such imprecise coordinates led us in strange loops for quite a while. We questioned every flat, fern-feathered patch of ground. Is this it? Finally we crested a rise and it was unmistakable. Here was the location of the hut!
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Hagrid met us and showed us around.
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We were able to stand right on Hagrid’s doorstep, wobble along the bridge to nowhere, and witness Hermione punching Draco!… Well, maybe not exactly… The entire filming set since filming in 2003 has since been dismantled, but with the help of photos, video clips, and guidebooks, we were able to figure out the camera angles, including the scene with Harry and Lupin on the bridge, which was also shot here.
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Karen snuck around in the Forbidden Forest with Harry and Hermione.
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Ryan tried to blend in.
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The view from Hagrid’s Hut.
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We scurried around on that mountainside for a couple hours, imagining the production ten years ago. How cool!

We hiked around more along the River Coe, for which the glen is named, and Karen found a seat carved in a stump and gave a toast to the great day of discovery, with her pint….of milk.
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Glasgow

Our next stop in Scotland was in Glasgow. It’s a big big city, but with a lot of old old buildings still looming hugely over the streets in a beautiful way. There are also some neat bridges that span the river.

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We couch surfed with a German fellow named Alexio, who is working on a dissertation on locally sourced food.

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The first morning he showed us how to cook an Austrian breakfast dish whose name I didn’t catch but whose translation I remember: “The Emperor’s Mess.” It was basically sliced apples (locally grown) fried then mixed with pancake batter and doused in brown sugar. It was basically delicious.

We spent most of the day in Pollock Park, which was voted Europe’s Best Park in 2008. Hanging out in the Deer Field were the strangest deer we’ve ever seen.These deer are also referred to as Highland Cattle.

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We toured the Pollock House, which was situated in exquisite gardens and housed an impressive collection of Spanish art, including El Greco, which my phone just tried to correct to Eel Greco.

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There was a lovely bridge.

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Also in the park resides the Burrell Collection, which is a big museum of art and artifacts collected by a rich man named Burrell. We were lucky enough to be there during the Impressionist exhibit, one of our favorite kinds of art. Along with paintings by Sisley, Renior, and Manet (sadly, no Monet), there were a bunch of pastels by Degas.

We took the subway, which just goes in a big circle, to the city centre for some food at an old bank that had been converted into a pub called The Counting House. We tried haggis and liked it! It’s best just not to think about it while you’re eating it. But I never think about what I’m eating anyway, so it was easy. Sometimes food will just disappear right in front of me and I’ll have to follow the clues and employ deductive logic to figure out that it has ended up inside my own stomach. Anyway, Karen’s hot dog was comically large.

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One of Alexio’s neighbors, an older Irish gent named Leo, showed up in the counting house and gave us a very entertaining evening of conversation. He seemed to know something about everything, and would open his eyes really wide and smile with a huge open mouth every time he rattled off interesting trivia. Also, his favorite movie was “2001,” so he was instantly my best friend.

Alexio mentioned a place that had open mic night where all performers got a free pint, so we frantically scribbled out a story to tell on stage with Penny Whistle Ryan as the soundtrack. It was about a haggis with eyes and a peculiar caterpillar and by the time we got to the place it was too weird to tell to anyone, especially a crowd of strangers who were already on heightened alert for anything that sounded like it was just being done for a free pint, so we walked back to Alexio’s house past the university tower, which he compared to Hogwarts…

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…and Kelvingrove Gallery, which made us wish we had another day in Glasgow just to explore the massive collection of art contained within. TRAVEL TIP: Spend more than one day in Glasgow! Maybe we’ll come back. There’s also the botanical gardens to see. But for now, onwards and northwards!

  – k&r

Culzean Castle

Hello Scotland! We took a ferry from Belfast to a tiny town called Cairnryan, which is our names put together!

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There was nowhere to stay or eat in Cairnryan, especially since it was a Sunday, so we walked six hot miles along the shore of Loch Ryan to the town of Stranraer. Ryan tried to annoy Karen by playing “The Ants Go Marching” over and over in a shrill octave on the penny whistle, but she was just impressed instead.

In Stranraer we camped at a campsite swarming with rabbits. They were everywhere, hopping randomly and being very picky about the best blades of grass. The campsite lady said they were pets.

We took a bus to Culzean Castle, considered to be architect Robert Adam’s masterpiece. The rest of the post will be photos so you can see for yourself. We’re absolutely loving Scotland so far.

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P.S. We camped just near Culzean Castle, overlooking the sea in our own architectural masterpiece.

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-k&r