SETS CAST A MAGIC SPELL
There was magic in the air as the familiar faces of Harry, Ron and Hermione appeared on a giant screen and then beckoned us forward.
Seconds later the screen gently lifted and the doors of the Great Hall stood there before us for real. And with genuine excitement we stepped into the world of Hogwarts. It was a magical moment. The first of thousands.
There was magic as we walked into the Great Hall. Magic as we strolled up to Dumbledore's multi-levelled office and the kitchen of the Weasleys' burrow. Magic as we peered at the hundreds of bottles on the shelves in the potions classroom. Magic as we stood on the rear platform of the purple Knight Bus towering 22 feet above us. And magic as we wandered along the real Diagon Alley repeatedly turning around so we didn't miss a thing.
This is a very special world. One we all knew so well from J K Rowling's books and Warner Brothers' films. And whether you are seven or 70 you will be enthralled, enchanted and completely captivated.
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In two giant warehouses, on the site of the hangars just outside Watford where the films were made, is a treasure trove of sets, props, costumes and movie wizardry from the eight Harry Potter movies.
What amazes you is the detail; the endless hours of work that went into coins, bottles, drawings, books and decorations that may have made it to the screen for a mere second or two or possibly not at all.
What is often astounding is that things you dismissed as clever computer animation were often made for real. The battalion of locks and levers on the giant castle doors that intertwine to keep Hogwarts safe from the Dementors are there. So too is Mad Eye Moody's elaborate trunk.
Every now and then video screens let you into secrets of how things were made. But don't think for a moment that it dispels the magic. You learn how Quidditch was shot and how Harry, Hermione and Ron flew on their broomsticks. And you can have a go yourself. But that doesn't spoil anything, in fact it lets you into their world. And that is worth its weight in Gringotts gold.
You wander from set to set stepping from the boys' dormitories to the cosiness of the Gryffindor common room. And as you wander your mind plays back scenes from the film or you recall J K's words.
Everywhere there are excited cries from youngsters and parents.
You literally follow in the footsteps of Harry, his friends and his enemies. And at every step you will be amazed at the intricacy and the quality around you. Harry's first uniform, Hermione's lavish ball gown and scores of others.
There are moments when you turn a corner and your eyes will open wide with wonder. And there are lots of these. There's the real Privet Drive, the enchanting pitched-roof wooden bridge and Hogwarts Castle itself. And you get a chance to be pictured riding a broomstick or at the wheel of the Weasleys' enchanted Ford Anglia.
"We have just got to do this," said my daughter, leading me towards a queue of people and a series of green screens where familiar flying scenes are shot.
We spent more than four hours there and the time flew. There is so much to see and to marvel at. Just when you think you have seen everything something will catch your eye and you'll remember the film it came from.
This tour is a tribute to the skill of the 4,000 people who brought the Harry Potter stories to the big screen. And fittingly, the final room you walk through is a little homage to them all.
It is like Olivander's wand shop with thousands of wand-shaped boxes on shelves at all heights. Each of them bears the name of someone who acted in or worked on the films.
We stepped back into the Muggle world spellbound by all we had seen and with all of it imprinted in our minds and hearts forever.
We were lucky enough to be staying at The Grove, a hotel set in its own grounds just a five minute drive from the studio tour.
As the wood fire crackled in a contemporary glass hearth we received a warm and friendly welcome.
It is a lovely, stylish hotel, built mainly from red brick and surrounded by gardens and a golf course.
It was busy the night we stayed there but very relaxed. We enjoyed a really good evening meal in The Glasshouse, where no one stands on ceremony. You serve yourself, choosing anything from traditional English dishes to curry, noodles and fish. There is a similar self-service arrangement for breakfast. Everyone chats and everyone feels at ease.
Before we left the following morning we strolled through the hotel to their spa and had a leisurely swim. Don't miss the pool if you stay at The Grove. It sits beneath a pitched oak-beamed roof and is softly lit. The tiles in the pool itself are black, which gives it a really striking but at the same time soothing look. You'll never swim in more calming surroundings.
As we drove away we passed the sign for the Harry Potter Tour. We would all have loved to turn into the car park and do it all again.
The Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London is at Leavesden, just outside Watford. There are train links from Euston and a shuttle bus from Watford Junction.
By road it is just off junction 19 of the M25 and is signposted.
Tickets cost £29 for adults, £21.50 for children (aged five to 15) and free for under-fours. You are advised to book your tour in advance, before making travel arrangements.
The Grove offers A Magical Tour for Muggles which starts from £350 per room per night and includes overnight accommodation in The Grove's West Wing, breakfast and two tickets to Warner Brothers Studio Tour.
Additional kids' rooms are 25 per cent off, from £262.50 per room per night.
Additional nights available, two nights from £525 or threes from £700.
Visit www.thegrove.co.uk or call 01923 296 010.