With the kids back at school, now’s the perfect time to get on board the latest arrival at Warner Bros Studio. Katy Dillon buys an adult return on the Hogwarts Express. Photography Joseph Conway
I grew up with Harry Potter. Not literally – my letter from Hogwarts must have been eaten by an owl or something, because a beardy half-giant never chased me to a shack on a rock to tell me ‘Yer a wizard, Katy’ – but the boy-who-lived reared his lightning-scarred head regularly throughout my childhood.
It started in 1997, when I was six years old and sharing ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ as a bedtime story with my brother. Fourteen years later, in 2011, as I comforted my best friend, a weeping 21-year-old Potterphile, during the closing scene of ‘Deathly Hallows: Part 2’, I feared it was all over between HP and me.
That break-up was hard and I wasn’t really ready to let go, so naturally I jumped at the opportunity to check out the latest attraction at the Harry Potter studio tour – the actual 78-year-old steam train that took Harry back to school at the start of each term. This is the perfect time for adult aficionados to visit: with the kids back at school, you can take your time examining wands, geek out over the kinetic elements of the sets and appreciate the astoundingly intricate production design of the films, without tripping over squealing Dobby-sized mini-fans.
So here I am, at a disconcertingly authentic looking mock-up of King’s Cross station, standing on Platform 9 3/4. A loud whistle, accompanied by a billow of smoke, sounds intermittently from the train, making everyone jump.
On board, each compartment is dressed with props from a different film, right down to Lavender Brown’s L + R heart-breath drawing on one of the doors. Across the platform, in a series of compartments with green-screen windows, you can take a seat (and a selfie), then pretend you’re inside the Hogwarts Express on your way to Wizarding School as the countryside flashes past. A voiceover talks you through the journey, while you wave at Mr Weasley’s flying Ford Anglia, play ‘catch the chocolate frog’ and pretend not to jump when Dementors loom threateningly close.
The Railway Shop has much more going for it snacks-wise than the standard Upper Crust/ Boots Meal Deal combo. I stock up on packets of Fizzing Whizzbees, Exploding BonBons, Fudge Flies and U-No-Poo (‘The constipation sensation that’s gripping the nation’, as sold at the Weasley twins’ practical joke shop). You’ll be pleased to know the Warner Bros recipe doesn’t share the side-effects.
Out on the backlot, where larger sets such as the Knight Bus and a row of Privet Drive houses are displayed, there’s a new café where you can now order a burger with your Butterbeer. Other additions include a recreation of the terrifying scene in which Voldermortís snake Nagini finishes off Charity Burbage at Malfoy Manor. But thereís so much to see that anyone re-visiting the attraction will notice loads of details they missed the first time around (remember to look up to spot the snitch as you leave the Great Hall).
Every time the Potter party seems to have drawn to a close, something new pulls us back into the world of witchcraft and wizardry. It never feels like the fans are being exploited, though. Because enjoying Potter is like riding a broomstick: no matter how old you get, you never forget how.
May half-term madness will be here before you can say ‘Expelliarmus’. So book tickets for a weekday and call in sick to work (you can say you’ve caught Spattergroit). Then you can get a carriage on the Hogwarts Express all to yourself.
Warner Bros Studio: The Making of Harry Potter Aerodrome Way, Leavesden, WD25 7LS. wbstudiotour.co.uk. Watford Junction rail then shuttle bus. £29 adults, £21.50 children (five-15).