Like any committed Potterhead, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I read The Philosopher’s Stone. I was sick. Really sick. Stay-home-from-work-and-try-not-to-die sick. I was 21-ish, living in London and sleeping on a friend’s couch. He tucked me in that morning, admonished me to stay put and get better, made me a cup of tea and bought me a book. The book. That book. I didn’t know it yet, but I was about to embark on a journey with countless other people witnessing the birth of a phenomenon. I was actually a little late to the party. It was late 2001, and I was dimly aware of the fact that London had been papered over with movie posters of a bespectacled little boy looking inordinately serious and surrounded by people in robes. One of them was Alan Rickman, so that got my attention. Maggie Smith too, and Richard Harris…..
Anyhoo, I read the book. And then I read the next one. And then I got my flu-befuddled head out of bed and staggered down the road to WH Smith to buy the third and fourth book. I was properly hooked, and I have been every since. Following Harry’s journey has bought me, like so many others around the world, a great deal of joy. I anxiously awaited each new book in the canon. I celebrated the release of each movie and the chance to re-immerse myself in the wizarding world. And I cried happy tears when it was all over, and All Was Well.
In the interim, I got married and had a daughter. That daughter was six when I decided she was Old Enough to begin the story, and I read the books to her at bedtime over the next 3 years. Like me, Uchenna was a deeply-devoted fan from the outset. By ‘fan’, I obviously mean (as any parent of a fan will tell you), that no birthday, Christmas or Halloween since has passed without some kind of Potter-related theme, costume or present. Her most treasured possession is still the incredibly expensive piece of moulded resin in the shape of a wand that I bought at Hamley’s on a business trip to the UK in 2014, and the Spell Book I stayed up all Christmas Eve writing. I’d invented some brilliant ones before I discovered a fanfic website with a veritable anthology of them. Ah well.
Fast forward to 2019. Uchenna turned 12 and I turned….an age that usually requires a special celebration. Like a party. I don’t really like parties, but there didn’t seem any way of avoiding this one (because of the big, milestone number)….until I hit upon a BRILLIANT idea: instead of having a party, I’d spend all the money on a trip instead. That way, if anyone asked me why they hadn’t been invited to a Special-Age-Birthday-Celebration, I could truthfully explain that I was blowing all the party-and-cake money on a holiday instead. Which is perfectly reasonable. And, since Uchenna was now of an age where she’d appreciate such things, it was decided that the holiday would be to London, in pursuit of All Things Potter. Just the two of us.
And so began 6 months of planning. The first thing I bought were our flights. The very next thing I bought, before accommodation, insurance or anything else practical, were our Warner Bros, Harry Potter Studio Tour tickets. Everything else, I decided, was to be planned around that. And so it was.
Here, then, is our guide to 10 days in London and Beyond, for Potterheads and the People Who Love them:
We stayed at a Harry Potter-themed room in a boarding house in Kings Cross. I found this on AirBNB, and it was absolutely perfect. Perfect location, perfect size (for two) and perfectly decorated. London is notoriously expensive, and any hope of spending less than R1500 per night for a room or R2000+ per night for a hotel will be swiftly dashed. My policy, when travelling with such a specific sightseeing itinerary in mind, is to pay a bit extra for location, even if it means compromising on space. Yun’s little room, complete with wainscoting wallpaper, Potter-themed posters, Gryffindor linen and complimentary every-flavoured jelly beans was an absolute winner. Sharing ablutions and a kitchen isn’t a problem for me, but if you’d prefer something private, there is a Hogwarts-style 5* hotel you might fancy:
• Little Harry Potter Room, Kings Cross (R1100 per night, self-catering)
• Wizard Chambers at Georgian House Hotel, Pimlico (R2700 – R4200 per night, B&B)
If you would like to stay further afield, then there are a host of options throughout the UK, including the actual house used as Harry’s childhood home in Godric’s Hollow:
• De’Vere House (Godric’s Hollow), Lavenham (R2400 – R2900 per night, self catering)
• Canongate Luxury Homestay, Edinburgh (R2100 – R2500 per night, self catering)
• Oxford University Rooms, Oxford (R1600 – R3500 per night, B&B)
• The Witchery by the Castle, Edinburgh (R6800 – R7800 per night, B&B)
• JK Rowling Suite, Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh (R29000 – R31000 per night, B&B)
That last one is where JK Rowling finished writing The Deathly Hallows, in case you were wondering.