It’s been a stupefying 20 years since the first Harry Potter film was released. Like broomsticks, owls and enchanted Ford Anglias, time flies, but a trip to where the magic really happened might help turn back the years.
And no, you don’t need to speak "parseltongue" to discover this chamber of travel secrets.
The boy who lived up to expectations
November 2001 brought a bright-eyed Harry Potter, a bushy-haired Hermione Granger and a troop of flaming-maned Weasleys to the big screens as JK Rowling’s beloved 1997 novel was adapted by Warner Bros studios.
Hundreds of millions of moviegoers were left spellbound as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone captured the imaginations of fans young and old, launching the biggest film franchise of all time and eventually surpassing $1 billion in cinema sales worldwide.
While not all of us were lucky enough to have received our Hogwarts letter, non-magic folk (aka muggles) have been joining in the wizardry across the UK, where the majority of the eight films were shot. From the real-life grounds of Hogwarts to an Airbnb in Godric’s Hollow, these locations attract visitors in the millions.
The real Hogwarts
Many historical sights seen as too stuffy and outdated by the youth of 2001 soon had a new lease of life as hundreds of teenage actors swept through their halls, including the 900-year-old Durham Cathedral, where Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry first came to life.
The ancient cloisters and sleepy manicured grounds were transformed and the cathedral, in the north-east of England, became one of the most in-demand days out for young explorers.
The cathedral’s walkways were used in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone for scenes of Harry, Ron and Hermione strolling between lessons, while the adjoining grass area was dusted with fake snow in the wintery scene, when Harry first flies his beloved Hedwig around the castle.
Perhaps most famously, the area also set the scene for Ron’s “eat slugs” curse, which rebounded and left the ashen-faced teenager belching giant molluscs onto the grass, to the delight of intended target Draco Malfoy.
Farther south in Cheltenham, tens of thousands of visitors pass the threshold of Gloucester Cathedral each year, but only one mountain troll is known to have smashed up the girl’s toilets.
The Gothic building’s lavatorium features in the films several times, first when the unlikely trio take on the troll in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and second when Harry overhears Professor Severus Snape discussing his unbreakable vow in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
The cathedral also briefly features in the second film, when a bloody announcement is smeared on the walls of the North Walk, revealing that the Chamber of Secrets had been opened.
During filming, 170 pupils from the nearby King’s School were given the opportunity to join Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint on screen, by starring as extras in the movies.
Wiltshire is home to one of the most recognisable filming locations, which has become known as “Harry Potter Village” over the years. Scenes from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets and Half-Blood Prince have all been filmed around the 14th-century village of Lacock, with Lacock Abbey taking on the role of Hogwarts.
The stately home, which is now owned by the UK's National Trust, was originally a monastery, and the abbey’s Warming Room turned decidedly chilly when it was transformed into the classroom of skulking potions master, Prof Snape.
In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the abbey’s Chapter House was also used in the Mirror of Erised scenes when Harry sees his parents for the first time, while the corridors were used extensively in the Chamber of Secrets as the famous boy wizard frantically chased the echoes of the serpent Basilisk as it moved through the castle walls.
Sleeping in Godric’s Hollow
Towards the end of the franchise, De Vere House in Suffolk found fame as the birthplace of Harry in the Deathly Hallows Part One.
The Grade I-listed house is among 340 listed buildings in the town of Lavenham, which is one of the best-preserved medieval villages in England. In 2017, the house was put up for sale for almost £1 million, but conjuring up a buyer was a struggle, and now fans can spend a night in Godric’s Hollow by booking on Airbnb or through the De Vere House website.
It is owned by Jane Ranzetta, who has lived there with her family for three decades, though her home’s appearance in the film came as a surprise. “I am a Harry Potter fan and couldn’t believe my home appeared in the film,” Ranzetta says.
“My sister lives across the road and she spoke to the crew to ask if they knew which houses would appear, but they just smiled. The house was built in 1485 by the De Vere family and is famous in its own right. It’s like it has its own personality.”
Next year, Ranzetta will be offering a series of Magic Weekends, including a magic lesson with a professional magician, special themed decor and a menu, with guests encouraged to arrive in fancy dress.
Ride the real railway to Hogwarts
Travelling like a wizard sounds tricky, but in the absence of portkeys and flying cars, muggles can hop on board the Hogwarts Express and soak up the scenery of the Scottish Highlands.
The Glenfinnan Viaduct features in both the Chamber of Secrets and the Prisoner of Azkaban, with the Hogwarts Express chuffing across its lines, and although fans are urged to stay away from the tracks, visitors can grab a train schedule to watch the spectacle from afar or even jump onboard with a pumpkin or haggis pasty.
Last but not least, visitors to Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, which was the setting of Harry’s first Quidditch lesson, can take to the skies during onside “broomstick training”, where youngsters will learn to curve and manoeuvre across the castle lawns.
So, whether you’re a thrill chaser or an adventure seeker, it’s time to get "Sirius" with your next holiday.
For more information about the historical sites, visit nationaltrust.org.uk