Tuesday, 23 May 2017


When J. K. Rowling finished the first book in her series of Harry Potter novels Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997,  having experienced a hand-to-mouth existence on benefits, she could hardly have dreamt of the riches that would come her way, not only from the sales of the books themselves, running at several hundred million copies, but from the resulting series of films, starring such luminaries as Robbie Coltrane, John Cleese and the late Richard Harris, as well as launching the careers of several young actors and actresses, with Daniel Radcliffe playing Harry.  The films feature a number of stunning locations – see my previous post Pottering Around On The Jacobite Steam Train for some of the Scottish locations – but one of the most recognisable locations is Alnwick Castle, aka Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Part of the schooling of Harry and his schoolmates consisted of  learning to fly a broomstick, an activity which was overseen by Madam Hooch (Zoe Wannamaker).  This skill was passed on in the area of the Outer Bailey, which was also where the rules of Quidditch (a broomstick-based sport) were taught.  As for the Inner Bailey, this was where Harry and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) crash-landed the famous flying car.  The imposing entrance to the castle from the gardens, known as Lion Arch, served as the entrance to Hogwarts, leading to Hagrid’s cabin and the Forbidden Forest.

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Alnwick Castle state rooms exterior. Photo by James West, via Wikimedia Commons

Alnwick Castle, which is still inhabited by the Duke of Northumberland, not surprisingly makes the most of its Harry Potter connections by offering, among other things, broomstick lessons, primarily aimed at the kids, although adults have been known to join in the fun.  The lessons are given by characters dressed up as professors, and take place in the area where the broomstick lesson scenes were shot for the film.  However, it’s not all about Harry Potter.  Garden enthusiasts will love the grounds surrounding the castle which include such novelties as a Poison Garden full of toxic plants where visitors are led around by a guide to avoid mishaps, and the magnificent Grand Cascade water feature.  There is also a massive treehouse which serves as a unique treetop restaurant.  

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The Grand Cascade. Photo by John Firth, via Wikimedia Commons

The castle itself was first started in 1096 by Yves de Vescy, Baron of Alnwick.  Being at the northern end of England, the castle was repeatedly captured and besieged by Scottish kings.  Later, during the Wars of the Roses, the castle was held by Lancastrian forces.  Various alterations were made to the castle over the years, but the rooms on view to the public today are characterised by opulent Italianate interiors, providing a contrast to the solid medieval exteriors.  Beyond the castle, the town of Alnwick is an attractive market town which, apart from the castle, is known as the home of Barter Books.  Housed in a former railway station, it is one of the country’s largest second-hand bookshops.  A short distance away is the glorious Northumberland coast, with yet more alluring castles such as Bamburgh Castle and Dunstanburgh Castle.

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