Guest Post: HP Studio Tour

Hello everyone! My name is Rebecca and I’m so happy to be writing a guest post for you today!

I’m turning 28 this year, and like a lot of people my age, I was BIG into Harry Potter as a kid. Midnight releases for books and movies, all the merch, playing Harry Potter games with my sisters, the whole deal.

So when a good friend from University invited me to a conference in London, England, I knew I would have to visit some Harry Potter attractions.

We had a busy trip, and while I didn’t make it to King’s Cross Station (oh look, a great excuse to go back to England!) we did go to the Warner Brother’s Studio Tour to see the sets and props used in the making of the movies.

And it was so worth it.

The Studio Tour is outside of London and the tube doesn’t run there. However, there are lots of travel packages  that offer a bus to and from the tour, departing from convenient places around London (often near major hotels).

The only downside of taking the bus is that you have to catch it to get back to the city! I could have stayed all day! That being said, the timeframe that we had (approx. 3 hours) was reasonable and I never felt like I had to rush by something super fast to be able to make the bus.

The tour is set up a bit like a museum; most of the items are behind railings so you can’t touch, and there are information sheets all over telling you about each item, and fun “behind the scenes” facts. There are also video clips playing –  from the movies, as well as interviews with the cast and crew.

The tour begins in the Great Hall, as if you were a student arriving at Hogwarts for the first time!

One thing I appreciated was that there was no forced Sorting ceremony. While this might be fun for some people, I know that for many adult fans, we know our houses and definitely have strong house loyalty! (Team Ravenclaw here!)

The great hall was amazing, (the whole tour was) but there were two instances in particular that gave me the WOW factor.

Do you remember in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when Hagrid takes Harry to Diagon Alley for the first time ? That was a magical scene in both the book and the movie, where you really get to experience the magic of the wizarding world.

Walking into the set for Diagon Alley – it all came flooding back. Suddenly I was 8 years old again reading my first Harry Potter book. That magic and pure joy was truly something special.

The second location where I got that feeling was the Hogwarts Castle room. This is where they have the model of the castle that was used for all the external sweeping shots. You can see every tower, all the grounds, Hagrid’s hut. I actually teared up a bit.

Aside from the marvel of all the sets and props, the staff were also amazing. In Ollivander’s wand shop, they’ve written the names of cast and crew on the wand boxes. When I was there, a staff member was sitting with a young child who was asking where all of the character’s wands were. And the staff member knew each one! She was using a laser pointer to indicate the appropriate wand boxes all around the room.  I’m sure that was a special moment for that child, and the staff member sure made an impact on the guests!

I could go on all day, but I don’t want to spoil that magical childhood transportation moment for anyone!

I would highly recommend this tour to any and all Harry Potter fans – no matter your age! I will note that part of the tour does go outside to the Knight Bus, Number Four Privet Drive, and a few other locations, so check the weather and bring a jacket if needed.

Thanks again to Jen, Eric, Dragon, and baby Pegasus for the opportunity to write for you today!

You can contact Jennifer Desmarais through Orleans Travel. jennifer.desmarais@orleanstravel.ca

Men in Black: International – spoiler free

I saw MiB:I last night. It was so much fun; probably helped by how excited we got every time Les Twins (YouTube, Instagram) were on screen (which was often, but not often enough IMHO).

Men in Black: International poster from IMDb.

The cool thing about this movie is that we saw a lot of different locations that would make quite the fun trip.

We start off in New York City.

Take the hyperloop to London.

Travel to Marrakesh in Morocco.

Paris at night is featured several times, specifically the Eiffel Tower.

Hmm… I guess we’ll have to start working on the hyperloop and alien tech to get between places….

You can contact Jennifer Desmarais through Orleans Travel. jennifer.desmarais@orleanstravel.ca

Chatham, Kent

A few years ago, I really got into Call the Midwife. There were only a few seasons out at that time, and we voraciously devoured them. I had to stop watching when I got pregnant, because hormones, but I look forward to the time when I don’t get all weepy when I watch it.

Image from www.thedockyard.co.uk

However, if I ever get the chance to go to Chatham in South-East England, I am going to go on the Call the Midwife walking tour in the historic Dockyard district. The tour is 90 minutes long with a guide, and you get access to the rest of the Dockyard during the rest of the day.


Are you interested in travelling to England? You can contact Jennifer Desmarais through Orleans Travel. jennifer.desmarais@orleanstravel.ca

Fandom Guest Post: UK Road Trip Part 1

Jasmine Murray-Bergquist is a costume designer, bookworm, amateur archer and all-around geek. Her body lives in Ottawa while her mind is consistently elsewhere. Her website can be found here, and you can follow her on Twitter!


My sisters and I have always been big dreamers. I wouldn’t say any of our dreams are too big, but as we have more dreams than are possible to fulfil in one lifetime, some of our childhood plans and ambitions got shelved indefinitely at a young age.

That changed this spring. When my sister Karin was invited to present a paper she wrote at an academic conference in Kirkwall, Orkney, we jumped at the chance to make one of those long lost ideas a reality. As voracious readers and lovers of a good road trip, we decided that after the conference we would rent a car and tour Buckingham, making pilgrimages to the homes of some of our most beloved authors. With the expert help of Jen, before I knew it, everything was booked and we were ready to go.

Even after talking about doing a trip like this for years, the reality far surpassed anything I’d ever imagined.

I arrived in Edinburgh on a cool, rainy, April morning. With 13 hours to kill before Karin arrived (and three days before my luggage arrived, but that’s a different story!), I went exploring. My destination was a place that is truly somewhat of a holy site for me. A place that would be the perfect spot to start the Author Tour. A place where a young single mother unknowingly created the foundation of my childhood, changing my life forever.

The Elephant House is an unassuming place tucked neatly into a historic street front in Edinburgh’s Old Town. Many authors have frequented the cafe over the years including Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith, but it’s best known for being the place where J. K. Rowling sat and wrote Harry Potter. I got goosebumps as I walked in, although that could’ve been the chill of the Scottish fog sinking through to my bones. With a pot of Earl Grey tea and an elephant shaped shortbread cookie, I settled into an empty seat by the front window. The cafe was crowded with people trying to find relief from the rain and wind. The hubbub of conversation, the clinking of teacups in saucers, the tinkle of the bell above the door as people came and went, all the sounds, smells, and sights wound their way into my consciousness, and it was a few minutes before I was even aware that I was writing.

The sign at the Elephant cafe with a "birthplace of Harry Potter" pamphlet. Picture by Jasmine.
The sign at the Elephant House with a “birthplace of Harry Potter” pamphlet. Picture by Jasmine.

I sat for a minute, staring down at my notebook and the paragraphs I’d just written, and suddenly I understood why Edinburgh is known for being a city for writers and artists. It immediately gets inside you, filling you with inspiration. It forces you to create. There is magic lurking under every cobblestone, stories whispering at you from every doorway. It doesn’t just give you the desire to write, it gives you the need.

The next morning Karin and I started our journey north by train. The next few days were very focused on the conference, although we did find a couple of author moments amidst all the learning. In Inverness, we found a plaque commemorating William Topaz McGonagall. If you haven’t read the poem “The Tay Bridge Disaster”…well, just go read it, and it will become very clear why McGonagall is known as the worst poet ever. Luckily for him he was rich, and able to pay people to put up with his readings. When we reached beautiful, mystical, magical Orkney, we discovered the world of George Mackay Brown. A famed poet, novelist, and dramatist, he also wrote many short stories and essays. His work is everywhere, especially in Stromness, his hometown.

From Orkney, we took the train back south to Glasgow, where we picked up the car and hit the open road. Karin was a fantastic co-pilot (her Chewbacca impression is second to none) and navigated us perfectly out of Edinburgh and along the winding country roads to the small western Scottish town of Ayr. That was where we stayed that night, but our goal in Ayrshire was the nearby village of Alloway, birthplace of poet, lyricist, whiskey advocate, and great seducer – the Bard of Ayrshire, Robert Burns.

If you ever have the chance, the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum is so very much worth the visit. It’s fantastically laid out and a veritable wealth of information on the life and times of Burns and his family. Interactive and educational, there was so much to do and so many ways to immerse yourself in the times and ways of late 1800s Scotland. The panels are all peppered with Scots words (the language Burns wrote in and fought to keep alive), which is a really fun way of learning the language along with the details of Burns’ life.

Karin with the mouse statue on the path at the Burns Museum
Karin with the mouse statue on the path at the Burns Museum. Picture by Jasmine.

Outside the museum there is a path that winds through a field marked by metal artwork depicting the story of Tam O’Shanter, one of Burns’ most famous poems, as well as a giant mouse (a nod to Burns’ To A Mouse). The path takes you to the small cottage where Burns was born, kept as it was when he was a child there. As you walk back to the museum, if you take the road instead of the path, you pass by the Alloway kirk (church), which is where poor unfortunate Tam sees all manner of horrible supernatural creatures whooping it up as he tries to get home from the pub one night. Even it broad daylight, our skin prickled imaging the witches, goblins, and tortured ghosts as we peeked into the ruins.

We spent far, far too much time there, but it was so wonderful. From Ayr we turned south, driving down the ruggedly stunning west coast of Scotland, before turning east and working out way into the Lakes District. This stunning region was the inspiration for one of my father’s favourite books from childhood, “Swallows and Amazons” by Arthur Ransome. My dad read it to my sisters and I when I was probably 8 or so and we immediately fell in love with it. Written and set in the 30s, it’s the story of the four Walker children who spend their summers sailing their borrowed boat the Swallow around an unnamed lake in the Lakes District, where they meet the two Blackett children, who have a boat of their own – the Amazon – and are pirates. We used to sail all around the lake where my grandparents live when we were kids, so both the sailing and the imaginations of the kids utterly captivated us.

While the lake in the books is never explicitly named, people believe that it’s based on Coniston Water, so that was where we went after a beautiful night in the nearby town of Grasmere (where we took a quick wander around the grounds of Dove Cottage, where the Wordsworths lived and wrote). Coniston Water is the third largest lake in England, at five miles long but only a half mile wide. A kiosk down by the shore rents out all manner of boats, and soon we were zipping down the lake in our very own Swallow. The feeling was glorious. The boat hummed as we skipped along under the watchful eye of the Old Man of Coniston, the mountain that looms large over the water. The energy of the experience and the powerful beauty of our surroundings soon put us in a creative mood again, and we sailed for miles while developing a very complex story (which I’m very grateful to Karin for writing down the details of in the car as we drove after). In theory we had the boat for two hours, in reality, we ended up staying out there for more like three and a half. The thing about a skinny lake is as easy as it is to sail down, when you have to tack short tacks back and forth all the way back, it takes a hell of a lot longer!

The common theme we had through the trip was getting so caught up in what we were doing that we took too long at our stops, meaning we arrived later at our final destinations. Especially on our way out of Cumbria, we had to stop to see Hill Top, which is where Beatrix Potter lived and wrote. But despite the detours and the late hour, driving through Yorkshire at sunset was nothing short of breathtaking. It was like driving through a James Herriot story: the farmers in their tweed caps, the sheep wandering unsupervised beside the country road, the moon hanging low in the purple twilight as the lights of the village in the valley come on, it was too perfect for words.

That night, we arrived in Haworth. I could feel my heart rate quickening as soon as we arrived. Our hostel was a Gothic mansion on a hill outside the village and it was the perfect setting to get us in the mood for the part of the trip that we were possibly the most excited for.


Stay tuned for Part 2 on November 9th!

If you are interested in booking a trip to like this. You can contact Jennifer Desmarais through Orleans Travel. jennifer.desmarais@orleanstravel.ca