A Magical Weekend in Hertfordshire

Wizards, witches, saints and Romans may appear an odd combination of things to come by in a county just north of London. Nevertheless, our short break in Hertfordshire managed to encompass them all.

The original motivation for the trip was our daughter F’s birthday treat, which had been postponed a year due to the pandemic. We had scored tickets to the Making of Harry Potter Experience at Warner Bros Studios, London. Although billed as London, the studios are actually in Watford. The weekend our tickets could be used just happened to be our wedding anniversary, so S was expecting a bit more than a budget hotel on a Watford business park. I therefore booked a night at the Aubrey Park Hotel in the Hertfordshire countryside, about a 30 minute drive from the studios. We brought along F’s friend B for the ride, who is as much a Potterhead as her.

Arriving at the hotel early afternoon, we had a late lunch in the bar, after the waiter had given me a fright by saying he wasn’t sure if they were serving food. Luckily, my meticulous research had proved to be correct and meals were being served all afternoon. After retiring to our room to check the football results, it was time to set off for Warner Bros Studios.

We had a timed entry slot so it proved unproblematic gaining entry without delay. We walked into the exhibition and the 2 Potterheads were awestruck. One of the first things we came to was the cupboard under the stairs, Harry Potter’s first bedroom at 4 Privet Drive. I must say I’ve seen better sleeping quarters. We passed on through the dining hall at Hogwarts, meticulously laid out with (unfortunately) fake food and costumes worn by characters in the film series.

Moving into another room, we found the Yule Ball. This took 90 decorators a month to create, with ice sculptures inspired by Brighton Pavilion, mistletoe, Christmas trees and a buffet of seafood served on ice. The chocolate feast from “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” followed. By this time, I was already looking forward to supper.

The exhibition included many sets including magic wands to lift and ride, the enchanted forest and the Hogwarts Express. At the bank, I had a face-to-face encounter with a goblin teller. Towards the end was a model of Hogwarts itself and the Covered Bridge leading to it.

I have to say, all the sets showed a painstaking attention to detail and must have taken considerable time and effort to construct. I should also mention the lifesize buildings that appeared in the films and the refreshment stops for butterbeer and ice-cream – better arrange a 2nd mortgage for the latter, and for the extensive gift shop at the end.

F and B were enthralled by the whole experience, so as a birthday treat, it worked extremely well. We had cakes and coffee at a café in the foyer, before returning to our hotel.

The following morning, we visited the nearby historic city of St Albans. The plan was to let the kids off the leash while S and I went for an anniversary lunch, but we were both so full after the hotel breakfast buffet, that we didn’t want much more than a sandwich.

I parked the car at Verulamium Park. With a name like that, it wasn’t a surprise to find remains of the old Roman town wall.

Across the park is Verulamium Museum which chronicles everyday Roman life in the area. Unfortunately, it is closed on Sunday so we instead enjoyed a pleasant walk past the lake towards the cathedral. Enroute, we passed through the Great Gateway of the Monastery which has an interesting history explained on an informative plaque.

Inside the cathedral is a shrine to St Alban, Britain’s first saint who became a martyr for his Christian faith around 300AD. Also notable is a tapestry along one wall, telling the story of Britain from mediaeval times onwards, with special reference to St Albans.

St Albans Cathedral

The town has an oldy worldy vibe and is a pleasure to explore. S and I came across many fine eateries, but settled for a takeaway sandwich which we ate in the beautiful Verulamium Park.

Verulamium Park

At this point, we came across the kids again, who were scoffing ice creams and seemed surprised to see us munching our lunch on a park bench. After a little more exploring, it was time to set off for home. I’m glad to say we got back early enough to go out for an anniversary meal.

Factfile:

Location

The Making of Harry Potter Experience is at Warner Bros Studios in Watford, 21 miles north of London. St Albans is 7 miles north east of Watford

Transport

Watford can be reached easily by train from London Euston station with a connecting bus service from Watford Junction station to Warner Bros Studios (total journey time approximately 45 minutes). St Albans City station can be reached from London St Pancras in just over 20 minutes. Watford is just south of the M25 motorway  J20 and St Albans north of J21a. They can also be accessed from the M1 (J6 and J8 respectively)

Information

Click the links for further information on the Making of Harry Potter and St Albans

Food and Accommodation

There are cafes at the entrance to Warner Bros Studios and hotels nearby. There are hotels and restaurants in St Albans, with further accommodation available in the South Hertfordshire area. Many more options are available in London

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