On a very specific day, at a very specific time, if one decides to make a trip to the Train Station in London and run into a brick wall between platform 9 and 10, he or she will most likely end up breaking something, or fall to the ground in severe pain at least.
Then again, according to J. K. Rowling, if one is not so ordinary nor usual, then that particular person might pass right through the same brick wall and show up on the King’s Cross Station Platform 9¾ where the Hogwarts Express sits ready to take him or her straight to the village of Hogsmeade, and Hogwarts: “The finest school of witchcraft and wizardry in the world.”
There are a few other and more special means to get there. Like a turquoise flying Ford Anglia, or on the back of a burning hot flying phoenix. But they are usually reserved for a very special someone who has been marked as his equal by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and has the power to vanquish that same You-Know-Who to his everlasting oblivion, Harry Potter.
Him aside, for those who wish to learn wizardry and witchcraft, its the Hogwarts Express and straight to the highlands of Scotland.
For young wizards, Hogwarts is one of the finest magical institutions in the world, a dreamlike place where they can learn the basics of Transfiguration, Charms, Potions, History of Magic, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Astronomy, and Herbology. For Muggles like us, well, Hogwarts is just another old abandoned castle. And while we, the people outside of fiction, can’t learn any of the magic that J. K. Rowling wrote in her books or visit the British Wizarding School later shown on screen, we can actually visit the next best thing. Alnwick Castle, the place where all the magic was filmed.
The famous castle sits right in the heart of Northumberland county in northeast England and is easily accessible today by road. There is no need for flying phoenixes or strange and magical submarine-type-ships either, for even the Port of Tyne and Newcastle’s International Airport are nearby.
Until this day, it earned its place in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth starring Cate Blanchett, the British sitcom Blackadder, the Downtown Abbey TV series, and most notably in the first two Harry Potter installations, The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets. As well as being a movie star, and a place where the wizard first learned to fly his broomstick to play quidditch, the “Windsor of the North” is the second largest inhabited castle in England next to Windsor Castle, and the largest medieval one that still serves as a home to someone.
Its first parts were erected in the 11th century by the Baron of Alnwick, Yves de Vescy, so he could stop the Scottish invasions, which he did, twice. Once in 1172, and once again in 1174. More than a century later, the place and the barony was bought by Henry de Percy, a medieval English magnate and the first of the Percy barons. It has been in the same family ever since.
A part of it is still the cozy home of Ralph George Algernon Percy, 12th Duke of Northumberland, and his family, but over the years was a residential palace for many other barons, earls, and dukes. One of these was Sir Harry “Hotspur” Percy, the firstborn son of the 1st Earl of Northumberland, who is remembered for his courageous acts against the Scots during the Anglo- Scottish wars near the end of the 14th century, and his rebellions against King Henry IV of England right after. Although the Percy family was always powerful, Hotspur is singled out as its most glorious member, and was even immortalized by William Shakespeare, who based a whole play (Henry IV) around his life and his relations with the king.
“To pluck bright honour from the pale-faced moon, Or dive into the bottom of the deep, Where fathom-line could never touch the ground, And pluck up drowned honour by the locks” – Hotspur (Henry Percy).
A well preserved majestic bronze statue of him still stands today in the courtyard of the castle, and folks can book a tour to learn more about the life of this hot-tempered individual. For while some parts of Alnwick Castle are occupied by the duke and his family, the rest of the halls and the chambers are open to the public. Visitors can get acquainted with its long and rich medieval history, have a meal in one of the chambers, watch a Harry Potter film, or pick a book from the magnificent library that holds no less than 16,000 books, and read it in peace far from all the hustle and the bustle of everyday city life in of the castle’s 150 rooms.
But having in mind that most of the people came to know the castle and developed an interest after it was used as a film set for Hogwarts in 2000 and 2002, most of the tours are Potter themed and the halls are filled with lots of wizards and teachers who put on multiple shows of magic tricks for their guests.
Most importantly, they teach kids and passionate enthusiastic adults to fly a broomstick in the outer bailey of the castle, on the same ground where Madam Hooch, played by Zoe Wanamaker, showed Harry and the other young wizards how to use theirs when they first learned the rules of quidditch.
While their lessons might not get people flying in the air, many say the activity itself is hilarious and at the very least offers a chance to capture on camera that perfect still moment of you flying.