The Scenery’s Changing and It Warms My Soul

Jet lag packs a much harder punch (at least for me) traveling east, so it was great to FINALLY get a good night’s sleep on night four of my trip. [Side note: I’m confused as to why the Hampton Inn had more comfortable beds than the Hilton or the DoubleTree. Isn’t that backwards? Anyway, thanks Hampton Inn!] So, with a good night’s sleep, a bit of a lie-in, and another morning of the traditional Scottish… English… Welsh breakfast, I had renewed energy for a day of sight-seeing.

We set out for St. Fagan’s National History Museum in Cardiff, which is a living, open-air museum of Welsh culture. The weather was once again absolutely perfect for strolling around the park. At St. Fagan’s, as with everywhere in Wales, we saw signs in English and in Welsh, which I found fascinating.

I thought this poem was neat, and then you can see the two languages side by side.

Walking around St. Fagan’s had a similar feel to exploring Jamestown as a kid. Tradesman were working here and there and various farm animals were roaming. We were able to walk around the recreated village and explore the different buildings there.

My favorite was the church, which surprises no one. The walls inside featured medieval paintings dating back to the 1300s, which had been discovered in the 1980s as patches of color started to show through the plaster. They were painted to depict various scenes from Scripture, which was a way of teaching Bible stories to also reach those who could not read.

The gardens near the Manor House were also quite lovely.

After exploring St. Fagan’s, we drove out to the beach on Barry Island, situated on Whitmore Bay. In searching for beaches online, Whitmore Bay had crossed my radar as a Blue Flag beach, so likely a good choice. Those who know me know that I’m not that much of a beach person. I like beaches, but I don’t want to spend a week at one. Whitmore Bay was a fine beach (a beach is a beach…), but its true gem was a cliff that jutted out to separate Whitmore Bay from Watch House Bay on the other side. From the beach, we climbed up to the cliff and walked out on the peninsula which had a walking path and lovely views. The way the beach and cliff are situated, it would be possible to watch the sunrise over the water in the morning, sit all day, and turn your chair around the other way to watch the sunset over the water on the other side.

We saw several folks walking their dogs along this path, and very few of those (if any) were on leads. This golden was my favorite.

Sunset was still a few hours off, so we did not stick around, but the sun was still pretty reflecting on the water as it started its descent.

Getting back to the hotel proved much simpler Wednesday night, having done it once already, and I got another night of glorious sleep before we departed Wales on Thursday to make the drive across to London.

The first stop on our journey was at Highclere Castle, better known as…

[Drumroll, please!]

…Downton Abbey!!!

(Also, for my friend Josh, I must add that, in 1987, Highclere was also cast as The Secret Garden’s Mistlethwaite Manor for the Hallmark Hall of Fame production.)

The castle interiors were amazing (no photography was allowed inside) and the rooms featured in Downton Abbey were labeled as such so you knew which room belonged to Lady Grantham, Mary, Edith, etc. It was great fun to walk around and see it all. Ironically, as we exited down the servant’s corridor at the end of the tour, we ran into Lady Fiona, the Countess of Carnarvon. Highclere is her home and she was instrumental in getting Downton Abbey to film there. Ensuring her estate’s living through Downton Abbey seems rather apropos, don’t you think?

Following our tour of the house, we had lunch in the tea room (which was delicious!) and proceeded to wander all over the beautiful grounds.

Before we could bring ourselves to depart, we had to stop and take a few more pictures of the castle itself.

I always get a kick out of TV sets and their practical locations, so visiting Downton Abbey was quite a treat.

But when we left Highclere/Downton, we drove to see some more sets…

Sets that turned me into an excited seven-year-old, bounding around in the spirit of “I love this! And this! And this and this and this AND OH MY GOODNESS LOOK AT THISSSSSSSSSS!!!”

Right this way, folks, to the Harry Potter tour at Warner Brothers Studios London!!!!

(Buckle up for a lot of exclamation points.)

Ron’s chess pieces at the entrance!

Photos in the lobby – SNAAAAAAAAAAPE!

The tour introduction was given in a room with screens panning through all the movie posters for each of the eight films. We were asked to cheer for our favorite film as our guide went around the room. Half-Blood Prince, baby!!!

We moved into a theater where we watched an introduction video about the making of the eight Harry Potter movies, and when the screen was raised, we found ourselves standing at the entryway doors into the Great Hall

The Great Hall was set up with the house tables, and of course we all know my favorite:

And the professors were on stage, hanging out for Dumbledore’s year-end speech, no doubt.

Once we moved beyond the Great Hall, we no longer had a guide and were left to wander according to our own devices. The tour guide had told us that it takes an average of two hours to tour everything. He said the shortest time anyone had ever used to complete the tour was 30 minutes, and the longest was 13 hours! I won’t keep you in suspense – we were inside for four glorious hours! Let’s hit some highlights, shall we?

The invisibility cloak!

The Yule Ball centerpiece:

The gates of Hogwarts:

The Gryffindor dormitory (Ron’s bed):

The Mirror of Erised! (Where apparently I see myself at Harry Potter! Seems legit.)

Dumbledore’s Office!

The Tri-Wizard Cup and the Golden Egg:

Famed props galore! Hermione’s Time-Turner! Dumbledore’s Deluminator! Neville’s Remembrall! The Philosopher’s Stone! (That’s the Sorcerer’s Stone for you Americans.)


Hagrid’s Hut!

The Burrow! This set was interactive and had displays that you could touch to make Mrs. Weasley’s dishes wash themselves, make the knife chop the carrots, iron the clothes, and knit a scarf. It took forever for the dang children to get out of the way so that I could have a turn!

He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and his infernal Death Eaters:

The Marauder’s Map, newspapers, etc.

Rita Skeeter’s outfit and quill:

The office of the most evil character to ever grace the Harry Potter page or screen. Seriously. I would have tea with Voldemort before I’d be caught in her company.

I also learned a new bit of information about her evilness. Her wardrobe got progressively pinker as she rose through the evil ranks of the Ministry of Magic.

Speaking of the Ministry of Magic…. Here it is!

The Black Family Tapestry:

There was a display explaining how many of the special effects were achieved for the movie, and those who wanted to could go into the Green Screen room and take a ride in the flying car and ride a broomstick! Liz looked at me like, “Seriously? We’re doing this?” but I think she had as much fun as I did. We bought our photos (… aaaaand our videos).

Hagrid’s bike and the Knight Bus!

Here lies that filthy muggle Tom Riddle:

The Hogwarts bridge:

Harry’s House on Privet Drive!

…with Hedwig!

James and Lily Potter’s house:

More chess pieces:

Yikes! Aragog! Nooo less freaky knowing he’s fake.

Awww. Dobby.


And the rather enormous model of Hogwarts Castle:

Inside Ollivander’s, where all of these wand boxes displayed the name of someone who worked on the Harry Potter films, from the actors to the directors, props, lighting, catering, EVERYONE. There was a tour guide here who could tell you the location of any name you wanted to see. I asked to see Alan Rickman, obviously.

I restrained myself fairly well in the gift shop, considering, but did buy my only t-shirt of the trip here as well as some other small items. I may have gone a little crazier, but reminded myself that I still had to re-pack my suitcase three more times before going home.

Liz struck up conversation with one of the guys who worked in the gift shop because he had been to Denver before, so I asked him for a dinner recommendation and he was able to point us to one of his favorite Indian restaurants for a much-overdue dinner. Once we walked back out to the parking lot and all my senses weren’t on overdrive anymore, I immediately knew how hungry I was!

Dinner was quite delicious as advertised and since we were arriving late into London, we didn’t have to deal with too much traffic while we sought out our hotel. Once again, my arrival was anticipated, and I was greeted by this sign in the room:

It took me a rather long time to come down off of my Harry Potter high to even consider going to sleep, so I sat up late writing postcards and grinning to myself about the day, while slowly letting it sink in that I was going to take London by storm the next day!


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