May 8, 2011 Sunday
During my research for our UK Trip, I stumbled upon the London Walks website. London Walks is a tour company that specializes in walking tours all over London. They have Jack the Ripper walks, Ghost Walks, Harry Potter Walks—and most recently—the Royal Weddings Walks.
Naturally, I was interested in the Harry Potter Walks. They have three kinds, and I picked the one that our schedule allowed. We didn’t have to book online or pay in advance. All we had to do was show up at Bank Tube Station Exit 3 at 2pm on a Sunday, and the tour guide would be there.
Maiko and I hurtled out of the train and up the stairs out of the tube station. Maiko spotted the guide right away. He was holding white London Walks pamphlets and talking to a few people who were already there.
Our group was living proof of how diverse Harry Potter fans are. There were individuals, couples, groups of friends, and families with kids as young as six—all from different cultures, and countries, eager to learn more about Harry Potter.
When there were about fifteen of us in the group, the guide introduced himself as “Kontiki” Richard. He explained that there were three Richards in the tour company and to distinguish him from the others, they named him “Kontiki” after the famous expedition that set sail from South America across the Pacific Ocean to the Polynesian Islands. This was because of his own expedition on a raft to the Himalayas.
Kontiki Richard explained that throughout the tour, he would not only point out where certain Harry Potter scenes were filmed, he would also point out the places that inspired J.K. Rowling to create her most famous world.
Richard also showed us the strange contraption he carried in his hand. It was a speaker, connected to the microphone around his head. He said that the dial was turned all the way up because he was having spring allergies that affected his voice. He apologized in advance for all the coughing and throat clearing he might have to do and encouraged us to let him know if we were having trouble hearing him.
After that, he politely asked us for our fees. It was £3 for children over 8 years old (young ones go free), and £8 for adults. He gave us tour stickers to place on our jackets so he would know we were part of the tour.
Before he took us around, however, he asked questions about Harry Potter and all the children—and even some adults raised their hands eagerly to answer. Every correct answer was rewarded with another sticker and at the end of his quiz, two young children and one young lady had about seven stickers on them, and were still greedily waiting for more questions to answer.
This exercise energized us all and made us eager for more. . Kontiki Richard knew all about Harry Potter and we expected a great tour. We knew we were in good hands.
I don’t remember all of the histories, trivia and fascinating information that Richard shared with us that day, but I remember some of the highlights.
The reason we all met at the Bank Tube Station became clear when Richard pointed to the building directly across us.
The Bank of England has stood for over 300 years, and its arched doors, classical columns and underground vaults—and even its uniformed guards, is the inspiration behind the goblins’ Gringotts Bank.
Then Richard turned our attention to the scene before us. This is where the Knight Bus squeezes in between the buildings and appears on its way to drop Harry off at the Leaky Cauldron in Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Knight Bus filming location Poultry Street
Kontiki Richard led us up Cornhill Street. In J.K. Rowling’s biography, she lists Charles Dickens as one of her influences. So in our tour, Kontiki Richard made sure to point out various locations that had to do with Charles Dickens as well. One of these locations was the Royal Exchange building on Cornhill Street.
Richard told us all about its history and the story behind the grasshopper atop the building .He also told us of how references to the Royal Exchange could be found in many of Charles Dicken’s works such as Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol.
We continued our tour up Cornhill Street and then turned right into Birchen Lane.
Here we found Simpson’s Tavern. Steeped in history, Simpson’s Tavern has stood in the same site since 1757, and is one of the oldest chophouses in London. Charles Dickens was a regular here, and so is his great grandson.
From Birchen Lane, we turned left onto St. Michael’s Alley, passing by John Haynes Jewelers’ Shop and stopping at the Jamaica Wine House.
Jamaica Wine House was the first coffee house in London. Now a pub, the original coffee house had historic links to the sugar trades and slave plantations in the west indies. Kontiki Richard explained the significance of coffee shops to JK Rowling’s history as a writer. JK Rowling spent a lot of time in coffee shops, writing the first draft of Harry Potter in longhand. She had a child back then and would take her baby in the stroller for a walk, and whenever the baby fell asleep, she would look for the nearest coffee shop and begin writing there.
We were in St. Michael’s alley behind the Church of St. Michael’s Cornhill.
We continued on to Corbert Court and then turned into Leadenhall Street.
We stopped at the corner of Leadenhall Street and Lime Street. Here we saw the most amazing blend of old and new, which London is known for.
The Church of St. Andrew Undershaft was built on the site of a medieval church. The present church was built in the 1500′s and has managed to survive the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the bombings in World War II.
Rising behind the church is the most modern building you’ll ever see. On St. Mary Axe street, is the egg-shaped skyscraper known as the Swiss Re or as locals know it, the Gherkin (meaning cucumber). The Gherkin features in the opening scene of the Half Blood Prince. According to wikia. com:
In Half-Blood Prince, the clouds are grey, with lightning streaking through them. The WB and Harry Potter logos are intercut by a short scene showing the aftermath of “Duel in the Ministry Atrium” from Order of the Phoenix. After theHarry Potter logo appears, the background dissolves to an identical stormy sky reflected in the Swiss Re Tower.
The Gherkin is currently the tallest building in London, but only until they finish building the Shard, which by 2012 will be the tallest building in London.
Towering directly behind us was the Lloyd’s main building.
LLoyd’s is London’s biggest insurance institution, and the building is best known for its modern steel design. Richard pointed out that the building was really meant to look like a machine turned inside out.
After hearing all about the Shard, the Gherkin and Lloyds, Richard led us down Leadenhall Street into Leadenhall Market.
They were filming a food show when we got there, so Richard had to take us around another alley to get to where they filmed the Diagon Alley scene between Harry and Hagrid.
At Bull’s Head Passage in Leadenhall Market, Richard asked for someone to help him re-enact the scene when Hagrid takes Harry into Diagon Alley to go shopping for school supplies. A small boy from the group volunteered and Richard taught him the lines.
“Can we find all this in London?” Harry asks Hagrid.
“If ye know where to look.” Hagrid replies.
And in the film, they stop at a shop with the numbers 44-45. Richard says that if you watch the Sorcerer’s Stone again, you’ll notice a glitch in the way they filmed that scene. Hagrid starts off at store number 44-45 and ends at the same spot after apparently walking for a few steps.
After re-enacting the scene to much applause, Richard pointed to a small blue door, which is the entrance to the Glass House, an optical show.
In Philosopher’s stone, that same door was the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron.
Of course, in the movie, the door wasn’t painted blue. Richard said that they had to re-paint it for the movies and replace the door which stands today. He gave us a few minutes to take pictures with the famous door.
Richard led us out of Leadenhall Market onto Fenchurch Street toward the Monument.
At the corner of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill, we saw The Monument. Standing at 202 feet tall, the doric column stands as a monument to the Great Fire of London in 1666. Famous architects Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke designed the monument to double as a zenith telescope, for use in gravity and pendulum experiments.
Richard explains that the Monument is London’s very own Goblet of Fire. At the top of the column is a drum and copper urn with emerging flames symbolizing the Great Fire.
Richard said that if one were to tip the column towards Pudding Lane it would measure 61 metres (or 202 feet) –and would fall in the exact same spot where the fire started in a baker’s shop.
From the Monument, we walked towards London Bridge. From there we had a great view of the River Thames and the distant Tower Bridge. Richard pointed to the dome like building on the right side and said that this was the City Hall, where the Mayor of London did his work. This was also the place where they filmed the opening scene in Half Blood Prince where they showed muggles working within the building.
Richard also pointed us back to the Shard, which we saw from Leadenhall and Lime street earlier.
Richard let us take a few pictures from London Bridge, and here Maiko and I asked a few kind English girls to take a picture of the two of us with the Tower Bridge in the background.
We followed Richard across London Bridge and down some steps. Here Richard told us the story the history of London Bridge dating back to the Roman Occupation. He also told us of how the old London Bridge was sold to American oil entrepreneur Robert McCullough in the 1960′s. Stories say that McCullough thought he was buying the famous Tower Bridge. The old London Bridge was taken apart, numbered and re-constructed in Lake Havasu City, Arizona where it still stands.
In the Order of the Pheonix, Harry and members of the Order are seen flying under the Tower Bridge on their broomsticks heading toward 12 Grimmauld Place. Richard pointed out more movie glitches–as apparently, Grimmauld Place is said to be near King’s Cross, but when they filmed the flight scene, Harry and co. were filmed heading away the general direction of King’s Cross, instead of toward it.
We walked under the London Bridge and saw another location made famous in Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist. In the musical Oliver!, one of the characters, Nancy is murdered at these steps leading down from London Bridge.
Following Richard down Cathedral Street, we stopped on a small plaza in front of the Southwark Cathedral.
Southwark Cathedral is of course connected to one of the greatest writers of all time–William Shakespeare. This is where William buried his brother Edmund. Apparently the cathedral contains a large stained glass windows dedicated to William Shakespeare, and depicting scenes from his plays.
William Shakespeare is also cited as one of JK Rowling’s influences. In one of her interviews, she says that Voldemort and the Prophecy in the Order of the Pheonix is inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth– and the prophecy of the witches.
We continued down Cathedral Street and stopped at the Golden Hind.
The Golden Hind is famous for having circumnavigated the world under the captainship of Sir Francis Drake. The one we saw that day was a a modern full sized replica of the ship. Since 1996, it has been at the St. Mary Overie dock as a museum.
After a left on Clink Street, a right on Winchester Walk and a left turn at Stoney Street, we arrived at our final stop for the day.
Borough Market is a wholesale and retail market, where many movies are filmed. Bridget Jones was filmed walking through the market to get to her apartment/flat nearby.
In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the Knight Bus is seen stopping in front of the Market Porter on Stoney Street. One of the cafe’s in the Market Porter was changed into Third Hand Book Emporium and a few extra stalls were brought in for the movie.
The Market Porter
Kontiki Richard told us a little history of Borough Market before performing his final act. He requested four volunteers from the group and had them stand in a line.
After giving the volunteers what looked like small black capsules, he instructed the rest of the group to shout “Harry Potter”!
As the volunteers raised their hands and flung the capsules in the air, the capsules turned into long black wands. Everybody applauded and the volunteers got to keep the wands.
Maiko and I weren’t wearing our sneakers that day, so our feet were sore by the end of the two hour walking tour. But kontiki Richard was so good at his job, that we barely noticed the heavy bags of souvenirs we carried throughout the tour. Our feet might have been sore, but we were so happy at all the things we had learned during the tour.
It was also Kontiki Richard who had told us that all the Harry Potter films surpassed the gross total all the Star Wars and James Bond Films combined. The first Harry Potter movie had been filmed in several locations. But because it had earned so much money, the producers decided to build a set 1.2x bigger to replicate the Hogwarts locations–including Christchurch, Oxford’s Dining Hall–where they filmed the Hogwarts Dining Hall scenes.
The tour was a memorable one, and though we were tired, we looked forward to our next stop–Hampstead.
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