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Wizard of Watford.

WHEN JK Rowling conjured up the tales of Harry Potter, did she gaze into a crystal ball and picture the adventure taking place just outside Watford? The Warner Bros Studios in Leavesden, home to the Harry Potter film franchise for a decade, is now the hottest family attraction in Britain.

. Warner The Making (wbstudiotour.0900) tickets in advance pounds 21 five Though a working film studio, largely offlimits to the public, two sound stages have been transformed into Warner Bros Studio Tour London - The Making Of Harry Potter.

The 150,000sq ft attraction goes behind the scenes of the magical films - and is cheaper than the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter at Universal Resort in Orlando.

It's not a theme park though - there are no rides or attractions. The closest we came in our three-hour visit to a whiteknuckle thrill was donning Hogwarts robes and sitting astride broomsticks to have a pounds 12 photograph taken against a green screen, while an electric fan blew into our faces to simulate wind.

When we arrived - parking is free - staff shepherded us towards reception, overlooked by cast portraits and a flying blue Ford Anglia car. Studio tour tickets must be booked in advance - none is available on day. Visitors are pre-booked into 30-minute time slots: we were advised to arrive 20 minutes before our time. Tours run 10am-4pm (6pm weekends and school holidays).

It's near M25 junction 19, or three miles from the M1 (use satnav postcode WD25 7GS). By rail, Watford Junction is 20 minutes from London Euston. There's a shuttle bus from the station (pounds 1.50 single, pounds 2 return) or taxis (pounds 5-pounds 10 each way).

At reception, children get passports with quiz questions with spaces for embossed stamps from machines dotted around the sound stages.

We queued excitedly by Harry''s cupboard under the stairs and watched videos about the books and films. In the cinema next door there was a filmed introduction by lead actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. As the lights came up, the cinema screen rose to reveal the Great Hall's wooden entrance - an impressive flourish.

Our guide highlighted the costumes of the four Hogwarts houses and revealed 15 golden snitches were concealed around the tour. A couple were hidden rather sneakily, so parents may need to lend a roving eye.

We made our way around the Gryffindor Boys'' Dormitory - where Harry''s brown suitcase rested beneath one of the beds - and Dumbledore''s Office, with 48 portraits of former Hogwarts headmasters.

At the Weasley family home, The Burrow, we brandished wands, causing a knife to chop carrots and a frying pan to wash itself clean. Touch screens beneath a swinging pendulum revealed an interactive Marauder''s Map with interesting facts and photos. For the most part though, this tour is handsoff: look but don''t touch. The back lot includes a Butterbeer bar, a second blue Ford Anglia and Hagrid''s motorbike and sidecar as well as a 22ft-tall triple-decker purple Knight Bus, statues, part of Hogwarts wooden bridge and recreations of Number 4 Privet Drive and the burnt-out cottage in Godric''s Hollow.

Inside the second sound stage, there's intricate prosthetics and models from the special effects workshop. Passing beneath an 18ft-wide animatronic model of Aragog the spider, we felt cobblestones beneath our feet and knew we were heading on to Diagon Alley. The detail in this set is astonishing and we peered through the windows of Slug & Jiggers apothecary, Flourish & Blotts book shop, Eeylops Owl Emporium and Ollivander''s Wand Shop. Sadly, none of the shops, not even Weasleys'' Wizard Wheezes with its Puking Pastilles, was open.

A room with drawings, paintings and architectural models lead on to a stunning, hand-sculpted 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts Castle. As we circled the 50ft diameter model lighting effects cycled through day and night, drawing attention to 300 fibre optic lights, which simulate the lanterns and torches of students passing along hallways.

safe all In the gift shop's pocket money trinkets, confectionery and stuffed toys to books, games and rare collectibles, I spotted a red Hogwarts Express train (pounds 129.95), a Firebolt Broom (pounds 249.95) and a replica of Professor Dumbledore''s robe (pounds 495.95). After that, return fares to Orlando don''t seem so pricey.
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Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Apr 28, 2012
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