During the past week I’ve been on a couple of very enjoyable tours, including my first bus tour here in London. There are no spoilers here, as I don’t want to give away any surprises. I just wanted to write a little review of each tour, as I do recommend going on them.
There are quite a few Harry Potter walking tours out there, but the Tour For Muggles caught my eye first when I was Googling them. It has loads of good reviews and awards behind it, and at 2½ hours it’s a very generous length, so it seemed well worth a go.
Initial interactions with them were very promising as well. The confirmation email they send you has a wealth of information in it, with clear details on how to find the meeting point, who the host will be and how to contact them, and even some fun Potter facts as well. And when I found I had to switch the date of my booking, they were very quick to respond to my email enquiry and I was able to change to the next day at no extra cost. I also like the way that, like the tour guide, the lady who responded to my email had a very appropriate name (Hana Potter). A little detail, but fun.
So I found our tour guide easily (Joseph Lockhart), and he was very cheerful, friendly and welcoming, carrying a Harry Potter folder and a wand (which I got to hold and have a close look at towards the end). He reminded me a bit of Daniel Radcliffe in appearance, which could be just me, but given their attention to detail it could easily be deliberate.
They can take up to 20 in a group I think, but for us there were only 9, which was good – it’s a relatively quiet season for them as it’s outside school holidays, so I picked a good time to go I think. And perhaps unsurprisingly because of that, it was mainly adults in attendance, there were only a couple of children in the group. Mind you, it is also 20 years since the first Harry Potter book was released, so a lot of its original fans are adults now anyway. Though it does make you feel old to realise it’s been that long!
So we started off near London Bridge station, and went to places including Borough Market, the Millennium Bridge, The Golden Hinde, Whitehall and Trafalgar Square, among othrs, taking in various streets and alleys along the way, and finishing close to Leicester Square station. We mainly walked from one stop to the next, but there was also a short Tube ride from London Bridge to Westminster part-way through, with Westminster station itself being one of the key sights. But even the Tube journey was entertaining, as Joseph shared facts with us and pretended to do a bit of ‘magic’, to the amusement of our group and probably the bemusement of the other passengers!
At each stop on the way we were told many interesting and insightful facts about the films and the books, and also about London and its history. Some locations were used in the films, for which Joseph had photos to put everything in context, while others were key inspirations for JK Rowling when writing the stories. It quickly becomes clear that everything she wrote in the books was there for a reason. Nothing is random in Rowling’s world, especially character names.
Joseph was clearly a Harry Potter enthusiast and he was enjoying sharing his knowledge with us. And we weren’t just quietly following him either – he was happily chatting to people in the group as we walked between the different stops. He made the effort to divide his attention among all of us, so we always felt included and were able to get to know him throughout the tour, which was great. He enjoys his job, and it showed.
The tour didn’t feel like the 2½ hours it was, the time didn’t drag at all. And the walks between stops were never very long, so none of the time was wasted. And at the very end of the tour, Joseph did a proper magic trick, which impressed all of us. I’m sure to professional magicians it’s a pretty simple trick, but to mere muggle humans like us it was very cleverly done.
So it was a really enjoyable afternoon, I thoroughly enjoyed it. There are loads more group walking tours that I want to do as well – Dickens and Shakespeare tours are next on my list in particular, as Emily Davison has recommended them to me. But there are loads of others around as well. If anyone has been on any walking tours in London that they’d particularly recommend, by all means let me know
When I lived down in the Westcountry, Halloween was never a big deal. We probably marked it in some small way at school, but I don’t recall it. Certainly we never had big fancy dress parties with people dressing up in costumes – be it at Halloween or any other time of the year. And I haven’t done fancy dress as an adult, nor have I never picked, carved or tasted pumpkins. I know, crazy right? We never went trick-or-treating either, and we hardly had any trick-or-treaters knocking on our door at home – for a few years we might get one or two at most, but then it just stopped happening altogether.
We did, however, do a Dracula-inspired comedy musical for our Christmas school play one year, which I still have the video of, digitised and saved with a couple of other school productions for posterity. It was great fun too, one of my favourite plays we ever did. But that’s the closest I’ve ever got to doing anything in the horror vein. And even in that instance my character was a normal person, as we were one of the innocent kids in the story.
So, all in all, Halloween has always just passed me by without incident, it’s not something I’ve ever got involved with. Which is a shame really. I could probably make a good scary zombie with my height and wonky eyes, they can probably freak out people enough as it is! If I were to dress up and attend anything horror-related though, apart from fancy dress parties, I’d love to go to the Rocky Horror Show one day. That’s long been a bucket list item of mine, it’d be awesome.
Still, now I’m in London, Halloween-related activities are going on all over the place, and it would therefore have been silly not to do something to mark the occasion. I won’t go out on Halloween night itself, I wouldn’t feel safe doing that on my own. But there are lots of things going on before the day itself.
So on Monday night I met up with Emily Davison from Fashioneyesta to embark on a Ghost Bus Tour together. And we had a great time. From the moment you get on the 1960s Routemaster bus, you can tell it’s going to be something special, with the dim lighting, sound effects and music helping to set an appropriate atmosphere. Emily and I were able to sit at the very front on the top deck, which was good. We were able to clearly see out of the windows, and also had a good view of the monitor in front of us, on which we saw our tour guide and other… things… via the CCTV cameras on board.
We were a bit delayed in setting off due to some protest march and an accident around Trafalgar Square, but the tour guide filled the time well and kept us all in good spirits. She also kindly explaining the alternative options available if the tour had to be cancelled (either being put on a later tour or being refunded). But thankfully it didn’t come to that, much to the guide’s relief and ours!
Once we did set off, the tour was really enjoyable. Lots of interesting and enlightening facts and stories were delivered with good humour by our enthusiastic and friendly guide, as we passed various well known sights, and a few hidden delights that I’d not heard of before. So I learnt a lot and had a good laugh while doing so. The guide really seemed to enjoy doing her job, it must be fun observing people’s reactions on a tour like this!
This was all cleverly interspersed with disturbing discoveries and eerie events on the bus itself, through an unfolding story acted out by our tour guide and her inspector. At least, we assume it was an act… who knows? 😉 Whichever way you look at it, the concluding segment of the tour was dark, powerful and memorable, so you can make up your own mind if you do it. The tension that had been built throughout the ride reached a very satisfactory and appropriate conclusion, that’s all I can say. It would be wrong to reveal more than that.
Emily’s guide dog Unity was also with us, of course, and she was clearly wondering what the hell was going on sometimes, especially during the final part of the tour! But she was still and quiet throughout, not causing any trouble. The tour guide and other passengers liked her too. Emily, meanwhile, made me giggle when she jumped at some of the louder noises! I know, I’m cruel, but I couldn’t help it! She enjoyed the ride as much as me though. As she remarked afterwards, it would be a great night out for a group of work colleagues or friends.
So I can definitely recommend it, as it’s something different to the norm, and very educational and enjoyable. You’ll have a good laugh and learn a lot in the process. That is, assuming you can survive until the end of the ride… 👻 ☠️