Sweet summer for Harry Potter fans

Film fans are invited to get a taste for how magical meals and confectionery (both real and replica) were created for the Harry Potter film series as Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter hosts its first ever Sweets and Treats feature.

From Monday 20th July – Sunday 6th September, visitors will discover how the Prop Department moulded jelly snakes, decorated sugar skulls and piped ice-cream sundaes during production.

Based in the Ministry Munchies kiosk from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, expert prop and cake makers will demonstrate the techniques used to construct the floating pudding from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (that Dobby drops on the Dursleys’ guests) and edible Gillyweed, as used in the Second Task of the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Visitors will get to spot the difference between real bakes and prop fakes as they get up close to original artefacts and see edible delights being created.

Butterbeer ice-cream will be available to purchase in the Studio Tour’s new backlot café for the first time this summer as well as frothy tankards of the drink which is reminiscent of shortbread and butterscotch. On the Diagon Alley set, visitors will be able to learn how towering ‘frozen’ desserts were assembled outside Florean Fortescue’s ice-cream parlour.

During production, graphic designers were tasked with creating dozens of unique sweet boxes and wrappers for treats from Honeydukes and Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. In the end they created more than 120 different items for the Weasley twins’ shop and some of their original sketches and designs will be shown in the attraction’s Art Department especially for Sweets and Treats.

Some iconic sets will also be given a makeover as the Great Hall’s long tables are lined with props from Hogwarts feasts and the Gryffindor common room is dressed as it was for Quidditch victory scenes in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Food facts:

·         Chocolate desserts of all kinds covered the Great Hall tables in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and nearly all of it was actually made out of intricately-painted resin. However, some edible pieces were baked such as the chocolate phoenix cake which is displayed at the Studio Tour (having survived more than seven years in storage).

·         To make the scene where Ron throws up slugs in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets more palatable for actor Rupert Grint, filmmakers created the slimy creatures out of orange-flavoured jelly.

·         More than 300 litres of silicone were used to make the vibrantly-coloured sweets in Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, including Puking Pastilles and Nosebleed Nougat.

The Studio Tour’s Sweets and Treats feature will run from Monday 20th July – Sunday 6th September. Tickets must be pre-booked and all extra activities are included in the ticket price.

Ground-breaking record commences Underground

Money will be raised by transport enthusiasts as they travel around London today.

Today commuters will turn fundraisers as they take on the spectacular feat of visiting all of London’s Underground stations in one day. Known as the ‘Tube Challenge’, a group will be led by current record-holder Geoff Marshall who has previously visited all 270 stations in the time of 16 hours, 20 minutes and 27 seconds.

The first similar challenge was undertaken by George Hurst and Jane Barwick in March 1960, where all 264 stations at the time were visited in 18 hours and 35 minutes. The challenge has been officially attempted 37 times since, with new strategies used to sympathise with route and station changes over the decades.

London Underground map

This year’s group attempt started at Heathrow Terminal 4, and is expected to end before 11pm tonight. With over twenty people ready to ‘Walk the Tube’, it is hoped that last year’s time (18 hours 13 minutes) will be beaten.

Participant Jack Gordon commented;

“I’m really excited at the challenge of visiting all 270 tube stations over the course of one day, particularly as a member of underground staff who is used to seeing the network’s foibles from the other side! Hopefully our plans won’t get scuppered by service disruptions, but perhaps the bit I’m most nervous about are toilet breaks – or a lack of! But, most importantly, is a really great opportunity to raise lots of money for a number of really good charitable causes, and to make some new friends too!”

You can support Jack’s attempt to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support here.

Building a new Legoland campaign

Merlin Entertainments have unveiled their latest television advertisement under the tagline ‘Awesome Awaits’.

Representing the portfolio of international Legoland properties, the promotional video will represent Lego parks at California, Florida, Germany, Malaysia, Denmark (Billund) and Legoland Windsor in the United Kingdom.

The advertisement begins in a child’s bedroom, where LEGO bricks are starting to stir. A model of a baby dragon comes to life and sees a Legoland poster on the bedroom wall. As if the poster is calling him, the dragon flies out of the window, followed by hundreds of LEGO bricks, growing and swooping past buildings as it mimics ‘The Dragon’ rollercoaster that features in all the Legoland Resorts.

The dragon is joined by a host of colourful characters, including a charismatic pirate, dancing camels, a giant pirate ship and an Egyptian pharaoh. Planes, helicopters, balloons, a parrot and the dragon fly through the city streets as the epic journey reaches its crescendo and they all triumphantly arrive at the gates to Legoland.

The film, which took 12 weeks in post-production, was made by combining cutting edge visual effects with a live action shoot on location in Cape Town, South Africa. The Mill (renowned for special effects in television series such as Doctor Who) looked after both the shoot and the post production.

Over 10,000 bricks were shipped in to be used on set in the live action elements. A further 893 million virtual bricks were built and individually placed in post-production to create the incredible models that can be seen in the ad.

Global Marketing Director Paul Harvey of Legoland Resorts commented

“LEGOLAND Resorts are unique – developed specifically for families with children 2-12 to enjoy and play together – and the ultimate showcase for the iconic LEGO brick which has a universal appeal across borders, and age groups. We have now also added themed hotels and accommodation; as well as secondary attractions like water parks and SEA LIFE aquariums so LEGOLAND is increasingly moving from a one day to a short break destination. In short LEGOLAND is entering an exciting stage as we continue to grow globally and deliver an experience where children’s imaginations really do come to life. With ‘Awesome Awaits’, we have a campaign that perfectly encapsulates the excitement associated with a trip to one of the resorts and the promise of what awaits, as well as marking a creative step change in how we position ourselves.”

New arrival at Harry Potter’s Platform 9¾

Whilst a full recreation of Hogwarts Castle can be found at Universal Florida, the authentic props and sets can be found a little closer to home.

If you know and love everything Harry Potter, you’ll no doubt be aware of the Making of Harry Potter attraction. However as of yesterday, fans can now find some new additions to the already impressive collection of items on display.

Located at Leavesdens’ Warner Bros. Studio Tour complex, the 20,000ft² expansion includes the original Hogwarts Express steam engine and a full-scale recreation of Platform 9 ¾. The new, permanent section of the tour will offer a glimpse into how some of the films’ famous scenes were created as well as giving visitors the opportunity to climb aboard the train’s carriage and to pose with a luggage trolley as it disappears through the platform wall.

Stuart Craig, Production Designer, commented on the Hogwarts Express:

‘It’s the link between the two ends of the story. A lot of the action takes place in London and around Diagon Alley. And the other end is Hogsmeade and Hogwarts and this is the link between the two. And it’s [also] a chance to use this mighty machine, which is splendid in itself.’

Within the train itself, there is now the opportunity to walk down the narrow aisle of the Hogwarts Express, and slowly progress through the films from the Philosopher’s Stone through to Deathly Harrows. Interestingly, each part of the carriage is decorated as it would have been for each film in the series in turn.

Alongside the main feature, a number of items associated with the train (including chocolate frogs and other magical confectionery) are part of a new interactive experience. A themed gift shop will also be on the platform.

Long walk off a Blackpool pier as two up for sale

Two of Blackpool’s popular piers have been put up for sale.

Both Central and South Pier are up for bids, with the attractions up for £4.8 and £3.2 million respectively.

Central Pier was opened May 1868 and is 1,100ft long. The pier is home to a fair run by the Sedgewicks family, complete with a famous 108ft tall wheel. This is half the height of nearby Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s Big One rollercoaster, which stands at 213ft. The pier is also home to two amusement arcades and a small bar.

South Pier opened later in 1893, and is only 488ft long. Despite the shorter length, the pier manages to pack in a large amusement arcade, the Laughing Donkey family bar and a small fairground catering for thrillseekers. The ‘Adrenalin Zone’ features attractions such as a Gyro Loop, Sky Screamer and the Sky Coaster which swings upto three adults across the Irish Sea from 124 ft up.

Both piers were owned by Peter Sedgewick previously, a local showman renowned for managing traditional fairs.

In transit… Virgin Trains East Coast

Being a semi-regular commuter, trains can be both a godsend and a pain at times. Yes, it frees up some time to catch up on the Metro, check out which celebrity wore that dress [!?!] or simply look out of the window and count sheep. However for most, privatised rail travel means ever-increasing rail fares, noisy passengers, strange smells and an almost impossible number of delays.

Travelling from Leeds to Peterborough recently, it was apparent that change was in the air for East Coast as we know it. Pamphlets, reservation cards and public information posters all had the famous Virgin branding on it, different to the grey and purple we’d come accustomed to. From the front it appeared that Virgin were key shareholders in the project, however in reality the company only own 10% of the shares – with Stagecoach vying for the other 90%.

East Coast Trains (as it was known through to last month) was the last publicly-owned rail operator, owing to the gradual privatisation of Britain’s railway network. Virgin Trains East Coast is now a fully privatised service, covering major routes between London and Edinburgh.

But whilst ‘painting the roses red’ is a short-term strategy, what are the long term prospects?

According to ‘The Red Report’ which Virgin Trains promise to publish every six months, sixty-five new trains will be introduced. Whilst those previously weren’t used weren’t exactly bad (relatively clean with power sockets, a Food Bar and First Class facilities), Virgin promise these will be top of the range vehicles.  Little has been revealed in the area, but if the name is anything to go by, the Hitachi manufactured ‘Super Express Trains’ could compete with the government’s planned HS2. There will also be 75 extra station calls per day, and speedier services – London to Edinburgh in under 4 hours, and London to Leeds in under 2.

This all looks promising, however will take five years for the speedier routes to take effect. Whilst the Virgin-Stagecoach collaboration essentially have a monopoly on routes spanning on the Intercity lines, this venture does have potential, but only if it’s not just the Virgin branding which the East Coast receives, but the service the name is renowned for too.

A look at ‘The Hobbit’ style lodges coming to England this year


Alton Towers Enchanted Village AccommodationA new fantasy accommodation is nearly ready to change your perceptions of a good nights sleep.

For many, Alton Towers is a location renowned for it’s white-knuckle rollercoasters, wetter than wet water rides and the historic Towers themselves. However, the park is to become more of a fantasy destination this year.

Fans of movies such as Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movie franchises will be hunting the destination out for more than this and the park’s two hotels however, as a very exclusive lodge development is set to open later this year.

Known as the ‘Enchanted Village’, the countryside location will boast a selection of lodges and treehouse suites aimed at both families and elves alike.


The lodges are the cheapest of the two, and are designed to sleep five people. Each lodge will house a king size bed, bunk bed and truckle bed. Guests can also relax on their outdoor decking area while children have fun in the quirky play areas around the village. There is also  access to the Theme Park and the rest of the Resort, but the highlight is definitely clunking through the massive round doors after an adventure filled day amongst the mushrooms.

Rooms start from £116.25 per night for 2 sharing adults.


Every treehouse will have its own style, with luxury furnishings, self-catering facilities and a relaxing lounge area with a 50 inch plasma TV and games console. The highlight however is likely to be the outdoor decking area, which with a private hot tub offers a great place to relax and unwind with beautiful views over the enchanting woodland. Sounds perfect doesn’t it? Well, it does come at a price, as rooms start from £600 per night for two sharing adults!

Olympic royalty set for new Leisure Centre

Lancashire’s latest sport and leisure development is set to open next month at a cost of approximately £13.5 million.

Replacing the town centre’s former Waves Leisure Centre which closed on 22nd February, the new Blackburn Leisure Centre comprises of both sporting and leisure facilities and will open to the public on 20th March this year. Facilities are set to include a set of pools, two interactive flumes (one white-knuckle, the other for families) an and an inflatable ‘Water Play Zone’. This will be accompanied by two sports halls, a small sauna and steam room, aerobics studio, and a gym operated by the local council.

The original Waves building was opened by Princess Anne nearly 25 years ago, however the new complex will be opened by Olympic medallist Rebecca Adlington OBE. As part of Blackburn’s ongoing regeneration project, Waves will be demolished and sold for redevelopment by Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council.

VisitEngland accolades revealed for February 2015

A number of attractions in England have received VisitEngland accolades in recognition of their quality visitor experience on offer.

blackpool-pleasure-beachThe accolades, introduced by VisitEngland for the first time in October 2014, recognise outstanding attractions going the extra mile to create an enjoyable and memorable experience for visitors.
57 attractions received awards this month, with five attractions getting the ‘Gold’ standard award. The attractions which received this recognition include Beaulieu, Blackpool Pleasure Beach and HM Tower of London.
Minister for Tourism, Helen Grant MP said:
“England has a huge number of world-class attractions to be enjoyed as part of a day trip, short weekend break or longer family holiday. This is a great way to showcase attractions going the extra mile to deliver a high-quality and unique visitor experience. Many congratulations to all those receiving the latest accolades.
Amanda Thompson, Managing Director of Blackpool Pleasure Beach Ltd, commented;
“We are delighted to have received this award and be recognised for all our efforts and commitment we put in to ensure our visitors have the best day imaginable at the Pleasure Beach.
“At Blackpool Pleasure Beach we strive towards being the best we can be, ensuring we provide all our visitors with the best quality service they deserve. Whether this be the food and beverage service or if assistance is needed throughout the day, we will be there to make sure you have a fun filled day at our amusement park.”