Have you been to Scandinavia?

I’m taking a break from all the book talk this week to indulge in my other passion of travel, and share a little secret with you.

There have been whisperings in my household these past few days. You know those moments when you catch the edge of a conversation, just enough to tell you that something is afoot, that a plan is being hatched?

What they don’t realise is that I’ve caught the odd word. Well, actually it’s more like a few sentences. Enough to know that the discussion is focused on a surprise trip to Scandinavia.

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A Family Visit to the very Stately Charlecote Park

In the spirit of adventure, I thought I’d take a break from writerly affairs this week and share with you the highlights of one of our recent family days out.

It was on a very wet afternoon that we arrived at the lovely grounds that lead up to Charlecote Park, a sixteenth century country house that rests beside the River Avon in Warwickshire.

Although originally built in 1558, it has been renovated many times and, now administered by the National Trust, it’s a wonderful example of an old stately home that has been beautifully restored so that you can wander around at your leisure and see how families really lived centuries before us.

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Introducing Clifford Chambers – A Jewel in the Crown of Stratford Upon Avon

It was a cold December morning, the kind that makes you hunch your shoulders and turn up the collar of your jacket against the wind, where the sun is permanently veiled by a ceiling of cloud. This was the morning that Bollo and I headed out on our adventure.

Whilst reading The Devotion of Suspect X, a thriller by Keigo Higashino, what struck me was the sense of place – whether or not you have ever visited Tokyo, you feel that you are transported there by Higashino’s wonderfully descriptive prose. And what is nice is that you feel you can visit at some time in the future and seek out the landmarks she mentions.

An Unfamiliar Murder is set in a fictional town, loosely based on my own in the Midlands, in fact so much so that readers have recognised many local landmarks. Its sequel is set partly between this fictional town and the Scottish Highlands (another of my favourite locations).

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Magical Moments on the Harry Potter Tour

I’m a huge Potter fan. I’ve read every book, cover to cover, (and over again with my daughter) and enjoyed all the films. In fact, this is one series where I think the films are almost as good as the books. Almost;) So you can imagine how thrilled I was to get my mitts on tickets around the Warner Bros Studio tour.

Just off junction 6 of the M1 and less than 10 miles outside St Albans, we found the UK studios at Leavesden, London surprisingly easy to get to. Ever since they opened in March, they have been fully booked, so pre-booked tickets are a must.

Right from the moment you pass through the gates you get a strong feeling of organisation: we were directed into a car parking space, staff welcomed us at the entrance handing passports out to the children requiring them to search for ‘stamps’ and snitches in each of the tour rooms, and indeed throughout the tour there are an abundance of well informed staff around in case you have any questions.

Stepping into the foyer, we were greeted by life size photographs of the characters hanging from the high ceiling sending sizzles of excitement through us. Your ticket gives you a half hour slot to join the tour. We queued at 6.30pm for only 2 minutes (there are props and scenes to view here too including Potter’s glasses and the cupboard under the stairs), then led into the introductory suite where they give you a brief background talk and video on how the story transformed from book to film.  You then pass through into an auditorium where you watch a short film presented by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson where they talk about growing up on the set (they were all 9/10 years old when they started filming Philosopher’s Stone), what the experience meant to them and how the sets came to life. This over, the screen is raised and huge doors open to Hogwarts great hall – to wonderful gasps from children in the audience.

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