It was a beautiful day to be spending time strolling around Oxford, and what better way to do it than on a guided tour? Despite living in Oxfordshire for over ten years now, I've never visited the colleges, and the only tour I've taken is Bill Spectre's Ghost Tour, which although brilliant, takes place at night, so there's not a great deal of sightseeing involved.
If you visit the www.Iloveoxford.com website, it is made clear that the Harry Potter tour is not affiliated with the franchise, the films, the books, or indeed the author, in anyway. It also subtitles the tour 'See how Hogwart's student life compares with an Oxford education', indicating that while there is a Harry Potter element to the tour, the university colleges are possibly at the forefront of the tour’s subject. So, once we had read the small print, we had an inkling this wasn't necessarily going to be the kind of Harry Potter tour that a super-fan might get excited about. There is also a disclaimer stating that colleges can close without notice, and it’s possible that entry to certain sites on the tour may not be possible on the day. While it is known that the Hogwarts' Great Hall is based upon that in Christ Church College, the website also states that the dining hall was never filmed, by way of justification for the tour not taking in Christ Church as part of the tour.
With all of these disclaimers in mind, we headed off to the meeting spot, outside the Visitor Information Centre on Broad Street. We were greeted by a very helpful and friendly lady, who gave us a map and discount card for a variety of shops and eateries, and said that our guide would be along shortly. We couldn’t miss him: a tall man wearing a Gryffindor emblazoned cloak and a floppy hat resembling the series’ Sorting Hat. He introduced himself to the four of us, and as we were waiting for a few more people who’d booked the tour, we made some small talk about ourselves and our potential Hogwarts houses.
Once the young family had arrived, and introductions had been made, our small group were led down Broad Street and the tour began. Our guide, Alasdair de Voil (Director of ILoveOxford.com) was friendly and engaging, especially with the two young children, and clearly has a great deal of knowledge about the colleges of Oxford and Harry Potter. Our first couple of stops were outside souvenir shops with Harry Potter displays, which seemed a little odd - these stops are usually at the end, and tourists are encouraged to go in and make purchases! Anthony Gormley’s Iron Man, stood in all his naked glory on top of Blackwell’s Art and Poster Shop was pointed out to the group, before we headed off towards Exeter College.
The 1.5 hours did pass quite quickly, but we seemed to be rushing a couple of times from place to place as they ‘might be closing soon’. The Harry Potter filming locations that the website promises were visited and well-described by our guide, but they only made up a small part of the tour. While I enjoyed finding out facts about the colleges and the history, there was a niggle in the back of my mind that perhaps children on the tour might not be so interested in the political side of things – there was a lot of talk about former prime ministers, for example. Also, those people visiting from outside the UK may not have much interest in Inspector Morse and its spin-off series such as Endeavour and Lewis, but we were given bitesize facts about all three.
While our guide was very friendly and knowledgeable, the content of the tour seemed a little disjointed and mention was made about a lot of places that the guests could visit after the tour. But they might be closing soon, as it was a Sunday. He also answered phone calls a couple of times towards the start of the tour, which seemed a little disconcerting!
Overall, I enjoyed the opportunity to see inside a few of the college quads, and in particular found the Divinity School hall very interesting and quite beautiful. However, I think the tour should be packaged less as a Harry Potter tour, and more of a general college/history tour.