Sunday, 12 February 2012

Wizardly good half term fun

We've been to the National Railway Museum a couple of times recently, and the last time we were there, the children noticed a poster for Wizard Week, which is running from 11 - 19 February. Monkey, being a big Harry Potter fan, expressed an interest in going along to see it. So, when they invited us back to this particular event, I knew I would have no choice but to say yes. I thought the weather might get the better of us as York had loads of snow on Thursday, whereas we have had none of late, but the roads seemed clear enough so we set off on Saturday morning to check out the first day of the 9 day event.

Flying broomsticks
Missy Woo was concerned before we went that we'd have to dress up as wizards but I told her it wasn't necessary. There were, however, children there in wizardly fancy dress - I even saw one little boy with huge round specs, a black gown and wand, thoroughly putting us to shame. Missy wanted to buy a wizard's hat and a wand to compensate for this, but I disallowed it on the basis she has plenty of similar items at home that barely get touched. I am a cruel, cruel mother. There is actually a Best Dressed Wizard competition, where you upload a photo of yourself in wizardly costume at the museum to their Facebook page and the winner will win a wizard-themed experience, including magic lessons and an owl experience. Oops. They're too young for the owl experience anyway!

York was very cold and snowy when we arrived but all the inside spaces were warm - some feat as both the Great Hall and Station Hall are vast spaces. The first place we had to head, because Monkey likes it, is the Bullet Train, until I reminded them there were plenty of Wizard Week activities on offer.

Just outside was the first of their special activities laid on for half term. Here, you could have a photograph made of you broomstick flying, which all the wizards of the family (I'm a muggle apparently, and proud to be so) took part in whilst I held coats. And then, whilst they swanned off to another activity, I waited to collect the photograph, a shortish wait made a little longer by a bloke barging in and wanting his photos reprinted. However, after some technological wizardry using a mouse instead of a wand, they produced a lovely 9 x 6 photograph for me and with further wizardry, as a special thank you, they emailed it to me and I had the picture on my phone within seconds. I am not usually fans of this type of thing, but technology moves on apace and I thought the cost (£9, or £7 for the 7 x 5 version, in a cardboard mount) was good value. Thanks to Full Frame Events for sending me this digital image and for kindly giving us a free photograph.

The final result

Whilst I was waiting, the children were making themselves wizard ID badges, an activity which charges a small fee. Missy Woo put one of her super powers down as "turning everything into chocolate" which demonstrates how her mind works. I loved that they got a lanyard to wear it around their necks, something they did proudly for the rest of the day.

Now suitably authorised as wizards, we managed to catch a short wizard performance featuring magic tricks and general silliness over in the Station Hall. After they stuck knives in a box also containing a man's head, Missy Woo was surprisingly reluctant to admit she was a princess when one was requested. Then we adjourned to lunch before heading outside for the big star of the whole event. Hogwart's Express itself. Yes, really. Olton Hall, the steam train used in the Harry Potter movies was there, taking people on short steam rides (it's an extra charge). Not quite platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross (OK, I  may have said Euston when we were there... I said I was a muggle!) and we didn't get to sit in a proper compartment for the brief trip, but we did get a quick peek in there whilst everyone got off.

There are lots of other things to do, like owl displays, meeting Derek the Talking Dragon, and that's on top of the usual things that are on offer at the museum all year round. Hence we had to go play the Flying Scotsman pinball machine, have a quick trip on the simulator (although Missy Woo still won't go on it and Monkey wasn't going to until he was convinced by the fact it was only supposed to be a train journey), and going to look at real, modern trains coming in and out of York station from the viewing platform, which is nice when it's -3. Thankfully, two passed us fairly quickly this time and Monkey's need was satisfied so we could head home, having only managed to spend £1.80 in the gift shop, having rebuffed Missy Woo's attempts to buy stuff she has got at home. I really like a lot of their ranges too.

Wizard Week was fantastic and more amazing because entry to the museum remains free, with charges for some optional activities. It will definitely fill a whole day there and the road train will even take you into the city centre should you want to do something different. We, however, have never run out of things to look at and find something different every time we go. It was busy in places but not uncomfortably so - there is a lot of space and it's never claustrophobic.

There is a special Wizard Week event on Friday where Roger Highfield, author of "The Science of Harry Potter", will be giving a talk so you could find out how dragons fly and whether invisibility cloaks could actually work. I'm not telling the husband we missed that, I'll never hear the end of it.

And what does that prove? That Wizard Week is fab for children of all ages!

(The National Railway Museum kindly invited us to a VIP day out, and gave us vouchers to cover all chargeable activities, a free guide, lunch and provided free parking. I have not been told what to write and all opinions and words are my own.)
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