Week 109: Scotland Part 2 and Gates Term Trip

Annalise, Jacqueline, Mum and I woke for the last time in our little B&B in the north of the Isle of Skye. It was time to start heading back to Cambridge. Our host provided us with breakfast, now cluing in to the fact that none of us were game to eat the black pudding, and we packed up and got into the car. We left Staffin, driving along the coast down through Portree, and over the Kyle of Lochalsh bridge back to the mainland. Unfortunately, the Kylerhea ferry was now closed for the winter, so we didn’t get to experience Scotland’s last operating turntable ferry.

We were heading towards Inverness, so we took the road via Stromeferry instead of Loch Ness. However, as we embarked down the road, we encountered signs warning of four and a half hour traffic delays. Nervous, but curious, we ventured on to find the road blocked off near the town of Attadale. Some quick research revealed that the road here had been blocked off around a month prior due to a landslide. However, instead of being resigned to a three hour detour, the engineers had built a temporary road on the railway tracks immediately next to the road. We had to wait only twenty minutes for a train to come through, before the truck blocking the road turned around to lead a convoy of cars down onto the railway tracks and through an avalanche tunnel. It was a strange experience and didn’t set us back too much time.

We drove for another hour through the outskirts of Inverness before stopping in Aviemore to have some lunch at a cafe. This was the town where Jacqueline and I had finished our epic hike in the Cairngorms, so was strangely familiar to both of us. We wanted to stretch our legs a little, so Annalise suggested a sculpture park in the nearby Feshiebridge. So we went along and walked around, climbing up the chainsawed wood sculptures. It was a nice place, but not amazing.

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We got back in the car and kept driving, but traffic was quite slow on the A9 through to Blair Atholl. By the time it was dark, we had reached the suburbs of Edinburgh, stopping for Indian takeaway which we ate in the lobby of our hotel room. The next morning, Mum, Jacqueline and I left early for the airport; Annalise would stay around a while longer and take the train back to Cambridge. We dropped our car off at the airport and found our flight to Stansted. It was a quick, boring flight, and before long we were back in Cambridge.

Mum had one more day in Cambridge, so we made the most of it. I took her and Jacqueline to the tennis court to try a hand at real tennis. She’d watched me play a fair few times, and she did enjoy having a hit herself for once. From there, I headed to my first teaching session of the year at the Mill Lane Lecture theatres. Afterwards, Mum had packed up all of her stuff, and we headed out for the train station. On the way, we stopped for a late lunch of dumplings. Finally, I saw Mum off at the train station, knowing that it would be less than a month until I saw her again.

The teaching sessions continued through the week, with more sessions on Wednesday and Friday. I played in the Cambridge Doubles League on the Wednesday, but lost both matches 7-9 and 6-9. It seemed our team wouldn’t be contending for the title any time soon.

But the tennis continued into Saturday. We had a club match away at Middlesex University, so I took the train down to London and then out to zone 4. The Middlesex court is only two decades old, right in the centre of the university campus, and plays really nicely. In my match, I cruised through the first set 6-3, but couldn’t finish the second, losing 5-6, and then lost the last 4-6. A bit of a shame, but I had gotten the most out of my stay there.

Sunday was set aside for the Gates Term Trip. Every term, the Social Officers arrange for a trip out of Cambridge to somewhere exciting. This one was much anticipated by many: we were heading to the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Leavesden. Some people were slightly confused between Leavesden and the Universal Orlando Resort in Florida, the Leavesden studios were not a theme park; rather they were the studios where the bulk of the films were shot and produced. Now, they have turned it into basically a museum about the production of the eight films.

We left Cambridge at half past three, rather late for a term trip. Someone had mentioned to bring along our gowns, and fortunately, enough people agreed to so that it wasn’t too strange. After ushering us through the entrance, they took us into a little theatre which gave an intro to the studio and the tour we would head on. I kind of felt sorry for the staff, who would have to sound excited about the same thing every ten minutes for day after day. But then the screen opened up, and we went straight into the set for the Great Hall. They had installed candles above the tables, even though in the films they were all CGI, and had the teacher’s costumes on manikins behind the teacher’s table. Honestly, that particular set felt kind of underwhelming, having been in several similar halls in Cambridge, but that is a very Cambridge bubble thought to have.

From the Great Hall, the tour lead through a large open space filled with different sets, costumes, backgrounds and props from all eight films. Though there were some display panels about the cast, the thing that amazed me the most was how detailed some of the props and background scenery was. There were many individually hand painted portraits that were hung around the walls of the school in the films, most notably in the Dumbledore’s Office set. There was also a mock-up of the Forbidden Forest, complete with spiders, which then lead through to the Platform Nine and Three Quarters Set. Here, they had parked the red Hogwarts Express steam train, probably my favourite part of the tour. It was strange, however, to see a set for King’s Cross, having visited it so many times. The curious part now, is that the real life King’s Cross has a Harry Potter shop between the ninth and tenth platforms (platforms 8 and 9), so having a gift shop here wasn’t entirely inaccurate.

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Through to the main outside section, and there was a cafe selling so-called butterbeer. But the fascinating parts were the full-scale sets for Privet Drive and the Knight Bus, and it was clear how much effort and detail had gone in behind the scenes. Through in the second building, we saw a lot of the sketches and mock-up models that were used to plan both the computer graphics and physical props and sets. But perhaps the most breathtaking room contained a massive scale model of Hogwarts Castle, painstakingly put together for shots in miniature of the exterior of the castle. Once we were all satisfied we had seen everything, we went out through the gift shop, and on the bus back to Cambridge.

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