Wizard idea – Sussex’s answer to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts

Ginny Sanderson meets the surprisingly friendly dragon whose eggs must be protected by students in Beastology class
Ginny Sanderson meets the surprisingly friendly dragon whose eggs must be protected by students in Beastology class
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“They’ve summoned a demon!” someone wails.

This is nothing out of the ordinary to hear at a newly-launched magical school where people from all over the world come to immerse themselves in the fantasy.

Students gathered in the Great Hall to find out which house had won the most points

Students gathered in the Great Hall to find out which house had won the most points

Bothwell School of Witchcraft launched this summer at Herstmonceux Castle. A Live Action Role-play (LARP) inspired by Harry Potter, it is the first of its kind in this country.

Its players, all aged 18+, dash about the 15th century castle hunting for dragon eggs, duelling, and getting into all kinds of mischief as they head to their next lessons.

Reporter GINNY SANDERSON writes: I was lucky enough to experience one of the brilliantly eccentric days to see what it was all about. Henry Ashenden, 25 from the Netherlands, was one of the students kind enough to break the fourth wall of his character to talk to me. He said: “I came here completely alone but I’ve made a lot of friends already.”

Players can choose whether they want to be first, second, or third year or a professor and are sent their characters in advance of the event corresponding to their personality.

Players learning spells in Beastology class before meeting the many weird and wonderful creatures

Players learning spells in Beastology class before meeting the many weird and wonderful creatures

The organisers have come up with an intricate universe inspired by the mythology of witches in the days of James I, when Shakespeare wrote Macbeth and the ‘hubble, bubble, toil and trouble’ of the three weird sisters.

The four houses have their own deeply established identities and animals to represent them. Wisenforth’s is an owl, known for wisdom, and its colour is green. MacNewthorn is red and its animal is a newt, described as ‘furtivus’. Boyeswick is a blue wolf, associated with strength. And Tabwen colours are purple and its animal a cunning but skilful cat. Each house has its corresponding colour and coat of arms on student’s ties, so it’s easy to spot who is on your side. I quickly learned the house I was sorted into – MacNewthorn – was not exactly the most popular.

A sign on a door in one corridor said: ‘Be warned: should a non Tabwen enter this room, they will cough up furballs. Newts will cough up 13 pound furballs.’ Charming.

Lessons include astrology, beastology, falconry, daemonology, alchemy, runes, herbology and magical defence.

There was also a ‘fireball’ tournament – which is basically an intense version of dodgeball – on the Sunday, which really ramps up the competitive atmosphere between the houses.

The castle is the perfect setting for this fantasy to come to life. Wearing the robes, strolling through the labyrinthine gardens, courtyards and secretive corridors, it takes no stretch of the imagination to think you really are in a magic school.

Princess Tea (her in-game name) from London explained how a lot of the players had got in touch with each other on Facebook beforehand. The psychotherapist, who had come as a 40th birthday present, said: “We felt like we knew each other before we met, and now I have friends from all over the world. As adults in the real world it’s not often you meet people with this interest in common.”

I spoke to Cameron Readman, 28, who is one half of the brains and creativity behind the school alongside Stuart Munnich, 28. The history buff told me: “I wanted to take it back to Macbeth – nobody is a wizard everyone was a witch in those days.

“The founders of the houses were involved in the civil war with Charles I, and I wanted to make each house represent a part of the UK.”

The idea for Bothwell first emerged when the friends saw a video of a Polish version of ‘Hogwarts’. Cameron said: “We were like, there isn’t one in the UK – so we did it.”

They starting working on it in November and the school opened its doors for the first time this month. People from all over the world, from Japan, the US, and Korea, flocked with tickets selling out in two hours online. Cameron said: “One of the players said to me ‘you have made all my dreams come true’”.

For more information about Bothwell, which hopes to be back next year, visit www.bothwellschoolofwitchcraft.com