Whilst recently visiting Ireland we headed up north to explore the contrasting elements of Northern Ireland. It’s capital Belfast is a city built on industrial heritage however this small and misunderstood country has a harsh, rugged but stunning countryside and coastline. This area is famous for being the filming location for many of the scenes from “Game Of Thrones”. This was a great opportunity for us to not only experiences the sheer beauty of the NI rural coast line but also to see some of the places one of our favourite shows was brought to life.
Whilst in Ireland/ Northern Ireland we wanted to see as much of this amazing island as we could, however our money did not stretch far enough to rent our a car during our time over here. Most of these places are pretty spread out and often in quite remote locations meaning that to do this ourselves on public transport we would have had to have much more time on our hands.
Reluctantly instead we decided to go on a tour, this is something we usually hate but due to the nature of this part of the world actually ended up doing it twice on this trip! (The other was our day in the amazing Wicklow Mountains).
The thing was we only had so much time in Belfast and there was so much we wanted to do, the city itself has so much to see and then there is the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. We came across a tour called “Stones and Thrones” which covered not only the causeway, the rope bridge but also many of filming locations from Game Of Thrones. For us this was the perfect compromise… although the tour did end only 3 hours before our flight home, but that’s another story!
The tour covered so much ground that we have decided to split it up into three posts covering the Game Of Thrones locations, Carrick-a-Rede and the Giant’s Causeway, so keep an eye out for those others as they were truly unforgettable. The tour itself was pretty relaxed and our guide informative but not patronising which is what we usually hate in a tour. We did on occasion feel a little rushed but we saw so much that it was understandable. If we had more time and when we did eventually return to Ireland for longer this would be part of a perfect Ireland road trip.
If you fancy getting on this tour check out: www.stonesandthrones.com
The tour costs £35 each which is a little more than we would usually pay but good value given the amount you get to see.
On to the Game Of Thrones locations!
This was a quick stop and unfortunately we couldn’t actually leave and explore this old quarry which is used for the filming location of the infamous Wall and Castle Black. The issues actually lies with the owners of the site and their legal obligations to HBO which mean it pretty well guarded and groups are not allowed.
Although if I lived around this area you can bet I would be sneaking around after dark for a closer look. The quarry itself isn’t actually the most amazing thing you will ever see but actually that is what is impressive about it. When you consider what The Wall looks like on the show you can see the artistry which goes into turning this place into the dramatic and awe inspiring sheer ice cliffs of The Wall!
How it looks on the show:
The Dark Hedges have actually been a well know beauty spot in this area for over a hundred years having been planted by the Stuart family in the 18th century to impress those who visited their Gracehill House mansion. Seeing them in person is quite impressive although slightly different than you imagine when it is full of tourists… I guess as we can’t complain being one of those ourselves!
However the area has become one of the most photographed in Northern Ireland and I imagine the bane of local motorists since it appeared as the location for the Kingsroad in Game of Thrones. This eerie avenue was completely retrofitted to the period of the show including filling the road completely with soil and removing all of the fences and signs which they painstakingly returned to their original condition after filming!
How it looked in the show:
One of the first locations where we stopped was the impressive rolling hills and cliffs of windswept Carncastle. This was also the location of one of the first scenes in Game Of Thrones where Ned Stark dramatically beheads a night’s watch deserter in the outskirts of Winterfell.
This impressive vista is also the location in which Catelyn takes Tyrion prisoner as well as where Bran, Rickon, Osha, and Hodor look back on Winterfell before heading to The Wall. The area around here is so scarcely populated that in 2001 only 66 people lived in Carncastle, so the “invasion” of filming crews for several months camped out on the hills around the village I imagine was quite a culture shock to the locals!
How it looked on the show:
This is the spot in which a frankly freaked out Davos Seaworthy lands ashore to witness Melisandre give birth of the creepy Shadow baby which will go on to assassinates Renly! Totally not weird at all!
Apparently just beyond the gates to the cave is a convent in which several disapproving nuns raised suspicions over the film crews and a naked woman who appeared in the caves!
These caves are not only impressive in their own right but the surrounding coastline and beaches are amazingly beautiful, we could have easily spent all day exploring this location. In fact we ended up being late back for the bus because we wandered off too far! Honestly I really never knew the coast of the UK and Ireland could be so dramatic and breath taking.
How it appeared on the show:
I plan on doing a more detailed post about the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge because it really was that spectacular… and only the surrounding coast line was used in the show. But you can really see why, the area is as rugged as a coastline gets and feels nothing short of epic, which is exactly what you want for one of the most dramatic shows ever to be made!
Storm’s end and the Larrybane coast are of course home to Renly Baratheon and it is here he plans his revenge on Joffrey for the death of Ned stark only to be slain in the night by the shadow baby! Standing on the windswept cliff looking out over the turquoise water you really get a feel for the beauty and power of nature and the Causeway coast in particular.
How it appeared on the show:
Ballintoy Harbour (The Iron Islands)
This is the harbour that became famous overnight for being the landing place of a returning Theon Greyjoy to his home on the Iron Islands and is definitely one of the highlights of the tour. It sits unassumingly at the bottom of a steep and twisting road, waves crashing against it’s harsh rock pools and washing up seaweed into the tiny rural harbour.
You get the feeling here that Game Of Thrones has really taken this place from a sleepy local and picturesque secret to tourist hot spot in the middle of nowhere. Whether that is a good or a bad thing is debatable, but I know we are grateful to have the opportunity to see such a wonderful little spot. Even without the G.O.T connections it is the kind of place which really makes you fall in love with rural and coastal Ireland.
How it appeared on the show:
The tiny fishing village of Carnlough in fact has absolutely nothing to do with Game of Thrones! It was actually just a pit stop on the way to Carrick-A-Rede and a place to fill up on some good old Irish cooking for lunch. But this place is a hidden gem, we went for a little explore whilst everyone else was at the bar and discovered this charming little harbour.
The whole village felt almost unreal it was so picturesque and quaint, the boats bobbing in the shimmering blue sea, the smell of fish and chips in the air and the sounds of marine birds made this the perfect setting to take a break. Compared to the harsh port of Belfast this place felt a million miles away and is exactly why we loved Northern Ireland so much!
We also discovered that this is actually the home town of the Ex Liverpool FC (Shorty is a big fan) manager Brendan Rogers! As much as we loved it here I couldn’t imagine growing up in such an isolated spot, one of the local schools even had children travel in everyday via ferry from a tiny island just out from the harbour!
So there you have it, our Game of Thrones adventure turned out to be much more than just discovering the breath taking filming locations, but it also took us into the heart of the coastal communities and towns in these remote areas. At times it really did feel like stepping into another world both through the connections to the show but also because it was hard to believe these places exist in the UK. It just goes to show that exploring more of your own country or for us group of home countries can be just as rewarding as flying to the other side of the world!