After our stop in Belfast, we headed north through County Antrim.
The next destination on our All Ireland Rocker Tour was the Dark Hedges. This beautiful tree-lined avenue was meant to awe visitors as they made their way towards the Stuart family mansion – Gracehill House. These beech trees were planted in the 18th century. Even in the year 2015, we were awed at the sight of the hauntingly beautiful trees and the dramatic avenue.
Even though the Dark Hedges are a beautiful natural phenomenon, there was another reason drawing our tour group and thousands of other visitors here.
The Dark Hedges were made famous as “The King’s Road” in season 2 of Game of Thrones. I don’t watch Game of Thrones (I watched one episode and it just so happened to be the Red Wedding episode. Let’s just say… I didn’t have the appetite to watch any more episodes!), so here’s Ioana: “For those of you who watch the series and don’t remember the scene – this is the road Arya Stark travelled down when she escaped from King’s Landing, disguised as a boy, to join the Night Watch.” This very popular show is filmed in Northern Ireland. Given its dramatic and beautiful scenery, it’s not surprising that Northern Ireland was chosen as a filming location. Since the rise of this show, tourism in Northern Ireland has increased – particularly with Game of Thrones fans visiting various filming locations. There are guided tours dedicated to visiting the show’s filming locations – including The Dark Hedges, Larrybane and Ballintoy Harbour. There is even a Game of Thrones afternoon tea that you can partake in!
We got off the bus at the bottom of the avenue and made our way slowly to the top, where we would meet up at the bus. As we wandered through the Dark Hedges, we noticed there were some trees with broken branches and there were some tree stumps by the avenue – if you look closely in our photographs, you might be able to spot them. The life expectancy of a beech tree is about 150 – 200 years. Since these trees were planted in the 18th century, they are quite old! Some trees have broken branches, while others have died and all that is left are the tree stumps. I wonder whether new beech trees will be planted to preserve the Dark Hedges… Or whether nature will be allowed to take its course.
Since the rise of Game of Thrones, the number of tourists searching for this previously quieter and relatively unknown site has increased dramatically! Dave, our tour guide, told us new signs had to be put up to guide wandering tourists to the Dark Hedges. If you are planning to drive to the Dark Hedges, check out these directions given by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.
Due to its popularity, there are often many cars, buses and visitors on this avenue. Make sure you are mindful of cars and buses while walking down this public road!
Tip: If you are traveling in a tour group, you might end up with your trip mates’ heads in your photograph – unless you arrange something with your group! 😉 Maybe you can all take turns taking a photograph of the Dark Hedges at the bottom of the avenue before walking up as a group?
If you are travelling to the Dark Hedges independently, you can be more flexible and visit during the quieter hours of the day, when the tour buses aren’t there!
You could also plan to take advantage of a rising or setting sun – which would make for a spectacular and memorable photograph!
To get a good photograph of the Dark Hedges, I waited for the rest of our tour group to walk on ahead, then turned around to look back down the avenue. I was lucky enough to snap this photograph while there were no cars or people in my shot and it is one of my favourites!
Review: For any Game of Thrones fan, I’m sure I don’t need to say it – but this would be a must-see if you are in Northern Ireland! Another plus? There is no admission fee to see the Dark Hedges , although it might require some navigating to find it. You might even consider doing a Game of Thrones roadtrip through Northern Ireland, taking in other filming locations in the area. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board even has a (very comprehensive!) suggested itinerary for Game of Thrones fans!
Even if you’re not a Game of Thrones fan, the Dark Hedges showcases nature in a beautiful way and make for some memorable photographs. If you’re in the area, we would suggest stopping by for a quick visit – perhaps earlier or later in the day, if you want it all to yourself.
Next up is one of our favourite of the trip – Ballintoy!
From Vancouver with Love,
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