Warning: This blog contains Game of Thrones spoilers!
On our third day in Ireland, my sister and I took the McComb’s tour of the Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland. I was reluctant to book the tour at first because it was 35 pounds per person; but my sister talked me into it. I’m glad she did because it was honestly one of the best experiences I’ve had while traveling. The tour office was right in the lobby of our hostel, which was rather convenient. Between check in and boarding, we were able to get breakfast in a cafe that was also connected to the lobby of our hostel. The Causeway Cafe actually had a whole menu of gluten free bagels! They were super delicious too, tasted just like normal bagels.
Our bus driver/ tour guide on the Game of Thrones tour, Troy, was hilarious! He had lots of great stories and jokes to tell throughout the trip. He was from Northern Ireland and spoke a lot about his experiences. He told us stories about the divide and The Troubles and he talked about travelers he has had on his buses throughout the years. I think my favorite of all his passenger stories was one about a old woman from Florida who showed up to his tour in a great big fur coat. Apparently this woman said to him, “Troy, if you were my husband, I’d put poison in your tea!” to which Troy responded, “Lady, if I were your husband, I’d drink the tea!” I can just imagine a tiny little blue haired woman with this giant coat and sunglasses sassing him around all day.
Our first stop of the tour was at Carnlough Canal where Arya’s fight scene with the waif was filmed. This canal served as the Braavos canal, specifically the one that Arya jumped into after she was stabbed by the waif in season 6. There was a plaque stationed at the harbor explaining the scene, but just looking out at the walls and water, I was able to remember exactly which scene used this location. This location also saw an Irish flag waving in the winds of the Irish Sea. Given that this was British territory, the flag must have been an act of protest from those who felt allegiance to the country of Ireland.
After a nice drive along the Antrim county coastal trail, we stopped at the Cushendun Caves, where Lady Melisandre gave birth to the shadow assassin. The sea was beautiful and smelled strongly of salt and pine. The stones on the beach were all deep reds and pinks, giving the beach a warm look despite the cold and rainy weather. The caves themselves were warm in temperature, blocking out the wind and trapping in moisture from the salty sea air. Grass and moss grew on the stone that protruded from the earth and hung over the sides in whimsical strands of green and gold.
The next stop on our journey was Ballintoy Harbor. The bus parked up on a hill, next to a cemetery. With the grey skies and seas as a backdrop, the graveyard was nothing short of eerie. We walked down from the cemetery to the beach, past the cliff-side where Game of Thrones’ arguably most cringe-worthy scene was filmed. Ballintoy Harbor, being the main filming location for Pyke, was the setting of the ever so uncomfortable Greyjoy family reunion. The beach in the harbor hosted another important scene for the Greyjoy family, this one just as stomach turning without all the incest. The water here was where Euron Greyjoy was drowned and crowned King of the Iron Islands. Though not far from the Cushendun caves, the stones on this beach were all either black or white. The wet stones with such high contrast from each other were quite interesting against the grey beach with huge algae covered rocks jutting up from the water.
Many of the places we visited were somehow related to the Iron Islands, seeing as next we visited the Giant’s Causeway, another Greyjoy filming location. The Causeway experience reminded me much of the Parthenon in Athens. The number of people taking pictures detracted from the beauty and the awe that I felt I should have been feeling. I caught myself jumping around the unique land formation with my phone in hand, not stopping to enjoy what I was seeing. It felt like a race to get the best photo possible. While I did get some great photos, the initial disappointment I felt in myself made me stop and really pay attention to my surroundings, to stop and take a minute to breathe and feel the location.
We sat down for lunch at a Game of Thrones themed pub, Fullerton Arms. Back in February of this year, a few of the famous beech trees of the Dark Hedges, which were frequently used as the King’s Road, fell during a storm. The set designers used the wood from the trees to carve intricate doors containing the sigils of the main Westerosi houses. Each of the doors were gifted to locations and establishments that contributed to the show, either as filming locations or housing and feeding cast and crew. The Fullerton Arms houses door number 6, the Targaryen door. I also could not resist the opportunity to sit on the Iron Throne. Though trying to get this picture felt very much like the drama of the show, as everyone in the restaurant was eager to do the same.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
After the lunch, with dangerously full stomachs, we ventured to cross the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, from which Baylon Greyjoy fell to his death. The hike to the bridge was definitely much more intimidating than the bridge itself, but definitely worth the views. The closer I got to the bridge, the more nervous I grew. But once, we were actually at the bridge and saw how short and well maintained it was, the fear quickly dissipated. My biggest fear at that point was losing my glasses, but I made it across with them still sitting on my nose — and the view from the other side was even more spectacular!
We finished the day off with a trip to the King’s Road. Walking through those thousand year old beech trees really transported me to Westeros. It was easy to imagine myself pretending to be a little boy on my way to the wall or clad in armor and smuggling Jaime Lannister to King’s Landing to free the Stark daughters.
The day itself was long and tiring. We did lots of walking through rain and mud, but it was truly the excitement that wore me out. By the time we got back to the hostel, I was ready for a nice rest in a warm bed. It was overall such a great experience to see these filming locations, especially since it was the natural beauty depicted in the show that drew me to Game of Thrones to begin with. And even after reading the books, I can agree that Northern Ireland was the perfect choice to depict Westeros and the Iron Islands.