Green, really green, the greenest green. This is what comes to mind when I look back on my trip to Northern Ireland last month. It really sticks with you, that sense of the vitality of nature transmitted through the lush vegetation which clashes with the almost blindingly bright blue sky… Or at least it does so on a sunny day.
It’s a great feeling when a trip exceeds your expectations. That’s exactly what happened when I went to a Game of Thrones convention in Belfast, which advertised a bus tour of the filming locations around the coastline. Of course, I was excited to visit some of the places I had seen in the series (I am more than a moderate fan), but now it comes as more of an afterthought. I had no idea how fascinating the natural surroundings of these locations would be.
We arrived late on Friday and had a very early start on Saturday, as the convention began at 9am. We passed by the Queen’s University when the sun was still very low in the sky, but there were already a number of enthusiastic tourists taking snaps. We saw it again on our way to lunch, and this made for a much grander view.
We didn’t really see much else of Belfast itself, as the convention took up most of the day, but I believe the top sites are the Titanic Museum and the University. We did however experience Belfast’s nightlife – we went to the city’s oldest family-owned bar, Laverys. It is a massive watering hole, with a number of rooms, and a rooftop area with 18 pool tables. There were also a number of other creatively named pubs around which looked full late into the night. My personal favourite was Filthy McNasty’s, pictured below.
We grabbed a quick egg-rich breakfast in Maggie May’s Belfast Cafe. I couldn’t recommend the place enough, it has a great choice of food, and it tastes like it was cooked by a very affectionate grandmother who wants to spoil you as much as possible.
We then jumped on the bus, and made our way to the Dark Hedges. It is a great venue for special occasions, but just across the road from the welcoming gateway lies the namesake of the area, a very wild grove of trees whose crowns meet to form a tunnel above a narrower side pathway.
It is a truly magical place, one you would associate with childhood fascinations, like a secret treehouse, or the mysterious dwelling place of a forest people right out of a fairytale. Although Game of Thrones is a fantasy series, this location was just used as a gloomy country road, and there was no implied magical association, so I was particularly pleasantly surprised by this first stop on the trip.
The drive through the countryside was also very enjoyable as the road looked out on rolling green plains, deep green valleys, and finally, onto the gleaming blue sea.
Okay, I admit. We might have been a little more than lucky with the weather… it was absolutely gorgeous by the beach!
We then entered Cushendun Caves which were much more striking in reality than they appeared in the series in the gruesome scene where Melissandre births her dark magic baby. The stone had a soft violet hue to it, and the walls were adorned with mossy stones and shells, which made for a beautiful piece of natural art.
We had a little free time before the next activity, so we just walked around the beautiful bay and enjoyed the views out to open sea.
Our next stop was Carnlough, where we went to see another location, or rather this half-submerged stair which makes a very brief appearance in the latest season. While this was a bit of a anti-climax, the area itself was nice. It had a small port cradled in the bay, and there was a few small local shops lining the promenade.
Sadly, we had reached the final leg of our tour. We headed back through Belfast and after about a half hour’s drive, we arrived at the Clandeboye Estate. We toured the woodland around it to look at more locations, but the real treat was the medieval feast held in the appropriately decorated dining hall.
All in all, it was an amazing trip and I would definitely recommend visiting these sites, even if you are not a Game of Thrones enthusiast. As I hope you would agree, the landscape around them is stunningly beautiful, and deserving of a visit. The only place I regret not seeing is the Giant’s Causeway, which was a bit out of the way this time… But hey, what better reason to return to Northern Ireland once more!