As a true and loyal Game of Thrones fan that has even written her MA dissertation on Game of Thrones and the tourism that has followed the series from a marketing and consumption perspective, it’s no secret that I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan. After having returned to Denmark, I now extra leisure time to myself. As such, I’m in the middle of re-watching the last five seasons of Game of Thrones at the moment. It’s exciting re-watching all the episodes for several reasons – the most notable being remembering my own little Westeros experience in Northern Ireland.
At first, I didn’t know that the Television series is filmed in among others Northern Ireland. However, when I lived in Ireland last year, my friend made me aware of this fact. She had heard of a guided tour of the Northern Irish film locations where a group can explore parts of Westeros. Surreal, right!? As we didn’t have a car to drive around Northern Ireland for ourselves, this seemed like a great idea to explore the GoT world for ourselves along with fellow fans on the tour. We, simply, had to go!!! So we did. And it was absolutely amazing. Nothing less!
The tour started early in the morning departing from Dublin and excited as we were, we were the first at the meeting point. Warmly dressed, lots of food packed for the long day ahead and in good spirits, we were ready for the adventure that awaited us!
On the tour from Dublin to our first stop in Northern Ireland, we talked, quizzed and saw clips from the Television series with fellow GoT fans. The atmosphere in the bus was accelerating to say the least. We talked a lot about the series being a fantasy series and how much reality we could expect when visiting the film locations. We expected a lot of CGI to be involved, however, we were pleasantly surprised. Except for Winterfell, the film locations were real and almost no CGI had been involved in the making of the series at these locations.
Our first stop was at Inch Abbey where Catelyn Stark negotiated a treaty with Walder Frey and where Robb Stark is proclaimed King of the North. We don’t see this in the series, however, the abbey in which Robb is proclaimed king is far from intact. As you can see in the picture below, it’s in ruins. Nevertheless, it’s in an amazing green area close to a river and a forest. Across this river is the Twins (or at least the one of them that hasn’t been CGIed in). Here, we spend a half an hour or so exploring the abbey and the nearby forest.
Being there with fellow fans and walking in the shoes of beloved characters was nothing but amazing! The tour guide had coats for us to rent, which some of the other fans did while reenacting certain scenes from the series. It was rather interesting traveling to Westeros with such fans, I must say – they kept the reality of the series up all day long.
Our second stop was Tollymore Forest Park. With over 600 hektars of land, there’s a lot to explore at Tollymore, which is also evident in GoT. The forest is not only where the dire wolf puppies where found by the Starks, it’s also where Bran Stark meets the mysterious three-eyed raven, where Ramsay Bolton hunts down Theon Greyjoy and where the White Walkers begin their march into the realm of men. For a Game of Throne fan this is the mecca! And what a beautiful one. The forest itself is astonishing – the scenery is absolutely beautiful with rough landscapes, wild plant life, rivers and bridges. We must have walked around the forest for around two hours or so exploring various film locations and hearing stories about the series from the guide before returning to the bus for our third stop.
Our third stop at Winterfell was my favourite film location and not only for the obvious reason that I support the Starks, no! Winterfell and the estate has Game of Thrones written all over it. We arrived right at the clock tower (yes, there’s only one again, the second has been CGIed in) where we met with William, an extra from the series that taught the actors archery. We was introduced to the estate and was given the choice of either exploring the Dark Hedges or try archery with William for an hour. What an unfair choice to give us, right!? We choose archery for an hour. We did this because William was going to teach us how to shoot with a bow and arrow – just as he had the actors from GoT. We were the only ones and I don’t regret this choice! It was SO much fun! And we heard a lot of background stories about the series as well as the actors – I love this, as no other fan knows about these stories. After an hour there, it was time to return to Dublin. Oh, the horror! We all wanted to stay.
However, there was one last stop on our return. Our last stop was at Ballintoy Harbour – the Iron Islands. Here we walked around the harbour and gazed at the ocean before buying a light snack for the return to Dublin. There’s not a lot to explore here except for the harbour. Ballintoy itself it a village, and if you turn the camera from the harbour inland (see picture below), what you see is among others this little cafe where older ladies were having a bite or two to eat – completely unaware of us tourists.
All in all, exploring Westeros was a surreal experience! Not only did we get to explore where Robb was proclaimed King of the North, the Stark’s estate and where they found the dire wolf puppies, we even meet extras from the series who shared stories about the series and actors. The entire day was just filled with pure excitement. As a fan, it’s incredible walking in the shoes of your favourite characters and ’join them’ on their quests and adventures. Furthermore, sharing your fandom with fellow fans makes such an experience even more eventful. But… Not only did we get to explore the world of Westeros, we also got to explore those parts of Northern Ireland. Known mainly for Londonderry and Belfast as well as Titanic and the Troubles, I must say that Northern Ireland has a lot more to offer than it’s known for.
Now… I must return to season three. Arya is about to run away from the Brotherhood, only to be captured by the Hound…