In April, I took a quick trip to Northern Ireland. I spent the first day in the Belfast where I did a walking tour and went to Titanic Belfast. The next day I went on a tour to the Giant’s Causeway. The tour had a few stopovers including the first one of the day, a visit to The Dark Hedges in County Antrim.
“We’re coming up to our photo stop at the Dark Hedges. You’ll recognize this spot as The Kings Road from Game of Thrones,” the tour guide points out. People excitedly started talking about Game of Thrones. I turned to the girl sitting next to me and asked, “is it bad to say I haven’t seen a single episode of Game of Thrones?” She confessed she hadn’t seen the show as well. We bonded over our lack of watching this shared piece of pop culture.
Yes, I haven’t watched Game of Thrones, but I do know the series is big, and part of it is (or has been) filmed in Northern Ireland. In Belfast, there is a studio in the Titanic Quarter called Titanic Studios where parts of the series are filmed, but there have been many on-location shoots (like the one for the Dark Hedges, or so I’m told). I met several people during my short visit in Northern Ireland who had a part behind the scenes (or knew someone who did) with Game of Thrones.
The real story of the Dark Hedges has to do with the Stuart family. In 1775 James Stuart built a Georgian mansion called Gracehill House (named after his wife, Grace Lyn). The Stuart family decided to plant a row of beech trees along the laneway to greet visitors coming to Gracehill House. Of course, at the time the trees weren’t that big, but over 200 years later they’ve grown into these iconic, massive twisted trees. The area is also known for wildlife like the brambling bird and wood mouse. Locals say there is a ghost called The Grey Lady who haunts these parts.
While I wasn’t geeking out over the Game of Thrones connection, the Dark Hedges was a cool spot, and I wish we had a little bit more time here. Eventually when I do watch Game of Thrones, there’ll be a part of the show where I can say, “I’ve been there.”
Things You Should Know
The Dark Hedges is quite famous. Should you want to avoid the crowds, you may want to rent a car and visit early. There is parking at the nearby Hedges Estate Hotel. The Dark Hedges is at The Dark Hedges, Bregagh Road, Stranocum, Ballymoney, UK. Here is a general map. This area is part of The Dark Hedges Preservation Fund. Visitors should respect this area by not littering or damaging these historic trees.
I went to the dark hedges on tour with Paddy Wagon Tours. They are popular tour company here in Ireland and Northern Ireland that offer day tours (and multi-day tours). The tour went to the Dark Hedges, Carrick a rede rope bridge, and the Giant’s Causeway. It was a 7-hour tour that cost €29, which I paid myself.
While in Belfast I stayed at the Belfast International Youth Hostel. The hostel has a fun vibe and is a short walk to the centre of Belfast. I stayed in a dorm room for one night, which cost about €30. I paid for my stay here.
Have you been to the Dark Hedges? Am I crazy for not watching Game of Thrones? Tell me in the comments below.