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When Northern Ireland became Westeros

Let's choose a place with sea, vertigo cliffs, postcard castles, bright green meadows, frightening forests, dead-end ambushes, calm water lakes and fortresses that become a city. Eureka: Northern Ireland.

Dunluce Castle © iStock

That was what the producers of Game of Thrones when trying to locate the great work of George RR Martin, Song of ice and fire, for the small screen. In the northernmost part of the emerald island, 80% of the scenarios that appear in the successful HBO series are located.

We will discover some of them through a trip that will allow us to contemplate the beauty of the landscape, soak up the captivating drunkenness of their peoples and share the blushing sympathy of its inhabitants.

BELFAST

Our tour begins in Belfast, a city that has been able to heal the wounds of the fratricidal war between Catholics and Protestants and that today is shining and with progress that sometimes seems to be tugging. Its beautiful and wide university district of Queens contrasts with the narrow streets of Cathedral Quarter.

The majestic building of the town hall presides over a center full of classic pubs, but also cafés, restaurants and something more chic. The Titanic Quarter, on the banks of the Lagan River, aims to revitalize and offer visitors a unique experience away from the bloody attacks and spooky police oppressions that put the capital of Northern Ireland on the geopolitical map for decades.

And to learn from mistakes what better than a walk along the wall that separated the two religious factions between Shankill Y Falls road and ironically the authorities called Peace line.

We stayed at the Europa Hotel, a place with shrapnel-shaped history, in front of The Crown, the most mythical and rococo pub in the entire city. Located on Great Victoria Street, Europe is now a modern hotel where many Belfast bride and groom decide to celebrate their wedding and the place chosen by Van Morrison to play in what will be his celebrated return in December to his hometown.

The imposing Queen's University © Corbis

GLENARM: THE JEWELS OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS

We leave early for Belfast, while the sky fills with black clouds that cover the timid rays that the sun intended to offer us. We get in our brand new rental car and take the M2 towards Larne to enter Antrim County. Along the way, hills dotted with tall trees between cultivated and small plots cottages We get by.

Glenarm is the first of the nine canyons located along the Antrim Coastal Highway, an area of ​​exceptional natural beauty and that we will travel during this search for scenarios and images without actors from Game of Thrones.

Right at the entrance of the town, next to the Tourist Office we stumbled upon Steensons Workshop and Gallery. "We have made more than 40 pieces for the series, from Cersei's crown to Margery's tiara or Sansa's surprise necklace that ended the life of the evil Joefrey. All of them following the producer's designs," Rossie McNally says. to the second generation of Steensons jewelers.

Some of the works are exhibited in delicate showcases conveniently adorned with frames of the series. They are for sale and it is possible to purchase a replica made of silver and antique gold.

"One of the owners is the best friend of one of the costumes responsible for the series, so when a jeweler was sought to make the replicas because the first one he thought was in him," Rossie reveals.

Glenarm is believed to be the oldest town to which a city card was granted in the Ulster. It retains the historical layout of its streets and has more than 50 protected buildings, among which the castle, residence of the Viscounts of Dunluce, stands out.

This fortress that today is a Jacobin-style mansion has a walled garden that is one of the oldest in Ireland. Open to the public from April to September.

Glenarm © Alamy

GLENARIFF

We take the coast road to Laragh Lodge bordering the island's profile and with the sea on the right. Next to the Laragh Lodge, a kind of rural wooden and traditional-style hotel, opens a thick forest full of hiking trails, waterfalls and steep paths, all dyed emerald green. Gigantic trees shelter this natural park that almost does not reach the light. In GlenariffLord John Royce became tutor of Robin Arryn, lord of the Eagles Nest, and Sansa Stark and Meñique watched their hard attempts with the sword.

During our visit we met two groups of families with children. None of them seemed very interested in the scenes of Game of Thrones, rather in throwing stones into the water or discovering a mysterious animal in the brush. Those who know the area well say it is the glens most leafy and beautiful in the area. The writer V.M.Thackeray He said when he saw that "it was a miniature Switzerland."

Natural waterfalls of Glenariff National Park © Alamy

THE CAVES OF CUSHENDUN: A CAVE IN BASTION OF STORMS

We leave behind Cushendall, a small coastal town of steep streets with a great fondness for country music, and take the starting point of the Causeway Coastal Route, the route that borders the entire coast in what sometimes seems like an exercise in balancing between sea and land. A few kilometers away is the village of Cushendun, which is an elevated beach at the exit of the valleys of Glendun and Glencorp and at the mouth of the Dunn River.

Centuries before this villa was built, Cushendun was a safe landing place and port for frequent travelers between Ireland and Scotland. Surely their caves were also a place of refuge for shipwrecks and pirates. Formed over 400 million years ago, they are easily accessible on foot from the town.

In this whimsical environment, and sometimes it gives the impression that treacherous, Davos Seaworth brings the witch Melisandre. The red priestess gives birth to a shadowy creature between stone, sand and water columns in order to kill Renly, whose camp is located high in the caves, by order of Stannis Baratheon.

It is his revenge after Renly's challenge. We penetrate the cave and move through imagination to chapter four of the second season. Melisandre invokes the God of Light to pave the ground for the Iron Throne of his king, Stannis Baratheon. We entrust ourselves to the fates of automotive engineering and also to the Michelin god to tour the Torr Head Road, a road that runs along a rocky promontory between Cushendun Y Ballycastle. The route that brings us closer to the closest point between Ireland and Scotland.

Also called the roller coaster or the coastal hug, the Torr Head road offers stunning views of the sea to Mull of Kintyre Y Rathlin Island Although the sky was overcast, the wind had ceased to ram through what we decided to do. They are about 15 miles (about 24 kilometers) that must be traveled only if the weather accompanies.

Cushendun Caves © Alamy

MURLOUGH BAY: THE BAY OF THE SLAVES OF ESSOS

Halfway up the Torr Head Road we noticed a hidden gem: the Murlough Bay which is reached by a steep slope. This impressive stretch of coastline was chosen for several locations in the series, some unrelated to each other. For example, it is the place of the unhappy encounter between Tyrion Lannister and Jorah Mormont with some slave traders on their way to Meereen during episode six of the fifth season. And in the cretas that crown Murlough Bay, in a landscape of green meadows, one of the shortest and most unproductive dialogues in history takes place.

Stannis Baratheon, who has proclaimed himself the true king to the Iron Throne, asks his brother Renly, crowned monarch with the support of the Tyrell House, to join him. The conversation waters when Renly boasts of having the largest army. Stannis takes the reins of his horse and turns while Melisandre warns Renly to be careful because "the night is dark and full of terrors".

The Torr Head's winding road (It has nothing to do with the hammer of the comic book hero, as far as I know) has an end in Ballycastle (the city of the castle), a small town with a reputation for productive and popular fairs. Among them is the Ould Lammas Fair, which dates back to the 17th century and takes place every year on the last Monday and Tuesday of August.

Sweet (a kind of red seaweed) and yellow man (a type of candy) are its specialties for the palate. They can be tested in the Ursa Minor Bakery, your best gastronomic emblem.

Ballycastle is also the departure and arrival point for ferries that come and go to the Rathlin Island, a hidden treasure. It is shaped like an 'L' and is barely 9 kilometers long and 1.5 kilometers wide. About 140 people live in it. More than 250,000 seabirds return each year to the island in the breeding season. Fulmares and puffins abound. And the myths and legends, like that of Robert the Bruce, who after being expelled from Scotland by Edward I of England, took refuge in a cave in Rathlin, where he was inspired to see the tenacity that a spider put.

The island is also seen from the Carrick-a-Rede, belonging to the neighboring town of Ballintoy. The old fishermen used to build a rope bridge to the nearby islet to check their salmon nets.

At present, it is a very successful tourist attraction according to the crowd that populated from the enabled parking lot to the bridge itself. Save the abyss of about 30 meters between the cliffs and the small islet through a hanging structure 20 meters long by 1 wide. Not suitable for people with vertigo and on windy days, when it hits hard it closes. The reward is the fascinating views of the North Coast.

Port-aleen Bay from Torr Head © Alamy

BALLINTOY: THE ISLANDS OF IRON

Ballintoy (from Irish Dance an Tuaigh) which means 'the northern town' It is a village in Antrim County composed of a few small shops and two churches. The port is at the end of a very small and steep road under Knocksaughey Hill. Next to it is the beach.

The name of Ballintoy Bay has become synonymous with Pyke and the Iron Islands and was first used when Theon Greyjoy returns to the Iron Islands in search of his father's favor, Balon, so that his ships join Robb Stark's cause in his fight for the Iron Throne.

The click that Theon takes when arriving at the bay of Lordsport is as great as the beauty of this small and mysterious enclave. There he meets his sister Yara. The nearby beach has also been used as a natural setting, when Theon reaffirms his loyalty to the family and is baptized in the religion of the Drowned God. But not only here Pyke or the Iron Islands have been set. This bay and its beach have also been used to represent places of Rocadragón in the fourth season.

From there you have to approach to see Whiterocks beach. Embraced by the sea by limestone cliffs that extend from Curran Strand to Dunluce Castle, It is full of caves and labyrinthine arches that the sea has carved for centuries. The Arch of Desires, the Elephant Rock and the Lion's Paw are some of the ways that can be distinguished rising above the ocean waters.

Landscapes of Ballintoy © Alamy

PORTSTEWART STRAND: DORNE COAST

Between the town of Portstewart and the mouth of the Bann River, the golden sand and the outstanding dunes of Portstewart Strand, an area of ​​impressive natural beauty and an obvious scientific interest, are scattered. It is one of the best and finest beaches in Ireland's Note and offers views of the Inishowen promontory and the Mussenden Temple hanging high on the cliffs.

Although Jaime and Bronn believe they will go unnoticed in Dorne when they are sent to rescue the young Myrcella, it will not be so. Ellaria Sand and the daughters of Oberyn Martell, the Sand Snakes, secretly plan revenge on this beach and how to start a war against the Lannisters.

Dunluce Castle © Alamy

DOWNHILL BEACH: ROCADRAGÓN

And on another beach a few kilometers west, in Downhill beach one of the scenes with more meaning of the whole series takes place. Stannis Baratheon severely influenced by the witch Melisandre, orders to burn the effigies of the Seven Gods and embrace the religion of the God of Light, the only lord for his faithful and cunning counselor. Downhill is part of a stretch of 7 miles (11 kilometers) of sand on a surfer beach where, in addition, there are walks with wonderful views.

From this beach you can also see the Mussenden Temple and climb up to it, a building almost in ruins but from which you can see the counties of Derry (Londonderry), Donegal and Antrim.

THE DARK HEDGES: THE ROAD ROYAL

The Dark hedge They are one of the most photographed natural phenomena in Northern Ireland and a popular attraction worldwide. This beautiful beech avenue was planted by the Stuart family. After 200 years, trees remain a magnificent spectacle and have become known as the Dark Hedges. It is said that the Gray Lady, a spirit from an abandoned cemetery, appears at sunset among the trees.

Well, its spectacularity is even greater in aerial shots and with the atmosphere of Game of Thrones. Arya Stark escapes King's Landing after her father's unfortunate disappearance. Back on the Royal Road transvestite into a boy, Arya is part of Yoren's new recruits, along with Hot Pie and Gendry, for the Night's Watch.

The Dark Edges is located back in Belfast, very close to Stranocum, in Antrim County, and is perfectly marked for the traveler. In January 2016, a storm swept the region by knocking down some of the famous trees. The wood of the fallen beech trees were saved and transformed into works of art in the form of ten intricate doors.

Using key symbols and scenes from the series, The doors tell the story of the sixth season. They can be found in stores, pubs and restaurants in Northern Ireland. With a passport that you will find in each of these places, you can follow the path of Game of Thrones stamping on each of the doors a seal that goes beyond a piece of ink to become a unique experience.

Sunset at Downhill Beach © Alamy

CASTLE WARD: WINTERFELL

We leave for the next day one of the main dishes of the route. It is sunny and it seems that the clouds do not threaten too much a day that paints the blue sky Y it is reflected on intense greens. But the weather in these latitudes is changing.

We cross our fingers as we head south of Northern Ireland. An hour later we arrived at Castle ward, a place with a lot of personality located on the shores of Lake Strangford.

This 18th century hacienda has more than 300 hectares and a magnificent location on the bay. The property has a museum of Victorian laundries; a center for interpretation of flora and fauna; a 16th century tower; and Audley Castle, a 15th-century tower-residence.

The imposing mansion was built for Lord and Lady Bangor. His very different tastes derived in this eccentric country residence, and later, in his divorce. Welcome to Winterfell.

Lord William, one of the partners of the Winterfell Tours company, welcomes us in his stays, the ones who know the most about the filming of the series in Northern Ireland. William wears black suit, overcoat and black boots. He wears cinch with gold buckle. He has white hair, blue eyes and a goatee also the color of snow.

“In the Castle Ward the first chapter of Game of Thrones”, He tells us while you show pictures of several scenes. The tours they organize, which They cost from 160 euros onwardsThey include clothing for the occasion, bow exercises in the winter garden of arms and the visit to the most remote surroundings and some more or less nearby locations.

In this hacienda, for example, the producers located the first royal road or the first tree of gods that were later discarded. However, they built a Winterfell in the stables of Castle Ward that entailed only some digital details..

In the surroundings, next to the Strangford Lake, the producers of Game of Thrones. In fact, the promontory of Audley Castle served as a model for Walder Frey's mansion in the Twins and also it became a quagmire when Robb Stark's camp settled.

Further down, in a path that surrounds the lake and that enters between trees that it seems that they are going to pounce on the traveler some of the hanged ones with whom they run into Jaime Lannister and Brienne de Tarth. Anyway, multitude of scenarios that William shows with an interest and passion worthy of praise.

THE TOLLYMORE NATIONAL PARK: WHERE EVERYTHING BEGINS

We move somewhat further south to Northern Ireland to locate the Tollymore National Park, a place for the enjoyment of the family but also to enjoy the solitude produced by the thickets, the sound of water flowing without measure and the thousands of columns formed by pines so straight that they seem to be drawn with a ruler.

Three kilometers from Newcastle, at the foot of the Morne Mountains, the Tollymore National Park It has a church, caves, caves, bridges and stone paths over the water.

This was where Ned Stark He found a deer with wild wounds produced by a direwolf, the emblem of his house. Very close, the wolf's body kept six puppies that finally each of the family's offspring decided to stay.

And a few meters from there, a fir forest that had to be filled with artificial snow for the occasion. It served as a stage beyond the Wall. An imposing and scary image that starts the series in which several Night Watch explorers bump into the White Walkers.

With the cold still in the body we return to Strangford, a small town separated from Portaferry By a freshwater lake. We stayed at The Cuan, a guest inn comfortable and from which the noise of seagulls is heard at night and day.

While tasting a Guinness beer, its owner, Peter, tells us stories of the actors who stayed here while recording the scenes at Castle War. At the end he gave us the same welcome menu to King Robert Baratheon upon his arrival in Winterfell.

At night, the air and the rain bang against the window, and in our heads the composer's notes resonate again and again Ramin Djawadi, from now on inseparable from the abrupt, difficult, untamed and, nowadays, familiar landscapes of Northern Ireland.

Tollymore Forest Park © Alamy

Video: Game of Thrones Filming Locations. How Northern Ireland became Westeros. GoT Season 8 (February 2020).

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