Northern Ireland Antrim coast-road 2014
Following on from the 2013 visit to Northern Ireland, I was asked to run a coach tour for a group of friends I had met at previous Game of Thrones events. This took place on the 12th September 2014, the day before the full Titancon fantasy convention taking place in Belfast.
I had chosen McCombs tours because they had been easy to deal with and allowed us to fully customise the tour with our chosen filming locations. We were greeted at our hotel by Derek from McCombs, who was extremely friendly and personable as he introduced himself and the plans for the day. Derek gave our group a great deal of information on the the history of Northern Ireland, as well as the local landmarks we would see along the way, and in this he certainly added to the experience of the tour.
Our first venue was supposed to be Cushendun Caves, home of the Shadow Baby birth, however Derek had a surprise for us as he took us past Maghlamore Quarry, where the Wall and Castle Black are filmed. It is also where they filmed the Battle of the Blackwater and Hardholme, so it certainly has a reputation of being somewhere central to some of the most iconic moments of the entire season.
One of the reasons for this location being so important to the show is the fact is it private, with security and gating prevents the public from visiting and allowing the show to film with a high degree of privacy. Even so, as we drove past we were able to take a few shots of the top of the wall but on this particular day, the poor weather limited the visibility of what we could see. Rumours are that this may be opened to the public as a tourist attraction once the show finishes, so perhaps there will be an opportunity for fans to visit this location in the future.
After this, we visited Cushendun Caves, where Melisandre and Davos come aboard in season 2 to allow Melisandre to give birth to the shadow baby that kills Renly. There's not much more I can say about this location, they were formed over 400 million years and are simply something that cant be recreated with CGI or VFX. A word of note, if a tour guide ever tries to tell you that the scene was filmed in the larger cave to the right, politely ignore them and head into the cave to the left which is the actual filming location where Melisandre gave birth!
After this, we visited a new location on my list, Larrybane quarry. In essense this is no longer an active quarry but an overflow car park for the rope bridge nearby, but in Game of Thrones' world it is used as the area where Renly Baratheon holds his camp in Season two. In perhaps the most notable scene there, Renly and Margaery Tyrell hold a tournament, where we are introduced to the eventual winner, Brienne of Tarth. Despite the fact it is 'only' a car park, the views here are some of the most fantastic and unobstructed of the whole coastroad with great views out to Rathlin Island, Northern's Ireland's only inhabited island.
Following this, we visited Ballintoy harbour, this was Lordsport Harbour, Pyke in Season 2, the home of the Greyjoys. It is where Theon returns home and meets up with his sister Yara, but has now also become notable for being used for other filming locations, such as where Arya leaves for Bravvos at the end of season four.
In addition to the main harbour, I had become aware that the local beach just before the bottom of the hill had been used for a number of scenes. Here, Melisandre burned the Florents on the way to the wall, Gendry escaped Dragonstone, and Davos met Saladoor Saan. It will also be used for an upcoming scene in Season six.
Following this, we had a fantastic lunch at the Fullerton arms, a local Ballintoy pub which is a favourite of the cast and crew during filming. They even had a room dedicated to Game of Thrones,containing costumes and medieval ornaments, not to mention their own throne! From an outside perspective, it would seem that areas such as Ballintoy have benefited greatly from the Game of Thrones influence, and in this economy, that can only be a good thing, with over £120 million's worth of income attributed to Game of Thrones tourism in the last few years.
Following this, we visited Dunluce Castle. This was an unexpected stop not on the intinery, but certainly a welcome one. Dunluce was the basis for the exterior of Pyke in season 2, albeit it with an awful lot of added special effect enhancements. Built around 1500, the castle is built on an outcrop on the North Antrim coast, with steep drops very evident on either side of the connecting footbridge. It has a storied history, with many regular attacks by the English, as well as local fueds between clans. The castle itself is now in a state of disrepair but has some particularly stunning views, and even now is still extremely imposing. When we were there, we were the only visitors and I couldnt help but leave the castle feeling that it had more potential and deserved to be more than an empty shell.
After this, we headed back to Belfast, via the Dark Hedges, otherwise known as the Kings Road, where Arya and Gendry escape with their fellow nights watch crew after leaving Kings Landing.
This avenue of beach trees was built in the eighteeth century by local gentry in order to impress visitors to their estate, but is now a public road and was a tourist attraction long before Game of Thrones. You can't help but be impressed by this location, especially at dusk, and I'm not sure the photos completely do it justice. This place is a real photographers paradise, with amateur and professional photographers alike trying to obtain the perfect unobstructed shot. This location was only used for a few seconds in the show, but even so, prior to filming the crew took away the entire row of old fencing along the road and then had it replaced afterwards at their own cost after filming.
This brought to an end our Tour of the Northern Ireland coastroad, for 2014 at least. Every year Game of Thrones adds more and more locations to its Northern Ireland intinerary, and every year the location scouts continue to strike gold. I look forward to seeing what Season 6 will produce, but I am sure they wont let us down!