Day 1: Belfast to Glenarm [31.6 miles/51km]
With the ravens already sent ahead to warn of your impending arrival, depart from Northern Ireland’s bustling capital city of Belfast en route to the north-east shores of Lough Neagh and Shane’s Castle. Built in 1345 by a member of the royal house of O’Neill (the dynasty that was Kings of Ulster for 1000 years) the castle ruins and its 2600-acre demesne near Randalstown was the scene of extensive filming for the series. Local folklore surrounding Shane’s Castle speaks of the White Lady Of Sorrow, a banshee who wanders in the moonlight warning of impending doom, something of which there is plenty in Game of Thrones.
The Hand’s Tournament in honour of Ned Stark (Sean Bean) took place here and when the Lord of Winterfell eventually fell foul of Joffery and Cersei he found himself chained up in the Shane’s Castle’s dungeons (doubling as King’s Landing). Brienne of Tarth also escorts a manacled Jamie Lannister by the banks of the River Maine before they get in a boat and head down river. Arriving on a rocky shore they come across the gruesome sight of three women hanging from a tree. They are then set upon by a group of Northmen who meet their end on the point of her sword.
From Shane’s Castle it’s fast forward to the Causeway Coastal Route, one of the world’s great road journeys. Retracing your steps along the M2 (before branching onto the A2) you follow the Causeway Coastal Route signage (white writing on a brown background) through Carrickfergus with its imposing castle dominating the town’s skyline. Continue along the coast road to the port town of Larne. Four miles outside the town near the village of Ballygally lies Cairncastle. It was here, on the windswept Antrim Plateau, that Ned Stark beheaded the Night’s Watch deserter, witnessed by Jon Snow, Theon Greyjoy, and the Stark brothers Robb and Bran; and where Catelyn captures Tyrion Lannister whom she suspects of trying to kill her son. When Bran, Rickon, Osha, and Hodor head north to The Wall it is also from the land above Cairncastle that they take a last look back at Winterfell.
However, even the most imaginative scriptwriter would have trouble topping Cairncastle’s own tale of the nobleman supposedly drowned along the coastline in 1588 as part of the ill-fated Spanish Armada. He was laid to rest in St. Patrick’s Church graveyard and on the spot where he was buried stands the gnarled and twisted branches of a Spanish chestnut tree. Samples taken from the tree reveal it does indeed date from the 16th century.
From Cairncastle it’s only a few short miles to picturesque Glenarm. With pitched battles between would-be rulers of Westeros a frequent subject matter for Game of Thrones it’s fitting that day one should end in a village whose name is taken from the Irish Gleann Arma, meaning Valley Of The Army. For those with sufficient reserves of energy you can explore Glenarm Castle (seat of the Earls of Antrim for 400 years) or the beautiful Glenarm Forest Park. Alternatively you can relax and indulge in a feast of locally grown produce served at one of the hotels or family-run B&Bs in the vicinity.
Day 2: Glenarm to Ballycastle [28.78 miles/46km]
Leaving Glenarm you travel inland once more for just under 10 miles until you reach the Shillanavogy Road in the shadow of Slemish Mountain. St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, tended sheep on Slemish after being brought to the area by pirates who slaughtered his family. It’s the sort of barbarism that would no doubt have found favour with the warlike Dothraki horde and an appropriate setting for the Game of Thrones scenes where Daenerys Targaryen, Ser Jorah Mormont, and the Dothraki horsemen ride through the grasslands en route to Vaes Dothrak. From the splendid isolation of Slemish through the village of Broughshane, famed for its vibrant floral displays, it’s time to head back towards the coast and the beautiful villages of Cushendall and Cushendun. It was in the caves at Cushendun, easily accessible on foot, that the Game of Thrones crew filmed the dramatic scene from Season Two in which Davos Seaworth, on the orders of Lord Stannis, takes the sorceress Melisandre ashore where she gives birth to a shadow baby.
From Cushendun it’s on to the magnificent Murlough Bay with its views of Rathlin Island, Mull of Kintyre, and the Scottish Islands. Used as the road to Pyke on which Theon Greyjoy and his sister Asha ride on horseback, it was a location close to the heart of Michelle Fairley (Lady Stark). “I was particularly pleased when I heard Game of Thrones was going to be filming at Murlough Bay. I used to go swimming there as a child.” Ballycastle, birthplace of Game of Thrones star Conleth Hill (Varys), will be the last port of call on day two, but first you must pass through the coastal town for one more location of jaw-dropping natural beauty.
Larrybane, meaning ‘the ancient white site’, is classic Storms End with its panoramic views of the limestone cliffs and ocean. It hosted several key scenes, including where Brienne beats Ser Loras in a tourney and is given a place in Renly’s Kingsguard as a reward. At Larrybane Renly also swears to Lady Stark that he will avenge Ned’s death, but meets his end at the hands of Melisandre’s shadow baby; Margaery confides to Littlefinger (following Renly’s death and with Stannis’ fleet off-ashore) that she wants to be Queen; and Davos tries to tell Stannis what he witnessed in the cave with Melisandre. Stand on Larrybane Head with the wind in your hair, look out to sea, and you will also truly understand why Game of Thrones came here, and why the programme makers chose this view for their generic panning shots of the coast. However, if you really want to test your head for heights why not take time out and visit nearby Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. One of Northern Ireland’s most famous landmarks, the bridge is suspended across a 20-metre chasm between the mainland and the tiny Carrick Island, with a 23-metre drop to the water below. Cross Carrick-a-Rede and you will have earned a hearty meal and a glass of Dornish wine when you return for the night to Ballycastle.
Day 3: Ballycastle to Londonderry [47.72 miles/77km]
With the winding road hugging the coastline and the Atlantic Ocean your constant companion the first stop on day three is the hidden gem that is Ballintoy Harbour. Still a working harbour for local fishermen, Ballintoy doubled as Lordsport Harbour (The Iron Islands) and the homecoming of Theon Greyjoy after ten years in Winterfell. The beach at Ballintoy is where Theon was baptized into the faith of the ‘Drowned God’, cementing his return to the House of Greyjoy. Continue along Whitepark Road for just under four miles and you will see signs for Dunseverick, another of the myriad wonderful little harbours and inlets that populate the area. There was little sign of brotherly love but a huge helping of sibling rivalry when Renly and Stannis met here to discuss their claims to the Iron Throne. It was also Renly’s first encounter with the ‘fire priestess’. Filming may not have taken place at the Giant’s Causeway (although the sea beyond featured in several sweeping shots) but no visit to the Causeway Coast and Glens would be complete without calling in at the UNESCO World Heritage Site with it’s unique six-sided basalt columns and the wonderful local legend that is Finn McCool.
As you reach the village of Bushmills (site for one of the world’s oldest whiskey distilleries) you will be lured inland to one of the most photographed natural phenomenon in the region, the haunting (and we mean haunting) avenue of trees near Armoy known as ‘The Dark Hedges’. This is where Arya Stark, dressed as a boy, escaped from King’s Landing. Don’t linger too long, though, as the Grey Lady (a lost spirit from a long abandoned graveyard) is said to appear at dusk amongst the trees.
Your journey through the Seven Kingdoms is nearly complete, but one last treat lies in store. Travelling through Coleraine on the banks of the River Bann, it’s time to follow the Causeway Coastal Route signs past Castlerock and on to Downhill Strand. Standing proudly on a rocky outcrop is the iconic Mussenden Temple, built in 1785 as a summer library and modelled on the Temple of Vista in Italy. The beach below is Dragonstone, where the Seven Idols of Westeros were burned and Melisandre, flames dancing into the night sky, proclaimed: “For the night is dark and full of terrors.”
The visual feast will continue as you wave goodbye to Benone and head for journey’s end in the famous walled city of Londonderry/Derry. Binevenagh, an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty, provides yet another brilliant backdrop as you bring the curtain down on the Causeway Coast and Glens - Games of Thrones itinerary.
Game of Thrones Extras:
Moneyglass Estate, near Toome (Scenes shot here include when Arya Stark is on the road with three captives in a cage; Theon Greyjoy making his impassioned pre-battle speech that ends with Dagmer knocking him cold; and Bran, Rickon, Osha, and Hodor finally leaving their hiding place only to discover Maester Luwin lying fatally injured by the Godswood).
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