Journey of the 7 Kingdoms: A Traveler’s Tribute to Game of Thrones

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Elvoline Guest Blogger, Lavina D. of A Capricious Compass shares her dual passion for Game of Thrones and travel in an article that defines adventurous:

The countdown is on!

It’s approximately a little more than a month until the new season (6) of Game of Thrones will be broadcast.  Although I’ll be busy chasing the Northern Lights in Norway, I’m still planning to watch!

If you’re not already familiar, Game of Thrones is a spicy mix of incest, politics, debauchery, wickedness, dragons – anything and everything that transports you to an alternate universe! After watching season 5, my husband and I paid a visit to Malta and were thrilled when we realized that we’d unknowingly stepped into “King’s Landing,” aka the Mdina.

The Mdina, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was breathtaking.  This got us thinking: if our experience of the Mdina was anything to go by, the other Game of Thrones locations would probably be equally as exciting. Thus, we were inspired to explore more Game of Thrones (GOT) locations in neighboring Northern Ireland where almost all of Seasons 1 & 2 were filmed.

I was warned that the amount of CGI implementation in the series does make the actual location feel a little drab, so it’s necessary to use your imagination a bit as you wander so you can really feel the vibe! I recommend trying to visualize a castle with a damsel in distress while standing next to a lake, or picture gnomes hiding in bushes in a plain garden – fantasy does add zing to everyday life, doesn’t it?

While keeping our expectations realistic, my husband and I set off to explore the famous GOT locations for ourselves. Here are our favorite parts of the trip!

JOURNEY OF THE 7 KINGDOMS

We started from Belfast, taking in the amazing scenery that the Causeway Coastal route offers and halted at our first pit-stop, Cushendan Caves. Another option is taking a detour to visit Shillanavogy Valley (which was used as the Dothraki grasslands, after Daenerys and Khal Drogo were married).

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The passageway leading to the caves

The Destination: Cushenden Caves 

Ocean waves were hammering against the rocks as we made our way to the two caves at the end of the pathway. I imagined the scene from the GOT episode as I walked along, and to my astonishment, all I found were shut wrought iron gates! I asked around and was told that the passageway is the only entrance to a house that sits on the other side of the hill – so technically we were trespassing!  Imagine my surprise!

I tried to navigate to the other caves in the labyrinth, but was advised against it. It was high tide and water was slowly filling the other caves.

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The entrance to the house on the other end of the pathway!

The Game Of Thrones connection: Season 2, Episode 4  

Melisandre, the Red Priestess, is brought ashore by Ser Davos to give birth to the shadow baby, who then proceeds to kill Renly Baratheon.

An additional reason to visit  

The countryside is stunning and the views are to die for. On a clear day, you can see Scotland sitting in the distance!

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Ballintoy Habour

The Destination: Ballintoy Harbor 

It was about noon when we reached Ballintoy Harbor. Winds were blowing at 25 mph, and as my tiny piece of Black Forest disappeared in a second with the wind, I realized taking a walk around the harbor wasn’t going to be easy. Although it was cold, I continued to admire the bright, quaint little houses that sat beside the harbor and was surprised to stumble upon a plaque with Alfie Allen on it that the tourism board of Northern Ireland had erected. It was unmissable!

Beside the harbor, rugged rocks jutted out of the ocean and waves continued to slam against them, spraying us with water in the cold weather, and I knew it was time to move on.

Tiny houses beside the harbor painted a colorful picture!

Tiny houses beside the harbor painted a colorful picture!

The Game Of Thrones connection  

Many scenes have depicted Ballintoy Harbor as The Iron Islands. This is the place where Theon Greyjoy meets his sister Yara and unknowingly makes a fool of himself (it wouldn’t be the first time, though!).

An additional reason to visit

The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is located 10 minutes away. It’s one of the most exhilarating bridges in the world and is a great activity to try!

A walk along the cliffside...

A walk along the cliffside…

The Destination: Larrybane

After crossing the menacing (but fun) Carrick-a-Rede, we proceeded in the opposite direction, towards the ocean.  Downwards we went, until we reached a flat patch of ground surrounded by tall limestone walls with the ocean staring at us in the front. Bang opposite, was a tiny island and something that looked like a water wheel, sat perched on top of it.

After spending some time trying to figure out what it exactly was, we turned round the corner and continued further down, realizing we were probably the only ones who were wandering around in that area.

Huge limestone walls with the ocean in the distance...

Huge limestone walls with the ocean in the distance…

Hidden caves, beaches and not a soul in sight! :)

Hidden caves, beaches and not a soul in sight! 🙂

The Game Of Thrones connection

This Larrybane site is used in numerous episodes. It’s where Renly sets camp and where Brienne beats Ser Loras and is given a place in Renly’s Kingsguard.

An additional reason to visit

This place is a great location to stroll, search for hidden beaches and coves and even caves! It gives you the feeling as if you’re the only living souls for miles around!

One of my favorite shots of the Dark Hedges!!!

One of my favorite shots of the Dark Hedges!!!

The Destination: The Dark Hedges 

We visited at dusk and whiled our time away, waiting for visitors to disappear. Twilight peeked through the branches and engulfed the area, casting magical shadows. The Dark Hedges became sinister, and literally, dark!

There was an amazing play of light and shadow – courtesy of the beech trees planted two centuries ago that still retained their allure. The avenue of trees was planted by the Stuart family to impress visitors as they approached the Georgian mansion, also known as Gracehill House.

The Game Of Thrones connection: Season 2, Episode 1

This is the same road that Arya travels on, while escaping King’s landing, accompanied with Gendry and all the other’s who’re off to join the night’s watch.

An additional reason to visit

Apparently the ‘Grey Lady’ haunts and traverses the whole length of the road and vanishes at the last beech tree. Some say she is a distressed soul from the adjoining grounds, some say she is related to the Stuart family. Regardless, the idea of the grounds being haunted adds more mystery to the whole spot 🙂

The original helmet worn by the Hound!

The original helmet worn by the Hound!

The Destination: Castleward

The enormous grounds of Castleward required an entire day to explore. The countryside extended infinitely in three directions while the lough extended in the fourth.

Castleward is nothing short of heaven for nature lovers. Cows grazed without a care in the world under the green leaves of the trees. As we navigated our way through the grounds carefully avoiding cow pies, we came across some seals!

The pathway that was to be the Dark Hedges initially

The pathway that was to be the Dark Hedges initially

William, who was our instructor for the Archery experience we had opted for, accompanied us on our walk providing interesting trivia along the way.

After I failed miserably at Archery, I then continued my obsession, by trying out authentic HBO GOT memorabilia!

I’d have gone, if only to parade in the costume :)

I’d have gone, if only to parade in the costume 🙂

The Game Of Thrones connection

Heavily used as Winterfell, Castleward was also used in scenes depicting Robb Stark’s camp and Robb and Talisa’s walk, as well as numerous others.

An additional reason to visit

The picturesque village of Strangford sits 10 minutes away from Castleward. This is one village that should sit at the top of your list if you want to experience laid-back Irish culture!

 

Although there were more locations like Downhill Strand (which was used as Dragonstone, where the old God’s burn on the beach) and Tollymore Forest park (where the very first scene of Season 1 – the haunted forest was filmed) to visit, we sadly could not accommodate all of it over 2 days.

HBO will probably divert from George R.R. Martin’s plot in the upcoming series as the next book doesn’t seem to be arriving anytime soon. Once the series finally comes to an end… maybe I will have a lot more countries on my list and a complete GOT tour!

For now, all I wish for is a glimpse of the Northern lights AND for Jon Snow to live!

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Learn more about Lavina and her travels here.

If you’re planning to travel to Ireland and adventure across the Game of Thrones destinations, don’t forget to book your hotel and car on Elvoline.com

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