Loves going out and about, drinking coffee, eating chocolate, and writing about her adventures!
Published July 28th 2020
Be enchanted by the haunting beauty of the King's Road
Australians have long been great travellers and adventurers. However, thanks to COVID-19, many of our overseas travel plans have been put on hold indefinitely. But that doesn't mean we can't still enjoy having adventures! We may not be able to leave airport to have them, but at least we can still dream about them and imagine them and plan them for a time when our world will get back to some kind of normal.
Late last year, I was very, very lucky to fit in a European adventure before we had even heard of Coronavirus. In this series, I will share with you some of the more interesting places I visited, places that you might just want to add to your post-Coronavirus overseas holiday list if you haven't been there already.
Let's begin in Northern Ireland...otherwise known as the Seven Kingdoms.
Long, long ago there was a King. His name was King Jaehaerys I Targaryen, and his city was called King's Landing, built many years before by his great ancestor, Lord Aegon Targaryen. Kings Landing was the capital city of the land known as the Seven Kingdoms. King Jaehaerys I wanted to connect King's Landing with the great settlements of the Seven Kingdoms and so construction began on the great King's Road.
In another time (about 1775 AD) and another place (County Antrim, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, Europe, Earth), James Stuart (a very wealthy descendant of another King: King James I of England) built a new house which he named Gracehill House after his wife Grace Lynd. Over 150 beech trees were planted along the entrance road to the estate to create an imposing approach.
The great King's Road of King Jaehaerys I Targaryen and James Stuart's Dark Hedges are both one and the same road. Now if you're a Game of Thrones fan, then everything I've said about King Jaehaerys I Targaryen is absolutely real and absolutely did happen. If you belong to that species of human that has never even seen a Game of Thrones episode, then you'll more likely believe James Stuart's rather less exciting reason for constructing his road.
However, there's one thing Game of Thrones fans and non-Game of Thrones fans can agree upon. James Stuart never counted on his avenue of glorious beech trees being used hundreds of years later as a location for HBO's popular television series and therefore becoming a major tourist attraction.
The Dark Hedges are located in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. From Belfast, it's an hour's drive away, and about three hours' drive from Dublin. The Dark Hedges is a favourite stop on the Causeway Coastal Route road trip, running along Ireland's North Coast from Belfast to Derry.
Because of the huge global popularity of Game of Thrones, you will find the fans-lots of them-walking up and down the Dark Hedges. Perhaps they're channelling Arya Stark, one of the series most popular and important characters. Episode 1 of Season 2 is entitled "The North Remembers - On the King's Road", and in this episode, Arya escapes from King's Landing, disguised as a boy. She is with Yoren, Gendry, Hot Pie and others who are to join the Night's Watch in a cart, travelling north on the Kingsroad.
Or perhaps the fans are just taking in the haunting beauty of the Dark Hedges-and just maybe, some of them can actually see her. According to a local legend, the hedges are visited by a ghost called the Grey Lady, who travels the road and flits across it from tree to tree. She is claimed to be either the spirit of James Stuart's daughter (named "Cross Peggy") or one of the house's maids who died mysteriously or a spirit from an abandoned graveyard beneath the fields, who on Halloween is joined on her visitation by other spirits from the graveyard. After all, as Melisandre, the Red Woman, in Game of Thrones famously says, "The night is dark and full of terrors."
James Stuart's house dedicated to his wife Grace still stands today and is part of the Dark Hedges Estate. The estate has been developed into a golf course, hotel, bars and restaurants. Game of Thrones fans will also be delighted to find that Gracehill House is the location of one of the Game of Thrones doors.
The Game of Thrones doors were crafted from 10 beech trees from the Dark Hedges that had unfortunately been felled when Storm Gertrude hit Northern Ireland in 2016. These doors were intricately carved to depict a scene from each episode of Season 6. Each door is now on display in ten pubs and inns across Northern Ireland, including Gracehill House.
Game of Thrones Door 7 at Gracehill House Source:https://www.facebook.com/gameofthronestours/photos/a.501355429969032/1293850740719493/?type=3&theater
The things you need to know
The Dark Hedges are located at Bregagh Rd, Stranocum, Ballymoney BT53 8PX, United Kingdom.
From Belfast, it's an hour's drive away, and about three hours' drive from Dublin. You can also go on a Game of Thrones Filming Locations tour (which includes a stopover at the Dark Hedges) from Belfast via Irish Tour Tickets.
The Dark Hedges is closed to traffic, but there is free parking at Dark Hedges Estate. Because the Dark Hedges was just a normal public road surrounded by farmland pre-Game of Thrones, there are no tourist facilities located on the actual site. However, you'll find restaurants and toilet facilities at the nearby Dark Hedges Estate.
The Dark Hedges is a free tourist attraction and open all year round.
My son runs away from the coming horde of White Walkers-or are they just tourists?