The North Remembers
Yeoh Siew Hoon tours Northern Ireland with fellow “Game of Thrones” enthusiasts.
Our tour fell on a wet day and it somehow added to the bleakness, which, considering the story, was a befitting atmosphere for our location tour.
On the coach was an assortment of people from around the world – two Chinese girls studying in London, a young couple from Greece, two American women taking their annual holiday together and a very fit-looking German couple who looked like they should be climbing the Giant’s Causeway instead of sitting on a coach.
The one thing in common put us in the same tour – we are all fans of a television series that has taken the world by storm. Adapted from George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, “Game of Thrones” is now into its fifth season and has sparked a rush of visitors flocking to Northern Ireland to see the outdoor locations where the series is filmed.
According to Philip, our enthusiastic guide for the “Game of Thrones Outdoor Locations” tour, the day tours have become so popular that they are run almost daily. Our coach was certainly full, proving his point. What “Lord of the Rings” did for New Zealand tourism, Northern Ireland is hoping “Game of Thrones” will do the same for it. While the series was also shot in other countries – Croatia and Spain for instance – most of the outdoor scenes are shot in Northern Ireland and the Titanic Belfast studio is the main studio set.
Our tour fell on a wet day and it somehow added to the bleakness, which, considering the story, was a befitting atmosphere for our location tour– if you’ve seen the series, you will know what I mean. Philip did try to cheer us up by saying, “Ireland is a land of mists and mystery. The weather makes it even more so.”
During the tour, Philip weaved the history of Northern Ireland with the narrative of “Game of Thrones”. We learnt that it, too, was a land of bloody battles and a very violent history – of families killing each other and of brothers fighting for succession to the throne. This, he said, makes Northern Ireland the perfect setting for the series, which is essentially a story of several clans fighting each other to ascend the Iron Throne.
At every stop, Philip explained the prep work needed and the filming process. We drove by the hills, which are the home of Castle Black; we stopped at the Cushendun Caves where Melisandre gives birth to a “shadow”. At Ballycastle, Philip brought out plastic swords, so we could re-enact the duel between Brienne of Tarth and Loras Tyrell. The Greek couple pounced on the opportunity to draw swords at each other.
My favourite stop was the picturesque Ballintoy Harbour, where you could walk out to the headland and take in the beauty of the coastal scenery. This is the location of the Iron Islands, the land from which Theon Greyjoy, played by Alfie Allen, hails. A poster of the actor marks the spot.
Our lunch stop was at the Giant’s Causeway, where we were served a “Game of Thrones” set lunch. On the menu were fish and chips, chicken and chips or beef pie. Perhaps this is one area with which the Irish could show more imagination – the food.
After lunch, we were shown around Dunluce Castle, a medieval castle on the Antrim Coast, which would be used in filming future seasons of the series. Unofficially, we were told that the series will go beyond season 8, maybe even up to season 10. Bagging that piece of valuable information, we were on our way back to Belfast, travelling through a stunning tree tunnel that forms the Dark Hedges, shown for all of eight seconds in one episode.
All the fan-talk aside, you don’t have to be a “Game of Thrones” fan to enjoy the tour. Travelling with me were two friends who had not seen the series, yet enjoyed it, saying they found the stories entertaining and the landscapes enthralling. That said, I bet the minute they got home, they would start watching the series. That’s the power of fiction – fuelling the imagination and tourism.
Note: “Game of Thrones” has been filmed on location in Northern Ireland, Croatia, Spain, Malta and Scotland, all of which are easily accessible from London. To create your very own “Game of Thrones” location tour, make the city your base and follow the series’ interwoven storyline.