Our day started early with breakfast in the hotel restaurant. This was one of the best continental breakfasts I’ve ever had in a hotel. They had eggs, bacon, hash browns, pancakes, omelets, porridge, tomatoes, toast, baguettes, pastries, chocolate bread, cereal, yogurt with its own granola bar, watermelon, cheese, pickles, olives, fruit salad, fruit smoothies, virgin Bloody Mary’s, tea, coffee, juices, etc. The options were overwhelming and my plate always full.
After breakfast, we quickly walked through the streets towards the Irish Tour company. The roads had been confusing last night but we were able to navigate them a little better this morning. It was still cold and rainy and I held out hope that it would clear up for our tour today. We checked in and climbed on our bus and waited for the rest of the tour group to filter on. We were going on a Game of Thrones tour around the Antrim Coast to see the sights where they filmed the show. Our tour guide was named Andrew and he’d been an extra on the show for three seasons and he had a long with beard and ponytail to prove that he fit the part.
Before leaving Belfast, we drove past Titanic Studios, where they film the majority of GoT’s interior scenes. Andrew pointed out the prop and costume department and showed us this large object covered in green screen that was presumed to be a dragon body. Because of the heightened security for GoT, we weren’t allowed to tour inside the studios but it was neat to see where they film. After that, we started our drive up the coastal causeway route. Andrew covered some history of the city and we stopped at the castle in Carrickfergus for a quick look. The drive continued up, taking us through a couple of coastal villages before stopping near a small shop for people to buy lunch. Across the shop was a harbor where one of the scenes from GoT was filmed – the scene where Arya is pushed into the water and climbs out via rocky stairs. We watched as people recreated the scene, pretending to walk up the stairs. The surrounding area was lovely.
On our way to the next stop, we passed by numerous spots where filming occurred, including a quarry used for the Castle Black. From the road we could see the set situated on the quarry side. The coastal areas we passed through were beautiful and Andrew pointed out old ruins and important buildings. At one point we passed by some caves that served as homes and schools for a while during a period of religious persecution. He told us about a man who went to school in the caves and then went on to create the the biggest hospital in Belfast.
Going along, we made our way to the caves where the Shadow Assassin was born in the show. The caves were so small, its crazy to think about how film/tv crews can work so much magic to make this tv world so believable and real. The caves were beautiful in their own right, as well as the rocky beaches below. The caves were located in a small town that used to be owned by the Macdonalds who came from Scotland hundreds of years earlier. Descendants owned a good portion of the area we were in and one of the Macdonalds had a pet goat, Arlene, that would stand by the road to greet people. I believe Andrew said that Arlene is named after an old Prime Minister of Ireland. Bob got to pet her – she was very people friendly!
After the caves, we continued our journey up the coast. The weather had improved and we were able to enjoy most of our tour with nice weather. I’m having a hard time remembering the order of our stops – hopefully I haven’t forgotten anything important. Our two biggest stops were the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge and the Giant’s Causeway. First we stopped at the bridge. It cost £7 to cross it, and it’s a small bridge, but it was worth it. The views are beautiful, with the sea crashing against the huge cliffs. We could see Sheep Island, a small circular island jutting out of the sea just off the coast, where farmers used to bring sheep so they wouldn’t get stolen. Andrew told us about how their frequent trips meant they accidentally infested the island with rats and they had to send the military over to shoot them all.
The bridge was a good slippery walk’s away. I was worried about Bob’s fear of heights but he did just fine crossing the bridge. The line wasn’t long at all and we had no issue crossing. It was exhilarating to see the water sloshing below us and to feel the bridge bounce up and down as we crossed. There was a poor young boy who wasn’t amused by it all – I can’t imagine how scary it must’ve seemed to him! The walk back was a bit tough, so if you’re visiting here, be aware that it will take a while to get back to the car park and it is an uphill climb. Thankfully there’s a lot of places to stop and take in the views and some extra breaths along the way.
Once we walked the bridge, Andrew took us on a little tour of the quarry to the left of the car park. This is where they filmed a few scenes of GoT, including the festival scene in one of the first seasons with Marjorie and her husband. I can’t remember which episode but it was one of the early ones. Andrew let us in on a few secrets of the movie magic tactics while we were there, such as how they made a small area look much, much larger. By the time we made it back to the tour bus, the skies had darkened. We made our way a little further to the Giant’s Causeway now.
The myth behind the Causeway is that it was created by a giant from Ireland who was making a bridge to go fight a giant from Scotland. As he was making the bridge, he heard that the other giant was much bigger than he and that he was headed over to Ireland to kill him. Worried, he ran back to his wife and she told him she would take care of it. She told him to go lie in the baby bassinet in the corner and she went to work making tea biscuits out of stone. When the giant from Scotland appeared at their door, she greeted him in and offered him tea. When he bit down into the tea biscuit, he broke a tooth and the wife said, “What kind of giant are you? My husband can eat these with no problem!” At this point, the Scottish giant saw the baby in the corner. “Oh my,” he said, “what is that in the corner?” “Oh that’s just our wee little one,” said the wife. It was at that moment that the Scottish giant said if that was the size of the baby, he didn’t want to meet the father! And he ran off back to Scotland and ripped up the Causeway behind him. Now, that’s probably not the whole myth but that’s all I can remember.
By the time we reached the Causeway, it had started to rain and the walk down to the stones was about 15 minutes. When we got down there, I was bummed to see the area covered in people. The stones were slippery, which made it difficult to climb and it was raining harder, so it was difficult to see. It was still amazing to see, however. At one point I almost slipped but I caught myself, thank goodness! After we had taken a look around, we started to make the climb back up. There’s a bus that goes up and down to the area but it was very crowded and since we were already wet from the rain, we decided to walk. The whole area was really lovely, I wish that it wasn’t raining so that we could’ve explored it a bit longer.
After the Causeway, we had one more stop – the Dark Hedges. These were the trees used in GoT season 1, I believe, and many other films. Driving up, they don’t look like much, but it sure was fascinating when you were walking between them. The limbs wound together at the top, almost as if we were walking under one tall hedge. Some of the trees had recently fallen from storms and if I understood correctly, the trees were used to commission doors in honor of GoT? I may be wrong about that but there definitely were 10 doors created and displayed in the area.
By this time we were cold and wet and tired, but satisfied after a long and interesting tour. When we got back to the city, we started searching for somewhere to eat. We ended up at Nando’s on Dublin Street. It was good, but I should’ve gotten what our neighbors had! I did get to try their creamy mash though! Potatoes in Northern Ireland!
The end of the night was spent relaxing in the restaurant at the hotel and re packing our bags for our flight to London the next day. We’ll be going home soon – sigh!