A journey to Westeros Part 2: Winterfell and the North

Hello Internet!

7 Months after my trip to Northern Ireland, I finally got the time (and inspiration) to write about the 2nd part of my trip exploring Game Of Thrones Northern Ireland filming locations.

In the first part I mentioned that the main reason I flew there was to go visit these locations, being a big fan since I discovered the show 3 years ago. We stayed 4 days in Belfast, out of which 2 were spent in buses around Northern Ireland looking for Winterfell and the Iron Islands.

The first day of our journey to Westeros was “Stark/Winterfell” themed. We started by taking a ferry across the “Narrow Sea” (which by the way takes 10 minutes, you start then thinking how easy it could’ve been to wrap up the show in Season 1). Then the moment I’ve been waiting for since I decided to visit the country arrived: Winterfell! Well, its real name is Castle Ward Estate, it’s a big property with 9 GoT locations including Winterfell, Robb’s camp in the Riverlands, and other famous scenes with Brienne, Tyrion and Bronn . I was so excited to see this epic castle for the first time, it was so impressive at first, then quickly after you see the cars parked around it ruining the landscape, which is a bit underwhelming.

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Welcome to Winterfell!

After taking a whole lot of pictures posing in front of the castle, looking at it, behind the entrance…etc, It was time for a trek to the other locations. During 3 Km, we discovered the beauty of Northern Ireland countryside, the kind of beauty coming out of a windows wallpaper. At every stop, our guide (who by the way is a regular extra on the show), showed us clips or pictures of the scene that was shot in that specific location, which I didn’t mind at all.

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Robb’s camp

Once our trek was over, we went for lunch in a local restaurant/Pub in the Port of Strangford, where another surprise was waiting for us: The real direwolves form Game Of Thrones, and for me it was one of the highlights of the day! We met two of them with their owners and they were incredibly beautiful! The owners and their father were all extras on the show (at some point on the trip we realized that probably half of Northern Ireland acted in “Game Of Thrones”), they told us stories about the actors and the set, for a fan it’s quite impressive to hear these stories from people who were around during the filming of the show.

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GoT direwolves

The next stop was my favorite one, Inch Abbey where Robb was proclaimed as “King In the North” and where he and Catelyn Stark heard about the terrible news from King’s Landing. It was the highlight of the day because we got to dress up as Northern people and carry Stark banners and swords. I totally loved that! What made it even better is the fact that it started raining at the exact moment we left the bus wearing our cloaks,which made the North experience even more real (and by that I mean the rain and mud).

It was quite the show for some people passing by, watching a bunch of adults playing dress up, fighting with swords and taking pictures with banners. But who cares right?

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King in the North!

Our last stop was another trek, “Tollymore Forrest”. It’s an amazing Forrest Park, so beautiful that you get confused which angle you want to take a picture of. Inside this forest many scenes were filmed including the first scene of the very first episode (The discovered dismembered Wildling bodies) and the Bridge where the Starks found the dead direwolf and its puppies in the same episode . Tollymore Forest stop wasn’t only about Game Of Thrones, some of the landscapes looked like they came right out of ” Lord of the rings” trilogy; small bridges and cute houses with leaves all around them. In this forest I witnessed the best landscapes I have ever seen, and you know my obsession with scenic views.

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Tollymore Forrest

Finally, we concluded this beautiful day with an episode of “Game Of Thrones” on our way back to Belfast.

What I loved the most about this tour (apart from the incredibly beautiful scenery) is the fact that the guide knew what he was talking about when it comes to the show, telling us stories about the making off and showing us pictures matching the actual locations. It was beautiful to see how passionate these people are about the show, the pride they feel as the whole world came to know about the beauty of their country because of GoT.

The 2nd day of my journey to Westeros was all about Melissandre and the Greyjoys, but you will know all about it in my next post!

Cheers to the places we are yet to see!

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A journey to Westeros Part 1: Belfast

2 Years ago, I started watching Game Of Thrones. Well someone sort of “Made” me watch it, because I used to be one of those people who say “What? Game Of Thrones? Nah it’s overrated!” Anyway, so 7 seasons later I became a hardcore fan and then discovered that they shot most of it in Northern Ireland.

To be honest if you asked me before what I knew about Northern Ireland, I wouldn’t tell you much. First, I would’ve gone blank for a moment, then I would’ve probably told you how much I would like to go to Dublin (OK, but that’s not Northern Ireland), then I would’ve told you “Oh, I really love U2!”(Again, not Northern Ireland). My point is, I did not know much about it other than it looks beautiful on TV and pictures and it is where they shot Game Of Thrones.

So, after spending couple of days in London I flew to Belfast, which is 1 hour flight. The plan was to spend the first day visiting Belfast, then 2 days exploring the countryside and visiting Game Of Thrones filming locations.

To be frank with you, I didn’t know what to expect from this city. The first impression I had on my way from the airport was a sort of melancholy, not a sadness but a sort of “roughness” of the city that makes you feel that the streets want to tell you a story… Not sure if you know what I mean… (if not take a flight and go see for yourself!).

One of the things I didn’t know about Northern Ireland was that it went through a violent conflict called “The Troubles”, a conflict that began in the late 60s and ended in 1998. Long story short, “The Troubles” was a clash between “Loyalists” who wanted Northern Ireland to stay in the UK and “Nationalists” who wanted it to leave the kingdom and unite with the Republic of Ireland. I am telling this story because you will find bits of it everywhere you go; People who died are remembered in the Cathedrals and the hundreds of people who got arrested (from both sides) are talked about in the Crumlin Road Gaol Prison.

Let us start with the cathedral. People who know me, know how obsessed I am with cathedrals and their architectures, from the Gothic style in Central & Eastern Europe to the rich “Renaissance” style in Italy; cathedrals are always part of my travel experiences. Belfast cathedral’s name is St Ann, it was a simple church that was turned into a cathedral and I think I have never seen something like it before, I will explain. First, the architecture was a weird and interesting mix between the previous church, the new cathedral and a contemporary part that they added in 2006 (because why not!), it’s not a very luxurious cathedral when it comes to embellishments but it has its own charm.

Then, between 2 chapels, you could find random memorials; for Irish and English soldiers killed in WW2, for people who passed away in the Titanic (Yep Titanic was built and departed from Belfast, I didn’t know that either!) and for people who died during the Troubles. The most fascinating thing was listening to our guide talking about every single picture, every single window, and every single wall of the cathedral! Well he still asked where we were from and then followed up with “Oh wow you’re English is pretty good!” but I don’t blame him as he admitted that Anglo Saxons expect everyone else to speak English, which should not be the case.

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Crumlin Road Gaol Prison was the 2nd thing I visited in Belfast. A 19th century jail closed in 1996 and turned into a touristic attraction, conference and concerts venue. It was the first time I visited a prison, and it was quite intense for me. The prison has a haunted underground tunnel where they used to take prisoners from the jail to court (located across the street) and vice versa, it has different cell types (Including cells for kids that they used to send to the prison in order to “teach them a lesson”). The most intense moment for me was going into the execution cell, where they executed 12 people (murderers for the most part), and as I am against death penalty (this is a subject for a whole post) seeing the hanging rope for real was not a very pleasant experience for me.

Titanic museum. The biggest surprise for me in Belfast was discovering that the Titanic was built and departed from Belfast to New York (It was supposed to reach New York at least!). I discovered this on my first day, because as soon as people discover you are a tourist they will tell you “the Titanic was totally fine when it left Belfast!”, actually everyone in Belfast will tell you that! The museum was impressive; it’s a completely interactive experience on 4 floors that takes you from the building of the ship, to the iceberg accident, to what happened after it sank, there is even an exhibition of some remains.

Now that I’m writing, I realize that even though I spent only one day around Belfast (and let’s be honest Belfast wasn’t the reason I flew to Northern Ireland!), It was a day filled with different emotions. Belfast is a city that sleeps at 7pm; seriously, after 7pm the city center shuts down and people are either in pubs (well… because it’s Ireland), in restaurants or at home. People are nice and very polite, and they’re always surprised to know where we came from, “Because we speak excellent English”.

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One more thing, the city does take advantage of the fact that Northern Ireland is the “heart” of Game Of Thrones, as the number of visitors from around the world increased since the beginning of the show. Many companies organize tours to visit all the locations across the country.  Obviously, I took all the available tours, it was AMAZING and you will know all about it in my next post!

Cheers to the places we are yet to see!