THERE’S A CAUSE, THERE’S A WAY:
A ROAD TRIP IN COUNTY ANTRIM
By Junart Nieva
A GAME OF ROADS
Northern Ireland has gained more attention in the past few years not because of Titanic or the infamous religious and political wars it endured in the past, but because of the hit HBO TV series ‘Game of Thrones’ (GoT). The phenomenal yet controversial series spread like wildfire (pun intended) across the globe. With great actors, amazing cinematography for a TV show, and incredible storyline unlike the usual, this has truly captivated a lot of minds and hearts. Some people deem it provocative and offensive and they can be understood for that. As for me, what I liked most is the fact that though it is fiction, the author of the books George R R Martin, and the directors and producers of the show related it to real life events and circumstances. Its themes heavily touched on family, loyalty, duty, honour, even the divisive politics and religion, among others. The show may have already ended, but a legacy was surely left (We Remember!). We explored some of the filming locations used and other beautiful places set in the beautiful County Antrim – one of the six historic counties that comprise Northern Ireland.
The Causeway Coastal Route, said to be ‘one of the greatest drives on earth’, is divided into four: The Gobbins, the Glens of Antrim, Causeway Coast and Binevenagh & Beyond.
As a GoT fan myself, I’ve joined a tour twice and have truly enjoyed both. The best thing about it is that one doesn’t have to know about the show to appreciate the excursion. In this day trip, we embarked on a scenic journey visiting some gems of the coastal route, leading to Northern Ireland’s most famous landmark – the Giant’s Causeway.
We left Belfast early and made our way to the first stop, the Anglo-Norman Carrickfergus Castle, the one closest to the capital. In this well-preserved stronghold, we breathed fresh breeze from Belfast Lough, a part of the Irish Sea. We were well on our way up north! The next part was a relaxing drive through scenic coastal road, passing through the Glens (valleys) of Antrim. We briefly stopped at Carnlough Harbour in Glencoy for stretching and loo break, before the driver told us it’s actually the first film location! The harbour was featured in Season 6, where the character Arya Stark emerged from the waters after being stabbed by the Waif. GoT aside, there is a plaque in one of the walls for wartime hero Paddy, which is actually a pigeon. Fascinating isn’t it? Paddy is said to be the first bird to come back to England with news from the D-Day landings back in 1944.
The next major attraction was the caves in the village of Cushendun. A little walk from ‘Johann’, a goat sculpture, and we were in the caverns. Back in Season 2, this is where the red priestess Melisandre gave birth to the shadow assassin, accompanied by the Onion Knight Ser Davos Seaworth. It was pretty dark in the show; I can tell you it’s much more beautiful in daytime. Pebbles and moss go together, which gives one an eerie yet natural impression. Wonder if the villagers go and hang out inside, sometimes… well, why not?
After a while we continued with the trip, seeing more of the glens, with greens and buildings on the left side, and stones and the sea on the right. The next stop proved to be one of the best, as we went to Carrick-a-Rede and crossed the famous rope bridge, erected by salmon fishermen way back 1755. It’s more fun than challenging because it’s not that wobbly, though it can still give chills because of the winds and the height (around 30-metre deep and around 19-metre wide chasm). Since it’s part of the National Trust, we paid a fee to cross the bridge which of course will be used to preserve this Site of Special Scientific Interest. We also got certificates in the end for successfully crossing the bridge and returning safely and fulfilled. Yay!
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is another GoT film location, serving Pyke in the Iron Islands, as this is where Balon Greyjoy and Euron Greyjoy encountered each other before the former’s demise. If you are actually on the bridge, you can feel that scene, only it’s brighter and less unnerving (well watch out for the person behind or in front of you, you’ll never know!). We didn’t have time to sail across the sea towards Rathlin Island, another major attraction, but I guess this is saved for future visit.
On the other side of the area, near Carrick-a-Rede car park, is Larrybane Quarry. At first it seemed like a boring empty space, but the quarry actually offered good view of the not-so-distant (and much smaller than Rathlin) Sheep Island and a more tranquil vibe away from the much-frequented rope bridge. This is the fourth GoT location we have visited, as Larrybane served as Renly Baratheon’s camp in season 2, making it a part of the Stormlands. In the show, this is where Brienne of Tarth was first seen, fighting with the Knight of Flowers.
Going back to the fictional Iron Islands, we visited next the quaint Ballintoy Harbour, going down a narrow road downhill towards the sea. This location appeared many times in the show, particularly as the entry point for Theon to Pyke and as an exit point for Arya Stark on her way to Essos. Truly, ‘all men must… travel’. I got a little bit adventurous and went down near the rock pools, savouring the salty air as the sun slowly showed hints of setting.
As it was nearing dusk, we made our way to the national icon, considered by some as the ‘Eight Wonder of the World’, the Giant’s Causeway. Ever since I came to the UK, it has always been on my bucket list to see with my own eyes and feel with my own hands these fascinating rock formations. And I wasn’t disappointed. Truly, nature has its ways of showing how life can be mystifying and exciting at the same time. So feeling like dwarves playing around, we stayed for a bit in this World Heritage Site and marvelled at the natural wonder. This the furthest north we’ve been, and the time came for us to head back; though not before visiting the last attraction – the Dark Hedges aka The Kingsroad.
Planted in the 18th Century by the Stuart family, the intertwined beech trees that looked like a canopy are very charming and emanated a medieval and eerie aura (I guess the almost twilight atmosphere contributed to it). We were given the chance to appreciate the surroundings and have photo opportunity, relived the moment in the show when Arya escaped from King’s Landing as she joined the Night’s Watch posed as a boy. And then it was time to say goodbye and get back to Belfast.
A WHALE OF A TIME
We may not have completed the entire Causeway Coastal Route, but the historical gems, natural wonders and film locations we’ve explored proved enough to appreciate the striking County Antrim. In my mind I thought, ‘what more if we did visit them all?’Tips:1. Northern Ireland is still part of the UK. So if you’re a British passport holder,then no Visa required.
- When doing the coastal route, it is of course best if you have own transportation so you can stop anywhere, anytime. Or just join a tour company. Both have pros and cons anyway!
- Always wear comfortable clothing and shoes, snacks and water. Lots of walking required!
- Bring binoculars; on a clear day, you may see Scottish islands across the Narrow Sea! North Channel I mean…
- It is advised to buy combined ticket entries for Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and Giant’s Causeway rather than buying separate tickets. Cheaper and faster entry. Oh come on, you’re already there, might as well maximize the trip!
- Take time to speak with locals; appreciate the Irish accent.
- Northern Ireland in general and County Antrim in particular have a lot more to offer. Visit the website www.discovernorthernireland.com for more information.
Ahh, charming villages, seaside escapes – defo a game of goals worth winning! And while you’re planning your next getaway with family or friends, let me share this Irish saying: “May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon you face…”
Now go explore!*Watch this short clip by international traveler Richard Bangs:Sent from my iPhone