Winter is Coming!!!
That’s not really original, is it? Well, I don’t need to be original to be excited about this post.
If you ever visit Ireland, the number one thing I recommend is to take a Game of Thrones Tour, even if you’re not a fan of the show. Last year, in 2016 on my way to study abroad in Austria and Italy, my friends and I took a couple of days to visit Ireland. This was my second time visiting my ancestral homeland and I couldn’t wait to go back. So we booked a couple of day tours and wandered around the city. My favorite part was, of course, the Game of Throne Tour, from Dublin to Winterfell. If you don’t know what Winterfell is, then you should probably stop reading now.
Warning for people who have not watched past the first Season… There are spoilers ahead.
The coach (bus) arrived at 7:45 am to pick our Dublin tour group from the Hilton Garden Inn. Let me just tell you, I wasn’t exactly thrilled because I had a stressful… exhausting morning submitting my first study abroad assignment. However, after running 7 blocks to our predetermined pickup location, we made it there with plenty of time to spare.
Our tour guide was amazing! Aenne Barr is a freelance professional actress and voice over artist, so she really knew how to act the part. She was fantastic, very knowledgeable, and extremely enthusiastic about Game of Thrones which made the atmosphere even more infectious. Aenne was also accompanied by a tour guide in training who turned out to be one of the extras in the battle of the bastards. I really wanted his Jacket and he said, all the extras got jackets with which side they fought for. He even went into detail about the unbelievable and intensive training they had to go through. I was so jealous!!!
On the way to Northern Ireland, we stopped half way to stretch out our legs in an Applegreen service station around Castlebellingham off the M1. It was only a short rest because we were all excited to continue on our way north. Finally after 2 hours of being on the road, we arrived at our first destination, Tollymore forest. My anticipation went into over drive and I started shaking with excitement as they pulled out a giant trunk full of wool cloaks. I picked out a stylish black number to borrow for the day to fully immerse myself into the fun.
For those of you who don’t know, Tollymore Forest is the background for many of the filming scenes in season 1. While wandering along, looking for the site locations, I had the thought…. Why don’t we wear cloaks all the time? They’re stylish, warm and hella fun to wear!
Any who, back to the story. Even without the filming locations, the trek in Tollymore forest was absolutely breathtaking. There was creeks, river beds, waterfalls, old bridges, beautiful flowers and greenery which made my Irish heart sing.
The first location our tour came across was when Will was riding for his life away from what ever killed his Night’s watch brothers. It was exactly exciting to see a couple of dead trees but it was interesting to find out that they covered the entire location in fake snow. Then we made our way to the location of why Will was so afraid. We ventured into the pit where he saw the dead wildling girl and the dismembered wildling bodies on the ground. We even saw a hole in one of the trees where the film crew hoisted her up and pined her to the tree.
Our next filming location turned out to be where John Snow and Tyrion Lannister made camp on their journey north to the wall. Kit Harrington’s Ass actually sat on this stump!
After a little more walking and a lot more geeking out, we came across one of the most exciting and important locations … The bridge! There is a stone bridge where Ned Stark encounters a dead stag after beheading Will as a traitor. From there, there is a thin path leading down below to where they found the dead Dire Wolf and her pups. We went around across the water to get a better view of the scene. We stood where the camera would have been filming.
A fun story: When they filmed finding the puppies, John Snow’s Ghost kept wandering off. In the scene where he pulls up the runt of the litter from behind the tree, there was a kid hiding and waiting to hand Kit the white puppy.
Next, it was time for lunch at the Lobster Pot, a small pub in the port of Strangford. This is where we were met with an unbelievable surprise. We got to meet two of the six Dire Wolves from Game of Thrones!!! Of course everyone rushed to see them, but our tour guide promised us time with them after we’ve eaten. But all of a sudden I wasn’t hungry anymore. I just wanted to play. The line for the food was long and took forever, so Katelyn and I went back outside to get some one on one time and some marvelous pictures. The two dogs were American Alsatians named Thor and Odin, who play Summer (Bran’s wolf) and Grey Wind (Robb’s Wolf). Their Facebook page is GoT Direwolves, you can check them out and follow their adventures.
After we were finished eating and we said goodbye to our new friends, we headed off in the bus to our second destination. A little drive later and we arrived at Castle Ward Estate… AKA: Winterfell!
Right from the point of arrival, there were multiple scene locations all close together. Castle Ward is a 16th century castle and stable yard for the inspiration for Winterfell, home to the Stark family. Even without all the CGI, it was still recognizable. Another fun fact was that during filming Catelyn Stark into the Wierwood to find Ned, she takes a hard right turn even though the space looks completely open. It’s because there is actually a stone wall there that they replaced with CGI. It’s all in the little details.
On the outside of the castle, Arya Stark ran up the road to see the King’s guard escorting the King into Winterfell. If you forgot, she had a funny little hat on while sitting in a wheel barrow.
While walking along the waters edge, we got to see more scenes, such as; where the twin towers stood, and where Brienne of Tarth was escorting Jaimee Lannister on Catelyn Starks orders. That location was also where the pair came across three women hanging from a tree with a sign that read “they lay with lions”. Brienne then takes down the Stark banner men with two quick deaths and one slow.
Making our way up a small hill, we arrived at Audley’s Castle. It was a 15th century tower house which served as the backdrop for Robb Starks camp. Looking out into the distance across the river, we could even see one of Walder Frey’s towers. The other one is later added with more CGI.
Last, but certainly not least, we hopped on the bus to our final destination of the tour. We arrived at Inch Abbey for our final photo stop in the 12th century ruins. This was where Catelyn and Robb Stark received news of Ned Starks death, the northern banner men pledge fealty and declare Robb “King in the North”. This part was an absolute blast because they brought out the Show props and play around like children (…..while killing each other). The brought Brienne’s Sword Oathbreaker, Arya’s Needle, the Hounds Helmet and more. I was like a kid in a candy store. To cap off our amazing adventure, our incredible tour guide gathered everyone together and we all pledged fealty to the winner of the GoT trivia challenge. Even though it was a little cheezy, it made for some phenomenal shots.
After a long, fun filled day of being a GoT dork, we boarded the bus and returned to Dublin. If memory serves me correctly, I believe they showed the first two episodes on our drive home. We were all pointing out where we’ve been and the scenes we saw. Even non-Game of Thrones fans would enjoy themselves. One of my two friends who joined us isn’t a big fan but she even quoted in her blog “way more fun than I thought it would be and the places were gorgeous!”
It was an incredible experience. We didn’t feel rushed and we enjoyed our time with each location visit. It was a fantastic way to see Northern Ireland if your stretched for time.
Check out their website for more information about the Game of Thrones Tours and filming locations, or to book your next Westeros Adventure in Northern Ireland.
Let me know what you think in the comments below!