Since I’ve never seen an episode of Game of Thrones, it might sound strange that a Game of Thrones tour changed the whole route of our itinerary for this trip and yet it did. Tricia really wanted to do a specific tour (there are dozens to chose from in Ireland) and it was only offered on certain days. I had planned to visit Belfast at the end of our trip, allowing us to travel in a loop around the island. However, the only day the tour was offered during our visit forced us to head north on Tuesday night so we could do the tour on Wednesday.
While I’m not a morning person, my job requires me to be in the office very early and I’ve become conditioned to move quickly once the alarm goes off. When my phone began strumming the wake-up music, I popped up to start getting dressed; Tricia did not, She groaned and pulled the blanket tighter.
Once I managed to get her up and dressed we popped into the Starbucks across the street and then made our way to the end of the block where the tour was meeting. Tricia and I made our way to the back of the bus so she could surreptitiously finish eating the muffin she’d been told she couldn’t bring onboard as the company was worried about messes.
We had to drive about an hour out of the city and the countryside was lovely. Unfortunately, Tricia had taken the wrong medication that morning and it put her to sleep so she missed most of the views. I was surprised at how the Mourne Mountains seemed to rise up from nowhere just outside the city. I’m used to the rolling foothills that precede most of the mountains here in the US. Maybe I didn’t notice the land rolling upward because of the city bustle.
We arrived at the ferry stop and I realized we were in the town of Portaferry. Now I was excited to be on this tour. I mentioned in my first post Patrick Taylor’s Irish Country Doctor series of books. Well, Portaferry is mentioned in them from time to time so I felt a connection to the place. I looked around, wondering which pubs Doctor O’Reily may have visited. Yes, I know he’s a fictional character, but as a writer, there’s something exhilarating about seeing a place mentioned in a book. Of course, we were on a tour to visit places of complete fiction anyway so why I am defending myself?
Tricia was still pretty sleepy on the ferry, but I enjoyed the crossing of Strangford Lough, watching as the town of Strangford grew closer. I watched for birds and wondered how far from the town the good doctor would have been when he went fowling.
Soon we arrived at our first stop, Castle Ward, which was used for Winterfell in filming Game of Thrones season one. There isn’t much left standing besides a tower and some courtyard walls, but the tour guide played us video clips that showed how the tower had been replicated and some other computer imagery added to create the castle.
Then we walked around the grounds to several other filming locations. The brisk walk helped wake Tricia up. We passed the Strangford Sailing Club and I thought about young Doctor Barry Laverty’s interest in sailing. We trekked close to three miles, mostly along the shores of Stranford Lough, which, even with gray clouds pressing in, was beautiful.
After our tour of Castle Ward we returned to Strangford for lunch at The Cuan followed by a visit with the “Direwolves”. They are beautiful animals. The story of the owners and how the dogs were cast on the show was interesting. It sounds like the directors/producers of the show took time to invest in the locals, casting many of them as extras rather than bringing in tons of people from Los Angeles or some other film-centric location.
From Strangford, we drove to Inch Abbey, a beautiful ruin on the banks of the Quoile River. We were given capes and swords, which we playfully swung around. Those swords weigh a ton! We all did our best to look menacing, but no one could stop grinning with delight. While the rest of the group engaged in mock battle, I wandered around taking pictures. The tour guide provided interesting information about lighting techniques used during filming here to make it look like the scene was taking place indoors as well as how the crew managed the changing light as the sun moved through the sky.
Our last stop on the tour was Tollymore Forest. A number of scenes were filmed here, I remember something about a dead stag being found in the road and the discovery of the Direwolf pups. Our hike through the park almost made me want to watch the show just for the scenery. If you visit Ireland and love the outdoors, I highly recommend spending a day in Tollymore, exploring the more than 630 hectares of forestland.
It had rained every day for weeks before we arrived, so the Shimna River running through the park was quite high and rushing downhill in a torrent of frothy rapids. One part of the trail crossing the river on large stepping-stones was completely covered and another section had been flooded as well, but there were enough dry patches to pick our way through without getting too wet.
We hiked another 3 miles here and one section was little more than an animal trail. I found it thrilling but Tricia wasn’t very fond of this section.
We returned to the hotel around 6:00pm, exhausted from both the lack of sleep and the exertion of the day. We debated going across the street to the pub, but ended up ordering room service and collapsing for the night.
I apologize if you were hoping to get more behind-the-scenes insights into Game of Thrones. I think the guide did an excellent job, I just didn’t retain much of what he said since it wasn’t the big draw for me. We used Game of Thrones Tours, Ltd and their guides have all been extras on the show, which allows them to provide first hand experiences.
Next week we face our first truly rainy day and meet up with one of Trica’s Facebook friends. I admit I was a little scared of getting together with a stranger.