June 7, 2017:
Another big day in our itinerary is finally here: we are bound for the Giant’s Causeway to see this incredible geological formation that left giant hexagonal basalt columns sticking up like broken teeth or stepping stones on the edge of the ocean! It’s also time for us to get our geek on; specifically, geeking out about Game of Thrones. All along our drive today, we’ll be seeing several of the sites featured in the series, which Jim and I really enjoy. It turns out Steve is a big fan, too.
We drove out of Belfast this morning to the east to drive along the coast, for another very picturesque drive called the Nine Glens of Antrim drive. We will spend the whole day in County Antrim, but you are very clearly still in Northern Ireland, as it seems that each successive town takes turns proclaiming their allegiance to either the Republican or Loyalist forces. You can easily tell this by the prominent use of either Irish national flags or the British tricolor. So much for getting out of the corrosive partisan atmosphere of Belfast!
Nonetheless, the drive was as lovely as advertised! Our first stop was in the town of Carrickfergus, with a fort dedicated to the English invasion of William III of Orange. Plainly, this is a Loyalist town, complete with a mock redcoat statue on the ramparts of the fort.
Next, we stopped in the quaint seaside town of Glencloy, which has been used to film scenes in Game of Thrones, both as the seaside port in Braavos where Arya Stark goes to learn from the Faceless Man, and the cliffside behind the town, which was featured when the Whitewalkers attack the Wilding encampment, a If all of that means nothing to you, just know that Glencloy is the prototypical Irish seaside town and enjoy it for that!
Beyond that, we drove through village after quaint village, with sheep and lambs grazing happily in the fields. One town in particular, Ballycastle, looked like it might be a pleasant place to stay at the seashore, but we would probably pick the westside of the Irish Republic before we would come back here.
Shortly thereafter, we pulled into a carpark on the coast on the cliffs high above the sea. From here, you can see the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which connects the mainland to a tiny island that lies just feet off the coast. From here, you can also see the much larger Raflin island, and just 11 miles away, the outline of the coast of Scotland. While I would have liked to climb across the bridge, several in our group don’t deal well with heights, and we still needed to get to the Giant’s Causeway.
Finally, we came into the town nearest the Causeway and had lunch at a very cozy pub, called, appropriately, The Nook. Somewhat uncharacteristically for Northern Ireland, all of the young women working in the pub were very friendly.
Following lunch, we hopped on the shuttle bus which takes you into the Giant’s Causeway area, and at last, we were free to explore! First I hiked out along the seashore just past the main tourist part of the sight, which was TEEMING with visitors. Then I walked up the trail behind the site to see the organ pipe-shaped rock formations, and then up to the top of the cliffs overlooking the site so I could get some perspective shots. Finally, I scampered down to the main site to see all I could before we left. Sadly, I felt like I did not get nearly enough time here, and I would like to return someday, perhaps when there are fewer tourists.
Then it was back in the bus to continue our tour of Game of Thrones sites. As we drove south from the north coast of Northern Ireland, we headed for the location of the “Dark Hedges”; more properly known as Kingsroad in the series. This location is a country road lined with twisted, gnarly beech trees, and was used a few times, including in the scene where Arya Stark dresses up like a boy to escape from King’s Landing, but is captured instead, and dragged off to the Brothers without Banners hideout (which was filmed in another part of Northern Ireland — Pollnagollum Cave, in County Fermanagh). The actual road is Bregagh Road, outside of Stranocum, in the Ballymoney district in County Antrim. Obviously, this is not a well-kept secret, as tour busses jockeyed for position, and it was a challenge to get a photo without other tourists in it. Some people went to elaborate lengths to strike poses from the GOT scenes.
Finally, it was back to Belfast. We enjoyed a super good meal at the restaurant James Street South. Tomorrow dawns with the last day of our tour, so we all hurried back to pack and go to bed.