Saturday, 22 November 2014

HERE BE DRAGONS: GAME OF THRONES PART 1, COUNTY DOWN



Game of Thrones, a kind of medieval fantasy adventure for adults (it has an 18 certificate), is based on the novel A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin about the fight for control of the fictional land of Westeros involving several noble families.  The TV adaptation of Martin's work, made by HBO and launched in 2011, is being screened by Sky Atlantic in this country, and is currently on season 4, although at least two more are planned.  The show's visual impact owes much to the wild beauty of Northern Ireland, particularly County Down and the Antrim coast.  This piece will cover the main locations used for the series in County Down; the Antrim coast will have to wait for another time. Watch this space.   

Anyone visiting the low-lying areas of County Down cannot fail to notice the Mountains of Mourne, which dominate the horizon hereabouts.  The mountains form the backdrop to many of the scenes in Game of Thrones, often decked out in snow for added effect.  The bleak, windswept conditions on the mountains must have been an endurance test for the cast and crew, but as one of the team remarked in an interview, this adds to the authenticity of the proceedings.  This, after all, is the northern edge of civilization for the peoples of Game of Thrones.  The scenes depicting the Stark family seat, Winterfell, make use of the estate of Castle Ward on Strangford Loch (Doune Castle in Scotland was used in the pilot series for the external shots).  King Robert is seen arriving at Winterfell with his entourage in season one; this scene was shot at Old Castle Ward, a 16th century ruin in the lower part of the estate.  Near Castle Ward is Audley's Field and Castle, the scene of Robb's camp, where viewers witness the capture and release of the Kingslayer and Talisa tending to the wounded.    

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Audley's Castle. Photo by Des Colhoun, via Wikimedia Commons

In the foothills of the Mourne Mountains lies Tollymore Forest Park, where Theon is stalked by Ramsay Snow.  This area is used to depict the snow-covered lands between Winterfell and the Wall.  Meanwhile, the monastic ruins of Inch Abbey on the River Quoile outside Downpatrick also feature heavily in the series.  The river itself is used as the Riverlands, home of the Tullys, and the area around the abbey features in Hoster Tully's funeral as well as the journey undertaken by The Hound and Arya towards the Red Fork.

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The Mountains of Mourne from Newcastle. Photo by Patrick Haughian, via Wikimedia Commons

Tourism providers in Northern Ireland have been quick to cater for visiting Game of Thrones fans.  In particular the National Trust owned Castle Ward, where Clear Sky Adventure offers a range of activities including the chance to dress up in character costumes and indulge in a spot of archery.  There are also boat tours and self-guided cycle trails taking in some of the locations used in the filming of the show such as the Winterfell, Robb's Camp and Dreadfort.  

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Old Castle Ward. Photo by Irishdeltaforce, via Wikimedia Commons

The County Down locations are easily accessible from Belfast, which has an International Airport as well as ferry links to Liverpool, the Isle of Man and Cairnryan (Stranraer) in Scotland.

Map of County Down.

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