Now unearth the REAL story of fire and ice
VIEWERS of Game of Thrones were rewarded last night with a highly anticipated meeting of two of the show’s biggest characters, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen.
But while fan theories flood the internet over the pair’s relationship, viewers from Northern Ireland may also have had that fuzzy feeling of familiarity during the episode.
During the epic culmination of seven years of plot and character development, a new Northern Ireland filming location was seen on screens around the globe: the cliffs of Fairhead.
Known as Northern Ireland’s tallest cliff face, the impressive and iconic Fairhead rises 600 feet above sea level near Ballycastle on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast.
Highly regarded as an outstanding rock-climbing location, it’s believed to be the biggest expanse of climbable rock in Britain or Ireland.
HBO filmed parts of Season 7 at Fairhead, forming the backdrop for much of Episode 3, “The Queen’s Justice”, which saw Jon Snow finally meet Daenerys and her dragons at Dragonstone, and reunite with Tyrion Lannister.
It adds to the list of stunning Game of Thrones filming locations which are publicly accessible across Northern Ireland.
A series of new walking routes are part of the visitor experience at Fairhead, where hardy walkers can enjoy breathtakingly beautiful views from the top to Ballycastle, Murlough Bay, Rathlin Island and the Scottish isles.
The challenging route – which requires good walking boots, a map and caution near the cliff edge (particularly in bad weather) – gives walkers a sense of how fire, ice and volcanic activity shaped the unique formation of the headland some 60 million years ago.
Walkers have a number of route choices, with loops from 1.5 to 3.4 miles. Whichever walk you choose to do, take time to read the hidden interpretation information at some of the waymarkers pointing out important sites of historic and geological interest along the way.
There are early housing settlement villages, known as clachans, to be discovered. The area was once an important industrial site for coal mining and the kelp industry.
And just like Westeros, it’s steeped in mystic mythology. Legend has it the Children of Lir were put under an evil spell, transforming them into swans to spend 900 years in exile from humanity in the Sea of Moyle. You might say they got off easy compared to some of the Stark children…
Wild goats roam the rocks beneath the clifftops, as you wind along the rugged coastline. After a gradual climb, views of Ballycastle and Rathlin island will open up, offering an almost bird’s eye view of the lighthouses and rocky shores. The Hebridean islands of Islay, Jura and the Mull of Kintyre on the Scottish mainland echo of the ancient kingdoms of Dal Riata (Dalriada) and the Rithe Innse Gall (The Lords of the Isles).
These Gaelic kings controlled this sea kingdom for hundreds of years, later becoming Lords of the North Coast and Glens of Antrim. Their dynasty was known as The Mac Donnell Clan but unlike Jon Snow they never tried to claim the title of “King in the North”.
Other Game of Thrones filming locations nearby include Larrybane, which became Renly Baratheon’s camp in the “Stormlands”. It’s where Brienne of Tarth was granted her wish to be named to Renly’s Kingsguard.
Murlough Bay, a hidden gem, was transformed into “Slavers Bay” in Season 5. It’s where slavers captured Tyrion Lannister and Ser Jorah Mormont – and is accessible by foot via a steep winding path.
And further along the Causeway Coast lies one of the show’s most recognisable filming locations, Ballintoy Harbour. It has become synonymous with Pyke and the Iron Islands and was first used for these scenes in Season 2 Episode 2: The Night Lands.
Judith Webb, Tourism NI’s Experience Development Officer, said: “Game of Thrones is the biggest TV show in the world and it has been transformative for Northern Ireland as a screen tourism destination.
“There is an international hunger to access the filming locations, providing a huge tourism opportunity for Northern Ireland. But it also gives locals a new reason to get out and explore our beautiful landscape – the filming locations provide a unique itinerary for the ultimate Northern Ireland staycation.”
To navigate your way around the accessible filming locations from the show, download the Game of Thrones® Filming Locations Northern Ireland app, available for Apple and Android at DiscoverNorthernIreland.com/GameofThrones. Here you can also view Game of Thrones experiences around Northern Ireland and the Fairhead walking routes, opened by Heart of the Glens Landscape Partnership Scheme.
Things to do near Fairhead
Visit Game of Thrones Door 6
The Fullteron Arms in Ballintoy is home to one of the 10 intricately crafted Doors of Thrones, created from wood salvaged from fallen trees at the Dark Hedges. For those following the Journey of Doors to complete their passport, Door 6 champions House Targaryen, specifically Drogon – Daenerys’ most aggressive and fearsome dragon.
Hop on the ferry to Rathlin Island
Known as Ireland’s only ‘upside down’ lighthouse, visitors can now explore the unique Rathlin West Lighthouse as part of Irish Lights’ Great Lighthouses of Ireland trail. And you can’t miss a visit to the RSPB Seabird Centre on Rathlin, with binoculars and telescopes on a viewing platform where staff are available to help identify the island’s famous seabirds – including puffins, guillemots and razorbills.
Climb the cliffs of Fairhead
It’s not for the faint-hearted, but Fairhead (also known as Benmore) is often called the “world’s best crag” for a reason. It’s believed to be the biggest expanse of climbable rock in Britain or Ireland and requires physical strength and unfamiliar climbing techniques to scale its mass of dolerite. If you’ve mastered the basics of rock-climbing, then find an instructor on DiscoverNorthernIreland.com who can take you to the next level at Fairhead.
Go wreck-diving with Aquaholics Dive Centre
The Antrim coast is prime wreck-diving territory, with a multitude of boats, ships and a WWII German sub to be found under the sea. This PADI certified centre offers ‘Try a Dive’ sessions in the sea for complete beginners – and can take the more experienced to some fascinating finds. Explore the ancient wrecks and reefs of Rathlin Island, swim with seals along the Causeway Coast or discover caves under the island at Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge.
Explore Ursa Minor Bakehouse
See behind the scenes at this artisan bakehouse, part of the Économusée, or ‘working museum’, network.Founders Ciara and Dara O hArtghaile discovered delights like sourdough loaves and friands while living for a year in New Zealand and returned home to Ballycastle where they use traditional techniques to hand-mould loaves.
Try Morton’s Fish & Chips
This unassuming little hut on the water’s edge attracts huge queues in the summer months. Go now for delicious cod, haddock, sea bass, scallops or scampi that are freshly unloaded in Ballycastle Harbour.
Places to stay nearby
All the charm of a quintessential Irish cottage in the heart of County Antrim. With a delightful wood burner in the lounge, the scene is set for a romantic and cosy experience.
A modern, tranquil family home nestled in the lush green countryside between Bushmills and Ballycastle. It offers a friendly, personalised service with a quality breakfast.
The Marine Hotel sits in a prime location, overlooking the picturesque marina and harbour in the seaside town of Ballycastle and only a stone’s throw away from the golden Ballycastle Beach.
For more information on any of the attractions, accommodation or activities listed, visit DiscoverNorthernIreland.com