Travel Scotland and Northern Ireland on the footsteps of Game of Thrones
The British Isles have hosted many great Game of Thrones scenes, since the beginning of the show. All the indoor scenes are shooted in Belfast, in the Paint Hall studios (Titanic Studios), but the green plains, the menacing cliffs and the castles in ruins of Ireland and Scotland were borrowed to feature many landscapes from G.R.R. Martin’s world, since the very first episode.
The Wall and Castle Black
What is more striking about Westeros than its gigantic Ice Wall, which has been separating men from forgotten dangers for 8000 years? And where can we find this Wall? In Northern Ireland. The abandoned Magheramorne quarry was converted into a film studio for Game of Thrones. The Wall, Castle Black (home to the Lord Commander and the Night’s Watch), but also Hardhome (season 5 episode 8) were shooted here. The setting is breathtaking : a major part of Castle Black was recreated.
Recall the impressive long shot in the courtyard during the battle against the Wildlings (season 4 episode 9) but also all the scenes in the rookery, the dining hall and the shacks.
The base of the Ice Wall is also visible, as it’s in fact the stone wall left by the quarry, against which a medieval elevator that actually works was built.
Beyond the Wall
The frozen landscapes are in Iceland, but the Tollymore Forest Park, located in Bryansford, near Newcastle, served as the Haunted Forest. This is where the scenes where we see the White Walkers for the first time were filmed, by adding artificial snow amid the trees.
Winterfell and the North
The opening scene in which Ned Stark executes a deserter of the Night’s Watch in the presence of his sons ? It was shooted on the Antrim plateau. The Glens of Antrim are a series of nine mountains and glens not far from the sea. This is also where scenes of the Stormlands (the introduction of Brienne of Tarth in the show), as well as scenes supposed to take place far from Westeros, in the Dothraki Sea (see Shillanavogy Valley).
The fortress of Winterfell, home to the Stark family ? It’s in fact partially Castle Ward, located south of Belfast and built in the 18th century. A 332 hectares estate with hiking trails, an exotic garden and a small farmyard. But shots from the pilot episode were also filmed in front of the impressive Doune Castle in Scotland (built in 1400).
Riverlands, from Riverrun to the Twins
Looking for a land of plains, rivers and swamps ? No need to go very far. The region of Inch Abbey will do just fine. These 800 years old ruins are located in a beautiful place that used to be an island in the middle of the swamps. The Quoile River lends its shores to the Red Ford several times in the series : when Catelyn Stark negotiates an agreement with the old and devious Walder Frey in the Twins, a double-fortress also called The Crossing, but also for her father’s funeral scene, Hoster Tully, or when Arya Stark and Sandor Clegane (The Hound) wander on horseback in Riverlands.
The area of Banbridge was also used to shoot the siege of Riverrun.
Finally, in episode 1 of season 2, Arya Stark, hidden among the members of the Night’s Watch, follows a route through an impressive forest. In reality, no forest, but an alley of beech trees called the Dark Hedges, located near Ballymoney.
Much lower on the map of Westeros, we can find the Stormlands, land of House Baratheon. The watery passage that Ser Davos Seaworth takes to bring Melisandre, the Red Woman, under the fortress of Storm’s End ? It can be visited, these are the Cushendun Caves. The place where Renly Baratheon hosts a tournament that Brienne of Tarth wins ? It’s Larrybane Bay, a site located near Antrim County that we mentioned earlier.
The Iron Islands
The British Isles were of course perfect to depict the severe and desolate Iron Islands. Higher, staying on the coast of Northern Ireland, we can find several sites used for the shooting of Game of Thrones. Carrick-a-rede rope Bridge, for example.
To represent Pyke, ancestral home of House Greyjoy set on a series of rocky peaks, Game of Thrones went to find Dunluce Castle. Perched on a cliff, it was build in the 16th century by the MacQuillans, who were then chased by another Scottish clan, the MacDonnells. The legend has it that the castle’s kitchens collapsed in the sea, killing 7 people, which forced the occupants to abandon the castle… A perfect legend for Pyke, a castle whose towers, connected by unstable rope bridges, are the remains of the ancient castle.
How do we get to Pyke ? By docking in the nearest harbour. A port represented by Ballintoy Harbour. The charming port village of Ballintoy, located on the Antrim Coast is the place where Theon Greyjoy arrives at the beginning of season 2.
Dragonstone, the Targaryen’s ancient fortress
In the world of Westeros, the Iron Islands and Dragonstone Island are located very far from each other. In our world, they are much closer. Dragonstone, with its massive special effects fortress set on menacing cliffs, is also in Northern Ireland.
At the beginning of season 2, in “The North Remembers”, the Red Priestess Melisandre burns the wooden statues of the Sept in the Targaryen’s old fortress. The scene was filmed in the County Derry, in front of the small Mussenden Temple, built in 1785.