Dark nights are drawing in, the terror of one-inch snow to paralyse the transport networks in Britain looms and it is insistent that Christmas is ‘just around the corner. This means one thing. Winter is coming and it’s time to plan trips in the new year. And of course, catch up with Game of Thrones because ‘Winter IS Coming.’
So what destination is high on my list to visit in 2014? It is Britain’s most nearest neighbour – Northern Ireland.
Wait? Isn’t Northern Ireland part of Britain? No. But I can tell you it’s a part of the United Kingdom. For the Game of Thrones fans, imagine it like Dorne to the Seven Kingdoms except it isn’t so hot or sandy there, no way. But I may be hitting it close to the mark as the television series is filmed extensively on the Causeway and Glens of Northern Ireland therefore it’s a perfect opportunity to visit the film sets and reconnect with the books as we wait for the sixth book to be released hopefully soon (Come on George Martin, get finishing it!).
Northern Ireland makes up 3% of the population in the United Kingdom, making it the perfect opportunity to travel in a region where it is relatively unknown despite all the ‘troubles’ that has seen violence hit the region since its creation from the Republic of Ireland in 1921 until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Since then, tourism has boomed in the stunning landscape of the Causeway and Glens particularly in Giant’s Causeway.
So let me get on the bandwagon!
As I slowly transmogrify into a semi-nomadic traveller, the epic landscape of the Causeway can be ideally explored over a long weekend. So where would I go?
You cannot avoid Belfast (1). The ‘capital’ of Northern Ireland is served by two airports, Belfast International and George Best Airport, that will allow great connections to the Causeway. I think spending a day and a night would be enough. I’ll take a quick Belfast Black Cab tour of the city, followed up by a visit to the new visitor attraction that is Titanic Belfast, which promotes the construction site of the ill-fated Titanic ship that celebrated its 100th birthday in 2012. There are a variety of cheap yet good value hostels that can be taken advantage of to ensure your budget does not take a huge hit. Meanwhile, before I’ go to sleep, I better send out a black raven to the maesters of the other destinations in Northern Ireland where I’ll be visiting…
Identifying it as the ‘Neck’ of Westeros, this lake holds a majestic castle called Shane’s Castle, that holds a chilling legend of a Banshee called the White Lady of Sorrow running around warning people of their impending doom, a place where I would love to visit. Gazing about the calm views on the north-eastern of the lake, you may be transported to the scene of the Hand’s Tournament in the tv series. Perhaps I’ll take this opportunity to row along the shores of Lough Neaugh (2) and perhaps meet a Kraken as part of my impending doom, but it better be wary of my Ironman strength.
Known as the ‘Valley of the Army,’ Glenarm (3) is probably fitting to read a battle segment from Game of Thrones (whatever you do, do not read the Red Wedding unless you want to sob violently like I did on a bus ride in Australia) as I relax in the Glenarm Forest Park close to the Causeway of Northern Ireland. Spending a night here, I’ll be able to enjoy the local charm of this sleepy village.
Leaving Glenarm, the next major destination is Ballycastle (5). But before I get there, there are a couple of stops that I better visit that has huge cultural signifcance to embrace the Irish way of life. One such stop is Slemish Montain (4) where the patron saint of Ireland, St Patrick, lived and tended to his sheep after being brought here by pirates who slaughtered his family. Nice to see some similarities to Arya who was brought to Braavos after seeing her family slaughtered in Game of Thrones (bless her little cotton socks). There’s nothing for it except to climb the mountain and gaze around the teeming wilderness landscape that is Northern Ireland. Maybe finish with a pint of Guinness at the top before climbing on a dragon. (I wish.) Meanwhile, as I arrive in Ballycastle to stay overnight to stay in another charming local Northern Irish town, I will want to visit the natural splendour that is Larrybane, ‘the ancient white site.’ This truly is Storm’s End with towering limestone cliffs, rugged rocky outcrops and crashing panoramic views of the ocean that contain smoking islands (from ocean spray) that may double up as Dragonstone. Perhaps I can do a bit of Coasteering here and swim away from Melisandre’s shadow baby…
The iconic Giant’s Causeway, (6) formed by an ancient volcanic eruption, is a series of 40,000 interlocking basaltic columns that has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major tourist spot. With an illusion of stepping-stones into the sea from the cliff face, you could be persuaded to submerge yourself into the ocean and take stock of the legends that are hotly debated between mythologists. Perhaps image yourself as a Giant from north of the Wall in Game of Thrones ready to smash the northmen to submission..no? Maybe that’s just me. However, just being here as an environmentalist geek will have me giddy with joy as I discover how this amazing monolith of a site was formed.
The final stop of the Causeway, Londonderry (7) is a great place to stay for the last night. As Ireland’s oldest preserved walled city, I think I’ll pop on over to the Tower Museum to find out about the origins of the northern region of Ireland. With great shopping and nighttime links, it’s a brilliant place to relax and party after travelling along the Causeway. Perhaps, I will walk the shore at night and see the beautiful city lit up at night. It must so beautiful as it was awarded the City of Culture in 2013! perhaps I’ll find myself an inn in the style of Game of Thrones and be merry on Arbour Wine!
What do you think of this trip? Is there any place in Northern Ireland you should recommend to me?