The final leg of our journey had us on a 5 hour bus trip from Galway to a city in Northern Ireland called Derry. Also known as Londonderry, Derry offers historical interest; churches, ancient city walls and a turbulent past. But by far the most redeeming quality of this city is its proximity to historic sites – the outstandingly picturesque Antrim coast and the amazing locations used to film scenes from the epic HBO series, Game of Thrones.
There was a lovely view of the River Foyle and Peace Bridge from our flat.
One of the most outstanding buildings in the city was The Guild Hall, and I particularly found this interesting perspective from the city walls quite amusing.
With Derry as our home base, we went off on a tour, this one through little towns with charming names; Ballykelly, Castlerock, and Portstewart to name a few. First stop on our journey was the grounds of the “Downhill Demense”. Set in a wide, open field overlooking a golden sandy beach and the town of Castlerock, The Demense are the ruins of a once great estate which gives a sense of being on top of the world. In fact, the grounds take up pretty much the entire top of the hill overlooking the ocean.
With lots of sky and fresh ocean air, it was a magical place to visit. On the grounds is Mussenden Temple, perched dramatically on a 120 ft cliff top, high above the Atlantic Ocean offering spectacular views westwards over Downhill Strand. Viewers of Game of Thrones will recognize it from the scene where Melisandre burned effigies of the seven gods of Westeros in sacrifice to R’hllor.
…And just in that moment while I was admiring the view, a rainbow started forming off shore, one that soon became a full arc.
This amazing magical experience with my girlfriends will always be remembered as my “3 Full Rainbow Day”. The second one forming soon after the first and another over the walled garden adjacent to the Demense
Next stop was the iconic ruin of Dunluce Castle.
First built around 1500, the Castle has a fascinating past full of violence, intrigue and rebellion including tales of warrior chieftains, Scottish Earls, banshees and how the castle kitchens fell into the sea one stormy night in 1639. Perched along a stretch of magnificent coastline, incredible views opened up as I wandered through the rooms, peering out windows to see the craggy coastline and even a little known natural arch in the distance. ( I say little known because I couldn’t find anything about it online, nor can you drive there—it’s only accessible by boat.)
This was a day I’ll remember forever for all these reasons but also certainly because I made it to the incredible and famous site, The Giant’s Causeway.
The Causeway is an area of about 40,000 interlocking mostly hexagonal, basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. It is a must see UNESCO World Heritage site with a fascinating mythical story about an Irish and a Scottish giant. If you get there, pick the day you visit carefully. Preferably not during summer or a holiday, as the site was crawling with visitors even on an autumn weekday.
We took another tour from the City of Derry, this one starting off close to where the last tour left off. This tour was aptly named the “Game of Thrones Tour” as many fab locations from the show were filmed in this area.
The tour began at the most photographed natural phenomenon in Northern Ireland, The Dark Hedges.
They were planted 270 years ago by the Stuart family as a driveway to their mansion, Gracehill Manor. Sadly, this beautiful avenue of beech trees is not being managed properly as the tall tour busses are allowed to drive through, causing damage. Hopefully, they will be remedy this in the near future before more of these magnificent trees are lost. The Dark Hedges are featured in Game of Thrones, Season 2, episode 1: On the King’ s Road, Arya Stark has escaped from King’s Landing, disguised as a boy. She is with Yoren, Gendry, Hot Pie and others who are to join the Night’s Watch, in a cart, traveling north on the King’s Road.
Driving back towards the coast, we wound down along the side of the cliff to the tiny but amazing Ballintoy Harbour
This picturesque coastal nook is where Theon Greyjoy arrives back in the Iron Islands and where he later admires his ship, The Sea Bitch. This is also where he first meets his sister Yara.
Another GoT location was Cushendun Caves which formed over a period of 400 million years. This is the same spot where Melisandre creates a shadow assassin.
I had a fabulous vacation with my girlfriends, for a total of 3 weeks altogether. Northern Ireland was a most magical and memorable place to visit, whether or not you’re a Game of Thrones fan.