Friday was Shopping Day for my wife and daughter and grandkids but it was Game of Thrones Day for me and my son-in-law Brian. There are many companies that offer tours of GoT film locations in Northern Ireland. We chose Game of Thrones Tours, Ltd. who offer two tours covering the two major clusters of film locales in Northern Ireland. One is along the North Antrim Coast and we saw most of these on our vist to the Giant’s Causeway on Tuesday (see here and here and here). The other tour covers the other cluster of locales which can be found about 22 miles southeast of Belfast near the town of Downpatrick in southeast County Down. We chose this second tour.
Click on any photo to see a larger version of that photo.
The tour started at the Jury’s Inn in Belfast, a two-block walk for Brian and me from our hotel. We were asked to be there by 8:15am and at 8:30 we pulled out and headed for the A20 road to Newtownards which is about 10 miles east of Belfast. Newtownards sits on top of Strangford Lough, the largest sea inlet in the British Isles. Strangford Lough separates the Ards Peninsula from the rest of Down on the Irish mainland.
My Scots-Irish ancestors settled in a townland called Ballycopeland on the eastern shores of the Ards peninsula along the Irish Sea and we visited this area in 2002 with Henry and Geraldine. But today our bus would be traveling down the west shore of the peninsula past the villages of Grey Abbey and Kircubbin until we got to Portaferry.
We were more or less following the Trail of St Patrick that begins in County Antrim and continues at Bangor at the top of the Ards Peninsula. The trail is really a series of churches and abbeys that are mostly now in ruins. Some of the structures can be traced back to the fifth century during the time of St Patrick. Some of these abbeys were destroyed by Vikings in the 10th and 11th centuries. Some were built by Norman invaders in the 12th and 13th centuries. All of the abbeys still standing were dissolved by Henry VIII in 1542. One of these abbeys is a Game of Thrones site that we would be visiting this afternoon.
At Portaferry we disembarked for a short cruise (eight minutes) across the narrowest portion of the lough to the tiny village of Strangford where we stopped just long enough to order our lunch at The Cuan. The distance between Portaferry and Strangford across the narrows is less than a mile. But it would take an hour and a half to drive the 47 miles around the lough to Strangford if there was no ferry. Luckily, there has been a ferry here for about four centuries.
After making our lunch orders we continued on our way to Winterfell which we will cover in my next posting.
Before I go any further I think I better point out a few things about this Game of Thrones tour. First of all, the tour takes ten hours. We left our hotel in Belfast at 8:00am and returned to Jury’s Inn, Belfast at 6:00pm. Secondly, the tickets cost 50 pounds each (about $61 as of 9/1/2019). The tour is rated 18 according to U.K. standards. Jokes, videos, comments and discussions during the bus trip all revolve around the Game of Thrones TV show which contains extreme violence, sex scenes and some nudity. No children under the age of 12 are allowed period. Kids between 12 and 17 are allowed with permission in writing from a parent or guardian. Finally, the tour includes two hikes of about 2 – 2.5 miles each over up-and-down terrain that may cause problems in wet weather. There were 18 other passengers on the tour besides myself. Half of them were in their 20s and the other half middle aged and all of them were able to keep up with our guide’s quick pace. I am 79 years old and found it difficult to keep up with the others. For more details about the tour see the company’s website here.
Bonus — The Star of the County Down
Remember Belfast’s own Van Morrison? He became famous in the 60s with songs such as Gloria and Brown Eyed Girl. In 1988 he made an album with The Chieftains called Irish Heartbeat. This popular Irish song is originally from that album. This video comes from a reunion eleven years later.