Ireland 2019: Our Game of Thrones Tour, Part One — Strangford Lough

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.

Map of County Down. We traveled on the A20 from Belfast to Newtownards and then down the western shore of the Ards Peninsula past Gray Abbey and Kircubbin to Portaferry. At Portaferry we boarded the ferry to take us across Strangford Lough to the village of Strangford.  We then visited Castle Ward and hiked a couple of miles to Audley’s Castle before returning to Strangford for lunch. After lunch we got acquainted with a couple of direwolves and then drove to Inch Abbey just outside Downpatrick. We then drove west along the A25 road to Clough and Castlewellan and then south to the Tollymore Forest Park at the foot of the Mourne Mountains where we hiked for another two or three miles. We then backtracked back to Castlewellan and Clough where we caught the A24 road back to Belfast.

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.

Strangford Lough from the western shore of the Ards Peninsula. Those are the Mourne Mountains in the distance.

Another view of Strangford Lough.

Our tour guide was an extra for three seasons on Game of Thrones. His enthusiasm for the show was contagious. He told us that he was often cast as an archer because he knew how to handle a bow and arrow. He also died six or seven times on the show. After getting killed in one battle scene he donned a uniform for the opposing army for the next scene and was killed again!

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.

Boats moored at Portaferry.

The Portaferry Hotel is on the left.

Our first glimpse of Audley’s Castle across the lough. We hiked to the castle after visiting Castle Ward later that morning.

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.

I thought this guy looked like an American Indian warrior but he is supposed to be an old Viking.

View from the side of the ferry.

The ruins of the Portaferry Windmill can be seen on the hill in the background.

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.

The ferry.

After making our lunch orders we  continued on our way to Winterfell which we will cover in my next posting.

Leaving Portaferry.

We crossed the lough to Strangford in eight minutes. That’s the top of our air-conditioned bus on the lower right.

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.

About crowcanyonjournal

I am a family man with interests in family history, photography, history and travel.
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13 Responses to Ireland 2019: Our Game of Thrones Tour, Part One — Strangford Lough

  1. what a wonderful time and great shots!!

  2. Peter Klopp says:

    I listened to the song and was touched by the joie de vivre of the entire band. Great experience on the bus tour to get the inside view of the famous TV series, which also ran in Canada and which I have not seen. Did I miss anything? I am about the same age as you, my friend.

  3. We are not completely sold on Van Morrison who is nevertheless a fixture around Belfast. The Chieftains, though, are something else They have been around for more than 50 years and are credited with bringing traditional Irish music to the rest of the world. No, I don’t think you missed anything, Peter. The Game of Thrones is meant for younger generations. I only watched one episode just prior to our vacation so that I might understand what it is all about. This day was for my son-in-law who is an avid fan and has watched every episode in every season. That said, I really enjoyed the day’s activities and the opportunities for photography. There is a special place in my heart for County Down where my great grandfather was born and where most of the Irish relatives that I have met happen to live.

  4. disperser says:

    I have a number of Morrison’s CDs and have several favorites songs from them.

    Alas, I’m not a GoT fan (I didn’t watch the show) so I’m just looking at the pictures without the added bonus of recognizing shooting locations or landmarks.

    • disperser says:

      From one of my favorite Morrison Albums:

    • disperser says:

      That’s why I rather not know anything about the private lives of performers. I’d like to judge them strictly on their art.

      But yes, many people who gain a measure of fame forget how to be gracious. Sad, that.

    • Thanks for the comments, Disperser. I composed this series of blog postings not only for readers who may be looking for GoT information but also for readers who enjoy photography and may also be interested in the history of the places I photograph.

      • disperser says:

        Oddly enough, those other reasons is why I read your blog. I only mentioned the GoT part to explain my lack of GoT related comments. The photos and writing, on the other hand, very nice.

        The post is also if interest as background for a potential trip.

  5. Thanks for sharing! Morrison is a rather strange person. He is still singing but his voice is a lot different than what it was 50 years ago. We were having lunch one day at the Culloden in Cultra on a previous visit to Northern Ireland and Morrison was holding court nearby. Our waitress confided that he usually comes by every day and conducts his business. He was very loud and we heard every word he spoke even though he was about 30 feet away from us. We thought he was rather rude both to the hotel staff and to whoever he was talking to on the phone. Morrison has a unique style. He is the only one I have ever heard who combines traditional Irish music with American blues.

  6. Elizabeth Murray says:

    Another great entry….enjoyed your trip through Co Down, and your new music video of the Chieftains with Morrison. I’m not a fan of GoT…but liked your photos and comments. Looking forward to your next blog

    Sent from my iPad


  7. mvschulze says:

    Enjoying savoring the trip with you now, on you and your family’s last year’s vacation to Ireland, so well documented (and photographed) in this series, me living vicariously thorugh your words and picture’s. Mention of Jim Morrison raises an interesting parallel as I had mentioned him in my cross country series (early in my WordPress days,) when my friend and I were passing Candlestick Park in my MGB, (1967) and thinking of Morrison’s lyrics “Behind the Stadium”) from “Brown Eyed Girl.” It would be late that night we would pass not far from “Crow Canyon” on our way to our stop for the night along side the Tuolumne River, east of Yosemite. And so, …you and I became aquainted! M 🙂

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