Thursday, 1 September 2016

My Game of Thrones Tour

Last month my girlfriend Emma and I took a city break to Belfast. As well as wanting to look around the sights of the city, one of our biggest reasons for going was so we could do a tour of  some of the filming locations for one of our favourite TV shows, Game of Thrones. We booked our tour with Game of Throne Tours, specifically the 'Belfast Winterfell Locations Trek' and come the morning of the tour we were ready to see the sights of Westeros.

Monday morning, 8:45, we arrived at Belfast Top Shop after a quick sausage and egg Mcmuffin to find our tour bus. We waited in a queue along with about thirty other fans before getting our names checked off the register and onto the extremely comfy bus. We're talking soft leather cushioned seats and I was worried I would fall asleep but after we met our tour guide Brian, I knew that wouldn't be the case.

The obligatory 'Start of the Tour Selfie'.
Brian, our tour guide, was/is a glorified Game of Thrones extra, and I say glorified in a good way, not only has he worked on four seasons of the show but he also knows how to use a sword and has been part of some of the stunts and fight choreography as well which leads to him constantly being called back by the casting department. His work on the show meant that he had some brilliant insight into the behind the scenes and his own hilarious anecdotes to keep us entertained as we travelled throughout the tour. Most of all though, you could tell he was one of us, a fan, and like a few of us on the bus, a reader of the books as well. As we were driving through the beautiful Irish countryside I was almost disappointed when Brian took a break to show us some Behind The Scene's videos, I could listen to him talk about Game of Thrones for hours and by the end of the tour I had! It's a credit to his ability has a guide to make this all seem new and fresh even though he had given the same tour loads of times.

Our first stop was non-Game of Thrones related but a chance to pause and take a look at our amazing surroundings. We were to cross the sea (which is also used for The Trident River in the show) by 
ferry from Portaferry to Strangford, from where we would make our way to Winterfell.

One of our views whilst waiting for the ferry.
Back on the bus we took a short trip to Winterfell, also known in real life as the Castle Ward, a great big estate that a lot of the filming for the first season took place.

Castle Ward aka Wintefell.
Now I'm not going to lie, it is hard being there and feeling like you're at Winterfell because it looks so different. The courtyard we're standing in is where they filmed a lot of the introductions to characters like Ned, Jon, Bran, Cat and Arya but it was very covered up by sets to hide some of the more modern architecture. They don't call it movie magic for nothing! The tower that you see in the photo is used many times digitally in the makeup for Winterfell, especially the side facing the courtyard as the opposite had a big clock face on it! Maybe it would have helped if it wasn't so sunny! Throughout the tour Brian had large snapshot images of the show to show us the small details that revealed we weren't having our legs pulled, this was in fact where Game of Thrones was filmed!

The obligatory 'Winterfell Selfie'.
We then began our first 'trek' of the day. Don't be put off by the word trek, it's barely a couple of miles, anyone could do it! Half a mile away we found the basis for the Frey towers, a small tower positioned high above the water, ready for the show's post production magic to enlarge it slightly and copy and paste it onto the other side of the water.

One Frey Tower.
Where the other one should be.
So it ends up looking like this:

Screenshot from the show. Look, same sexy tree!
It was starting to feel more and more real as we went along. Just around the corner from this was another filming location! The seafront where Brienne escorted Jamie in Season 2 and then encountered three women hung on a tree by Stark men.

This is said tree.
Things started to feel a lot more real when Brian showed us the same clip from the show right where it was filmed. This was such a cool aspect and it really brought the surrounding to life. For anybody wondering which scene, go to Season 2 Episode 10, the awesome one where Brienne shoves her sword into a soldiers crotch.

After this we took a closer look at the Frey tower before returning to the bus. We then travelled to a nearby pub called The Cuan which gave us our lovely lunch for the day. As well as supplying us with lovely meals, The Cuan was also one of the places used during season 1 to host many of the cast members and most notably, Sean Bean. They are also famous for hosting one of 12 Game of Thrones doors, a selection of doors made by fallen tree's of the Dark Hedges that have been carved into these amazing pieces of art inspired by the show.

A very cool door.
After lunch Brian had arranged for us to see some very special guests. These special guests were Odin and Thor, two of the dogs used in episode one of Game of Thrones that became the Direwolves, Summer and Grey Wind.
Couldn't tell you which one this was but... I stroked a Direwolf!
The owners of the dogs were also there and were telling us how their lives had been changed by Game of Thrones and how they had all been involved in the show now, appearing as extras and even getting their  boat used by Jon Snow as his escape from Hardhome in season 5! We were fortunate enough to get a picture with one of the guys who was seen as a Dothraki Slavemaster in the show.

When we were finally pulled away from the Direwolves, we made our way to Inch Abbey a castle ruin used in Game of Thrones to camp Robb Stark and be the stage for the iconic scene where he was declared King of the North. 

Inch Abbey
Again, we were able to watch the scene right where it was filmed and it felt even more real this time, because now we were dressed up...
A couple of loons...
That's right, the tour provided everybody with a cloak and a handful of replica swords were available for us to use and act like idiots with. This was great fun and everybody got involved, it really did feel like you were part of the Game of Thrones world, the weather wasn't as sunny now so that helped as well! I even got to attempt a Jon Snow impression...

I know nothing.
After spending our time at Inch Abbey we took another drive to Tollymore, a massive garden estate that homed quite a few scenes from season 1 of the show. The first location we went to was the campsite that Jon and Tyrion set up on their way to the wall. Jon took a seat on a tree stump, and once the tour began to move on, I knew this was my chance to touch Jon's wood!

'What do I know?' I wondered...
Once fully satisfied with Jon's wood, we made our way to the next location, which is thought to be a pit created by a meteor and also a the setting for some White Walker Wildling art. You may remember it from the very first opening scene of the show's run.

The show.

Real life.
Brian also let us know how most of the first episodes budget was blown on fake snow in order to give the scene it's chilly opening feel. It's crazy how far the producers will go to make the show feel authentic!

Next we came to our final two locations of the tour, the bridge where the Stark's found a dead stag, only to find that underneath the bridge was a dead Direwolf and its newly born pups. The crazy thing was, was that this was only 100 metres away from the last location, the show really makes the most of the space it finds and the production values truly make it look like these are two completely different forests on different sides of the wall. 

Where the dead stag was found.
Where the Direwolf pups were found.
This was the final stop in out tour and from here we were taken back to Belfast city centre, on the way we were treated to a sing-a-long of the show's theme tune followed by a screening of the pilot episode, which allowed us all to point at the screen and say 'been there'.

I really enjoyed this trip, as a fan it was great to see some of the amazing places the show decided to film, as a tourist it was brilliant to go out and see some of the Irish countryside, which was truly beautiful and I now know why they call it 'the emerald isle'. At £40 a ticket I thought that we really got our moneys worth and more, it was a great day out and I think the whole group had a great laugh, thanks to our brilliant tour guide Brian and our driver Dennis.

I highly recommend this experience to any Game of Thrones fan, and if you're not one then at least you can enjoy the countryside!

Thanks for reading!

Group shot!

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