I spotted a voucher on Pigsback for a two for one deal for the Game of Thrones Winterfell day tour from Game of Thrones Tours and as it was my sister’s birthday decided it was the perfect treat for her as an avid Game of Thrones fan. Having never seen the series myself, I thought it would be a good day out. We met the bus @ 9am sharp for our departure in front of Jury’s Hotel, North Quay. It was my first time in the Port Tunnel – not that long or exciting but anything that gets the traffic away from the city centre is a good thing in my book. Susanna from Spain was our tour guide and she was more than a little nervous upon realising the majority of the bus was from Ireland. We hit the motorway and as it is not too scenic, Susanna told us some history relevant to Northern Ireland and the Viking invasions. The bus takes the scenic Mourne Coastway and we were lucky with the beautiful weather we had, the scenery was breathtaking. We had a short stop for fifteen minutes at a rest station in Castlebellingham for breakfast.
Stop 1. Winterfell/Castleward
Our first stop was the setting for Winterfell which was in Castleward, a beautiful Manor house on large grounds. To set the scene, Susanna played two videos from Game of Thrones post-production companies showing before and after the addition of special effects. There was the option of hiring costumes from the Game of Thrones and we received a sales pitch upon arrival. There was also the option of archery but this meant missing out on the walk. Susanna took us on a walk through the grounds pointing out scenery from Game of Thrones. These are clearly marked though and they appear to have a cycle trail around the grounds to DIY it. It took about 50 minutes and it was a bit rushed as we had been late arriving due to traffic and lunch was due for 1.30. I enjoyed the walk and the scenery and it built up an appetite for lunch. Lunch was soup and sandwiches followed by cake and tea/coffee. I found it a little disappointing as the sandwiches were on the stale side. Also the girl serving us informed us that we were only allowed one piece of bread and one cake per person which felt a little mean and inhospitable. The function room itself was dark and dreary looking but as it was so sunny, she opened the door onto the courtyard so we could sit in the sunshine.
After being fed and watered, we left Castleward for our next stop, Inch Abbey, a beautiful, unspoilt monastic site in County Down in a tranquil setting. Susanna provided some more information on the Irish history at this time. She is certainly passionate about Irish history and knows her stuff. We took a short walk to the abbey and then went in search for a specific tree which the owner has since protected by erecting a fence supposedly to stop overzealous GoT fans from access. This was only a short stop before being herded back onto the bus. The setting is so peaceful and out of the way so I can see why it was chosen as a film location.
Our last stop of the day was Tullymore Forest Park in Newcastle, County Down. Another beautiful spot with breathtaking beauty covering an area of 630 hectares (1,600 acres) at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and the sea. The entrance is quite impressive and the forest park is simply stunning. We did another walk, this time to the spot where the Starks discover a dead stag. Again, I enjoyed the walk through the forest park along the river. Lots of school tours were around and children were having lots of fun wading through the river. After our walk, we hopped back on the bus to head back to Dublin. We got to watch episode one of Game of Thrones which was a delight for me as I hadn’t seen it and passed the journey back to Dublin. It has left me wanting to watch the whole series now.
I would recommend the tour for fans and non-fans of the show but think it could do with some tweaking especially lunch and time management issues. It is a fairly new tour only in operation for six weeks so there is bound to be some teething problems. Aside from that, I enjoyed the day and found the guide to be very knowledgeable and friendly. For dedicated fans of the show, I don’t know whether it contained enough about the show to hold their interest. I know my sister was dying to sit on the throne. The scenery in Northern Ireland is spectacular and the places we visited were all places I would recommend adding to your to-do list. We were lucky with the weather and not so sure I would have been equally as enthusiastic had it been bucketing down! One word of warning though, there is quite a bit of walking and some of it involves slight hills so wear runners. I’m not sure this was pointed out to people when booking as one girl was on a crutch and ended up not being able for the second walk. Also I would recommend bringing water for the walk in Tullymore Forest Park as there is no shop nearby and on a hot day, it is thirsty work. All in all, it was an enjoyable day trip to Northern Ireland and I would love to return to the spots to enjoy a more leisurely visit next time.