Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Northern Ireland Game of Thrones Guide


I only became a Game of Thrones fan this time last year but I've fully embraced the world of George R. R. Martin since. I always knew the series was shot in Northern Ireland but until I started watching I didn't really pay much attention to the locations used. Since becoming a fan I've somewhat become obsessed with tracking down filming locations as most are situated rather conveniently close to my house in Northern Ireland.

Back in May when I visited Northern Ireland with my friends we managed to find quite a few locations and during my trip over Christmas I managed to rope Steve into driving me around most of the country in search for more. Many locations are immortalised with a Game of Thrones sign, helpfully created by the Northern Irish tourism board. The signs, complete with imagery and behind the scenes information, describe what was filmed in each location. They're really informative and once you've found a few the process of tracking more down becomes quite addictive.

There's a ton of websites that list filming locations in Northern Ireland but I couldn't find anything about the signs. I definitely haven't found them all, yet, but I thought it would be helpful to list the ones I have come across and let you know where exactly you can find them.

The majority of locations are in County Antrim but there's a few locations in County Londonderry, County, Armagh, and Fermanagh as well. Belfast is the best locations to base yourself for a Game of Thrones tour as it's pretty central but you will absolutely need a car to drive yourself around.

I'll start in County Londonderry, travelling east along the coast to Antrim, past Belfast and into County Down and eventually Armagh and Fermanagh.

Binevenagh, County Londonderry



East of Derry you will come to the small town of Limavady. As you drive through town make sure you pay a visit to Frank Owens Bar to see one of the 10 Game of Thrones doors that are found all over Northern Ireland. Slightly north of Limavady you will find the mountain Binevenagh, which marks the western extent of the Antrim plateau. If you Google map 'Swanns Bridge Glamping' you'll come across a small picnic area next to a T-junction. Amongst the benches you'll find your first sign.

Binevenagh was used as the backdrop for Drogon's Lair and the Dothraki Sea at the end of season 5 and beginning of season 6. This is where Drogon took Daenerys after the fighting pits of Meereen were invaded by the Sons of the Harpy. Daenerys was subsequently captured by the Dorthraki here.

Downhill Beach and Mussenden Temple, County Londonderry






Following the coastal road it wont be long until you reach Downhill Beach. Stop at the car park at the eastern side of the beach and you'll find your next sign.

Downhill beach with a view of Mussenden Temple on the cliffs above was used as the location to film Stannis and Melisandre burning the effigies of The Seven in the first episode of season 2. You can actually visit Mussenden Temple which is found a short drive away in the National Trust property Downhill Demesne and Hezlett House. Whilst filming only took place on the beach, the cliff top position of Mussendem Temple makes for lovely views over the coast.

Portstewart Strand, County Londonderry

A 20 minute drive from Downhill Beach will bring you to the town of Portstewart and it's lovely beach. The car park can be found next to Harry's Shack restaurant. I couldn't find a sign here but I'm sure there must be one about somewhere as this is a fairly major filming location. This beach was where Jaime and Bronn, disguised as Martell soldiers, approached the gates of the Water Gardens of Dorne in season 5.

Dunluce Castle, County Antrim


Driving along the coast through Portstewart and Portrush, both of which are lovely little seaside towns, and before you reach Bushmills, you'll find yourself at Dunluce Castle. There isn't a sign here but the ruined castle is an interesting stop as it was used as the backdrop for Castle Greyjoy on the Iron Islands in season 2.

Bushmills, County Antrim





A few miles from Dunluce Castle will bring you to the town of Bushmills. Whilst there isn't any Game of Thrones locations in town, Bushmills is home to the famous Bushmills Distillery and Giant's Causeway, as well as my favourite Irish cafe, The Copper Kettle. You'd be a fool to visit County Antrim and not spend a couple of hours at the Causeway, it's a beautiful place.

After visiting the Causeway continuing driving east along the coast. This drive, known as the Causeway Coastal Route, is one of my favourite things about Northern Ireland. The dramatic coast is full of surprises and natural beauty around every bend. Make sure you stop at the ruins of Dunseverick Castle for a few minutes and pull into the charming hamlet of Portbraddon to visit Ireland's smallest church.

Ballintoy Harbour, County Antrim



Ballintoy Harbour is one of my favourite places in Northern Ireland. I've been visiting long before it became a Game of Thrones filming location. It's picturesque setting and cafe with more cake than you could imagine makes it the perfect afternoon retreat on a sunny day.

This is where I spotted my first Game of Thrones sign, a few years before I'd even started watching the show. This is the location for Pyke Harbour and is extremely recognisable when Theon arrives back on the Iron Islands in season 2. The harbour is also used in seasons 4 when Melisandre burns seven people as tribute to the Lord of Light. The nearby bay area was used as the location for the scene where Theon is initiated into the church of the Drowned God in season 2 and where Euron is put through the drowning ceremony in season 6.

Ballintoy beach in the surrounding area is used as Dragonstone landing in seasons 2 and 3. It is also used for various Pyke scenes in season 6 including the funeral bay when Balon Grey is buried at sea and the cove where Theon and Yara steal ships after they run away from their uncle.

Whilst you're in the town of Ballintoy make sure you visit the Fullerton Arms for another Game of Thrones door.

Carrick-a-Rede, County Antrim




Carrick-a-Rede, the most famous rope bridge in Northern Ireland, if not the world. Not an attraction for those with vertigo, this 20m long and 30m high rickety bridge is an adrenaline junkie's dream, sort of. I love it, as do all the new Game of Thrones fans in Ireland apparently, so now it's a little busier then it once was. Whilst the bridge itself is not a filming location there are a few surrounding spots that are.

At one end of the car park you'll find Larrybane Quarry and an accompanying Game of Thrones sign. This was the location of Renly's base camp in season 2. It was here that Renly held a tournament which Brienne won. Nearby Rope Bridge Road was the location of the Iron Islands' Kingsmoot in season 6.

The Dark Hedge, County Antrim






As you head further along the coast you will reach the large town of Ballycastle. It's worth driving through the town for the traditional shops fronts and fish shops. If you head south along the A44 it wont be long (10 minutes) before you reach the Dark Hedges, an iconic sight for Northern Ireland and Game of Thrones fans alike. This tree lined road is a magnificent sight and whilst it was only used as the location of the King's Road for a few minutes in season 2 it's become a popular destination. There's a sign at one end of the road and if you mange to avoid the coach tours on your visit it doesn't take a lot of imagination to transport yourself to Westeros.

Nearby Gracehill House is a Game of Thrones door location as well.

Murlough Bay, County Antrim







(It was too muddy to walk down to the sign)

After you've had your fill of the Dark Hedges, head back to Ballycastle and the coastal road. Keep your eyes peeled for signs to Murlough Bay, east of Ballycastle. The drive down to the bay is outstanding if not a little treacherous. The small and winding road takes a while to navigate but it is so worth it for the incredible view. On a clear day you can see various Scottish islands including the Mull of Kintyre. The area has many kilns that were used to produce lime thanks to the sandstone and limestone cliffs.

There are two Game of Thrones signs in this area. The first is found along the side of the road as you drive down to the beach. This is where Tyrion and Jorah see slave ships in the bay below in season 5. Further down the cliff they are taken to the ships where Tyrion convinces the slavers to take them to Meereen.

The second sign is found on the rocky beach at the end of the road which is where Theon and Yara have their unconventional horse ride to Castle Greyjoy in season 2. This location was also used to film Renly and Stannis meeting to discuss a resolution to the succession issue in season 2.

Cushendun Caves, County Antrim




After Murlough Bay you need to head back up the cliff to the main road before you continue driving along the coast. Look out for the vanishing lake, Loughareema, as you approach Cushendun, a lovely wee town along the coast. If you need a refreshment make sure you stop at McBride's for some hearty Irish food as well as another Game of Thrones door.

On the eastern side of town you'll find the cave and your next Game of Thrones sign. The caves don't take long to visit but they make an interesting, eerie stop. This is where Melisandre gives birth to a shadow in a cave under Storm's End in season 2.

Glenariff, County Antrim


Continue driving along the coast, past Cushendall, until you reach Waterfoot. From here you need to head along the A43, away from the coast where you will soon reach Glenariff Forest Park. Glenariff aka Queen of Glens, is the most beautiful of the nine glens of Antrim. Whilst there's isn't a Game of Thrones sign as far as I'm aware the area was used for filming Vale of Arryn scenes. The drive through Glenariff is lovely and if you have some free time it's worth stopping at Glenariff Forest Park to visit Ess-na-Larach Waterfall which is a 800m walk from the car park.

Waterfoot and Carnlough, County Antrim

Head back to the coast the way you came, continuing east once you make it back to Waterfoot. Just outside of town you'll find The Hidden Village of Galboly which is where the scene with Littlefinger, Sansa and Robin sword fighting in season 5 was filmed. The location was used again in season 6 when Littlefinger returns to the Vale and accuses Yohn Royce of giving his travel plans to the Boltons. Unfortunately I don't think there's a Game of Thrones sign here.

The drive to Carnlough isn't far and whilst there isn't a Game of Thrones sign the steps at the harbour were used to film the scene where Arya emerges from the canal in Bravos stabbed and bloody in season 6.

Glenarm, County Antrim



The next town over is Glenarm and this is where you'll find Steensons, a jewellery company that has created many of the props used in the show. This isn't a filming location but there's a Game of Thrones display cabinet in the shop that's quite interesting.

Slemish, County Antrim




From Glenarm you can either continue along the coast to Cairncastle, another filming location, or head inland to visit the mountain, Slemish. The surrounding Shillanavogy Valley was used to film the Dothraki Sea in season 1. Apparently there is a Game of Thrones sign but I have no idea where. It's a vast, but beautiful, area and I've found no information to pinpoints the sign's location.

Cairncastle, County Antrim

After you've driven around Slemish, head back to the coast via Cairncastle. This is another sign location that I failed to find. However, if you Google 'Antrim Hills Way and Game of Thrones Location Car Park' then this might be where you'll find it. This location was used in the very first episode for the scene where Ned Stark beheads a Knight's Watch deserter. The same location was also used to film Sansa and Littlefinger looking down on Moat Cailin before she is to wed Ramsey in season 5.

A nearby property of Sallagh Road was used to film Brother Ray's camp in season 6 when the Hound makes his return. You'll also find another Game of Thrones door at nearby Ballygally Castle Hotel.

Magheramorne Quarry, County Antrim

Magheramorne Quarry is one of the most exciting Game of Thrones locations but it's also one of the hardest to reach. This is where The Wall, Castle Black, Hardhome and various other 'beyond The Wall' scenes are filmed. The Quarry is closed to the public but you can just about make it out as you drive along the coastal road once you leave Larne. There's no sign here but it's an exciting feeling to drive past.

Carrickfergus, County Antrim

In the town of Carrickfergus you'll not only find Northern Ireland's most famous castle, Carrickfergus, but you'll also find Redhall Estate which was used to the film the inn at the crossroads where the King's party stop en route to King's Landing after visiting Winterfell, where Catelyn bumps into Tyrion in season 1, where Arya is taken by the Brotherhood Without Banners in season 2, and where Brienne and Pod stop to eat in season 4. I haven't been here so I'm not sure if there's a sign.

Antrim, County Antrim

If you head inland to the town of Antrim you'll find several filming locations in the surrounding area. As far as I'm aware there aren't any Game of Thrones sing but they're still worth visiting.

Shane's Castle which is normally closed to the public was used to film the Dragonstone dungeons in season 3, the Winterfell crypt in 5, and scenes various scenes from under the Great Sept. The nearby river clearing was used to film several scenes with Bronn and Tyrion in season 5.

Slightly to the west of Shane's castle is the River Maine which was used to film the scene where Arya practices her sword fighting with Mycah in season 1, where the Tourney of the Hand take places in season 1, the river where Brienne leads Jamie after breaking him out of Robb's camp in season 2, and the bridge where Jamie attacks Brienne before they're captured by The Brave Companions in season 3.

Nearby Lady Hill Quarry was used to film the scene where Bran and his companions are attacked by skeleton in season 4.

Belfast, County Antrim


Belfast itself doesn't have any outdoor filming locations but it does have Titanic Studios which is where all non-location scenes are filmed. The studio is found by the docks and is next door to Titanic Belfast which is an amazing museum worth visiting if you're in the city. If you're lucky you could spot a cast member on their lunch break.

Strangford Lough, County Down

South of Belfast brings you into County Down where you can find a handful of filming locations. I don't know County Down as well as Antrim but over Christmas I managed to spend a day in the area, visiting several different sites.

Whilst I haven't visited the locations around Stangford Lough I though I'd list them here for sake of completeness.

Clandeboye Estate near Bangor was used to film Craster's Keep in season 2 and 3 as well as the location where Jamie has his hand cut off in season 3. An estate near the town of Saintfield was used as the location for Robb's camp in season 2, the field where the Battle of Winterfell takes place in season 6, and the Winterfell Godswood in various seasons. The forest near the town of Crossgar was used to film Theon and Sansa crossing the frozen river while they're on the run from Ramsey in season 6.

Downpatrick, County Down




It's worth spending an hour or so in Downpatrick. The cathedral is said to be the burial place of Saint Patrick and there's a great little visitor centre and museum you can visit to learn more about Northern Ireland's patron saint. Just outside of town you'll find Inch Abbey which was used as the location for Robb's camp at the end of season 1 and where the famous 'King of the North' scene takes place. Unfortunately there isn't a sign here which is a shame as it's a very easy location to find.

The nearby Quoile River was used to film Hoster Tully's funeral in season 3.

Castle Ward and Audley's Castle, County Down




North- east of Downpatrick will bring you to Castle Ward which was used as Winterfell's courtyard in the very first episode. It was here that the Stark children practised archery. You'll find a Game of Thrones sign in the courtyard, one of the few in this part of the country.

The nearby wood and Audley Castle ruins was used as Moat Cailin and the Lannister camp in season 1 and Robb's camp in season 2 where he introduced Catelyn to Talisa. It was also used as The Twins in season 1.

Tollymore Forest Park, County Down

Outside the town of Newcastle, which is worth visiting for its lovely seafront location, you'll find the beautiful Tollymore Forest Park. The park is vast and was used for several different filming locations including the location where the White Walker attack took place at the very start of the show and where the Stark Direwolf pups are found later in the same episode.

Mourne Mountains, County Down

The Mourne Mountains is a beautiful area to drive around. Whilst not strickly mountains this is still an area worth visiting. Sandy Brae Path in the southern part of the hills was used to film the ride between the horse gate of Vaes Dothrak in season 1.

Banbridge, County Down

Near the town of Banbridge you'll find The Linen Mill Studio which is where Harrenhal was filmed in season 2. Around the corner at 36 Drone Hill Road you find the location for the Riverrun Gate in season 6 when Jamie attempts to sieze Riverrun from the Blackfish.

Gosford Forest Park, County Armagh


Gosford Castle was used to film Riverrun and Littlefinger's brothel in season 3. The surrounding forest park is also used in season 3, but this time for a dream scene where Bran chases the three eyed Raven and sees Jojen Reed for the first time.

Pollnagollum Cave, County Fermanagh

Heading north into Fermanagh will take you to my final Game of Thrones location and somewhere I am saving for a summer visit, Pollnagollum Cave. When Arya is captured by the Brotherhood without Banners in season 3, they take her to their hideout which was filmed at the Marble Arch Caves.

So there's my bumper guide of Game of Thrones locations. I'm hoping to get back over to Northern Ireland this year where I will definitely go searching for more. Northern Ireland is such a beautiful country and it's a real exciting to see it immortalised on the screen. If you're not a Game of Thrones fan hopefully you can still appreciate the beautiful scenery.

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Monday, 27 February 2017

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Zing Zing


When it comes to takeaway food I am not normally a fan. My preferred choice stretches as far as a Domino's and I am definitely not a lover of Chinese fast food. But Zing Zing has changed my mind. This north London based takeaway joint is doing things a 'lil differently and serving up super tasty, top quality, MSG free, Chinese food.

I enjoyed a bit of a feast a few weeks ago, courtesy of the restaurant, and got myself frequented with a big chunk of the menu. 

From the starters I really enjoyed the firework dragon bao. This Korean fried chicken bao is just the right amount of fluffy bao and crispy, succulent fried chicken. The hot sauce comes on the side so you can amp up the heat as much (or as little) as you desire. It also comes with a side of popping candy to give the dish some fireworks. I ended up forgoing this part as it was just a little too gimmicky for me but otherwise this was a great dish.

The salt and pepper squid, which is often done wrong, was addictive and the duck spring rolls were a delicious upgrade on a normally dull classic. The sticky pork ribs were tender and moorish and the Thai prawn crackers were fiery with the perfect crunch. The pork and goji berry dumplings were succulent and extremely tasty, another interesting upgrade.

The main dishes really impressed me as well. The dynamite kung pao chicken was succulent and fiery, the coconut tamarind prawns were moorish and meaty, and the lemon chicken was fresh and light.

All-in-all I was pleasantly surprised by Zing Zing and it's made me realise the Chinese takeaway can be done well. The restaurants ethos of good quality, MSG free food really does stand out. The dishes are generously sized with lots of meat and vegetables instead of padding and while the menu is full of classic Chinese takeaway options there's still plenty of exciting upgrades. If you're based in North London and fancy a great Chinese takeaway then Zing Zing is the place for you.

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