In Ireland and Northern Ireland, there are innumerable locations where one can observe both ruins, and stunning natural phenomena with little to no effort, as many of these spots have been set aside for the public. While it is debatable which of these locations is the most stunning, one of the most popular spots on the entire island is a tree tunnel now known as “The Dark Hedges”. Voted as one of the top five tree tunnels in the world, along with many other accolades, the Dark Hedges is also one of the most photographed locations in all of Northern Ireland. And, while it has been featured in many television shows and movies, in 2017, it is most commonly known as the Kingsroad from Game of Thrones.
While the Dark Hedges has a somewhat ominous name, fame, and its own myth, what it is are over one hundred and fifty beech trees that were planted on behalf of James Stuart, a local landowner around 1775. At the time, the trees were to form an impressive landscape feature leading up to his estate, Gracehill House. From that point in time, the trees have grown, and through the passage of time, have become distinctly interwoven to form the impressive tunnel that exists today. While some of the trees were felled during Storm Gertrude in early 2016, the bulk of the tree tunnel was unharmed.
Directions: As the Dark Hedges were designed to lead up to an estate in the countryside of Northern Ireland, they were – and are in a location that is somewhat off the beaten track. Today, there are numerous tour operators that provide Game of Throne location tours that include this destination, or just regular tours of Northern Ireland that include this destination that leave daily from both Belfast and Dublin. Although the Dark Hedges are in Northern Ireland, as of early 2017, crossing from Ireland into Northern Ireland is a simple affair without a border control, akin to traveling from state to state in the United States; having said that, travelers with a group or on their own in Northern Ireland would be advised to have their passports with them in case of unexpected emergencies.
For those travelers with access to or renting a car, the Dark Hedges are an hour’s drive to the northwest of Belfast; and two hours and forty-five minutes to the northwest of Dublin. As getting to the hedges requires traversing some narrow country roads, I would that individuals driving to the area on their own have a GPS unit so they do not get lost. The best point of reference in the region for self-drivers is Gracehill Estate, which still sits at the end of the tree tunnel, and is located at 141 Ballinlea Road, Stranocum, Ballymoney BT53 8PX, United Kingdom.
Tips: As the Dark Hedges have been featured in numerous television shows and movies, including the vastly popular Game of Thrones, the area while remote, is quite popular, especially during the summer months. Having said that, as the area is one of the locations for many tours, the area is popular year round with travelers and it may be difficult for one to find a signature shot of the tree tunnel without people in it. I visited the Dark Hedges near the end of a rare sunny December day, and when I arrived, there were two tour buses present. However, after waiting about ten minutes, there was a fifteen minute or so window during which I had the area to myself before the next wave of tourists arrived. My advice would be what it therefore is for any popular location for parties wanting to see it in its pristine no-people environment: arrive early; arrive late; or arrive off-season. Even then, there are no guarantees, and if you happen to visit the Dark Hedges on a popular day, smile, walk under the trees, and enjoy the sight regardless. Even though it is popular, I would recommend the spot for travelers, as it is very distinctive and unique.
Myths and Legends: Like all of Ireland, Northern Ireland has a number of myths and legends around many locations of which the Dark Hedges is no exception, and is reported to be haunted by a spirit known as “the Grey Lady”. While it is unclear of when the Grey Lady arrived, or who she is – the ghost of James Stuart’s daughter, a maid from a nearby house, or a visitor from a lost graveyard, many visitors have claimed to see her walking between the beech trees by the road at dusk.