VIEWERS of Game of Thrones were rewarded last night with a highly anticipated meeting of two of the show’s biggest characters, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen.
But while fan theories flood the internet over the pair’s relationship, viewers from Northern Ireland may also have had that fuzzy feeling of familiarity during the episode.
During the epic culmination of seven years of plot and character development, a new Northern Ireland filming location was seen on screens around the globe: the cliffs of Fairhead.
Known as Northern Ireland’s tallest cliff face, the impressive and iconic Fairhead rises 600 feet above sea level near Ballycastle on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast.
Highly regarded as an outstanding rock-climbing location, it’s believed to be the biggest expanse of climbable rock in Britain or Ireland.
HBO filmed parts of Season 7 at Fairhead, forming the backdrop for much of Episode 3, “The Queen’s Justice”, which saw Jon Snow finally meet Daenerys and her dragons at Dragonstone, and reunite with Tyrion Lannister.
It adds to the list of stunning Game of Thrones filming locations which are publicly accessible across Northern Ireland.
A series of new walking routes are part of the visitor experience at Fairhead, where hardy walkers can enjoy breathtakingly beautiful views from the top to Ballycastle, Murlough Bay, Rathlin Island and the Scottish isles.
The challenging route – which requires good walking boots, a map and caution near the cliff edge (particularly in bad weather) - gives walkers a sense of how fire, ice and volcanic activity shaped the unique formation of the headland some 60 million years ago.
Walkers have a number of route choices, with loops from 1.5 to 3.4 miles. Whichever walk you choose to do, take time to read the hidden interpretation information at some of the waymarkers pointing out important sites of historic and geological interest along the way.
There are early housing settlement villages, known as clachans, to be discovered. The area was once an important industrial site for coal mining and the kelp industry.
And just like Westeros, it’s steeped in mystic mythology. Legend has it the Children of Lir were put under an evil spell, transforming them into swans to spend 900 years in exile from humanity in the Sea of Moyle. You might say they got off easy compared to some of the Stark children…
Wild goats roam the rocks beneath the clifftops, as you wind along the rugged coastline. After a gradual climb, views of Ballycastle and Rathlin island will open up, offering an almost bird’s eye view of the lighthouses and rocky shores. The Hebridean islands of Islay, Jura and the Mull of Kintyre on the Scottish mainland echo of the ancient kingdoms of Dal Riata (Dalriada) and the Rithe Innse Gall (The Lords of the Isles).
These Gaelic kings controlled this sea kingdom for hundreds of years, later becoming Lords of the North Coast and Glens of Antrim. Their dynasty was known as The Mac Donnell Clan but unlike Jon Snow they never tried to claim the title of “King in the North”.
Other Game of Thrones filming locations nearby include Larrybane, which became Renly Baratheon’s camp in the “Stormlands”. It’s where Brienne of Tarth was granted her wish to be named to Renly’s Kingsguard.
Murlough Bay, a hidden gem, was transformed into “Slavers Bay” in Season 5. It’s where slavers captured Tyrion Lannister and Ser Jorah Mormont – and is accessible by foot via a steep winding path.
And further along the Causeway Coast lies one of the show’s most recognisable filming locations, Ballintoy Harbour. It has become synonymous with Pyke and the Iron Islands and was first used for these scenes in Season 2 Episode 2: The Night Lands.
Judith Webb, Tourism NI’s Experience Development Officer, said: “Game of Thrones is the biggest TV show in the world and it has been transformative for Northern Ireland as a screen tourism destination.
“There is an international hunger to access the filming locations, providing a huge tourism opportunity for Northern Ireland. But it also gives locals a new reason to get out and explore our beautiful landscape - the filming locations provide a unique itinerary for the ultimate Northern Ireland staycation.”