When James Stuart lined the drive to his Georgian mansion with 150 Beech trees in the late 18th century his goal was to add a sense of grandeur to the entry of his estate. Nearly two centuries on about 90 of these trees remain as one of the most photographed locations in Ireland: The Dark Hedges.
The avenue of trees, branches twining at the tops, create an otherworldly vision. In full leaf the roadway beneath becomes a cool, dark hideaway, likely a lovely respite from Ireland's ever changing weather for riders or carriage. In winter, when bare limbs stretch high into late morning and early dusk, the end of the pathway becoming faint in the waning light, you would be forgiven in thinking the area a ‘thin place' where the world of the living and the dead meet.
The Dark Hedges have always been popular with photographers but have now reached a larger audience due to their appearance in the Game of Thrones. Featured in the first episode of season 2 as ‘The King's Road', this tree tunnel has become a destination for bus tours and self-drive vacationers.
Tips for Visiting The Dark Hedges
Let me just begin with this overall fact: if your Ireland vacation does not include the Causeway Coastal Route don't add this stop to your itinerary. It just doesn't make sense.
That bit of information out of the way, let's get to the facts.
- This site is popular. Really popular. And it's not overly large; less than a mile in length.
- Park in designated spots only. As of October 2017 traffic is banned from driving through and parking in the majestic tree tunnel. There is a small parking area at one end of the lane which hosts informational signage. Coach parking and toilets are at the Hedges Hotel, about a 2 minute walk from the tree tunnel.
- If you want photos with no people plan to arrive early or late. Just be prepared to join other erstwhile photographers during the ‘Golden Hour' at sunrise and sunset.
- If your schedule doesn't allow for morning or evening visit and you want the perfect photo be prepared to wait a bit. My advice: wander the length of the lane and find your preferred angle. Get your camera settings in place. And then wait. You may only have a couple of seconds to pop out from your spot and take your shot.
- There are no visitor facilities onsite; the nearest are at the Hedges Hotel.
- The estate for which the trees were placed, Gracehill House, is a mile and a half away. The country mansion is now home to an 18-hole golf course, a lovely restaurant, and one of the Game of Thrones doors, created from trees felled by Storm Gertrude in January 2016.
- Discover Northern Ireland has created a Journey of Doors Passport as well as a Game of Thrones Filming Locations app to guide you through your Game of Thrones experience.
- Remember that this is a local road. While it is fabulous to walk down the center of the lane be sure to yield to farm traffic.
- Private farmland lies on either side of the trees. Be respectful and do not trespass.
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The Dark Hedges are a beautiful and enchanting place… as long as you know what to expect.