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Ideas for an epic fortnight in England/Northern Ireland

Ideas for an epic fortnight in England/Northern Ireland

Old Jul 18, 2022, 9:01 pm
  #46  
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The ferry ride was quite leisurely even if the chairs in the lounge were horribly uncomfortable (I still somehow managed to snooze for about a quarter of it). Despite not originally planning to do anything but driving to the hotel and crashing there, we ended up doing nothing of the sort. My wife, who is usually pretty set about her routines, was the one to surprise me by suggesting we take advantage of our proximity to Sallagh Braes, where many of the GoT Riverlands scenes were filmed, including the infamous beheading from the first episode. So, after we initially got lost in some private fields (thanks, Google Maps) and were directed out by a very helpful tractor driver (who immediately asked if we were Game of Thrones fans), we spent about an hour and a half traipsing around the hiking trails, trying to avoid stepping on the copious amount of sheep mines that line the hills. It was epic, even if we didn't end up finding the very stone the execution was filmed at (and later kinda decided it was probably a prop anyways - whether that's true or not, I don't actually know). The views were freakin' epic, as well. I'll post some photos once I'm done sifting through them.

Done with that, we spent some more time bouncing around the B-roads before finding our way to Belfast. If I'm being honest, the city itself was a bit underwhelming, but I also am not sure I had any right to expect it to be any different, considering its fairly recent troubled history. The WikiTravel article (I recommend it wholeheartedly, as it's written in the self-deprecating and irreverent way few are) was pretty spot on in terms of what to expect - I probably should have read it before showing up in Belfast. The Holiday Inn is located in Sandy Row, which looked to be a bit of a rough neighborhood, as well. But, in any event, visiting the city wasn't our main reason for being there and the countryside more than made up for it. Again, I am not sure what I had originally expected, but it wasn't for it to be absolutely stunning. Anywhere we drove, we had a tough time finding a single shabby-looking house, no matter how deep into the fields we were.

The Game of Thrones tour was phenomenal. It didn't open as impressively as the Leavesden Tour, where you walk into the Great Hall and are like "alright, this is going to be epic", but it unwinds itself in such a way that by the time you walk through the Kings Landing map room and the destroyed Throne Room, you're left just as impressed. Though I don't think it has as much to offer in terms of updated exhibits as Leavesden, I'd totally go again. The only thing I didn't love, strangely enough, was the gift shop. Not nearly enough non-generic merch, although what is there (at least in terms of apparel) feels like it's of really good quality. But still, feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.

Done with the tour (about two hours, including transportation, is all you really need), we first swung by some outlets located in the same general area as the parking lot from which the shuttle to the studio picks up and then headed farther south to another couple of shooting locations. Our first stop was Castle Ward where many of the Winterfell scenes were filmed. Once we were done there, Tollymore Forest (where the scene with the direwolf pups was filmed alongside a few others) was our last stop of the day as it was getting kind of late and the park itself was due to close at nine. We had just enough time to find the bridge where the pups were found and hike it back to the parking lot just before closing time. At that point in time it started becoming evident that playing GoT location bingo was going to exhaust us completely if we didn't make some tough choices, so we decided that we'd only go to two more the next day and, indeed leave Northern Ireland 24 hours earlier than originally planned so that we didn't have to drive too much on any given day getting back to Heathrow. Plus, my wife introduced the idea of going to one of our places of comfort - the Braintree outlets in Essex, and that was going to take us into a slightly different direction heading South (and add an extra couple of hours getting to Heathrow). Changing our sailing ended up costing us 30 pounds of a fare difference (honestly not entirely certain how that calculation came about, but as I was making the call while sat on a picnic table at the Dark Hedges - more on that in a second - and not a laptop with the P&O website pulled up, I honestly didn't have the desire or the energy to argue).

The two locations we ended up picking were Shane's Castle, where some of the crypt scenes were filmed and next to which is the bridge where Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister had their duel (that took a LOT of googling to find, as, apparently, there are two similar bridges in County Antrim, but this TripAdvisor article helped pinpoint the location) and the aforementioned Dark Hedges - probably the most well-known Northern Irish shooting spot (the King's Road). We discovered that Shane's Castle's ruins contained a random greenhouse of much later vintage than the castle itself and that the bridge had a beekeeping facility next to it. Two completely random factoids I'm not sure what to do with, but there you are. The Dark Hedges, on the other hand, were so magnificent (and so crowded), we came there twice. In retrospect, knowing what I do now, we should have probably taken a quick walk of Belfast in the morning and driven out to the two locations slightly later, as when we came back around sunset, there were almost no people at the Hedges (apparently, the last tour bus leaves at 5:30 p.m.). That was a perfect photo op on which to end the GoT part of the trip. We did drive by the Titanic building in the Belfast harbor, regretted a bit not making it out there as part of the normal course of events, but still felt pretty secure in that we'd made the right decision leaving when we did. Maybe next time we're in that part of the world, we'll go a bit more urban. Maybe. I wouldn't bet on it, especially considering we completely ignored the Giant's Causeway or any of the scenic drives.
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Old Jul 27, 2022, 1:05 pm
  #47  
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We never came to regret leaving a day early when it came to driving back, though. From Cairnryan to the Braintree outlets is a solid seven-plus hour drive, plus another hour and a half to Heathrow, so giving ourselves an extra day was a good shout. Driving through the North Pennines on A66 was super weird. Parts of it felt like I was in Iceland, yet others - in Israel. The landscape was just so un-British-like, it was an odd feeling. Ended up spending the night in Doncaster's Premier Inn, after which I no longer regret not trying harder to find a deal on the same chain's hotel in Paddington. Their much-extolled Hypnos mattress is not nearly as comfortable as they'd have you believe.

The rest of the drive wasn't super memorable, except the inevitable traffic jam on M25, which, thankfully, only occurred in the reverse direction from us, so we managed to make it to our hotel (Hilton Garden Inn Heathrow T2/3) in good time. I have to say, the hotel has made some great strides since I wrote this review. We ended up spending two nights there, basically finishing the process of eviscerating my Hilton points account (50K points per night, which, in addition to the 280K we spent at Paddington, has left me with barely enough for a night at a Midwestern Hampton in the middle of winter, lol). Returning the car took a bit of time because Avis changed my rate at pickup and then, when I asked why, fed me some BS about "oh, the 200 GBP difference is the deposit". Somehow it came to pass that from a 3000 km allowance (not sure why km, but that's what my confirmation said) I ended up with 1000 miles and my rate went from 280 GBP for the 10 days to over 500. Eventually it was sorted out, though.

On the last full day we went into London: my wife to see Southbury Child again (she had missed the first 15 minutes of our original showing) and I to venture into unknown territory. I had long wanted to see what the London Tram is like and in trying to check it out ended up experiencing a whole lot of different modes of London transportation. Thameslink to Croydon, Tram to Wimbledon, Southwestern Railway (which I had ridden before in my very first visit to the city in 1994) to Vauxhall and Uber Boats to O2. It was interesting, to say the least. Not very touristy, but a great way of experiencing city life that few visitors do. And then, as we sat down to another dinner at Steak & Co, I got notice that our flight was cancelled and if we accepted the next-day flight, we'd be screwed out of our upgraded seats (we'd have to take Main cabin instead of Premium Plus we'd originally paid for and there would be no recourse). Lucky for us, a quick chat with Delta via their app resolved that problem in less than 10 minutes and we ended up flying back on the same day as originally planned, just two hours early.

All in all, an extremely interesting trip, pieces of which (Lake District, Northern Ireland) I definitely want to repeat in the future. I think next time we're in the British Isles, we're going to skip London altogether - a task that might be made easier when and if Aer Lingus returns to Minneapolis (we're moving there in a month).

Many thanks for all your suggestions. Photos still not yet ready, but I'll upload them when they are.
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Old Jul 27, 2022, 9:48 pm
  #48  
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Photos of London are a dime a dozen, so I'm not going to post too many of those.

Paddington without traffic or people early in the morning.


I know we shouldn't feed the Hyde Park wildlife, but I couldn't resist.


A lovely side street literally across from our Paddington hotel.


The tram stop in Croydon.


Sunset over Heathrow.


The one obligatory touristy shot - probably my most favorite image of Central London.
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Old Jul 27, 2022, 9:49 pm
  #49  
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(oh good, the images get re-sized if you re-size the window, as well)
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Old Jul 27, 2022, 9:53 pm
  #50  
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Silverstone pics aren't going to be super varied, so there won't be too many.


Max and Carlos in FP3


Practice starts


W Series podium


And a rainy pic of Seb for good measure
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Old Jul 27, 2022, 9:54 pm
  #51  
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Didn't manage to get many photos in the Cotswolds, so here are the three best ones.


Went for a run, had to stop and admire the scenery


Inside Broadway Tower


The one time I managed to get my drone out this entire trip
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Old Jul 29, 2022, 3:24 pm
  #52  
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Sometimes all you need for happiness is a pair of meerkats to climb on top of you...


...or some hungry foxes to feed peanuts...


...or a binturong or two...


...or a clingy lemur.
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