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Scene stealer: how Game of Thrones put a spotlight on Antrim and Derry

With its mountain views and wild coasts, this far corner of Northern Ireland provides a spectacular backdrop to many of the show’s memorable moments

I was never one for a “swords and horses” TV series, so when Game of Thrones burst on to our screens in 2011, I had to be forced to watch it. The unexpected joy framing the beheadings and braids was a rugged landscape I instantly recognised. Antrim’s north-east coast is where Ireland and Scotland almost scream at each other over a deceptively narrow sea. The abundance of castles and caves peppering the basalt-rich coastline are a visual treat. The only wonder is that it took so long for Hollywood to take notice.

Growing up in Belfast’s northern suburbs meant these seascapes were a Sunday run in the car with grandparents, flasks of tea and home-baked buns. The Causeway Coastal Route, which stretches more than 100 miles from the outskirts of north Belfast round the top of Ireland to Derry, is a dramatic road, lurching from cliff-edge to beachside, with grass and boulders at times in alarming proximity to the car windows.

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Something to celebrate: 50 favourite places in the UK

With the nation blinded by Brexit, it’s easy to lose sight of how varied, fascinating and often beautiful these islands are. So we asked 50 writers to celebrate what’s great about the UK

A short sail across the Firth of Clyde on a red-funnelled Caledonian MacBrayne ferry takes me to the wonderful sight of the Isle of Arran, cutting through the water, with Goatfell to the right and Holy Isle just in view off the picturesque village of Lamlash. These are the coordinates of joy, no matter the weather. It’s a place of family holidays, parties, friendship and, for me, creativity. I love to travel the wonderful “String” road – climbing high out of Brodick, over the moors and down into the fertile valley and the beach at Blackwaterfoot, blasting music into the blue cloud-blown sky – eat at the Drift Inn in Lamlash, and walk through the historic gardens at Brodick Castle. I first stayed on the island when I was not two years old and, according to my parents, in the bedroom of the B&B I ripped the wallpaper off the wall beside my cot, much to the landlady’s fury. That was before we had a car, and I was carted around the island on a bike. I go to Arran whenever I can. It was the setting for my first novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle and on 1 September I’ll be at the Clamjamfry – the arts and music festival named for the Scottish word for a rabble. I’ll speak about eight pieces of art that have inspired me, and I’ll choose them all from the island, chief among them Craigie Aitchison’s luminous and intense paintings of Holy Isle, a place he loved.
Kirsty Wark, Newsnight presenter and Landmark Trust ambassador. Her new novel, The House by the Loch (Two Roads, £16.99), is out on 13 June

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