The Dark Hedges of Ireland catapulted to international fame, when they were used as a location, in filming a popular television series Game of Thrones. The Dark Hedges are a more than 200 years old avenue of beech trees, along Bregagh Road between Armory and Stranocum in County Antrim, Ireland. The mysterious Dark Hedges are the 6th stop in the series A World Far and Away.
The beech trees that make up the Dark Hedges, are the result of twisting branches that formed an arch over the road. Over the decades, an atmospheric tunnel, slowly came into existence.
The history of the trees can be traced back to James Stuart,who had them planted in about 1775. Stuart was building a new residence in northern Ireland, named Gracehill House, after his wife Grace Lynd.
The Georgian style Gracehill mansion remains in private hands to this day, but a portion of the original estate, now serves as an 18 hole golf course and The Hedges Hotel.
Over 150 trees were planted along both sides of the road, in the approach to the new estate. Today about 90 of the trees remain. The site is included in a list of the 12 best road trips in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
According to local legend, the Dark Hedges are visited by a ghost called the Grey Lady, who travels the road and darts across it from tree to tree.
Adherents to the story, say the apparition is the spirit of James Stuart’s daughter known as Cross Peggy. Others claim it is actually one of the house maids, who died mysteriously. Another group claims it is a spirit from an abandoned graveyard, beneath the fields.
Adding to the tale, is the belief that on Halloween, the Grey Lady is joined by other spirits from the graveyard.
In addition, to using the Dark Hedges as the King’s Road in the television series Game of Thrones, the trees were also seen in the 2017 Transformers film, The Last Knight.
Given the recent popularity of the Dark Hedges among tourists, a tree preservation order was put on the trees in 2004. In 2009 the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust was set up to better enable maintenance and preservation of the site.
A survey conducted in 2014, found that the trees are in various states of maturity and past their prime. Their overall health is at continuous risk during inclement weather.
In January 2016, Storm Gertrude was responsible in felling two of the beech trees and damaging a third one. Storm Doris in February 2017, took another tree down.
With the increasing number of visitors, the Department of Infrastructure decided in 2017, to close the road to traffic. This was done in an effort to further slow the damage and degradation, being caused by the growing crowds of tourists.
Beginning from October 30th 2017, a ban on traffic using the road between its junctions with Ballinlea and Ballykenver, was put into place.
Although the ban has been somewhat controversial, the Woodland Trust has stated, that high vehicular traffic levels, would of limited the longevity of the trees to just twenty years more.
Beech trees are surface rooting and therefore are more susceptible to environmental damage.
Graffiti and other examples of vandalism, have also become a major concern for conservationists of the Dark Hedges.
In an effort to preserve the trees, the branches have been pruned recently and the tunnel has become less impressive, but it still maintains much of its magic.
Over the years, the site has gained increasing notoriety, but the addition of using the Dark Hedges as a backdrop for the filming of popular television programming, has made the site into one of the most photographed natural phenomena in Northern Ireland.