The Dark Hedges is the local name given to part of Bregagh Road not far from Ballymoney in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. The road has a series of beech trees that were planted by the Stuart family in the eighteenth century to impress visitors to their home at Gracehill House. The coach house and stable block from Gracehill House now form the club house of Gracehill Golf Club, which is located at one end of the part of the road that makes up the Dark Hedges.
As well as an impressive sight, the Dark Hedges are home to the Grey Lady, who is known to appear at dusk among the trees, silent gliding along the roadside before vanishing as she passes beyond the last beech tree. There are different stories as to the origin of the ghost, from her being a maid from the house who died in mysterious circumstances, to being a lost spirit from an abandoned graveyard in the fields nearby. It is said that at Halloween, the graves are open and the Grey Lady is accompanied on her walk by the tormented souls of those who were buried in the graves beside her.
However, after being used for various filming and photos, the road is probably best known at the moment for its appearance in the televised version of Game of Thrones, being one of the many locations across County Antrim and across Northern Ireland that are used as backdrops for the hugely successful series. The Dark Hedges become the Kings Road in Game of Thrones, and it was remarkable when I was there recently on a cold day in late December how many people were there to photograph the hedges. Game of Thrones has brought many visitors to Northern Ireland, and the Dark Hedges is one of the many locations to benefit from this attention.
We were there near sunset, and although the Grey Lady did not make an appearance during our visit, the view across the fields on either side was impressive.
The local area is filled with interesting things to see. The road is on the edge of Ballymoney, home to the Joey and Robert Dunlop Memorial Gardens. A few miles from the Dark Hedges in the opposite direction is the town of Bushmills, home of the whiskey distillery of the same name which boasts the record as the world’s oldest licensed distillery, with a permit to make whiskey dating back to 1608. A little beyond that is the incredible Giant’s Causeway, and the Causeway Coast, home to various rock formations. Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge lies a little further along, and then the journey through the Glens of Antrim. The area is filled with beautiful scenery, impressive buildings. and great stories and legends, with places like the ruins of Dunluce Castle bringing all three of these together.
The County Antrim coast is, in my mind, one of the prettiest and most dramatic parts of the UK, and well worth a visit. The Dark Hedges are beautiful, but just one of many fantastic things to see in the area.