Easter traffic mayhem at Dark Hedges leaves Game of Thrones fans fuming
TV series Game of Thrones has seen the haunting Dark Hedges of Co Antrim become one of Northern Ireland's most iconic sights, attracting tens of thousands of visitors from around the world.
But while the avenue of intertwining trees looks stunning on screen, it was far from it over the Easter weekend. Dozens of cars, buses and coaches crammed their way onto the narrow road near Armoy so tourists could get up close and personal with the "Kings Road" they know from the HBO series.
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Dad-of-two Jonathan Hobbs, who was visiting from Belfast on Monday, said the mess of cars and coaches on the world-famous road gave a terrible impression of Northern Ireland.
"Game of Thrones has done a lot for Northern Ireland," said fan Jonathan. "But when you've got a melee like this, with big tour buses and coaches and loads of cars parked all over the place, you've lost the whole point. It looks awful.
"There were coaches beeping their horns trying to get up the road, so I couldn't relax and take it all in because I couldn't take my eyes off my nine and five-year-olds for a second.
"Trying to take pictures was pointless because all you could see were cars parked everywhere. It wasn't a nice atmosphere at all. It's one thing for me and my family making that journey from Belfast, but what about the people who made that once in a lifetime trip to see this famous location? It must have been so disappointing."
Mr Hobbs, a writer for NI Greenways, said Bregagh Road should be completely closed to traffic if Northern Ireland is to make the most of the fantastic tourist opportunity offered by Game of Thrones.
"It's not the same as the Giant's Causeway, which has been there for millennia," said Mr Hobbs. "The Dark Hedges are huge because people around the world are seeing them right now on this hugely successful TV show.
"People in the area are trying to make the most of that chance, but when visitors aren't able to enjoy the experience, we're not presenting the best of Northern Ireland to the world.
"It's a total waste of an opportunity to have people unable to walk up and down that road and to take beautiful pictures of what should be a beautiful sight - the road should be closed off to traffic."
Concerns have also been raised about the environmental impact so many vehicles will have on the beech trees. Experts have warned the increased presence of heavy coaches on the road could damage their roots, leaving them more susceptible to high winds.
While around 150 trees were planted by the Stuart family in the late 1700s as a dramatic approach to their Georgian mansion Gracehill House, just 90 remain. One was uprooted in February's Storm Doris.
DUP Councillor Ian Stevenson said: "We want traffic on the road controlled for environmental reasons, to preserve this fantastic asset and to ensure visitor safety. We want to make the Dark Hedges a fantastic visitor attraction that will see people coming to the area for years to come."