New Game of Thrones tour takes fans on a day out in Westeros... by bus
Armed with a giant sword, Rebecca Black journeys deep into the south Down countryside for an exclusive preview of a new bus tour of the locations made world famous by TV hit Game Of Thrones
The twang of arrows, a medieval courtyard and a giant sword in my hand – it was far from the average Saturday afternoon.
As the new season of Game of Thrones has brought the mega-hit fantasy show back into the headlines, a new bus tour of some of the sites where it was filmed has been launched.
The Belfast Telegraph got an exclusive preview of the journey on Saturday, travelling deep into the south Down countryside which has been made world famous by the HBO series.
Game of Thrones has filmed extensively across Northern Ireland, but Tour of Thrones organiser Hugh McCloy said they chose to focus on south Down because of the proximity of some of the sites to each other, and particularly the opportunity to offer an interactive experience.
That quickly became apparent at the National Trust property Castle Ward, which served as the Stark family's home Winterfell in seasons one and two.
Walking into the courtyard will instantly transport any Game of Thrones fan back to one of the first scenes when then King Robert Baratheon travelled to Winterfell to ask Eddard Stark – played by Sean Bean – to serve as Hand of the King (a special advisor role).
Clearsky Adventure Centre then kitted us out in costumes and swords to add to the experience.
There was excitement at a replica of the distinctive dog-face shaped helmet worn by one of the most fearsome characters Sandore 'The Hound' Clegane, and even a chance to pick Stark's famous long sword Ice.
The tour included an archery experience at Castle Ward before allowing time to explore the other filming locations in the estate.
Next stop was at Quoile Pondage where the funeral of character Hoster Tully took place during season three, a jetty built for the scene still remains, now used by fishermen instead of fictional knights.
Tollymore Forest Park at the foot of the Mourne Mountains offered an opportunity to stretch our legs and admire the stunning natural scenery.
While the forest was covered in fake snow during the filming of the very first episode of the show, it is still easy to recognise it while walking through the trees.
Inch Abbey was the final stop of the day. Down a remote laneway the former Cistercian Monastery was the scene of Robb Stark's battle camp.
The tour is also planned to stop at Titanic Studios where much of the indoor filming for Game of Thrones is done.
Tour creator Hugh McCloy said his aim was to make the experience as interactive as possible.
"I didn't want people to just be sitting on their bums having sites pointed out to them," he said. "We want people to be able to get out and experience it properly."
Mr McCloy and Quinn's Coach Hire are also hoping to launch further bus tours in the future.
Tour of Thrones runs every Saturday, departing from Chichester Street in Belfast. Tickets cost £40 and can be purchased by contacting Quinn's Coaches on 028 8673 7325 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org