Belfast Telegraph

Twisting trees that brought eeriness to Game Of Thrones get cash to keep them standing

By Linda Stewart

It's one of the most distinctive backdrops in Game Of Thrones – the mystical intertwining row of ancient beech trees that Arya and Gendry ride through as they flee King's Landing in Season 2.

The archway of serpentine trees near Stranocum known as the Dark Hedges attracts tens of thousands of visitors a year and is popular for wedding photos.

Amazingly, the Dark Hedges came under threat a few years ago when Roads Service proposed to fell many of the trees for safety reasons. But the avenue was taken over by the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust – and now it has won £10,000 of Heritage Lottery Funding. That money is earmarked to conserve and enhance the tree-lined avenue to Gracehill Golf Club and to erect interpretation boards telling its story.

The avenue was planted by the Stuart family in the 18th century, a stunning lead-up to the then Gracehill House. The eerie trees are said to be haunted by the shade of the Grey Lady, although rumour has it she may have been an invention of anxious fathers trying to deter daughters from going to the local lovers' lane.

North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey, who helped found the trust, says there are about 150 trees and they date back more than 200 years. Many have fallen into neglect and a few will have to be felled as part of the project.

"There were concerns for a long time that the Dark Hedges were going to be lost. Along with local landowners and with a lot of help from the Woodlands Trust, we decided to form the preservation trust," he said.

"Some will have to come down as a result of weather and we will be doing remedial work on those that are still planted. We will be planting new trees and we're in the process of getting information boards up at the area telling the story of the Dark Hedges."

The trust has been awarded more than £40,000 of Heritage Lottery Funding to carry out this work, which will be managed by the Causeway Coast & Glens Heritage Trust. It is launching the project at a public consultation meeting at Gracehill Golf Club at 7pm on Monday.

Patrick Cregg, director of the Woodland Trust, said the avenue was one of the most famous rows of trees in Northern Ireland, but faced total destruction a few years ago when Roads Service asked the landowners to remove the trees for safety reasons.

Since then, a professional survey was carried which suggested wholesale felling was too drastic, he said.

"It's really thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund that we are in a position to be able to do some remedial work rather than the drastic action of the cutting all the trees down. People go to the Giant's Causeway and it's not too far from the Dark Hedges – it should be another destination."

BACKGROUND

The avenue of beech trees was planted by the Stuart family in the 18th century to impress visitors to their home, Gracehill House. Two centuries later, the trees remain a magnificent sight and have become known as the Dark Hedges. Among of the most photographed natural phenomena in Ulster, they're a popular attraction for tourists from across the world.

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