The Dark Hedges – Ireland’s Real-Life Fantasy Setting

Along Bregagh Road, near the village of Armoy in Northern Ireland, lies a tranquil byroad called The Dark Hedges. For the past three centuries, a stretch of Beech trees have been guarding either side of this road. They have reached up and intertwined with each other, creating an ethereal tunnel of trees with shadow and light playing through the entwined branches. The effect is nothing short of spectacular.

The trees were planted in the 1750s by the Stuart family, on the grounds of Gracehill House, James Stuart’s Gregorian mansion. They wanted to create a compelling landscape to impress visitors who approached the entrance to the mansion. Needless to say, the Stuarts managed to achieve the desired effect. Even today, the Dark Hedges attracts locals and tourists alike.

Up until fifteen years ago, only locals knew about the Dark Hedges. In 1998, Northern Ireland’s national tourist board began to use the setting to promote tourism. Visitors have been pouring in ever since. It is one of the most photographed places in the world, and has become a desktop wallpaper cliché. Several scenes of the hit series ‘Game of Thrones’ have been filmed here and it is also a popular location for wedding photography.

The Dark Hedges

Photo: Peter Heck

World-renowned photographer Jim Zuckerman wrote: “One of the most beautiful roads I’ve ever seen is this country lane in Northern Ireland.  It’s called Dark Hedges, and I include it in my photo tour to Ireland. All of the people in my groups get amazing pictures here. The serpentine trees form a tunnel that is spectacular at any time of the day, but I find it particularly intriguing and mysterious just before dark.”

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Photo: Stephane Cast

According to Irish documentary photographer, David Cleland, “The base of the incline facing the brow of the road is the optimum pointing position.” He’s obviously talking about best way to photograph the stretch. Soft light filters through the leaves in the mornings and evenings – these are the busiest times on the otherwise idyllic road. If it weren’t for the clicking of cameras and the chirping of birds, entering the thick shade would be an unnerving experience.

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Photo: Paul Bowman

Of course, such an ancient stretch of road is bound to have horror stories linked to it. The Dark Hedges is no different. If you ever happen to visit, you better watch out for the ‘Grey Lady’. Local legend has it that she haunts the thin ribbon of road that winds beneath the ancient beech trees. She is said to glide silently along the roadside, and vanish as she reaches the last tree.

The Dark Hedges4

Photo: Dave Harrison 

Some people believe that the Grey Lady is the ghost of a young maid who died at the mansion under mysterious circumstances. Others say that she is a lost spirit from an abandoned graveyard, thought to be hidden in the fields nearby. On Halloween night, the forgotten graves open and all the tormented souls join the Grey Lady in her walk. Naturally, not everybody believes these legends, but there is no denying the supernatural energy that the place seems to carry.

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Photo: Philip Hay

To get to the Dark Hedges, you’d have to cover a 50-mile drive northwest of Belfast and take a short detour from Northern Ireland’s Antrim Coastal Road. More information is available on the official tourism website of County Antrim.

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Photo: Jim Barton

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Photo: Christopher