Long before Game of Thrones filmed in The Dark Hedges, I wanted to experience the ephemeral awe of walking beneath the imposing boughs. I also wanted to capture them like so many other photographers, hoping for that once in a lifetime shot. In October, I finally got my chance!
The sad thing about photographing The Dark Hedges, though, was that so many other people had already done it. I’d seen images of them at dusk and dawn, in the fog, and covered in snow; there was no way to top them without settling in Ballymoney for a season and waiting for the perfect shot. But it’s not a competition, is it? If it were, I might win for being the only photographer to post a tractor cruising through the famous canopy of beech trees.
The Stuart family planted the trees in the 18th century to delight visitors as they approached their mansion, Gracehill House. After nearly 300 years of growth, The Dark Hedges are far more impressive than they ever would have been in the Stuart’s lifetime. Their massive, interlocking branches have attracted photographers and film producers worldwide, and that attention has boosted their popularity among tourists. As I made my way back to the car, more and more of them were discovering the hedges and parking wherever they could find space instead of the designated parking area.
The Hedges Hotel provides free parking for visitors, and the walk to The Dark Hedges is short. Please do NOT park along the side of the road! I saw so many tourists ignoring the signs and tearing up the verge. Not only were they destroying the view and mood for everyone, they were – more importantly – slowly destroying the very thing they came to see.
Go in the off season if you can. Like everything else worth seeing in Ireland and Northern Ireland, it’s best enjoyed when the crowds have thinned. The quiet gives you the time and space to suspend reality for a few minutes, to give yourself over to another of Ireland’s enchantments without distraction. Whether you carry a point-and-shoot or DSLR, it doesn’t matter – you can still capture a little magic of your own.