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Exploring GOT Filming Location: Winterfell and House Stark

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Northern Ireland, chosen by Game of Thrones producers for its spectacular natural scenery, couldn’t be a more perfect setting for such a medieval world in which the series takes place. It made further economical sense to choose a location where various scenes could be filmed, avoiding the need to travel to a multitude of countries. For example, in Northern Ireland will you find more than 20 GOT filming locations, all scattered in and around Belfast. Among these locations are, Tollymore Forest Park (serving as scenes for ‘beyond the wall,’ when Ramsey chase Theon through the woods with his hounds, forest where the Dire Wolf cups were found, a wildling camp and the haunted forest), River Qual (serving as the Twins, which is the seat of House of Fray, Inch Abby (ruins where Rob Stark is declared the King of the North), and many more.

Winter Has Come - Discovering Game of Thrones' Filming Locations

- This article is part of the Winter Has Come - GOT Blog Series - Article no: 2
Northern Ireland is famous for its breathtaking natural scenery.

Northern Ireland is famous for its breathtaking natural scenery. (Photo Credit: Wang Xia WHX)

Who can forget that momentous moment during the final episode of Game of Thrones Season 6, when a young girl, Lady Lyanna Mormont of Bear Island, stood and declared Jon Snow, (played by actor Kit Harrington) her King of the North.  
Lyanna Mormonts’ Speech at Winterfell after Jon and Sansa’s victory over Ramsey
“Your son was butchered at the Red Wedding, Lord Manderly. But you refused the call.  You swore allegiance to House Stark, Lord Glover. But in their hour of greatest need, you refused the call.   And you, Lord Kerwin, your father was skinned alive by Ramsay Bolton, still, you refused the call.  But House Mormont remembers. The North remembers. We know no king but the King in the North whose name is Stark. I don’t care if he’s a bastard. Ned Stark’s blood runs through his veins. He’s my king, from this day until his last day!”
I can still feel the chills run down my spine just thinking about that special moment in the assembly hall at Winterfell.  I certainly never thought Jon would be declared the King of the North. I always though it would be Sansa who would take the reign on this one.  But hey, that is Game of Thrones for you. Always a surprise in stock. No wonder we love it so much.
Lady Mormont declaring for Rob Stork. (GOT Season 6: Episode 10)

Lady Mormont declaring for Rob Stork. (GOT Season 6: Episode 10)

Furthermore can’t I help but wonder about the feeling Jon Snow must have felt sitting there next to Sansa Stark, being considered the bastard of Ned Stark, not a true born son and thus not entitled to inherit any titles or lands, and after everything he has been through, to be then declared the King of the North. A possibility he never even considered.
But as we know by now, after the revelation of our long suspected theory, R + L = J (Rhaegar Targaryen & Leanne Stark = Jon Snow), or might his name actually be, Joneurys Targaryen?, there is much more shocking news on the way for Jon.  Always thinking he was a man of the north, he will soon find out he is actually born of fire as well. A man of both worlds, a man of ‘Fire & Ice.’  Is that going to be helpful in ensuring peace returns to the lands of the Seven Kingdoms?
I’m not so sure if this will be of any help to Jon in the long run, but what I am sure about is that Winterfell is never going to be the same. Catelyn Tully Stark (Cat) for one, must be turning about in her grave, (or screaming in Ghostland), at the knowledge that the ‘bastard son of Ned’ she has learnt to merely tolerate, is now the head of her household and ruler of the North. And who knows, if Sansa finds out Jon is not her brother, she might just think him a suitable husband in the future. :P That would be husband number three of course...
If that happens though, Catelyn might just come back to haunt Winterfell. LOL.
The Castle of Winterfell in the background.  (Season 1 – Episode 1)

The Castle of Winterfell in the background. (Season 1 – Episode 1)

The Top Locations where Winterfell are filmed at each Season

  • Season 1: The principle filming location for the Castle of Winterfell was Castle Ward, which is situated in County Down, Ireland. Another castle (Doune Castle in Scotland) served as Winterfell for some scenes, such as the arrival of King Roberts Party and their visit to Lyanna’s grave, (Season 1 – Episode 1), but more extensively was done in-studio scene shots at the Paint Hall Studio facility in Belfast (Ireland).
  • Season 2: Filming for this season took place at Castle Ward for most of the exterior Winterfell scenes, Shane’s Castle (Northern Ireland) for filming of the crypts where Lyanna’s grave was situated, as well as in-studio scenes at the Paint Hall Studio facility in Belfast (Ireland).
  • Season 5-6-7: Castle Ward and in-studio scenes at the Paint Hall Studio.

Principle Filming Locations: Winterfell and House Stark Scenes

Northern Ireland, chosen by Game of Thrones producers for its spectacular natural scenery, couldn’t be a more perfect setting for such a medieval world in which the series takes place. It made further economical sense to choose a location where various scenes could be filmed, avoiding the need to travel to a multitude of countries. For example, in Northern Ireland will you find more than 20 GOT filming locations, all scattered in and around Belfast. Among these locations are, Tollymore Forest Park (serving as scenes for ‘beyond the wall,’ when Ramsey chase Theon through the woods with his hounds, forest where the Dire Wolf cups were found, a Wildling camp and the haunted forest), River Qual (serving as the Twins, which is the seat of House Fray, Inch Abby (ruins where Rob Stark is declared the King of the North), and many more.
The location of The Dark Hedges. Represented in GOT when Arya Stark escapes from Kings Landing dressed as a boy.

Looks familiar? It is indeed the location of The Dark Hedges where Arya Stark escapes from Kings Landing dressed as a boy. (Photo Credit: Losborne GD)

To the traveler, Northern Ireland bestows equal charm. Not only we recommend visiting the large amount of castles, locations and ruins featured in the series, but also becoming truly and entirely entwined with local culture.
For one, we love the Irish accent, and although we often had difficulty understanding every single word said during conversations, where we mesmerized by the English language spoken in such a unique, beautiful way.
Another great aspect about Northern Ireland is the multiple photo opportunities awaiting avid travelers around every corner. Old Irish houses, stretches of seemingly never-ending green hills and old castles, together with a relaxed, almost ancient atmosphere, just leaves one without words. A truly unique experience.
An old ruined Irish house by the sea.

An old ruined Irish house by the sea. (Photo Credit: Christian Birkholz)

A goat relaxing against a stone. Ireland

A goat relaxing against a stone. Ireland (Photo Credit: Bieser)

Inspired to visit Northern Ireland as well?
Awesome. We are just as excited to share in this experience with you, therefore, let’s have a look at this week’s featured GOT Filming Location:

Castle Ward (Northern Ireland) as Winterfell and House Stark

Location: Northern Ireland
Known in the Game of Thrones as: Winterfell and the seat of House Stark
Winterfell Castle together with the Sigil of House Stark.

Winterfell Castle together with the Sigil of House Stark. (Photo Credit: MBS & by Succo)

Castle Ward is an 18th century castle located on a hillside, overlooking the calm waters of Strnagford Lough, 7 miles from Downpatrick in County Down. 
Occupying a vast area of 820 acres on the shores of Strangford Lough near the village of the same name, the castle has a mix of Georgian and Gothic architecture. With it’s distinctive 15-meter (50-feet) tall-fortified tower house, it is indeed a sight to behold. The castle is meticulously preserved, and showcases its Victorian laundry, saw and corn mills.
But the origin of Castle Ward goes even further back than that. Let’s have a quick look at the timeline of events that took place:
  • Year 1570: Castle Ward, known originally as, Carrick na Sheannagh, was owned by the Earls of Kildare. It was bought by Bernard Ward, father of Sir Robert Ward, Surveyor-General of Ireland, and since around 1570, has it been the residence of the Ward family, a prominent Anglo-Irish gentry. With Bernard Ward becoming the First Viscount Bangor as a reward for his political service, the family rose in aristocracy.
  • Year 1720: Judge Michael Ward, father of Bernard Ward, built a mansion in the estate in 1720. It got demolished in 1850, leaving behind some associated landscaping.
  • Year 1747: Bernard Ward married a widow, Lady Ann Bligh, and wanted to build an impressive building that matched the dignity of his position. He planned a classical Palladian style grand edifice, but met with resistance from none other than his own wife. She preferred Gothic Revival architectural style with turrets, spires, and the like. Unfortunately, they could not reach a compromise, with the castle thus displaying a blend of both styles. The façade of three-floors is built in classical Palladian style, while the rear of the castle is unique to 18th century Gothic Revival style. This difference is not only in architecture, but extends right up to the furnishings, fan vault ceilings and pseudo-medieval décor.
  • Year 1748: Castle Ward pass on to Bernard Ward’s eldest son Nicholas, under a settlement made in 1748. Nicholas, being insane, was moved to a smaller house in Downpatrick by his youngest brother Robert, after the demise of Edward, another brother elder to Robert. Edward died leaving behind a son. Robert went on to remove all valuable items from the castle, and it thus stood empty until the death of Nicholas in 1827.
  • Year 1827: In 1827, Edward’s son, who had become the third Viscount, inherited the castle and restored it. This process was carried out by his descendants till the death of the sixth Viscount of the Ward family, after which the castle ceased to be theirs.
  • Year 1950: The castle was taken over by the Government of Northern Ireland.
  • Year 1952: The Government of Northern Ireland handed over the castle, along with its gardens, to the National Trust in 1952.

Interesting Facts about Castle Ward

Castle Ward.  Ireland.

(Photo Credit: Par Ardfern )

  • Castle Ward remained with the Ward family until the 1950’s, until taken over by the Government of Northern Ireland, a surprising thing in those times. 
  • It is alleged that such was the incompatibility between Bernard Ward and his wife, Lady Ann Bligh, that they soon separated, but not before Ann bore Bernard eight children! 
  • The castle came into national news in 1973 when two members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army were killed there when their bomb exploded prematurely on the castle grounds.
  •  The castle has been the venue for hosting the Castleward Opera, an annual summer opera festival, from 1985 to 2010.
  • The castle won the Highly Commended Best Visitor Experience, at Northern Ireland Tourism Awards in 2014.
  • In 2015, Castle Ward House and Demesne were awarded a Silver Award in the Green Tourism Business Scheme.

Relationship to the Game of Thrones Series

You would have noticed several scenes filmed at Castle Ward and other nearby localities, that featured as Winterfell and House Stark in the Game of Thrones series by now:
Season 1 - Episode 1
The location where Lord Eddard Stark beheads Will was filmed in Northern Ireland as well
The location where Lord Eddard Stark beheads Will was filmed in Northern Ireland as well.  In fact, various other scenes where filmed at this very location. Remember the moment where Sansa travels with Lord Peter from the Eyrie (stronghold of House Arryn)?
The location where Lord Eddard, Rob, Jon, Bran and various other members of the Stark party finds dire wolfs were filmed at the Tollymore Forest Park.
The location where Lord Eddard, Rob, Jon, Bran and various other members of the Stark party finds dire wolfs were filmed at the Tollymore Forest Park.
Inside ‘the walls of Winterfell.’

Inside ‘the walls of Winterfell.’

Several additional features where built and added by the GOT Production team in order to establish authenticity to the world of Winterfell as we have come to know it.  The window ledge from where Bran plummets down can be seen in Castle Ward, as well as the ‘Archery Range’ that was set up for this Game of Thrones episode can be seen in the castle’s courtyard.
Lady Catelyn Stark visits her husband Eddard where he sits under the old Weirwood tree.

Lady Catelyn Stark visits her husband Eddard where he sits under the old Weirwood tree.

One of my absolute favorite features within the world of Winterfell is most probably the beautiful setting of the old Weirwood tree with the pond close by it.
King Robert Baratheon, his wife Cercei, their three children and the rest of the family and entourage arrive at Winterfell.  Most of these scenes where filmed at Castle Ward and the Paint Hall Studio facility.
The feast in honor of King Robert Baratheon takes place inside Winterfell Castle.
Season 6 – Episode 10
In season 6 we see Winterfell during winter.

In season 6 we see Winterfell during winter.

Another shot is a view from the battlements of the castle wall.

Another shot is a view from the battlements of the castle wall.

Lady Lyanna Mormont declares Jon Snow King of the North during a gathering inside the hall of Winterfell Castle.

Lady Lyanna Mormont declares Jon Snow King of the North during a gathering inside the hall of Winterfell Castle.

Rob and Sansa, seated at the main table inside the hall of Winterfell, listens in astonishment to Lady Lyanna Mormont.

Rob and Sansa, seated at the main table inside the hall of Winterfell, listens in astonishment to Lady Lyanna Mormont.

Video – Filming GOT at Castle Ward

A behind the scenes YouTube video about filming GOT at Castle Ward and other locations in Northern Ireland:

The Top Attractions at Castle Ward

  • Unique architectural styles: See a one-of-its-kind blend of classical Palladian and Gothic Revival architectural styles. The frontage of the building is in classical Palladian style with columns supporting a triangular pediment. The opposite side displays Georgian Gothic style with pointed windows, battlements and finials. These differing styles continue throughout the interior of the house, divided down the center.
  • The Game of Thrones filming sites:  See most of the 20 filming sites of the Game of Thrones and live out your fantasies by dressing up like your favorite Game of Thrones characters.
  • Nature’s Cradle: Inside the 820 acres spread of the castle, you can walk or cycle along the Lough Trail or through the sheltered woodlands and enjoy Nature’s flora and fauna.
  • Sunken Garden: Don’t miss the refreshing stroll through the sunken garden and enjoy the four-tier Victorian garden displaying subtropical plants and flowers of all hues.

Entry Fee

Adult*: £8.00 / Adult Standard admission: £7.27; Child*:  £3.80 / Standard: £3.45
Family*:  £19.80 / Standard: £18.00;  Groups: Check our link below.
*Gift Aid – See: Prices for more info

Timetable & Schedule

  • House: Last admission one hour before closing. Timed tickets apply to guided house tours.
  • The Barn is open throughout the year when primary schools are closed.
  • The Corn Mill operates on Sundays from Easter to September, 14:00 to 17:00.
  • The Tea-room, shop and second-hand bookstore: Open 15 to 19 February, 12:00 to 16:00; 16 to 18 March and 24 to 25 October, 12:00 to 17:00.
  • Note - Livestock grazing areas are out of bounds to dogs, and visitor access may be restricted between 1st March and 30th November.

Why Visit Castle Ward?

There are plenty of reasons to visit Castle Ward:
  • To marvel at the combination of classical Palladian and Gothic Revival architectural styles in the same building and find out in more details as to what led to this architectural travesty.
  • To get an insight into Ward family’s lineage and step into their shoes inside the house.
  • To get a unique experience of visiting the filming sites of the Game of Thrones.
  • To partake the natural beauty of the countryside and watch the shimmering tranquil waters of the Lough.

Other Noteworthy Attractions Close to the Castle & Filming Location

  • Winterfell Archery Range – An archery range was created especially for the Game of Thrones set in the premises of Castle Ward. You not only get a chance to visit this range, but also to dress up in character costumes and stand exactly where the characters of the series – Jon Snow, Robb and Bran Stark stood, and fire live arrows!
  • Dunluce Castle – Known in the Game of Thrones as Pyke of House Greyjoy. This imposing medieval castle known as, Dunluce Castle, is now in ruins. It is perched atop high rocky cliffs and offers a perfect setting for the Game of Thrones crude, quasi-pirates – the Greyjoys. Visit the abandoned Dunluce town and see the now rundown houses of stone merchants and archaeological diggings. 
  • Robb’s Camp – This site is located on the Strangford shoreline at Audley’s Field near Castle Ward in County Down. If you are a cycle enthusiast, you can follow a trail from the castle that leads to Robb's Camp. In the series, this is where Jamie Lannister was caged.
  • Walder Frey’s Twins – If you recall, in the Games of Throne, Walder Frey is the Lord of the Crossing and the head of House Frey. He rules The Twins and its surrounding lands, including the strategically important crossing of the Green Fork where the Starks sought Lord Walder’s audience to go across. On ground, Walder Frey’s Twins is a ruined medieval tower, located on the banks of Strangford Lough, County Down, that has been morphed into The Twins for filming purposes.

Join the Game of Thrones Northern Ireland Tour

If you should visit Ireland, there is a tour which includes visiting more than 20 filming locations. Find more info here.

Video - A Road Trip to Game of Thrones Filming Locations in Northern Ireland

Featured Next

Game Of Thrones Filming Location: Castillo de Almodovar Del Rio (Spain)
Relation to GOT: We are not sure yet, there is much speculation since this castle will for the first time feature in Season 7. What the word is out there is this location will serve in two-fold, firstly as High Garden (House Tyrell) and then as Casterly Rock (House Lannister). But more about that next week.

Video’s – GOT Behind the Scenes

Video – GOT Locations from around the World

Bonus Video’s - Filming of the Game of Thrones Season 7

  • The new Game of Thrones Season 7 leaks are already on the net. This YouTube video about current filming, speculates what’s in store in Season 7.
  • It is predicted that Season 7 will have the most reunions in the show’s history, with Arya Stark’s reunion being on center stage. She has met many people during her travels, both good and bad, and now that she is back in Westeros (or is it maybe Winterfell), she may run into some old, familiar faces.
Enjoyed this Article?
Let us know in the comments below, and share your own experience while visiting this magnificent castle in Northern Ireland with us.  We would love to hear from you.
Till next week.
Happy travels!

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