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Mountains in the Land of Ice and Fire

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IE, Leinster, Birr
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Perhaps the one series in the 21st century that has the biggest following is Game of Thrones.

And why not?

Nail-biting storyline aside, the series is shot at some of the best locations in the world. From Croatia, to Spain and from Iceland to Ireland – every set is as intricate as the next and has left the viewer with some serious travel goals! Here are a few mountains from the Land of Ice and Fire that you should not miss!

Mourne Mountains

Mournes Mountains (Photo Credit: wikimedia)

Mournes Mountains (Photo Credit: wikimedia)

Location:  Northern Ireland
Age:  Between 400 million – 50 million years ago

Northern Ireland’s highest!

Located in County Down of Ireland’s Ulster province, these beautiful mountains are named after a Gaelic tribe called the Múghdhorna. Popular with tourists, this mountain range is regarded as the highest in Northern Ireland and has been hailed as a great walking destination because of its meandering natural tracks. The mountains are located 31 miles (50 km) south of Belfast and over 62 miles (100km) north of capital Dublin.
Mountain fact file
Continent: Europe Country: Ireland
Province/State: Ulster
Location:  County Down
Height: Highest peak is Slieve Donard at 850 m (2,790 ft)
Range:  Mourne Mountains
Coordinates:  54.1533° N, 6.0663° W
Prominence:  highest mountain range in Northern Ireland
The Best Time to Visit Mourne Mountains:  May – September

Relationship to Game of Thrones Series

You might remember the first time you fell in love with Game of Thrones was while watching the very first episode. It is here that we encounter the Mourne Mountains. Much later in the same season, it was the location showing the entry to Vaes Dothrak with Mt. Slievemageogh in the background. We also see the mountains in season three when the Tollymore Forest located nearby was used for Theon Greyjoy’s failed escape from his captors: Season 1 - Episode 1 & Season 3 - Episode 3

Geology and Formation of Mourne Mountains

The largely granite mountain range is interspersed with shale and mudstone in many areas. The high Mournes were formed a mere 56 million years ago after a great amount of volcanic activity, succeeding the extinction of dinosaurs. However older mountains in the range even date back to 400 million years, when the Iapetus Sea separated Northern Ireland and Scotland from the UK landmass. Today there are about 28 mountains in this range! 

Most Interesting Fact

  • Geologists say it took at least six ice ages to reveal the Mourne Mountains as they are today! 

Most Important Travel Tip

  • Make sure you carry good walking gear and warm clothes. Pack a rainproof jacket, a fleece jumper and extra socks. Also check the weather before you head here. 

Most Important Hiking Tip to Hike this Mountain

  • The Mourne Mountains are a mix of rock and heathland which means that they can get boggy even when there has been no rain. Watch where you walk and we suggest you wear waterproof walking boots. 

List of Hiking Routes/Treks Available at Mourne Mountains

  • Slieve Donard via Glen River Level: Beginners to Intermediate.
    Distance: 2.9 miles. We promise you that a visit to the Mourne Mountains is not complete without a hike to the highest peak in Northern Ireland – Slieve Donard. This route begins in Donard Park and follows the Glen River before arriving at the Mourne Wall from where you will climb the summit. Once at the top do not miss the photo opportunities of Newcastle, Isle of Man, Wales and Scotland! 
  • Mourne Wall ChallengeLevel: Intermediate.
    Distance: 22 miles. This hike will take you nearly a day and follows 22 miles of the
    Mourne Wall, which spans 15 mountains!  Avid walkers will LOVE this strenuous route that includes 7 of the 10 highest mountains in the country. This walk should not be attempted in large groups because of erosion along the wall.

Most Fascinating Secret, Legend / Myth

Your trip won’t be complete without a folksy story like that of Jenny’s Hill. Legend has it that a witch resided here and was noted to play tricks on travelers. She was later tried for her crimes and burned at the stake on the hill. Long after, she is said to haunt the hill in the form of a white rabbit so if you see one, do not dare cross it!

The Top 5 Reasons to Visit Mourne Mountains

  • Hikers Heaven: Noted as one of the best walking destinations in the country, it is hard to see why not. Hikers will cross waterfalls, rock slides and beautiful meadows. Why say no to what could be the best experience of your life! 
  • Relive Game of Thrones: Imagine you are back in time and traversing the high mountains as part of an army in the Game of Thrones. The experience is very real, trust us! 
  • Inspiration of Narnia: For all you C.S. Lewis lovers, did you know that these mountains were the original inspiration of another magical land – Narnia? Moreover, it was the subject of this 1896 poem by William Percy French. 
  • Defying Gravity: You can watch a parked car defy gravity at the Electric Brae hill. Cars appear to run backwards uphill, possibly due to a magnetic pull or supernatural powers? Hmm! 
  • A break from technology: Disconnect from social media and your phone while on the hike since you might not get a signal here! 

The Top 3 Attractions at Mourne Mountains 

  • The Goward Dolmen are the remains of a portal tomb dating back to 2500 B.C. Located off the Hilltown Road, it was part of someone’s garden. In 1834, a cremation urn and a flint arrowhead were excavated here.
  • The Kilnassagart Inscribed Stone is perh he oldest inscribed stones in Ireland. A total of 13 crosses can be found on it with the inscription that commemorates the death of a man called Temoc whose death was recorded in A.D. 714, dating the stone to the 8th century! 
  • Visit the old churches of Killeavy at the foot of Slieve Gullion. There are numerous churches here dating back to the 11th and 15th centuries. Earlier, a monastery founded by St. Moninna in A.D. 517 was here too, one of the important monasteries for nuns in Ireland during the Medieval Ages.  

The Top 3 Activities Available at Mourne Mountains 

  • Walking Festivals:  Come here for the annual walking festivals like the Mourne International Walking Festival in June and the Wee Binnian Walking Festival in September. Get to meet amazing fellow travelers too! 
  • Microlight Flight:  Feel as majestic as an eagle as you look over the mountains on a Microlight Flight. You can even take over the controls for a while!
  • Wet Bouldering:  You’ll need to put on your wetsuit for this adrenaline-filled activity as you walk, scramble jump and climb across a river. 

Vatnajökull

Vatnajökull (Photo Credit: wikimedia)

Vatnajökull (Photo Credit: wikimedia)

Location:  Iceland
Age:  Formation started during the last Ice Age

Iceland’s Frozen Wonder

South-east Iceland has Europe’s biggest glacier – Vatnajökull. Derived from the Icelandic words ‘vatna’ meaning water and ‘jökull’ meaning glacier, the vast mountainous area spans a whopping 13,900 square kilometers! The ice cap covers nearly 14% of the whole country and includes the country’s highest peak Hvannadalshnúkur at 6,920 ft. With hidden treasures like underground volcanoes, rock formations and glacial rivers, Vatnajökull was declared a protected national park in 2008 but is open to visitors especially Game of Thrones fans! 
Mountain fact file
Continent: Europe
Country: Iceland
Location: South-east Iceland
Height: Highest mountain is Hvannadalshnúkur at 6,920 ft
Range: Vatnajökull
Coordinates: 64°24′N 16°48′W
Prominence: situated in one of Europe’s largest national parks
The Best Time to Visit Vatnajökull: June – September

Relationship to Game of Thrones Series

Remember the mysterious continent Westeros that lies Beyond the Wall? Well Vatnajökull is just that with its bluish ice and numerous mountaintops; you may just start looking out for giants, wildlings or the Night’s Watch! Most of the series icy scenes are shot here including Season 2 because of which footfall to this region has increased. You can the Svínafellsjökull Glacier featured as part of the background in many shots.
Episode: All Westeros scenes in season 2 were shot here.

Geology and Formation of Vatnajökull

Evidence suggest that the glacier was formed largely during the glacial period about 6,000 to 8,000 years ago when numerous volcanic eruptions occurred and in turn led to many subglacial eruptions. Though it is largely covered by ice, there is presence of granite and volcanic rock underneath it owing to the hidden volcanoes. 

Most Interesting Fact

  • The Guinness Book of World Records says that Vatnajökull is the object of the world's longest sight line of 550 kilometers from Slættaratindur in the Faroe Islands. Phew! 

Most Important Travel Tip

  • Be properly prepared before venturing out here. Keep in mind weather conditions may change suddenly. Carry safety equipment especially communications and navigation devices. In case of an emergency, dial 112. Visit safetravel.is that will give you the latest alerts.

Most Important Hiking Tip to Hike this Mountain

  • The National Park has campgrounds so be sure to carry your backpacks and sleeping bags along with other camping equipment. If you love driving, the highlands are accessible during summer months but be sure to go in a 4X4 vehicle. 

List of Hiking Routes/Treks Available at Vatnajökull

  • The Skaftafellsjökull Route 
    Difficulty:  Beginners
    Distance:  3.7 km
    The trail starts from the Skaftafell Visitor Centre and ends near the Skaftafellsjökull glacier. While part of the path is paved, you will mostly be walking on gravel. Follow the instructions for your own safety especially once you reach the glacier. 
  • The Skaftafellsheiði Route
    Difficulty:  Intermediate
    Distance:  16.7 km (round-trip)
    Hike up from the Skaftafell Visitor Centre again go all the way to the breathtaking Svartifoss waterfall and then to Sjónarsker. However if you want the short way out, cross the river next to Magnúsarfoss and from there head to Sjónarsker and continue to Gláma which will take you back to the visitor center. 

Most Fascinating Secret, Legend / Myth

  • According to legend Ásbyrgi a horseshoe-shaped canyon with sheer cliff inside the Vatnajökull National Park, was formed by Sleipnir, Norse god Odin's eight-legged horse when he put his hoof down as the god rode on. 

The Top 5 Reasons to Visit

  • Exotic fauna:  Encounter wild reindeer, the Arctic fulmar nesting on steep cliffs, puffins and other migratory birds here
  • Camping opportunities:  You can customize your trip instead of going in a tour group. Don’t miss the opportunities of meeting like-minded people and making lifetime friends!
  • Fire under ice:  Unlike most mountain ranges, you can literally see the fire quotient – the granite ground – due to volcanic eruptions under the vast icy expanse
  • Movie set:  The ice cap was the location of Christopher Nolan’s space film Interstellar 
  • Europe’s largest national park:  Wouldn’t you want to go and see what all the fuss is about? After all going to a protected park is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!  

The Top 3 Attractions at Vatnajökull

  • The Crystal Cave:  Iceland’s largest cave in the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier called the Crystal Cave, will make you fall in love on first sight. Since these caves generally change location, don’t miss this attraction.
  • Skaftafell:  Take a break from the icy locale and go to Skaftafell with its magnificent contrasts black sands and green meadows contrasted against the park’s icy peaks. It used to be an isolated area until the 70’s when a bridge was installed connecting it to the Ring Road of Iceland. Come here to listen to the traditional song ‘Sveitin milli sanda’ performed by locals.
  • Nature’s hot tubs:  Visit Iceland’s famous hot geothermal pools at Hoffell. Imagine yourself immersed in a hot tub with cold glaciers as a view. Wow!   

The Top 3 Activities Available at Vatnajökull

  • Snowmobile tours:  You could finally make true your dream by touring on a snowmobile! Apart from the normal hiking tours, the park offers this unique way of exploration. The tour will take you through all kinds of scenes!
  • Thorbergur Center:  Eat a meal at the Thorbergur center which was once a stable for sheep. Eat some Arctic trout and lamb meat here. There is also a cultural center attached to this building if you want to peek inside. 
  • Photography tours:  If you are a photographer or want to try your hand at it, you can join a photography tour which will take you to hidden places in the park and around. In fact each season features specialties like northern lights, ice caves or migratory birds. These tours also host courses and workshops. 
Sierra Alhamilla
Location:  Spain
Age:  Upper Miocene period, approx. 7 million years old

Under the Andalusian sky

Taking a departure from the snowy terrain, we move on to the warmer Alhamilla Mountains in Spain which are spread over 8500 hectares in Andalucía. They lie between the Tabernas Desert and the Bay of Almeria in the south of the country and hence are arid mountains. Unlike other parts of Spain, you’ll be surprised to know that Moorish people had influence on this region and hence the name. The grand mountains have nurtured wildlife and plants despite arid conditions and have been declared Special Protection Area for Birds (SPA) by the European Union.
Mountain fact file
Continent:  Europe
Country:  Spain
Province/State:  Almería
Location:  Andalusia, southern Spain
Height:  Highest peak is Colativi at 1,387 meters above sea level
Range:  Sierra Alhamilla
Coordinates:  36 ° 59'20 "N 2 ° 21'05" W
Prominence:  lie between Tabernas Desert and the Bay of Almeria
The Best Time to Visit Sierra Alhamilla: October - April

Relationship to Game of Thrones Series

We first lay eyes on this glorious landscape in season 6 of Game of Thrones when the Mother of the Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen is captured by the Dothraki clan. The jagged landscape is the perfect setting for the plains of the Dothraki Sea; we see the two horses intertwined at the gate as the captive is lead in. We also know that the Baños de Sierra Alhamilla were used as the only town at Dothraki Sea. The nearby village of Pechina was also used as a settlement of the Dothrakis.
Episode: First seen in Season 6 Episode 1 and then successive episodes

Geology and Formation of Sierra Alhamilla

These beautiful jagged, rustic wind-beaten mountains lying in the Tabernas basin was uplifted in the Upper Miocene period due to volcanic activity, some some 7 million years ago and closed a narrow marine intermountain basin where there was once a sea, and the los Filabres mountain range to the north. The mountains have steep slopes, the result of erosion of schist and quartzite by water and wind. Although they look lifeless, they act as a large lung oxygenating plains nearby which means there is a lot of wildlife and flora!

Most Interesting Fact

  • You’d be surprised to learn that these mountains are home holm oaks, which are relics from the time when there was actually a forest here! 

Most Important Travel Tip

  • Since there are limited things to do here, drive down for the day from Almeria city which is 15 kilometers away or you can stay the night in one of the small villages of Tabernas or Níjar. 

Most Important Hiking Tip to Hike this Mountain

  • The temperature this side of Spain will be scorching. Be sure to pack lots of sunscreen, water, hats and a survival kit in your bagpack! We warn you that there are no water sources on the trails.

List of Hiking Routes/Treks Available at Sierra Alhamilla

  • The Colativi Climb
    Difficulty: intermediate/advanced;
    Distance: 12 kilometers
    To climb to the highest peak of Sierra Alhamilla, you can take the path from the village of Turrillas –you could drive to the foot of the peak and then start your climb. There is also a cycling route that takes visitors up to the peak. Once on the peak, you could take the Al-19 trail that will descend to the beautiful village of Nijar.
  • Cerro del Puntal cycling route
    Level: Beginners to Intermediate;
    Distance: 10 kilometers
    This route is mainly surfaced which is best if you love biking uphill. Turn off the N340 road to get to the starting-point of the path and take a dirt track up to the TV transmitter on Cerro del Puntal. Don’t forget to take photos of the Tabernas desert.

Most Fascinating Secret, Legend / Myth

You’d be surprised to learn that in Almería province where Sierra Alhamilla is located, there is historical evidence based on maritime archaeology to show that the very Muslims who had ruled over Provence in southern France originated from Almería. 

The Top 5 Reasons to Visit

  • Desert Mountains:  You may think a desert would be lifeless, but the Alhamilla Mountains speak otherwise! Interesting species of wildlife including birds of prey like Bonelli's eagle, the golden eagle, eagle-owl, lesser kestrel and peregrine falcon can be found here. 
  • A set:  These mountains were not only the set for a season of Game of Thrones, but were also the setting of Ridley Scott’s 2014 biblical film Exodus: Gods and Kings. 
  • Rich history:  These mountains and the surrounding regions have seen a variety of different periods including the Romans and later the Fatimids and the Umayyads. History buffs will be keen to learn that region was once the primary link to the Islamic world.
  • Hikes:  The hikes are not your regular run of the mill ones. If you are an avid hiker or just an outdoor junkie, you’ll love the change of landscape here since it is challenging.
  • Beautiful landscapes:  Views from the top of the Sierra Alhamilla are like none other! Feel like a Moses while he separated the Red Sea, except there is no water but the vast Tabernas desert and surrounding villages.  

The Top 3 Attractions at Sierra Alhamilla

  • El Chorrillo de Sierra Alhamilla:  Quite like an oasis, this spot at the foothills of the mountains is scattered with palm trees, pine and eucalyptus, and more than often has been featured in movies and series to create the appearance of ancient cities. 
  • Baños de Sierra Alhamilla:  These natural hot springs have existed through centuries from the Romans to the Arabs! Today the site is home to a spa hotel, restaurants and bars. Check out the views from here! 
  •  Níjar:  This small town at the foothills of Alhamilla Mountains is best known for Andalusia’s best glazed pottery. Walk to the Plaza La Glorieta which is overlooked by Santa María de la Anunciación church and the Plaza del Mercado, which has a small museum. 

The Top 3 Activities Available at Sierra Alhamilla

  • Tabernas village:  Explore this village and its castle at the foot of the mountains, which used to be a place for Roman troops to stop and rest during military campaigns. The castle dates back to the 11th century and is of Arabic Nazari style. It is believed that last Moorish king surrendered to the Catholic kings in 1489 here.
  • Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park:  About an hour’s drive away is Andalusia’s biggest coastal protected area. Get the best of the desert and the beach here as you relax on the beach or go out into the water.
  • Mountain Biking tours:  If you are a bike enthusiast, we recommend that you explore the region this way. Most tours are not just restricted to the mountains and offer tours to nearby villages.  

Kirkjufell

Location:  Iceland
Age:  formation started in the Last Ice Age

An Adventure In The Land Of Ice

One of Iceland’s most photographed spots, the Kirkjufell mountains (Icelandic for Church Mountain), is located in western Iceland’s, Snæfellsnes Peninsula, right next to the famous town of Grundarfjörður. Not only is the mountain spectacular, the area around it is full of waterfalls (particularly Kirkjufellfoss) and beaches, hiking trails and vibrant birdlife; not to mention their marine neighbors – the seals and whales!
 
The peninsula is situated only a day trip away from the capital city of Iceland, Reykjavik, and whether you decide to climb the mountain or simply stare at the waterfalls, it is a trip not worth missing if you are in Iceland.
Mountain Fact File
Continent:  Europe
Country:  Iceland
Location:  Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Height:  463 m
Range:  Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Coordinates:  64.9417° N, 23.3069° W
The Best Time to Visit Kirjufell: May-September

Relationship of Kirkjufell to the Game of Thrones Series

Although this mountain makes an insignificant background appearances in Season 6 of Game of Thrones, we finally get its full view of it in Season 7-Episode 6: Beyond the Wall.
 
Jon Snow and a his band of unruly ‘brothers’ have just arrived at the mountain to find the army of the dead North of the wall. (The Hound, whom had a vision of a mountain in the shape of an arrowhead (which is played by Kirkjufell) points out the peak he sees at that moment right in front of them, and Snow knows exactly where to go.
Episode: Glimpses in season 6. First full view in Season 7 Episode 6: Beyond the Wall

Geology and Formation of Kirkjufell and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

The formation of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, including Kirkufell, is said to have taken place over two (2) volcanic periods (http://www.jonfr.com/volcano/?p=693), the earlier one of which happened between 15 and 7 million years ago, and the later, which started 2 million years ago. Researchers put the age of the peninsula at 700,000 years ago, based on the cooling and hardening of volcanic lava. (The last eruption from the famous Snæfellsjökull volcano in the peninsula, was around 200 A.D.)

Most Interesting Fact about Kirkjufell

Kirkjufell features high amongst Iceland’s most photographed spots, which is not without reason. You must have seen Ben Stiller zoom down the road with Kirkjufell in the background in the film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Most Important Travel Tip

At any time of the year, be prepared for strong, cold Arctic winds. Be sure to carry something warm and waterproof, especially if you plan to visit the waterfalls and beaches near Kirkjufell.

Most Important Hiking Tip to Hike Kirkjufell

Do not attempt to scale the mountain alone, but hire a guide to accompany you, since the climb is steep and slippery.

Climbing/Hiking up Kirkjufell

The majestic mountain doesn’t really have any fixed paths to climb, - hikers have to be dependent on goat paths and ropes. According to climbers, the hike up is quite risky and challenging, and it takes about an hour and a half to reach the summit from where you will be awarded with spectacular views of the peninsula. The climb is definitely not for those who suffer from vertigo. You can watch a part of the rope climb here

Most Fascinating Secret, Legend / Myth

Visitors will be surprised to learn that Kirkjufell’s neighboring and famous glacier, Snæfellsjökull, is believed by many Icelanders as a sacred place that is protected by a vortex of feminine energy

The Top 5 Reasons to Visit Kirkjufell

  1. Iceland’s most photographed spot: Why miss visiting one of Iceland’s iconic spots when you can make a road trip of it from Reykjavik, and make your friends jealous?
  2. Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall: Although the three-pronged waterfall (https://icelandaurora.com/photo-tours/kirkjufell/) is not very tall, it adds to the mystique of Kirkjufell, and is great for a icy dip.   
  3. Bird and sea life: If you are a nature lover, you will be blessed with views of puffins, seals and whales in the sea, accompanied with boat trips where you can go deep sea fishing.
  4. GOT fanfare: Imagine yourself as a part of Jon Snow’s mates, or the man himself, standing under the mysterious mountain. Thrilling, isn’t it?
  5. Sleepy town of Grundarfjörður: Visit this sleepy town where you can camp, relax in an outdoor hot tub, eat some Icelandic food and stay for cheap.

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