Following our visits to the Game of Thrones doors at The Cuan and Fiddler’s Green, we found ourselves making good enough time that we could stop by at Castle Ward where we were given a little taste of their “Winterfell Experience”. Various parts of Castle Ward have served as Winterfell, hosting such memorable scenes as King Robert’s arrival and Bran’s archery practice. Indeed, one of the activities offered at the site includes practicing your own archery in the very same spot where Bran and Theon practiced their archery in the first season.
The Northern Irish weather was not smiling upon us when we reached Castle Ward – there was a steady drizzle which saw fit to increase in intensity while we were there – but the greyness added to the (pardon the pun) stark experience of the site. Our guide, Dee Morgan, drove us down to the heart of “Winterfell” and introduced us to William van der Kells from Clearsky Adventure Centre who run the “Winterfell Experience”. He had been at Castle Ward since well before Game of Thrones came there, working for the National Trust which owns the site.
To start with, we hid indoors for a while as William gave us a presentation of what the site has to offer. If you come there for the “Winterfell Experience” you will be shown clips of the scenes shot at or around Castle Ward and photos that illustrate how sets and CGI were used to transform the location into Winterfell. I am always very impressed when I see how they manage to use and completely transform elements of an existing site.
William also talked a bit about the bike tours of filming locations that they offer, where you rent a bike that comes with “Stark Sack” that includes a map of locations, a cloak and a sword. They will also soon be launching an app that will interactively inform you of nearby filming locations when you are biking the trails around Castle Ward and then you will be able to play a clip of a scene filmed at that spot.
After the introduction, it was time to try out a part of the “Winterfell Experience”, namely the archery. Elio was stuck with the camera but I decided to get myself dressed up (the costumes you can borrow are all official Stark costumes) and William took us out to the archery range . I had tried archery once before, but it was a number of years ago, and my most recent experience in aiming a weapon at anything resulted in much amusement as I found out that it matters which eye you close when aiming…
So, I gave William fair warning but he was eager to take on the task of teaching me the basics of archery. To much surprise and my great pleasure, I picked it up much more quickly than I had expected—I must say that William was an excellent teacher! Yes, some arrows went astray at first, but after William explained a bit more how to calibrate for your dominant eye, they started to cluster together on the target. I never managed to hit the “stag’s heart” (a red balloon), but one arrow did brush it at least.
Alas, it wasn’t quite enough to save me from being executed!
Fortunately, I had some ointment to put on and then I felt right as rain again and left Castle Ward with a bit of an itch to do some more archery in the future. Both Elio and I would also love to return to the area, perhaps to hike or bike along the trails.
And here’s a little bonus video: