If you want to go off the beaten path in Ireland and wow your friends with spectacular photographs, you need to find the Dark Hedges.
One of the most-photographed, yet least-visited, places in Ireland is an avenue of beech trees along the Bregagh Road near Ballymoney in Co. Antrim, known fancifully as the Dark Hedges. Planted over 200 years ago, the trees were originally intended to enhance the avenue leading to the Georgian splendor of Gracehill House, owned by the Stuart family. Whoever had the original idea was a true visionary, as the full glory of a beech avenue would not be visible in their lifetime because the trees take so long to grow.
Today, the avenue has become a public road, and the mansion part of a golf course. The trees edge large fields, and thankfully there has been no development or houses built along the avenue, so the trees can be appreciated in all their magnificence.
Photographers have long sought out the dark hedges because of the way the branches intertwine and the sunset lights the whole avenue with an otherworldly glow. I could wax lyrical, but that would be the proverbial dancing about architecture. Let’s just allow the picture to speak for themselves.
However, because the avenue is in a rural area in the middle of Antrim, it isn’t easy to find.
Recently, the location has been programmed into Google Maps, and appears to be reasonably accurate. GPS coordinates are at the bottom of the page.
The avenue has been used in several films and TV shows, most-recently it was seen in Game of Thrones, as Arya Stark escapes King’s Landing in company with the latest recruits heading for The Wall.
Beware the Grey Lady!
Like any Irish heritage site worth its salt, the dark hedges are said to be haunted. A woman dressed in grey is said to walk along the avenue at twilight, vanishing as she reaches the last of the breech trees. Whether this is just confusion over the White Lady of Sorrow (the resident banshee at Shane’s Castle) or the invention of the local chamber of commerce, everywhere needs a ghost story. Local lore says there’s an ancient graveyard somewhere along the avenue, unmarked; they say the Grey Lady will only rest when her grave is finally found and marked.
When you visit, you can easily believe in tales of ghosts, as the road is usually quiet and the sight bewitching. Try to be there for sunset if you want the most atmospheric photos, and park at the little lay-by around the bend, to keep your car out of people’s photos.
Where to find the Dark Hedges:
Address: Bregagh Road, Ballymoney, BT53 8TP
GPS/Sat Nav: BT53 8TT
Grid Reference: NW 20887 91002
Lat: 55.134488 Long: -6.3808250
At time of writing, the Bregagh Road has recently been closed to allow the removal of dead and diseased limbs. The local authorities are also in the process of installing signs pointing to the road; so, the avenue should be easier to find in future.