The Dark Hedges of Northern Ireland – A Photographer’s Guide

“A Magical Tree Tunnel in County Antrim”

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The Dark Edges - Northern Ireland - Giuseppe Milo
The Dark Edges - Northern Ireland - Giuseppe Milo

The Dark Hedges

The Dark Hedges is one of the most photographed locations in all of Northern Ireland.  Beech Trees line Bregagh Road and form a stunning tree tunnel, making it a perfect photo destination.  Planted in the 18th century by the Stuart family, the trees were intended to be a beautiful addition to the entrance of the family manor Gracehill House. Over time the trees grew to create a distinctive and somewhat creepy passageway to the estate. There is not a lot of info on why it is called the Dark Hedges, as there are no hedges at the location, but the name has stuck.

The Dark Hedges Beech Tree Closeup - Photo by Johan Wieland CC by-sa
The Dark Hedges Beech Tree Closeup - Photo by Johan Wieland CC by-sa

The Legend of the Grey Lady

The beech trees that make up the Dark Hedges have a bent and gnarled appearance that adds to its otherworldly and spooky atmosphere. Not surprisingly, a location this creepy has a ghost story to go with it. Legends tell of the Grey Lady who dances in the shadows between the trees, seen just out of the corner of the visitor’s eye. The Grey Lady is rumoured to be Cross Stuart, daughter of James Stuart who built the manor. Or maybe she is housemaid from the Manor who died under mysterious circumstances. While the story may vary, there is little doubt that if ghosts exist, they haunt this place.

Dark Hedges near Armoy - Photo by Colin Park CC by-sa
Dark Hedges near Armoy - Photo by Colin Park CC by-sa

The Kingsroad

In recent years the Dark Hedges has risen to prominence as Kingsroad in the HBO television series, Game of Thrones. Almost overnight the location became a must visit photo destination after making an appearance in the second episode. Initially choked with tourists and their cars, to protect the area the local government decided to close the road to vehicle traffic to preserve it. As well, given its newfound popularity, local conservationists and tourists dollars are helping to protect and preserve the 250-year-old trees for future generations. The Dark Hedge Trust works to ensure that graffiti and other damaging effects of ignorant humans no longer damage this beautiful photography location.

Dark hedges in Soft Focus - Photo by Martin Hesketh
Dark hedges in Soft Focus - Photo by Martin Hesketh

Photographing The Dark Hedges

As a photo location, The Dark Hedges is almost perfect. There is free parking at a hotel two minutes away. There is a tremendous diversity of weather conditions, and the road travels to a distant vanishing point. It should go without saying that this location is fantastic on a foggy day. So what’s the biggest challenge? Other people.

As is often the case for the serious photographer, locations like this are at their best offseason and early or late in the day. Sunrise is undoubtedly the best because most people don’t get out of bed soon enough. If you can catch it on an early foggy morning, the location is at its very best.

As a bonus, The Dark Hedges is about a half hour drive from the Giant’s Causeway, another spectacular photo location.  As well, the Gracehill mansion still stands today and is a great photo spot in its own right. It is now home to a golf course and is also very picturesque.

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The Dark Hedges - Photo by Johannes Plenio
The Dark Hedges - Photo by Johannes Plenio

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