Northern Ireland

Dark Hedges suffer Easter crowds, cars and coaches

It was a case of not being able to see the wood for the cars at one of Northern Ireland's top tourist attractions over the Easter weekend.

The reality of the Dark Hedges did not live up to the fantasy for those visiting the tunnel of trees, made famous by Game of Thrones.

Image copyright @nigreenways

There was no chance of an unspoilt picture with cars and coaches blocking the road and honking their horns.

There are plans to close the road to traffic permanently.

Four objections have been raised to the plans and they are currently being considered, the Department of Infrastructure said.

'Not the right image'

Jonathan Hobbs, who works for voluntary campaign group NI Greenways, caught the chaos on camera when visiting the County Antrim attraction with his family on Easter Monday.

"You were jostling for space with cars and coaches and I could not let the kids out of my sight," he said. "Tourists travel thousands of miles to come to see this great Game of Thrones location.

"It was a horrible environment and not selling the right image of Northern Ireland."

Image copyright @nigreenways

He also expressed concern about the damage being caused to the trees' roots by the volume of traffic.

A hotel on the Dark Hedges estate, which is just a few minutes' walk from the tourist site, posted on its Facebook page that it has plenty of free car parking.

McComb's Coaches said it had discussed using the car park at a nearby golf club but access to the Dark Hedges would involve crossing a road "where cars go at such terrific speed, it would be an accident waiting to happen".

Image copyright Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Image caption The picture everyone wants

Caroline McComb, one of the company's directors, said unlike most other coach firms, hers would be in favour of closing the road as long as the infrastructure was put in place and the Dark Hedges remained free of charge.

"People absolutely love the Dark Hedges," she told BBC news NI.

"They just want a picture there and it is becoming more and more difficult to get one.

"There's lots of blame being put on the buses and coaches with regards to damage, but it is just not being maintained.

"Someone needs to take ownership or it will get more run down."

Tourist infrastructure

Jamie Laverty, 27, who works near the Dark Hedges and is originally from the nearby village of Stranocum, believes the majority of locals would be in favour of closing the road as the tourist attraction brings in revenue, but there would be some local landowners who would have objections.

"I pass the Dark Hedges on my way to work and even early in the morning, there are cars there," he said.

"It is a beautiful natural phenomenon and we need the tourist infrastructure if it is still going to be here in 30 years."

Image copyright Sky handout
Image caption The US TV series Game of Thrones is based on the fantasy novels of George RR Martin

A Department for Infrastructure spokeswoman said the proposed traffic order would ban most vehicles from the Bregagh Road, encompassing The Dark Hedges, between its junctions with Ballinlea Road and Ballykenver Road.

A package of measures, she added, would aim to "provide an improved experience for local people and visitors alike while helping to reduce the environmental impact on the tree tunnel".

Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council said it was "working with the landowners and Transport Northern Ireland to create a sustainable solution for the Dark Hedges".

The trees became famous around the world after they featured as the Kings Road in the HBO hit TV series.

There were originally about 150 of the beech trees, which were planted more than 200 years ago by the Stuart family along the entrance to their Gracehill House mansion.

About 90 trees remain, after some were felled during recent storms.

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