It is no surprise that the Dark Hedges has been known as the most photographed location in Northern Ireland. More tourists, artists, painters, and photographers are rushing to this place to catch a glimpse of this picturesque location which might be under threat of destruction.
Dark Hedges is an allée or an avenue of beech trees that are found in the county of Antrim in North Ireland, along Bregagh Road which is between Stranocum and Armoy. The canopy of trees has formed an atmospheric tunnel, which is used as a location by Home Box Office (HBO) for the popular television series known as Game of Thrones where it is known as the ‘King’s Road.'
Around the year 1775, James Stuart constructed a new house and named it Gracehill House after his wife, Grace Lynd. After the house was built, more than 150 beech trees were planted on each side of the entrance road to the property with the intentions of creating a grandiose appearance.
Centuries after the trees were planted, the site has become one of the most photographed places in Northern Ireland. Its appearance in HBO's popular series Game of Thrones has led to a large influx of visitors to the site. The Dark Hedges has also been used as a filming location for movies such as the Transformers: The Last Knight which was shot in 2017.
The Dark Hedges is said to have been visited by a ghost known as the Grey Lady. According to the legend, the Grey Lady travels through the road fluttering from one tree to another. The legend has it that the ghost is either the spirit of James Stuart's daughter who was called Cross Peggy, or one of the maids that worked in the estate but died mysteriously. Grey Lady is also believed to be a spirit from one of the graveyards beneath the fields that have been abandoned. It is said that on Halloween she is joined by other spirits from the graveyard.
In 2004, a tree preservation order was placed on the trees around the Dark Hedges, and this was done for the maintenance and preservation of the trees resulting in the establishment of the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust in 2009. By 2016, only 90 of the 150 beech trees that were originally planted by the Stuart family remained. According to a survey carried out in 2014, it was established that trees were all in different stages of health and would not withstand any more hazardous weather. There are two trees that have already been destroyed and another one damaged in January 2016 during Storm Gertrude. In February 2017, yet another tree came down as a result of Storm Doris.
With the increase of tourists in Dark Hedges, it has been discovered that vehicular traffic has been damaging the roots of the trees. The Woodland Trust stated that the increase in traffic levels might result in the trees only lasting less than twenty years due to surface rooting. In this regard, the Department of Infrastructure declared their arrangements to have the road closed to traffic as the tourists are causing degradation and damage to the site. Other threats to the Dark Hedges also include the doubling of sectarian slogans and graffiti on the trees. There is the availability of free parking space at the local hotel. Dark Hedges is also listed among the 12 best road trips in Ireland and the UK.