This was a fantastic tour, although there were some bumps along the way. My husband and I felt welcomed by the tour-guide and everything—mostly—went through as planned. Most of our companions on this tour were from our age group and we welcomed that feeling of security. The same touring company, “From Dorne to the Wall”, also sponsors adventure tours for the younger and fitter tourist, including long treks via horseback and sailing across the Narrow Sea in ocean-going galleys. I think the tourists opting for the galley crossing can, if they want, try out rowing as well.
Sailing up the Weeping Water, we started our 3 week tour at the Dreadfort. There are several options for direction and order, but we wanted to start at the North and end up in the South, for the obvious reason of being able to relax in the sun and warmth of Sunspear before traveling home. This also happens to be the most popular tour. For us, the option of completing at the Wall did not appeal, but those who love the winter sports preferred this route.
The tour developers preferred this too, I think, as for most of us it was a desire to get the worst out of the way first.
And the Dreadfort is the worst. Brooding, dark, and stony, it rises above the icy water, a crouching monster waiting for its prey. Unoccupied now, of course, its torture chambers and dog kennels are maintained by Westerosi dressed in the Flayed Man motif and more than happy to describe to us the horrors that took place there.
I loved this part, but my husband wanted to go back to the vehicle.
From there we traveled east to Winterfell. Some may want to save Winterfell for last, and I did, somewhat, agree, but it is a difficult place to spend time unless you are a Stark. As we toured the chilly, heavy, gray place, I thought of the Starks, and how they struggled to maintain honor among thieves. The godswood of Winterfell, however, was a magical place, and as we followed the wooden pathway through the wood to the weirwood tree in its center, the entire group fell silent. We had entered a sacred place, lush with mystery. I also very much liked the Stark catacombs as well.
The Wall was the most astonishing sight of the entire tour. It’s difficult to describe its height, and impact. We were lucky to have a sunny morning to view it, as by the afternoon low clouds moved in to obscure the top. I rode the elevator up to the summit, but my husband, who suffers from vertigo, declined. We had opted out of the tour that takes hardy folks north of the wall to the Frostfangs, but there was a morning tour leaving for Craster’s Keep that we took.
The view of the Wildlands is stunning. I’ve see spectacular views before, such as from the heights of Utah’s Bryce canyon, Tanzania from the slopes of Kilimanjaro, and Patagonia from Aconcagua—all when I was very much younger, of course. There is nothing to compare to the gob-smacking impact of endless wild forestland and brilliant, icy spires.
I will never forget Winterfell, definitely an emotional highlight for me. And I have a million photos of the place to brood over as well.
Next, Bear Island and Deepwood Motte. The fastest way to get there is to fly, and we chose this method. Hiking treks were offered, but it would take several days and we didn’t have the time. We landed at Bear Island, the home of the Mormonts. The castle is small, but imposing, and the Bear sigil flies from its multiple spires. We toured the castle and the town—my husband bought a Bear hat, because he loves bears—and then we took a catamaran over to Deepwood Motte, which was a bit of a turn-off for me because it had become so commercialized.
Then came a long southward trek along the Kings Road to Moat Cailin, the hold of Meera and Jojan Reed of the Greywater Watch. We both were especially anxious to see where these two remarkable children had come from. The Greywater keep sits on a crannog in the swamp lands near the Green Fork, and floats loosely around the marsh. It was stunning to stand at the castle walls to see the scenery change.
The island movement that day was very slow, so we bought sandwiches and perched on the edge, feeling the gentle sway and looking at the shape of the water change. I could understand why Jojan had developed into a savant, having grown up in this environment.
Next: The Twins, Iron Islands, and Baelish Keep!