The Eyrie, Riverrun, Harrenhal and Dragonstone
We visited so many marvelous places in Westeros, but the Eyrie stands out in my mind as the most awe-inspiring of all the locations. Formidable House Arryn built the complex of castles over centuries—it was considered unbreakable, except of course by House Targaryn, whose dragons could easily summit it.
Our small group who had paid for this five-day adventure had been warned about the vigors of the mountain trek, only open to visitors in summer. We brought walking sticks, sturdy hiking boots, warm wind-breaker jackets, and had taken our high-altitude supplements. One of our party, a gentleman who had pooh-poohed the necessity of good walking shoes and wore flip flops, suffered a nasty fall down some steps and ended up with a head wound. He had to be walked back down by the EMTs from Sky, the third waycastle, accompanied by his tight-lipped wife.
Starting our journey at the Bloody Gate in the early morning, we walked through forestland to the Gates of the Moon where we gathered to learn about Eyrie-hiking safety. The oddest warning was about the eagles, who liked to swoop down and steal people’s hats. From here we walked to Stone, the first waycastle. The day was sunny and warm, and we laughed and joked about how easy it was. Our guides laughed too, telling us to remember how pleasant this leg of the journey was, when tomorrow we would take the treacherous road to Sky.
We lunched at Stone, a small castle built into the mountain’s feet with an imposing iron gate, then mounted mules to take us to Snow, the second waycastle. Here the road was very steep, winding up along the cliff-face, and the view from the back of my mule down into the chasm made me a little woozy. My husband fortified himself with Ativan to calm his nerves, and correctly did not look either down or up. Snow is a modest castle of only a single tower, and we were quartered like college students in a barracks-like setting, but the beds were comfortable and the food outstanding.
In spite of this I tossed and turned all night, worrying about the trip to Sky, which would take all day and be the most vigorous.
Adjusting to the altitude was difficult, but with the guides reminding us to take it slow, we pushed through it. There were a couple of harrowing moments of using hand holds—safety ropes were attached to the rock but I wanted to try it without, as the Arryns had—when I thought I would fall.
But this was worth it. Sky was only a fortress—a stone wall over which the defenders could push rocks down on any attacker. But above it stood the Eyrie, rising into the sky, spired and flagged, six hundred feet above us. Our guide showed us where the Moon Door could be seen through our binoculars. It was a chilling view.
We would summit the Eyrie that afternoon, arriving just before dark. Torch-light provided lights as the sun set behind us, throwing stark shadows on the gray rock. We had two nights at the Eyrie in the Maiden Tower, with tours of the harrowing sky cells and the High Hall were the Moon Door resides. It was a lonely place, and I could picture Lysa Arryn, already twisted in nature, becoming even more un-hinged during all the years she lived there.
House Tully’s Riverrun was a welcome sight as we traveled from the mountains and into the Trident valley. It’s a beautiful red sandstone keep, jutting into the confluence of two rivers. We recuperated here for two days after our exhausting trip to the Eyrie. The weather was warm enough that we could swim, a highlight for both of us.
Next was Harrenhal, a fascinating and monstrous place, half-ruined. The ruin is maintained exactly as a ruin—there are no plans to renovate, and this is because visitors want to see it the way it was. It’s the largest of all Westerosi keeps, and just as imposing. A tour of the entire place takes two days, but we opted for the shorter one, and from our cute little inn on the God’s Eye lake, we saw the House of the Hundred Hearths, the beautiful Godswood, and the Bear Pit.
From there we flew to Crackclaw Point and catamaraned out to Dragonstone, a place I was so excited to visit. It was far less impressive than I thought it would be, however, but mostly I wanted to see their collection of dragon glass and Daenarys memorabilia: gowns, dinner plates, jewelry and most famously, a long tress of her silver hair encased in a valyrian steel frame.
Next—at last!—Kings Landing, Casterly Rock and Highgarden.