Discover the seven kingdoms of Westeros, the land brought to life in George R. R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice seriesBustling cities, ancient wonders, and snow-peaked mountain ranges; the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros are an attractive destination for travelers (there’s a reason why so many invaders have crossed the Narrow Sea over the centuries). This guidebook will escort you through a realm rich in culture, jaw-dropping natural beauty, and Lannister gold, helping you to navigate a continent where the landscape shifts almost as often as the balance of political power. Whether you’re looking to don your furs and follow in the footsteps of the First Men, spend an evening sharing summerwine (and a lot more besides) in Dorne, or simply root out the best "Bowl o’Brown" in King’s Landing, this travel companion has you covered. Created with you in mind, this book (based entirely on George R. R. Martin’s smash hit fantasy series) includes: "must See" best sights in the Seven Kingdoms (and beyond); practical advice on getting around, where to stay and how to ensure you keep your head attached to your shoulders for the duration of your visit; an amusing and informative look at the history of the region for those wanting to learn more about their surroundings; and no spoilers for those who are fans of the HBO show.
|Publisher:||John Blake Publishing, Limited|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Daniel Bettridge is an author who has written for the Atlantic and the Guardian.
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A Travel Guide to the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros
By Daniel Bettridge
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2015 Daniel Bettridge
All rights reserved.
The North is the largest of the Seven Kingdoms: a landmass that covers everything south of the Wall and north of the Neck. Barren, cold and unforgiving, it may not have the exotic charm of Dorne or the bountiful harvests of the Reach, yet, for many, this snow-strewn landscape is the beating heart of Westeros.
Presided over for centuries by the Starks of Winterfell, the North is so vast that it is almost as large as the rest of the Seven Kingdoms combined. Besides the two land barriers that represent its northern and southern borders, the North is bound on each side by major seas: the aptly named Shivering Sea to the east and the Sunset Sea in the west. In between these two oceans lie leagues of barren plains, pockmarked with forests, mountains and the occasional sign of civilisation.
Although there is a 'frontier' flavour to much of Westeros it is only when you push further north that you truly experience what the edge of the world feels like. The kingdom is like a realm within a realm – in fact, it's easy to see why a king in the North presided over it until the War of Conquest. The popular imagination will tell you that the North is a perpetually frozen wasteland; an icy tundra of rocky outcrops and dense forests that is constantly blasted by ferocious weather, even in the height of summer. It's an exaggeration, of course, but not the most outlandish one you'll hear during your travels.
Though the landscape is wild, the North is not without its charms. There's beauty to the lakes, forests and icy tundra that make up the kingdom and if it's breathtaking landscapes you're after, you've come to the right place. There's also plenty of history here. As any Northerner will proudly tell you, the people up here can trace their lineage back to the First Men. It's not just the people who have stood the test of time either. From millennia-old landmarks like the Wall to ancient castles such as Winterfell, the North boasts one of the richest histories anywhere in the Seven Kingdoms.
The North is as much a state of mind as it is an actual place. On the surface, the people up here are as hard as the landscape they call home but get to know them and you'll quickly find out why they are proud to call themselves Northmen. There's a stoicism to those who've chosen to settle here, an inner strength and honour that is exemplified by the Starks, who have presided over these lands for centuries. But beyond the honour, there is also humour and a people who are as quick to laugh at themselves as they are the Southrons, whom they ceaselessly mock for their softness.
The main artery into the North is the Kingsroad, which is well maintained and relatively safe for travellers. From here, popular attractions such as Moat Cailin, White Harbor and the Wall are easily accessible but many people choose to base themselves in the kingdom's capitol of Winterfell and explore the region from there.
Warm furs: It really is as cold as they say up North, where even the warmest of summers come complete with snow flurries. As such, it is not uncommon to see Northerners missing an extremity or two, with ears, fingers and toes considered luxuries by those who are just happy to survive the starvation that goes hand in hand with the region's ravaging winters.
Unless you want to join them, be sure to bring your thickest riding furs and your sturdiest boots. Don't worry if you forget to pack your thermal breeches, however – local traders will happily part with basic equipment and provisions for a few coins.
A sword: Ever since the uprising of young Robb Stark, the King's Peace has taken a leave of absence in this part of the realm. Raiders from the Iron Islands are a common blight and the War of the Five Kings has also led to an increased number of outlaws along the Kingsroad. At the time of writing, the best advice is to carry a sword – you won't get very far without one.
Gold: Although the North is distinct in many ways, it is still a part of the Seven Kingdoms so your currency is good in these parts. However, you may find that it doesn't go as far as in other parts of Westeros, as the onset of winter means that locals prize a storeroom full of grain over a purse full of coins.
Guest rights – The obligations of hospitality are taken very seriously in this part of the Seven Kingdoms, where both noble- and common-born people stick closely to the guest rights that were originally laid down during the time of the First Men.
The guest right is a sacred law of hospitality, which states that any guest who has eaten food and drunk wine from a host's table is safe for the duration of their stay. The practice is observed by the vast majority of Northerners and it is believed that breaking the pact is one of the foulest crimes imaginable and one that will invoke the wrath of gods, both old and new.
In many parts of the North, guest rites are typically extended to visitors through the ceremonial offer of bread and salt on your arrival and only end once you leave your host's protection.
'Winter is coming' – The words of the House of Stark serve as something of a mantra for all Northerners, who are more closely entwined with the surrounding climate than those who reside anywhere else in the Seven Kingdoms. Though it serves as a warning, don't be surprised to hear it used either as a greeting or form of farewell anywhere north of the Neck.
When to Visit
The best part of the year is during the long summer when the weather is milder and more palatable for those more used to southern climes. However, at the time of writing, news has reached us that the Maesters have dispatched their White Ravens from the Citadel. Yes, winter is coming, so book now before it's too late.
Ancestral birthplace of the House of Stark, the North has long been home to some of Westeros's most noble noblemen. However, the recent actions of the 'alleged' traitor, Eddard Stark, have brought the House into disrepute and scattered the remaining offspring throughout the Seven Kingdoms. Today you're more likely to find a Bolton, or one of their bastards, in the North's more notable castles, with Lord Roose Bolton – the recently anointed Warden of the North – and his legitimatised son Ramsay among the more familiar faces you can expect to run into in this corner of the Seven Kingdoms.
A labyrinth of grey stone battlements and granite keeps, Winterfell is an oasis of civilisation that sits at the heart of the vast northern expanse of the Seven Kingdoms. Located on the Kingsroad, which runs from Storm's End to the Wall, this ancient seat of power lies on the confluence of the eastern fringes of the Wolfswood and the western branch of the White Knife.
The capital of the North, Winterfell is the seat of power for the House of Stark: a noble dynasty with a habit of putting honour before common sense, whose lineage extends back to the First Men themselves. Locals will tell you that there 'must always be a Stark in Winterfell': a mantra that goes some way to explaining how the family has presided over this remote settlement for some 8,000 years.
Like the land over which it presides, this stout fortress has weathered its fair share of adversity alongside a revolving door of inhabitants. But beyond resolute granite walls that have staved off long winters and wildling raiders lies the beating heart of the region; a capital that's filled with the down-to-earth hospitality for which Northerners are famed across the Seven Kingdoms.
Alongside Winter Town, a small local settlement made up of rustic wooden houses that extends beyond the castle's walls, Winterfell is a popular pit stop for the great and good of Westeros, from kings and queens to peasants and pirates. Its central location at the heart of the territory also makes it an ideal basecamp for those who are intent on exploring the wider northern area. Over recent years, however, the castle has also become a popular destination in its own right, with tourists flocking to the millennia-old fortress in order to soak up the history locked inside its stone walls or to soak away their troubles in the volcanic hot springs on which its foundations were built.
So whether you're passing through or staying for a few days, you'll quickly find yourself charmed by this ancient castle. It is a monument that never feels far away from the heart of the Seven Kingdoms, despite its isolated location.
By land: Winterfell is best approached by land, travelling via carriage or horseback along the bustling Kingsroad. The castle is around a month's ride from King's Landing, give or take time taken for hunting detours or fixing the occasional broken axle.
By sea: Those who don't fancy the idea of a month mounted in the saddle, or who are looking to avoid the prying eyes of the Kingsroad, can travel via sea. A ship following the Ice Dragon north from King's Landing can reach the city of White Harbor in roughly two weeks if the weather is fair. Trading vessels or Braavosi merchant ships are readily available along the Blackwater and will ferry you north for a handful of gold and a smattering of silver for their weary oarsmen. From White Harbor it's then just a short ride along the shores of the White Knife to Winterfell itself.
Dangers and Annoyances
Wildling raiders – As the capital of the North, Winterfell is by and large a safe destination for travellers, with the nearby garrison ensuring that the King's Peace is preserved. That doesn't mean that it's not without its dangers, however. The castle's proximity to the Wall means that Wildling gangs have been known to raid the nearby Wolfswood. Though few in number, the ever-depleting ranks of the Night's Watch mean that Wildlings have become an increasing concern, with one particular party even attempting to separate one of the young Stark lordlings from his possessions during a recent incident.
The Iron Islands – Relations with the nearby Iron Islands have also been strained since King Robert Baratheon's defeat of the Greyjoy rebellion. Although a recent insurrection at the hands of Theon Greyjoy – the onetime ward of Eddard Stark – was defeated, tourists should check for information before travelling to the area.
The weather – They're not called the Kings of Winter for nothing. It's bleak up north, a desolate snow-strewn landscape that can chill you to the bone even in the height of the sunny season.
Where to Stay
Despite the influx of tourism over recent years, there's still a relative dearth of decent accommodation for travellers headed to Winterfell, so booking ahead is a smart move unless you want to sleep in the stables for the duration of your stay.
While there isn't much choice, Winterfell does at least cater for a variety of budgets, with rooms ranging from fully outfitted dwellings within the castle itself to modestly attired quarters at nearby inns. At the time of writing, regeneration work on the now-abandoned First Keep has yet to be completed. Plans to renovate the Burnt Tower, which has remained vacant since being set ablaze by lightning some 140 years ago, has been halted after safety concerns were raised by a tragic accident that left a young lordling crippled.
The best time to visit is during the summer when the weather conditions are more amenable to southern tourists, who take the place of locals, who themselves leave to tend nearby farms and homesteads. Harvest festivals are also a popular time to visit, although accommodation can fill up fast as local bannermen and their entourages come to town. Those looking for a bargain – and a very real risk of frostbite – can make huge savings during the winter months. But be warned: the winter weather conditions are not for the faint of heart.
Although royal visits to these parts of the kingdom are rare (who can blame them?), it's always best to check before you travel, as a visit from the King and his court will ensure that even the best-laid plans descend into chaos. While the opportunity to see the Iron Throne's latest incumbent might sound tempting, an official visit from King's Landing will typically test Winterfell to the limits, with quarters filled and stores bled dry to accommodate the imperial visitors. Our advice is to send a raven before making the journey north.
If you're more accustomed to swankier surroundings, why not stay in style by stopping within Winterfell itself? The large bedchambers, many of which boast panoramic views over the nearby Godswood and the castle grounds, are expertly appointed with antique furnishings and the softest feather beds the North has to offer. The last word in luxury, the walls of each bedchamber have hot water from the nearby thermal springs piped through them, which means you'll stay toasty even in the depths of winter. The system is so efficient that many visitors will find that they don't even need to light a fire to stave off the plummeting temperatures. On-site dining options include the highly recommended Great Hall: a cavernous eatery, where visitors can hang out by the great fire with a cup of wine and a sample of some of the North's signature dishes.
Godswood Guest Houses (£££)
If you're looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of castle life, Winterfell's Guest Houses, which are located on the fringes of the castle's Godswood, are well worth checking out. Situated within easy walking distance of the castle's ancient Weirwood and just a stone's throw from three of Winterfell's thermal pools, the Guest Houses are popular with punters wishing to beat their fellow travellers to an early-morning or late-night dip.
The Smoking Log (££)
Expect a lively atmosphere at this local alehouse; a good value, home-away-from-home located just a short ride from the castle keep in Winter Town. Tuck yourself into one of the modestly appointed rooms, all of which come with featherbeds, a warm fire and hearty welcome from the local serving wenches. Ask for a back room to avoid the worst of the noise, or head down to the alehouse to join the beery throng for yourself. Prices include a simple breakfast but it's well worth spending a little extra silver to sample the local beers and pies that the establishment is renowned for.
Winter Town Residences (£)
Winter Town is packed with commonfolk during winter but in the summer years it remains mostly deserted, as Northerners abandon Winterfell to tend to farms and homesteads scattered across the surrounding area. Only around one in five homes are occupied during the warmer weather, which means that a burgeoning industry in holiday rentals has cropped up, with locals letting out their homes for a modest price. Made from log and stone, the village is filled with row upon row of these rustically appointed houses that make ideal dwellings for budget-conscious travellers.
Eating and Drinking
While southern palates tend to favour more delicately flavoured feasts, travellers will find that northern tables are stocked with food that is as rustic as the kingdom's inhabitants. For generations locals have been living off the land surrounding Winterfell, with vegetables garnered from local homesteads and meats hunted from the nearby Wolfswood supplemented by a steady stream of produce from the castle's glass gardens.
The castle's location at the centre of the northern kingdom also makes it a busy hub for traders and merchants from across the North. Whether it's mutton from Deepwood Motte or fresh crabs from the Bay of Seals, Winterfell is a mecca crammed full of mouthwatering treats, local delicacies and some of the best craft beers in the Seven Kingdoms.
The castle and nearby Winter Town offer a smorgasbord of authentic northern fare, from the ubiquitous artisan pies that adorn alehouse menus to suckling pigs roasted to sizzling perfection on an open fire. For many visitors, one of the biggest holiday dilemmas is deciding where to indulge their tingling taste buds. Our advice? Ditch the diet and eat as much as you can – if nothing else, the extra calories might help you to stave off the bone-rattling cold for an hour or two.
No trip to Winterfell would be complete without sampling the castle's famed local delicacy, blackberry preserve. Grown year round in the castle's glasshouses (see page 30), the fruits are artificially ripened by the warmth of the volcanic springs beneath the castle foundations to bring a taste of spring to the land of winter.
The country around Winterfell can be a cold and energy-sapping land, so it's no surprise that breakfast is one of the most important meals for its northern residents. Locals typically break their fast with bread, cheeses, soft-boiled eggs and rashers of bacon served with locally sourced honey and blackberry preserves. A particular favourite in these parts are small fish from the nearby White Knife, which are lightly fried and washed down with a flagon of beer or a cup of mint tea. Delicious!
Winterfell residents enjoy their booze as much as the rest of the Seven Kingdoms, so don't be surprised to see a flagon of ale or a cup of wine served alongside your meal, even at breakfast. Visitors are welcome wherever the locals sup: the Smoking Log being one of the castle's most popular watering holes.
Excerpted from A Travel Guide to the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros by Daniel Bettridge. Copyright © 2015 Daniel Bettridge. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
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Table of Contents
Welcome to Westeros,
The Iron Islands,
The Vale of Arryn,