By : Eleanor McGillie
THE news that Game of Thrones is coming to an end with Season 8 being the last, Northern Ireland is well known globally for its spectacular filming locations as well as its Game of Thrones® visitor experiences. Eleanor McGillie of Live It Experience It takes ‘Time Out’ to chat with Flip Robinson of Giant Tours Ireland about his life from being a young boy to being a stand in actor for ‘Hodor’ and ‘The Mountain’ in Season 6.
Do you consider your youth to have influenced where you are today?
Very much so. Growing up on the North Coast I was learning my craft from a very early age. As a youngster I actively spent my time exploring local cliffs, bays, beaches, forests, glens and islands on offer nearby with my parents and younger siblings. It was very much a youth well spent.
What about your teenage years?
My teenage years were spent doing the same with friends but it was when I was a teenager that I then shifted my attention from the land to the ocean so I ventured out onto the water to learn how to surf and I also joined local sub aqua and sailing clubs. I was doing anything to get myself out and braving Ireland’s weather.
Where did your passion for the great outdoors take you?
My keen interest in nature resulted in my decision to study Environmental Science which helped me develop my understanding of the North Coast of Ireland’s geology and landscape formation that I am very much a part of.
Did you combine your studies with your passion for your natural surroundings?
I did indeed. I worked as a Wildlife Warden, a Ranger and a Visitor Experience Guide at the world famous natural UNESCO site – The Giant’s Causeway. I also worked at the famous Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge which of course is another bucket list must for those who can hold their nerve long enough to cross it. I also spent years volunteering with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) as an Inshore Lifeboat Helmsman and as a member of Ballycastle’s Coastguard Search and Cliff Rescue Team.
When Lonely Planet voted Northern Ireland as a must visit destination what changed for you?
Like many people from these parts I have a love and passion for The Causeway Coast and Glens which is the area listed by Lonely Planet as the 2018 must visit destination. So I enrolled in a tour guiding course, I bought a VW van, created Giant Tours Ireland and I have never looked back since. Giant Tours Ireland is about showcasing, to the rest of the world, how beautiful the North Coast of Ireland’s coastline is. I do this by going off the beaten track with tourists who were more keen to avoid the more crowded tourism hotspots.
You are a huge fan of Game of Thrones. But what happened next in your career was quite unexpected for you.
Very much so. When Game of Thrones Season 6 was coming up, I had the good fortune of being selected to be a stand in actor on Game of Thrones® for the major characters of ‘Hodor’ and ‘The Mountain’. So I combined my love for this place with my knowledge of Game of Thrones to create a very unique Game of Thrones tour. We are very lucky that Ballycastle is at the heart of many of the filming locations. I can bring fans to the actual locations and to the spots where the iconic cast and talented crew work to create the masterpiece which has enchanted people around the globe. This tour allows visitors to immerse themselves in the stunning places which have made Northern Ireland the ideal filming location. HBO will be filming three prequels in the future and leaving legacy sets as tourism destinations in Northern Ireland. Visitors on my private tours also get to hear the copious amounts of behind-the-scenes stories from my own experience with the cast. Hodor was a much loved character and I was involved in the actual scenes that led to his tragic and extremely sad end.
And of course your tours are highly rated.
Yes and it’s because of my experience with the cast which gives me the valuable content for my tours which has seen my visitors rate Giant Tours Ireland so highly on TripAdvisor. All of the reviews of these tours are Five Star Rated on TripAdvisor and this is something I am extremely proud of. I suppose it’s these authentic experiences which enable me to bring private small groups of dedicated Game of Thrones® fans to see and stand on the exact locations which most visitors do not get to reach and this all happens at a very relaxed pace.
Who else have you been bringing on tours?
I am also the tour guide for Game of Thrones® journalists, bloggers and film crews who visit Northern Ireland from around the world who travel here specifically to immerse themselves in this captivating experience which they then share with their audiences globally. I also get to meet incredible Game of Thrones professional fans. I share stories and information but never spoilers. This is a must for any Game of Thrones®️ fans’ bucket list so make sure and tick it off. But, not only do visitors here get the chance to ‘hang out with Hodor’, they will also have the chance to explore the North Coast of Northern Ireland with a man who is passionate about my place.
Do you do any bespoke guided tours in Northern Ireland?
If you are a tourist in Northern Ireland and want something specific, yes, I can also take you on a bespoke tour so if you have something in mind simply contact me and I’ll work with visitors’ to ensure you leave the North of Ireland with a great story to share. I also take visitors on the Causeway Coast and Antrim Glens Tour where visitors can take in the breathtaking scenery at the world famous Giant’s Causeway and also experience the thrill of the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Visitors will also travel along the equally famous and dramatic Causeway Coastal Route. Visitors will view our impressive cliffs, long, sandy beaches, meet friendly locals along the route, experience the tranquillity and charm of our off-the-beaten-track North Coast including our famous Glens of Antrim from which you can look across to the landscapes of our neighbours in Scotland on a clear day.
Have you anything to tell us?
I do but I can’t just yet but it’s pretty exciting for Giant Tours Ireland.
What is your message for people visiting Northern Ireland?
If you live here, get out and about and explore and enjoy what tourists enjoy doing. What is on our own doorsteps is fantastic, this is a truly amazing place. To people travelling here I say fill your heart with Ireland and make sure and visit the North Coast and The Glens. Immerse yourself in dramatic coastlines, stunning landscapes, Irish humour, kindness and storytelling which will leave a lasting memory so you will leave our place with a great story to share. I urge visitors to ‘Live It Experience It’ on our famous Causeway Coast with Giant Tours Ireland.
* This tour is independently operated by Giant Tours Ireland, it is not sponsored, endorsed or affiliated with HBO or anyone associated with Game of Thrones®