In the small hours of Monday 22 August, the night’s watch shall return: HBO’s House of the Dragon, the much-awaited follow-up to Game of Thrones, the most successful television series of all time, will stream in the UK from 2am on Sky.
The new series will be followed more keenly in some parts of the world than others, particularly Cornwall, Derbyshire and parts of Spain and Portugal, for the simple reason that Game of Thrones transformed the tourism industry wherever it went.
In the decade after Game of Thrones began in 2011, major filming locations from the show experienced massive growth in visitor numbers. Iceland went from about 500,000 visitors to more than 2.5 million, Dubrovnik (the fictional King’s Landing) more than doubled its numbers, while Northern Ireland is calculated to have netted more than £250m in extra tourist revenue. Hence some excitement in places as diverse as Holywell Bay in Cornwall and the remote hilltop villages of Monsanto in Portugal.
“I’ve seen the trailers and recognised several spots,” says Visit Cornwall’s chief executive, Malcolm Bell, “including Mounts Bay, St Michael’s Mount and Holywell Beach.”
Cornwall is already a veteran beneficiary of film and television location uplift. When Angharad Rees and Robin Ellis shot to fame in the BBC series Poldark in 1975, it started a stampede to visit locations such as Kynance Cove and Holywell Bay, both reportedly revisited by House of the Dragon.
The more recent edition of Poldark, plus Doc Martin, boosted visitor numbers again. “That was big among the 50-plus age group,” says Bell. “But we’re hoping that House of the Dragon might give us exposure to a younger audience worldwide.”
The statistics bear out his hope. More than a quarter of all US millennials (born 1981-1996) watched Game of Thrones. With House of the Dragon expected to deploy similar ingredients (plenty of female nudity and bloody violence), viewing figures are expected to follow suit.
For Cornwall, however, there are cautionary voices. This is not a place starting from a low level of tourism: the industry in the county is already worth £2bn. When lockdown ended in July 2021, about 2 million visitors arrived within 12 weeks, straining local patience and resources and leading to the Sun headline: ‘Tourists say Cornwall is too noisy and expensive’.
The accommodation provider Sawday’s, which owns the glamping specialist Canopy and Stars, has already announced a limit on its expansion in the region. Mike Bevens, its managing director, says: “The constant desire for insatiable growth by some holiday operators is unsustainable. The industry can’t keep gorging itself on the generosity of local infrastructure, communities and the environment without considering the longer-term effects.”
The message is backed up by Mark Duddridge, from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, whose 2021 report stated: “Simply adding more visitors to our existing pattern of peak-to-trough seasonality is not what we want in terms of jobs, steady income, our environment or our experience of living in Cornwall.”
Bevens thinks visitors could explore other Cornish locations. “I’d suggest Restormel Castle, Botelet, or the Lizard and Roseland peninsulas.”
The Peak District is also thought to feature in the new series, with Matt Smith spotted during filming in the village of Castleton and at Mam Tor. Jo Dilley, the managing director of Marketing Peak District and Derbyshire, welcomes the presence of the television crews but is keen to point out that the area has more to offer than a couple of film locations. “We have over 500 sq km of open access land to explore – plenty of places to escape the crowds.”
Those seeking other-worldly landscapes and magic, she suggests, could try the gritstone edges of Stanage, Curbar and the aptly named Dragon’s Back ridge near the village of Hollinsclough.
For Trujillo and Cáceres in the south-western Spanish province of Extremadura, House of the Dragon is definitely a follow-up – they hosted Game of Thrones and have seen a significant effect on visitor numbers.
Just across the border in Portugal, however, the hilltop village of Monsanto has lured film-makers with its troglodytic homes and massive granite boulders and is hoping for a similar tourism boost.
The wider region has suffered wildfires this year. “It’s a tragedy,” says Antonio Lacerda, the general manager for tourism promotion in nearby Alentejo region, pointing out that much of the mountain area has been burned. “Some places won’t be able to welcome visitors until next year.”
He points out that, alongside Monsanto, there are other, “timeless atmospheric hilltop villages … like Marvão and Monsaraz”.