Mournes September 2008


Helen Rose Hill Diary

I have now visited the mountains in Ireland three times climbing all the Irish Munros, The Connemara mountaine, the Sperrins and mountains in Donegal and Sligo. This was my first trip to the Mournes in the south east of Northern Ireland. An Irish hill walking friend offered to organise the trip and we were met there by some Irish friends.

We travelled by car from Glasgow to Troon for the ferry to Larne taking two hours on the boat in good weather with good views  of Ailsa Craig, a bird sanctuary island off the coast of Scotland. From Larnes it took several hours to drive to County Down to reach our accommodation at the foot of the Mournes arriving late afternoon. We had a trip into Newcastle, a family beach resort adjacent to Slieve Donard. There is a song by the songwriter and artist Percy French who was born in Newcastle with the lines ‘where the mountains of Mournes sweep down to the sea’.

Newcastleis a pleasant seaside town and we sat in a bar near the beach for some aperitifs. Our dinners had been organised and provided by a caterer from Cookstown, a most appropriate name! All we had to do was heat them and delicious they were too. The wine was flowing at dinner and I had to remind myself this was a walking weekend. The weather forecast was for rain on Saturday afternoon and good weather on Sunday.

The Mournes are in the north east of Ireland bordering Eire and comprise 13 major hills over 500 metres in height in an area of 140 square kilometres with many other smaller connecting hills in between. We decided to d o Slieve Donard on Saturday, the highest at 853 metres. David planned an alternative route and we walked from Newcastle along the path but then veered off at the Ice House up to the Blackstairs but I called them the Backstairs as we approached the mountain from a different side. Unfortunately, the Blackstairs were steep with difficult ground of heather and stones but we got to the ridge in time for morning coffee. It was still dry but misty and we climbed to the top on stony ground where there was an elevated trig point on the wall. It started to rain and we had a very wet descent alongside the wall which sheltered us from the wind.  The descent path was excellent but in retrospect I think I preferred the different route of ascent to give interest. The Ice House was a traditional building for storing ice pre refrigerations days

During the night , it was unseasonably stormy but we woke to a fine day on Sunday and decided to climb Slieve Bearnaigh (739metres) from our base at Meelmore Lodge. We walked up a good path to the col at Hares Gap where the the Mournes wall crossed. The Mournes Wall is a spectacilar piece of dry stone dyking about seven feet high with a coping and stretches twenty two miles. I wonder if it can be seen from the moon? I was most impressed by it and it was in excellent condition. The final ascent was up alongside the wall to the summit of Slive Bearnagh. There are tors atop the hill and some nimble climbers were on the top in no time but not me! The views over to the other hills with the walls running in all directions were lovely and the ground was dry despite the storms from the previous night. I was particularly delighted to see children enjoying themselves on the hill and rolling in the mud  having so much fun. They were accompanied by adults.

We were back in Newcastle for an ice cream at Mauds, a traditional must for visitors. The Mournes reminded me very much of some of the hills on Arran. The following day we left Meelmore Lodge but only after a traditional Irish breakfast. The flight from Belfast was no sooner up in the air before we were descending  to Glasgow.  A great weekend and thanks to Noreen and David for organising everything for us.

Coming attractions; Arran,  Picos de Europa and Glen Nevis

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Thanks to Frances Rickus for the photos