Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville
25 July 2009
19. Mourne Mountains, Co. Down
‘I’ll wait for the wild rose that waitin’ for me,
Where the Mountains of Mourne sw – ‘
Stop, will you! Just put a sock in it, eh! Repeat after me: ‘I WILL NOT quote that cliché of a song when writing about walking in the Mourne Mountains.’ OK? Right, proceed.
When Jane and I heard that the Chief Executive of the Mourne Heritage Trust would like to come a step of the way with us on our walk in the Mournes, we imagined a stiff-necked bureaucrat in toothbrush ‘tache and tight collar. However, Martin Carey is nothing like that. Youngish, amiable and a walker himself, he set off with us through the Gothic follies of Tollymore Forest Park and along the banks of the Shimna River, talking of how he became involved in the Trust that cares for Northern Ireland’s best-known mountains. ‘I’m born, bred and raised in these mountains, and I just wanted to see them well looked after, and also visited and used more by walkers and others – which for the 30 years of the Troubles they weren’t.’
There’s the rub. Outdoor pursuits in this delectable range overlooking the coast of County Down, so famous through Percy French’s ditty (yes, all right, I won’t … ), have been a slumbering giant. Now walkers, climbers, bikers and runners are waking up to their fabulous beauty and seductive appeal. ‘The more the merrier,’ Martin said as he bid us goodbye in the lookout grotto of The Hermitage. ‘There’s walks for all comers, all abilities here. We don’t mind sharing one bit!’
The path ran above a miniature gorge carved out by the Shimna. We hopped across a set of stepping stones and turned uphill from Altavaddy Bridge through a forest of pine and oak, where the aptly-named Cascade River came tumbling spectacularly down its rock staircase. The woodland track led high up the hillside, bringing us at last to a jaw-dropping panorama of the Mournes’ north face – the smooth back of Luke’s Mountain, the jagged and fantastically shaped summit of Bearnagh, and the tall cone of Slieve Meelmore crowned by the Mourne Wall with its pimple of a tower.
Down in the lower forest once more we found the King’s Grave. No questioning why a Bronze Age ruler should be buried just here, with such a regal mountain view spread for his spirit to contemplate. Under Clonachullion Hill three lambs and a horse put their heads through the farm gate to be patted. We climbed up the old smugglers’ path of the Trassey Track, traversed the flank of Slieve Meelmore, and came down to Meelmore Lodge full of mountain oxygen and exhilaration, just in time for tea and home-made cakes.
A bunch of teenage kids was camping at Meelmore, exploring and giggling and turning the air blue with their cheerful cursing. It was great to see and hear them there, out of doors and among the hills. May they and a lot more like them come to these mountains, to taste for themselves the delights of this piece of high country where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the …
Ah, Jaysus! Got me!
WAY TO GO
MAP: OS of Northern Ireland 1:50,000 Discoverer 29, or 1:25,000 Activity Map ‘The Mournes’; downloadable maps/instructions for the area at www.walkni.com
Bus (www.nirailways.co.uk): Ulsterbus to Newcastle; Mourne Rambler (July/August) or taxi (Donard Cabs 028-4372-2823; Shimna Taxis 028-4372-6030 – about £8) to Tollymore Forest Park. Return from Meelmore Lodge by Mourne Rambler or taxi.
Road: A2 to Newcastle, B180 to Tollymore Forest Park
WALK DIRECTIONS: From Lower car park (OS of NI ref J 344326), walk down lawn, under Horn Bridge (labelled), down path. Cross track (red arrow); on down; right along Shimna River. Pass The Hermitage (342322); in 320 m (¼ mile) left across stepping stones (339320). On far side red arrow points left, but go right past Meeting of the Waters across Altavaddy Bridge (336319). Immediately left uphill (Mourne Way/MW waymark) with Cascade River on left. Opposite wooden shelter, detour left down steps to see The Cascade. On up MW to cross path (333314 – MW to left, Red Route to right); keep ahead up zigag forest road. In 0.4 km (⅓ mile), left (330314 – yellow arrow/y.a.) into trees. Follow forest road for 600m (⅓ mile) to viewpoint southwards to mountains (324313).
Right here down forest road for 1.5 km (1 mile), following y.a., to path crossing (323319). Y.a. points right, but go left past MW on post to cross bridge. Follow MW for 1.5 km (1 mile) to road by farmhouse (311313). Left up Trassey Track (MW, y.a.) for 1.2 km (¾ mile), through kissing gate, up to go through another kissing gate in wall (313303). Right (MW) along wall for 500 m (⅓ mile); right over ladder stile; lane to Meelmore Lodge (306308).
LENGTH: 9.5 km (6 miles): allow 3 hours
CONDITIONS: Forest tracks, stony hill paths; one ford; some stiles. Walking boots.
DON’T MISS … !
• The Cascade
• View of Mournes from Trassey Track
• Meelmore Lodge home baking!
REFRESHMENTS: Meelmore Lodge, Trassey Road (028-4372-5949; www.meelmorelodge.com)
ACCOMMODATION: Mountain View, 74 Castlewellan Road, Newcastle (028-4372-2634; email@example.com) – £56 dble B&B
INFORMATION: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks and Northern Ireland’s Quality Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.walkni.com; www.discoverireland.ie/walking
Tollymore Forest Park: leaflet guides and info – 028-4372-2428; www.forestserviceni.gov.uk)
Newcastle Tourist Office (028-4372-2222); www.mournelive.com;