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MOURNE MOUNTAINS

The Mourne Mountains provide an unusual but excellent excuse to visit Northern Ireland.

There are 2 Top 500 Summits.

1 Slieve Donard                  2,789ft

2 Slieve Commedagh         2,516ft

The following is my favourite walk in the Mourne Mountains

The song ‘the Mountains of Mourne’ was written in 1896 by an Irish musician, Percy French. It is well worth listening to this folk song before driving to Newcastle County Down ‘Where the mountains sweep down to the sea’.

It is a thirty mile drive south from Belfast to Newcastle County Down. This unassuming seaside town is home to the highest mountain range in Northern Ireland and to some of the finest mountains in Britain and Ireland.  Apart from the two Top 500 Summits, there are five other mountains over 2,000 feet, all with drops over 500ft and therefore Irish Marilyns. These are Slieve Binnian, Slieve Bearnagh, Slieve Meelbeg, Slievelamagan and Slieve Muck.

Slieve Bearnagh from Slieve Commedagh
Slieve Bearnagh from Slieve Commedagh

The walk over the two Top 500 Summits, set out below, is an excellent walk from Newcastle County Down but fit walkers, who want to experience the full glory of the Mourne mountains, may wish to attempt the Mourne Wall walk, 20 miles and over 8,500 feet of climbing. The Mourne Wall was built between 1904 and 1922 over all the major mountains. It was built to ensure the water supp;y to Belfast by isolating the catchment area of the Silent Valley reservoir from sheep and cattle.

The ascent of Slieve Donard, the highest mountain in Northern Ireland and Slieve Commedagh from Newcastle County Down starts at the south end of the town at the Donard car park. From there go south west following the Glen River through the woodland. The track takes you over to the left of the river then back to the right side. After a few hundred metres the trees on the left disappear then shortly afterwards you are on open hillside.

March 2013. Snow on the Mourne Wall
March 2013. Snow on the Mourne Wall

The path continues in the same direction ascending more steeply until it reaches the saddle between Slieve Donard and Slieve Commedagh where you join the Mourne wall. On my first visit on a March day in 2013 the snow was so deep it had reached the top of the wall and conditions made it impossible to go any further.

After reaching the wall, the best route is to turn left and make the final steep 850ft ascent of Slieve Donard. Slieve Donard is the highest point in Northern Ireland. It tends to be a popular spot with many different nationalities and has fine views over the sea. It is worth lingering for twenty minutes before returning to the saddle.

Descending from Slieve Donard
Descending from Slieve Donard

Slieve Commedagh is a more gentle 600ft climb from the saddle. Its summit is some 100 metres to the north of the Mourne Wall. From the summit it is possible to descend to the Glen River at the point where the path comes out of the trees. Continue along the north ridge for one kilometre then descend east to join the Glen River path and an easy descent back to the car, the coffee shop or the Pub. There is plenty of choice of coffee shops and pubs in Newcastle County Down. On a warm day a seat by the sea is also very pleasant.