Mourne Mountains, Co. Down
The Mournes are a small group of mountains, compact within an elliptical area of about 14 miles by 7 miles. There are 35 summits over 1500 feet high as well as a large number of interesting geological features such as corrie lakes, buttresses etc. The Mournes are composed of granite which is a hard, tough rock with a distinctive appearance. They were formed around 50 million years ago and since then have been subject to many climatic changes. The glaciers of the last Ice Age helped widen and deepen the Silent valley and also caused the formation of many of the rock buttresses to be seen in the Mournes.
The other major feature in the Mournes is of course the Mourne Wall. The wall is made of large granite slabs that were quarried locally from the mountain sides. Work stared in 1910 and finished in 1922. The wall runs over the tops of 15 mountains, covering 22 miles and encloses around 9000 acres. The wall was built by Belfast Water Commissioners to define their catchment area. This area has an annual rainfall of around 70 inches.
The route that you will be walking this weekend will cover the summits of the western Mournes and will give excellent views of the Silent Valley and Ben Crom reservoirs as well as the spectacular Slieve Bearnagh.
How to get there
Travelling from Newry, travel on the B8 to Hilltown and from there on towards Tollymore Forest Park (Bryansford) along the B180. About 2km before the park take a right turn at 318 324 onto the Trassey Road & follow this road to the carpark at 312 315.
This map has a very large scale 1:25,000 (approx. 2es can be deceiving. Each grid box is 1km X 1km in size. Also the distances in the Mournes can de very deceptive so the route may look much further than it is in reality. The contour interval is every 10 metres. Because of the large scale the six figure grid references are to the nearest whole number. All teams should make themselves familiar with the names of the major features such as mountains, lakes, tracks etc..
The following route outline is the proposed route for the weekend. However this route is very much subject to change because of such things as weather conditions, staffing, participants ability etc. Therefore the route can change and this should be borne in mind by all participants. The bad weather route will involve travelling by track to the campsite at Lough Shannagh (Sunday's route in reverse) and leaving the mountains on Sunday via Ott Mountain.
Car park (312 315) to Basecamp (318 292)
Turn left out of the carpark and head uphill along the road until you meet a stile at 311 312. Crossing over the stile, follow a good track along the forest until you meet a gate at 312 303. Cross this gate and join a sandy track, known as the Trassey Track, which will take you up into the heart of the Mournes. The track slowly climbs in towards Hares Gap. Continue along this track to the track junction at 318 292. You will pass the cliffs at Spellack to your right on the track. The campsite for the night is between the track and the river junction at 317 292. Check-in, pitch your tent and have a cuppa and then go to bed!
Basecamp to track bend 315 290
Have a good breakfast, drop the tents and tidy the campsite. Once you have been checked-out from base camp, follow the track in towards Bearnagh Slabs to where the track runs alongside the river. There is a large quarry on the hillside to your left in a north-westerly direction.
Track bend 315 290 to Spot Height 312 294
Cross the river and start to climb uphill in a north-westerly direction up the side of Slieve Meelmore towards the Spot Height above Spellack. You will be carrying full pack - so take your time. Zig-zag up the heathery slope and take short rests regularly. There are some fine views from this slope in towards Bearnagh, the Hare's Gap and down towards the Trassey Track.
Spot Height 312 294 to Slieve Meelmore 306 287
From the Spot Height, turn and head in a south-westerly direction climbing all the way towards the summit of Meelmore. It's a steady climb with good views across to Bearnagh. You will soon see a little tower which marks the corner of the Mourne Wall and and the summit of Meelmore. Looking south, you should be able to spot the Silent Valley, Slieve Binnian, Doan & Ben Crom. From here the hike route stretches out in a south-westerly direction along the Mourne Wall.
Slieve Meelmore 306 287 to Col 303 281
Using the Mourne Wall as a handrail, travel along the summit of Meelmore. As you begin to descend another wall passes from left to right. Continue your descent into the Col. Note the turn in the wall at 305 282. Continue into to the Col at 303 281.
Col 303 281 to Slieve Meelbeg 301 279
From the Col, there is a steep climb up to the summit of Meelbeg over a grassy covered slope. The Mourne Wall also climbs up the mountainside so use it to shelter from the wind and also to guide you. It is best to zig-zag up these slopes rather than constantly trying to step up the mountainside.
Slieve Meelbeg 301 279 to Col 297 274
You will have excellent views from here of Doan, Slieve Binnian, and Slievelamagan to the south-east. Descend from the summit, following the wall which initially runs in a southern direction and then turns into a south-western direction. The decent over grass covered ground is quite steep. Take care not to slip.
Col 297 274 to Slieve Loughshannagh 294 272
From the Col, there is a relatively steep, though short, climb up to the summit of Slieve Loughshannagh over a grassy covered slope. As before, the Mourne Wall runs alongside you. If you think, that it's hard work climbing these mountains, just think what it must have been like for the men who had to build the wall.
Slieve Loughshannagh 294 272 to Col 291 268
From the summit, there is a gentle descent to the Col. To the west, you should be able to see Ott mountain and also Spelga Dam. You will make good time along this section of the walk.
Col 291 268 to Carn Mountain 288 260
From the Col, continue along the wall in a south-westerly direction climbing slowly towards the Spot Height at 289 264. The going is fairly easy and another m takes you to the summit of Carn which is marked by a wall junction. You should be able to see the cliffs on the side of Slieve Muck to the south.
Carn Mountain 288 260 to Wall/river junction 288 253
Leave the summit and follow the wall that runs in a southerly direction until you reach the point where the wall crosses the river. The descent is over heathery ground and is reasonably steep. To the North-east, Lough Shannagh which has been hidden by the slope gradually begins to reveal itself.
Wall/river junction 288 253 to track 293 252
Follow the river for a bit and then head across open ground until you meet the track.
Track 293 252 to Small Dam 297 264
Turn onto the track and head northwards towards Lough Shannagh. The ground is open and boggy patches are interspersed with sandy/gravel areas. The impressive summit of Doan rises ahead of you. Continue towards a small hut, beside which you will find a small dam.
Small Dam 297 264 to High Camp 295 264
Continue past the dam for a short while and then turn along the northern shore of Lough Shannagh. High camp is situated beside the small stream that flows into the lake.
Saturday Extension - Carn Mountain 288 260 to Slieve Muck 282 250 to track
Weather and stamina permitting we may extend the saturday walk to include the summit of Slieve Muck. On departure from Carn, head initially in a westerly direction, again following the wall and then turn southwards climbing steadily towards the summit which is marked by a triangulation point. The descent from Slieve Muck follows the wall in a south-easterly direction. This descent is quite steep - so take care and take your time. Leave the wall at 244 289 and traverse open ground until you meet the track at 244 294. From here follow the track northwards to the small dam at 297 264 as described above.
High Camp 295 264 to track junction 296 266
Leave the campsite and head uphill in a northerly direction along the stream until you meet the track. Turn left onto the track and continue for a short distance until you meet the track junction.
Track junction 296 266 to track junction 295 268 to Col at Bearnagh Slabs 309
Follow the track in a north-westerly direction until it joins the more "major" track. The condition of the track varies from being good to very broken. Nonetheless, it is fairly well defined. Continuing in a north-easterly direction, you are now skirting below the summits that you traversed yesterday. you will soon approach the steep slopes of Bearnagh and upon reaching the wall at the col, the steep cliff-like slabs become visible.
Col at Bearnagh Slabs 309 282 to track junction 318 292
Leaving the col follow a well walked track downhill back towards Friday night's campsite. As can be seen from the map, the track divides into two tracks. It is best to stay to the lower track. If it is wet, take care here as the track can be slippy. You will soon arrive back on the trassey track.
Trassey track to Car park
Once on the track, follow it back downhill to the forest edge that you passed on Friday. From here you can travel back along the track (in the opposite direction!) that you used on Friday all the way to the car park