Mourne Mountains Walk – Slieve Binnian (from Carrick Little car park) County Down, Annalong

There are so many amazing walks through the Mourne mountain range in County Down, and sometimes its just hard to fathom how such a vast area even exists in Northern Ireland given the country is so small. When you’re in middle of any of these walks you can see for miles (sometimes without a person, or particularly any sign of civilization, in sight). Which is a fantastic feeling when you just want to get away from it all.

For this route, make your way to the Carrick Little car park which is at the junction of the Head Road and Oldtown Road near Annalong. The Mourne Rambler bus departs from Newcastle Bus station on a regular basis during the summer months for here.

 

Slieve Binnian (5)

From the Carrick Little car park, follow a clear, stony track that rises gently between the fields. Note the boulder walls alongside. You’ll soon see this old cottage in the middle of a field to your left. I wonder who lived here?

 

Slieve Binnian (45)

At this point leave the wide trail here and go over to your left following the stone wall that takes you upward to Slieve Binnian (thats it ahead in the picture).

 

Slieve Binnian (13)

We were lucky with the weather as the Mournes can be unpredictable (bring some suitable gear anytime you visit outside the Summer months). Its not long before you’re treated to a stunning view like this. Thats Slieve Donard in the distance here (just right of center of the picture) the highest peak not only of the Mournes but in the whole of Northern Ireland.

 

Slieve Binnian (17)

About half way up the climb we veered right (following the wall cutting diagonally right across the second photo above here) as we hadn’t been up this way before, there was a still a reasonable climb (as you can see from the height of the pics) but it wasn’t as exhausting as the climb to the very top of Binnian. We followed the direction of the old stone wall (to the top of THIS climb) and looked across the valley below…

 

Slieve Binnian (25)

Climbing down from here you’ll come to a massive boulder ahead (dropped by the glacial ice retreat thousands of years ago). And on one edge of a rock you might see this……I shall name him….. Dragonstone haha 🙂

 

Slieve Binnian (30)

Just below you (beyond the big rock above) you should be able to see this small lake. We descended down to it and admired its peaceful tranquility…

 

Slieve Binnian (40)

A final look across the landscape of this part of the Mourne Mountains. You could easily spend a week hiking through here. For more information on walking this area see here:   http://www.walkni.com/walks/67/slieve-binnian/

 

Hares Gap, Mourne Walks, County Down, Newcastle

Hares Gap is one of the easier walks through the Mournes and like most its quite accessible too. From the road you would hardly know its there but park up at the Trassey Road car park and climb over the stile (or just open the gate) and follow the path into this part of the Mournes. 

hgap (2) hgap (3)

You can park your car either in the car park a little up the road from this sign or at the side of the road (fold your mirrors in its narrow passing here). The second picture is taken off an information board at the car park.

hgap (5) hgap (24) hgap (25)

After you climb over the stile (or open the gate) follow the road past some obvious deforesting that’s taking place. I’m not sure what this old wood looked like during its finer days, but Clonachullion is no more. Maybe there was some disease in there and he had to go. Anyway, marvel at the piles of timber as you pass by.

hgap (6)hgap (4) hgap (7) hgap (8)

As you turn the corner past the wood you’ll catch your first glimpse of the beautiful Mourne mountains ahead. The sign warns of weather preparations required at certain times of the year but today it was just wonderfully warm.

hgap (10) hgap (11) hgap (12)

I’m not sure what fate befell the young boy whos memorial is placed here, but 20yrs ago (this year) something bad happened during the trek ahead, pay your respects and enter through the gate and admire the view to your right as the wall fades off into the distance.

hgap (15) hgap (16) hgap (17)

Theres a crystal clear mountain stream here tumbling down the hills which I suspect is fine to drink, but even if its just to splash your face or dip your toes in (to cool down) its still appreciated. On the second picture you can see the Mourne wall on the horizon (the straight bit) which is the back side of the wall we walked up to on the Glen River walk (see elsewhere on the site for that) and you might just be able to pick out an old quarry up to the right as well where they mined granite in this area. On the third picture is an ominous warning to dog owners which I suspect has been placed by some irate farmer that’s had his sheep attacked. I haven’t heard of anyones dog being shot, but please keep your animals under control if you come up here. This is private land and you’re only a guest being allowed to walk here.

hgap (18) hgap (19) hgap (20) hgap (22)

The magnificent Hares Gap. You can clearly see how the glaciers cut their way through here around 60 million years ago. Since then, man has made his way along this route either to mine granite or to smuggle goods (Hare’s Gap marked the exit point for smuggled contraband including soap, leather, spices and coffee and was carried through the mountains on the backs of small ponies which descended via the Hare’s Gap to the valley of the Trassey River and on to Hilltown – a favourite distribution centre. Today though its just a wonderful location for a fantastic Northern Ireland walk.

Loughbrickland, Slieve Croob, Legananny Dolmen and Windy Gap County Down.

Yes, the title above is likely a bit of a mouthful for those visiting from foreign shores, but these place names are said pretty much phonetically so don’t worry haha. On a chilly, but bright February morning (2015), I set off for a drive to see where I would end up. The intention was to locate at least one of the ancient burial “Dolmen” dotted around the South County Down area and I guess I managed to find one even if it was almost by accident. It looks as if there are at least seven in the surrounding countryside, and I find it truly fascinating that these monuments are still standing after nearly 5000 years. Northern Ireland’s ancient history seems very well hidden though!

loughbrickland (1) loughbrickland (3)

These are just a couple of pictures I took of Loughbrickland Lake in County Down while going South. Its just off the main Belfast to Dublin (A1) road and as I hadn’t seen it frozen over before I swerved off the motorway and grabbed a few shots before heading on. The lake holds brown and rainbow trout and can be fly fished during the season.

slieve croob (1)

After finding the road sign for the “Slieve Croob Scenic Loop” (look for the brown coloured signs near Castlewellan) I turned off the main road and headed off onto (what became) a track not much wider than my car at times. I think this wasn’t helped by a fall of snow up there, with much of it still piled at the side of the route. That said, the views were stunning over the snow dusted valley.

slieve croob (4) slieve croob (5)

Slieve Croob meaning “mountain of the hoof” is the tallest of a group of peaks in the middle of County Down. These peaks lie north of the Mourne Mountains, between the village of Dromara and the town of Castlewellan. Slieve Croob has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is the source of the River Lagan, which starts as a spring and runs from here, through Dromara, Dromore, County Down, Lisburn and Belfast, where it enters Belfast Lough.

Folklore tells that 12 kings are buried at the top of the Mountain and each year it is traditional to climb the hill on the first Sunday in August (known as Cairn Sunday or Blaeburry Sunday) and carry with you a stone to help bury the kings. In recent times there is traditional Irish music played at the top of the Mountain on this date.

slieve croob (2)

A sheep thankful for his wooly coat at Slieve Croob.

legananny (1)

A dolmen, also known as a portal tomb, portal grave or quoit, is a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb, usually consisting of two or more upright stones supporting a large flat horizontal capstone (table), although there are also more complex variants. Most date from the early Neolithic period (4000 to 3000 BC). Dolmens were typically covered with earth or smaller stones to form a barrow. In many instances, that covering has weathered away, leaving only the stone “skeleton” of the burial mound intact.

It remains unclear when, why, and by whom the earliest dolmens were made. The oldest known dolmens are in Western Europe, where they were set in place around 7000 years ago. Archaeologists still do not know who erected these dolmens, which makes it difficult to know why they did it. They are generally all regarded as tombs or burial chambers, despite the absence of clear evidence for this. Human remains, sometimes accompanied by artifacts, have been found in or close to the dolmens which could be scientifically dated. However, it has been impossible to prove that these archaeological remains date from the time when the stones were originally set in place. Dolmens have also been found in Korea, Spain, and India.

legananny (2)

Legananny Dolmen sits up a lane behind a farmers house (its ok to walk up and see it without asking permission) and its astounding how this thing has sat here for so long. Im sure it would have some stories to tell based on what its seen for 5 millennia. Its so great to see these remnants of Irelands older non-christian history, and hopefully they shall remain for many more 1000s of years to come. Though given that some (apparent) Christians recently pulled down a monument at Gortmore, putting a cross in its place saying “You shall have no other Gods before me” then who knows. Story: http://www.londonderrysentinel.co.uk/news/local-news/manannan-mac-lir-pagan-priest-says-statue-theft-a-hate-crime-1-6543319 a Facebook campaign has now begun to try and replace it.

legananny (3) legananny (4)

Legananny Dolmen is a megalithic dolmen three miles north of Castlewellan, in County Down. It is on the slopes of Slieve Croob near the village of Leitrim, nestled between a farmer’s stone wall and a back road. It is a State Care Historic Monument. This tripod dolmen has a capstone over 3m long and 1.8m from the ground. It dates to the Neolithic period, making the monument approximately 5,000 years old. Such portal tombs were funerary sites for the disposal of the dead in Neolithic society. The heavy stones would have been dragged some distance before being set in place. The three supporting stones are unusually long and some ancient urns were found underneath. The name Legananny is believed to be derived from Irish Liagán Áine, meaning “Áine’s standing stone” – Áine being an Irish goddess.

windy gap (1)

After leaving Legananny I drove on a few kilometers and parked at the car park at Windy Gap (hmm, I reckon not too much thought went into that one lol).

windy gap (2) windy gap (5)

The view was beautiful (and actually it wasn’t windy at all) and in the second picture here you can see (almost) the entire Mourne Mountain range in the distance.

windy gap (3)

No picnics today at Windy Gap. Brrr!

windy gap (4)

A far off glimpse of the highest peak in Northern Ireland, Slieve Donard, with a little wisp of cloud caught on the top. Once again, I explored (marvelously) alone that morning and if you visit NI you really should hire a car and get away from the obvious tourist traps like the Titanic Quarter and Black taxi mural tours etc. We have so much more to show you than those things!

Castlewellan Forest Park, Peace Maze, and Lake, Co.Down, Northern Ireland

Northern Irelands largest forest park, Tollymore (in Newcastle), usually gets most of the interest from our forest hungry visitors, but just a short drive away lies Castlewellan Forest Park, which has a beauty all of its own. In fact the facilities here in Castlewellan easily match its larger brother, and coupled with a huge maze, several lakes, two cafes, and a brilliant bike hire office, make it well worth checking out. Our visit on the 28th December 2014 showed the park to be surprisingly busy, which was great to see in (what was) the depths of Winter. I hope the photos we took entice others to come here too. You’ll love it. 

CASTLEWELLAN CASTLE

CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (2) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (1) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (23) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (19)

The dominant feature of the forest park, Castlewellan Castle was built in 1856 by William Richard Annesley, it overlooks the huge lake below and can be seen as soon as you enter the park. Today it is a center for many church, and school organizations. There are signs to say the immediate area around the castle is private, but we had no issues walking around its grounds to take some photos. Theres a little black cat who comes out to say hello too. Miaow.

CASTLEWELLAN LAKE

CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (3) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (9) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (12) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (11) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (10) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (5) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (4) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (6)

On this lovely, frost glistening, December morning we had so many great photo opportunities and began snapping away frantically. The largest lake in the park is nearly one mile long, and there’s a fantastic circular path around its shore taking in much of the forest along the way. The route is a big hit with cyclists and there’s even a place to hire bikes if you don’t have one. The distance around the lake is about 2.4miles but its a very easy (and enjoyable) trek. The lake can also be fished. For more info see here: http://www.walkni.com/walks/222/castlewellan-forest-park-lakeside-walk/

ANNESLEY GARDENS (WITHIN THE PARK)

CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (14) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (13) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (15) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (16) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (17) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (18) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (8) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (7)

To access Castlewellan Forest Park you pay just £4.50 per car which is pretty good as it doesn’t matter how many are in your car. Once parked your entrance fee includes all the walks and the gardens which are wonderful in Winter but must be even nicer in the other three milder seasons of the year.

The planting of the walled Annesley garden, the focus of the arboretum, began in the 1850s and rare conifers and maples were later imported directly from Japan. Then came the addition of more rich varieties, including Chilean eucryphias, Australian athrotaxis and pittosporum and Chinese rhododendrons. The arboretum holds many trees with record heights in the British Isles (see one of the monsters above!).

THE PEACE MAZE

CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (20) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (22)

CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (21)

The “Peace Maze” was opened in 2000 and while you may think its nothing more than a quaint curiosity on entering you’re going to be in for a shock. This is one of the worlds largest permanent hedge mazes (it was the largest in the world until 2007 when it was beaten, only slightly, by a maze in Hawaii) and it really will offer a challenge to those without a pigeons sense of direction. The maze covers 3 acres and has 2.18 miles of pathway (the one in Hawaii has 2.46) and upon reaching the center there is a bell you can ring which is said to be the most rung bell in Ireland with half a million rings a year. When you visit the park make sure you go inside and see if you can find your way to the center (on top of the footbridge). Good luck! You’ll need it. The panaoramic picture above shows Castlewellan town, the Mourne Mountains, and a small part of the maze.

For more info on this great forest park see here: http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/Castlewellan-Forest-Park-and-Peace-Maze-Castlewellan-P2881

Glen River Walk, Mourne Mountains, Newcastle, County Down.

On a perfect August bank holiday morning we set out from Donard car park in Newcastle at about 8am, intending to climb as far as the Mourne wall which sits just at the base of the imposing Slieve Donard. We had never been up here before, so didn’t really know what awaited us. I wouldnt say the climb was easy, but the scenery was just stunning and certainly made up for our wobbly legs.

P1010597

After the pretty stiff climb up through Donard Wood from Newcastle, you eventually come out here, where you see a strange stone building. This building was an ice-house, a primitive fridge of sorts, built by the Annesley Family (former owners of Donard Park).

P1010602

A little bumblebee who was sitting on a rock warming himself up in the early morning Sun, getting ready for a day of pollen collecting.

P1010604

So beautiful up here.

P1010616

Just to the left of the picture is early mist hanging over Slieve Donard. Still a long way to go from here though.

P1010620

A funny little tree fitting into the curve of the mountain.

P1010665

Almost, but not just, looking downhill from the Mourne Wall. Thats Newcastle very far away in the distance.

P1010675

Finally here, the magnificent Mourne Wall cutting Slieve Donard in two. We had climbed something like three miles mostly upward. Phew.

P1010705

After a bite of lunch, and a just as tough descent, we cooled our feet in this crystal clear pool of water in Donard Wood. Wonderful. For information on this walk see here: http://www.walkni.com/walks/462/glen-river/

Granite trail, Newcastle, County Down.

The “Granite Trail” is one of the easier walks around the base of The Mournes that starts at the harbour in Newcastle. Theres a little sign across the road from the harbour pointing you to the start of the trail, so you shouldn’t get lost.

P1010841

This is basically the entrance to the start of the trail. From here you will climb up quite a bit through a wooded area, but there’s a few things to read and exhibits to see along the way.

P1010844

One of the old wagons use to bring granite down from the quarry

P1010848

This sign explains the use of a “slipe” (a sledge) that was used to move granite when a wheeled wagon couldn’t be.

P1010849

You might start to lose a bit of breath by this point, and if you’re tall you will have to duck under those branches like me.

P1010852

Nearly there. It gets easier once you get over the stile up ahead (turn right and follow the path).

P1010853

Interesting read on this sign, apparently the word “shoddy” (taken normally to mean untidy or badly made) was the name given to broken pieces of stone left over after making plinths etc

P1010855

We got a really nice day to come up here, I’m pretty sure that’s not too common, but climb over here and go right. The hardest part of the walk is over.

P1010871

Looking back to where you came from in those trees.

P1010874

A little pillar at the top points out what you “might” see.

P1010891

The quarry at the top. Theres an eerie effect here if anything is going on down the hill in Newcastle. The sound comes up the mountain, hits the wall at the back and you may think that voices or music, or whatever is coming out from inside the rock. Get close to the wall at the back and listen. You might get lucky. Spooky.

P1010892

An old abandoned bucket from one of the machines that used to work up here.

  P1010899

This little stone hut was beside the quarry at the peak of the “Granite Trail”

Details of the entire walk can be found here:   http://www.walkni.com/walks/333/granite-trail/