A Beginner’s Guide to the Mournes

This week kicks off a four week series of beginner’s guides to some of the most popular hiking areas in the UK. Stay tuned for posts on Scottish, English and Welsh territory coming up in the following weeks. We’re sharing everything you need to give you a good start, where ever you may be headed in the UK.

This week, we’re starting off with our homeland, Northern Ireland.

The Mourne Mountains (or the Mountains of Mourne) form the highest and most dramatic mountain range in Northern Ireland. With breath-taking views across the Irish Sea and an intricate map of weaving paths to explore, they are high on any keen hiker’s to-do list.

The mountains can be divided into two distinctive areas: the Eastern, or “High Mournes” and the Western or “Low Mournes”. Below is a map of the mountains to show this. The Mournes are well known for providing a wide variety of stunning scenery for a relatively small geographical area.


Sourced from walkni.com

The area of the Mournes is compact and navigation is usually straightforward. The Eastern Mournes are laid out in the shape of a trident with two large valleys running from the north to the south, separating the three 'prongs' of the trident. West of this area, there is another group of high hills which centre on the twin peaks of Eagle Mountain and ShanSlieve before sloping to lower hills which then continue west and south towards the small village of Rostrevor.

Our Top 3 Routes

Slieve Donard from Newcastle

We’re starting with this route as it is perhaps the most popular walk in the Mournes. In fact, it’s been so popular that considerable erosion has become evident in recent years, causing the need for renovation work on the path. It is the normal and most direct route up Slieve Donard, the highest peak in the Mournes. It should take around 2 ½ hours at a decent walking pace to get to the top.

Start in the Donard car park in Newcastle and follow an obvious path at the back of the park which leads into the trees. Follow the path up the left bank of the Glen River where you will come across a bridge. Cross this bridge and turn right to ascent the left bank of the river, with waterfalls on the right. Here you will come to a second bridge. Cross this and continue again on the left bank past more waterfalls to a third and final bridge. Do not cross this bridge, but continue up a rocky track to a gate which gives access to the open mountainside.

Continue straight ahead with the Glen River on the left and forest on the right. Near the head of the valley, turn left to cross the river. The path, which is well worn and has been substantially re-engineered in recent years goes directly up, then curves right on to the flat saddle between Slieve Donard and Slieve Commedagh. Walk in a southerly direction to intercept the Mourne Wall. Turn left along the wall to head for the top of Donard.

The final part of the hike climbs beside the wall directly up to the summit of Slieve Donard. This part is especially tough as it is a continuous slope for 1000 feet, but increasingly impressive views over the Mourne countryside make the slog a little easier to bear.

Slieve Binian from Carricklittle

This route is the most direct route to the top of Slieve Binnian. It begins in the Carricklittle car park. This is at the junction of the Head Road and Oldtown Road near Annalong. The route is quite tiring, though the views are very impressive. This route should take about 2 hours to get to the top.

From the car park go up the track which runs north before it curves west to join the Mourne Wall at a gate and stile. Cross over the stile and continue straight with the Mourne wall on your left and a fence on the right. The track then curves right to follow the south western edge of the forest. Leave the track and go directly along the side of the wall. It runs fairly straight for half a mile up a steady slope.

The wall begins to veer left and left again while the slope steepens, ending finally against the summit tor of Slieve Binnian. The Summit cannot easily be gained from this point. Move right along the base of the tor and make your way up steep grass and heather slopes to a gap. Turn left here and climb a rock step. Cross the rock slabs with care to get to the final step up to the summit. You will find an old metal fence post at the top. Take extra care at the last part of this climb as strong winds or snow and ice will make this route particularly hazardous.

Trassey to Bloody Bridge

This route is a moderate linear walk for those of you who would prefer a less challenging walk. It links the Trassey Track and the Bloody Bridge via the Brandy Pad. You can see sights such as the Mourne Wall, the Castles, Slieve Commedagh and Slieve Donard on this walk.

To begin, turn left out of Trassey car park. You will see double gates and a stone stile to mark the start of the Trassey Track. Continue straight ahead up this quarry track and pass through another 2 sets of double gates. The path becomes steeper and steeper as it follows the river. Continue up the Trassey Track towards Hare's Gap which is the col between Slievenaglogh and Slieve Bernagh. Cross over the Mourne Wall using the stile and veer left, onto a well-worn track called the Brandy Pad. Continue along this track for 3 km where you will pass three large mountains: Slievenaglogh, Slieve Corragh and Slieve Commedagh, which is the second highest peak in the Mournes. You will come to some stone steps which lead up to the col between Slieve Beg and Slieve Commedagh. Veer left on the col to pass underneath the craggy outcrops of the Castles which will be on your left. Continue on the main path which follows around the base of Slieve Donard to meet the wall at the Bog of Donard. Cross over the Mourne Wall and keep on the track which follows down the Bloody Bridge River. When you come to a quarry, cross over the Bloody Bridge River and continue along the well-worn quarry track. Follow the track to the left towards the Bloody Bridge River and then cross the river using conveniently located boulders as stepping stones. Follow this river downstream, crossing a wooden footbridge over the Glenfofanny River. Keep following the river down towards the coast and turn left when you come to the Ballagh Road. The Bloody Bridge car park will be 20m away on the opposite side of the road.

Little-Known Facts

The Mourne Wall

A famous landmark, The Mourne Wall runs through the Mournes, over the top of no less than 15 mountains, is an impressive 22 miles in length and runs over the summit of the highest peak: the Slieve Donard. Its main purpose was originally to keep cattle and sheep out of the water catchment area of the Silent Valley reservoir but has since become a useful guide for hikers and an impressive sight to visit. Completed in 1922, the wall took over 18 years to finish with many skilled local tradesmen employed seasonally to build it. The wall still stands up to 8ft high and 3ft wide today.

Smuggler’s Haven

Illegal cargo ships stocked full of prohibited packages of tobacco, wine, spirits, leather, silk and spices docked at the foot of the Mournes in Newcastle during the 18th and 19th Centuries. The smugglers would then load horses with these illegal products and trek through the Mourne Mountains to Hilltown. Trade was so good and the route was so widely used that a track was soon worn away by the hooves of the heavily laden horses. This old track is still there today and is a popular walking route among hikers, appropriately known as "The Brandy Pad".