6 March by Orla McGrady

Throughout the year we welcome many visitors to Northern Ireland. So, we want to share with you as much as possible what there is to do while you are here. And for us living in Northern Ireland we are so lucky to have the playgrounds we do. Orla McGrady heads up the Mourne Mountains.

 

Live It Experience It BLOGGER - Orla McGrady, Live It Experience It

I often climb in the Mournes, but haven’t completed Slieve Donard in many years, choosing instead other less known trails and mountains to explore. I made myself a promise to complete Slieve Donard last year, but life got in the way. But when my sister suggested some land activity on a calm weekend in January I jumped at the chance.

The weather offered perfect walking conditions, biting cold, but calm and dry with clear blue skies. I’d never climbed high in the mountains in the winter, so this outing offered a new perspective.

A storm passes over the Mourne Mountains. Image by Cormac McGrady

 

We needed to start early as the light fades early in the evening at this time of year, and we wanted to allow at least four hours in total for the hike. Parking in Donard Car Park, a small group of us (including my nephew dog, Red the Chocolate Labrador) took the route along the gushing Glen River, over boulders and forest tree roots, past green-blue crystal clear waterfalls and rock pools.

The initial climb is fairly steep and you do have to watch your step. The trail leads you through forest of Scots Pine (gloriously green and lush even in January), Oak and Birch, past three bridges, which serve as good route markers and resting points. Stopping to catch my breath, I had to take my outer layers off at bridge 2 I was so hot from my initial enthusiasm and the steep climb.

 

Mourne Mountains with Orla McGrady

 

This river trail opens out to the mountain panorama of Donard and Commedagh, with the Ice House on the left, and a stepped trail to the saddle. Looking back there is the most majestic views of Newcastle, the sea and the sandy coastal bay. There were so many walkers out, at one point we were almost in single file along the trail. The thing that struck me most on this section of the walk was the silence as we ascended up the stepped trail to the saddle. There was barely a wind, and soft winter shadows skirted along the beige-green side of Commedagh, while Donard loomed grey and large on the left.

 

I stopped just short of the saddle to fill my drinking bottle from a bubbling mountain waterfall, tucked in on the left as you ascend the final steps to the flat of the saddle.

A view of Bearnagh in the Mourne Mountains. Picture taken by Cormac McGrady

Taking a break for lunch sitting along the Mourne wall, it’s a perfect time to rest, refuel and enjoy the landscape before the final ascent to the peak of Donard. Crossing over the stile at the wall offers a beautiful view of the mountain range should you wish to branch off along the Brandy Pad, or turn right to ascend Slieve Commedagh. We turned left to finish what we set out to do, and ascended along the wall to the summit.

 

Taking approximately 30 minutes, the final ascent is deceptively challenging, and I needed to stop several times along the way. The ground underfoot is rocky although offers good grip along the wall. We met many on their way down, some offering a helpful ‘not long to go now’, ‘you’re almost there’ and ‘you can do it!’. There is such a warm community of people in Northern Ireland when out hiking.

At the summit it was as busy as a night out in Belfast, groups of people chatting, resting, eating, taking photographs, all as elated as me on the achievement of being at the top of the highest peak in Northern Ireland. The sky was clear enough to offer panoramic views as far as to the south of Ireland, and all across the North, as well as the full mountain range and seascape. Truly magnificent.

The Mourne Wall at Slieve Donard

 

It was very cold at the peak, so we didn’t hang around. Two hours and we were back in the car park, slightly sore limbs but a heart full of the joy of this spectacular hiking trail right on our doorstep. It struck me that there’s not many places you can wake up, look at the weather and decide, right, I’m off to climb a mountain today. That’s exactly what the Mournes offer, how lucky we are.

Red the dog, having completed his first Slieve Donard ascent, agrees.

Live It Experience It’ is a cluster of tourism businesses working together to promote our region through water, air and land based activities, food and drink and great places to stay. If you would like to become a member business in our ‘Live It Experience It’ cluster please submit your information through our online form. Pitch your business and meet like minded tourism businesses who you could cluster with. #liveitexperienceit

Live It Experience It - promotes land, air and water based activities in Northern Ireland, food and drink and great places to stay

 



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Orla McGrady

About Orla McGrady

Orla McGrady is from Co Down so as you can imagine, growing up in the hikers heaven has made Orla the keen walker she is today. Orla loves all things arts and crafts so if there's exhibitions, galleries, craft demonstrations or craft fayres, Orla is more than likely going to be there. Orla is passionate about life, having fun and spreading the word of what Northern Ireland has to offer. If you would like to collaborate with Live It Experience It please email hello@liveitexperienceit.com