Hiking in Northern Ireland – the Mourne Mountains.

A land where sea, sky and mountain meet, and the inspiration for CS Lewis’s ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’, the Mourne mountains in County Down, Northern Ireland, are the provinces only significant mountain range.  They sit on the east coast, 50km south of Belfast and around 100km north of Dublin, the Mournes are one of our most popular day hiking tours, starting from our base in Dublin.


Descending the southern flank of Slieve Donard, and looking into the Annalong valley.

The Mournes are comprised of granite, and many of the tops are crowned with statuesque granite tors. They have steeply sloping flanks, vegetated with rough grasses, sedges, cottongrass and heather.  In places the slopes give way to imposing crags and cliffs, and here you will find the ravens and possibly see peregrine falcons. Look out also for buzzards and stonechat as well as the more common meadow pippit.

The range can be divided into the eastern High Mournes and the western Low Mournes, and in the far northeast corner can be found the highest peak and the highest point in Ulster, Slieve Donard, at 850 metres (2790ft).  Named after St. Domangard, a 5th C follower of St. Patrick, Donard is the anglicised version of his name, Slieve translating from the Irish as mountain.


Slieve Donard and the Mourne wall.

Slieve Donard looks rather like an upturned pudding, with its’ eastern flank reaching down to the sea, and is topped by two large ancient burial cairns, and by the more modern tower, (one of three), of the Mourne Wall.

The views from the summit are spectacular, on a clear day the Isle of Man is clearly visible to the north east, and in clear air the mountains of the English Lake District and Snowdonia in Wales can be seen on the horizon.  If you can draw your eyes away from the coastal panorama and look inland, the whole of the Mourne mountains are laid out before you, valleys, crags and tors.

This compact range of mountains comprises 6 mountains over 700 metres, including the majestic looking and tor topped Slieve Binnian and Slieve Bernagh.


Looking across the Mournes from Slieve Donard summit cairn.

The area is very popular with hikers, and is crossed by many paths, making navigation relatively simple. To assist further with navigation is a wall, the Mourne Wall, one of the ranges most distinctive and iconic features. Sometimes referred to as a miniature Great Wall of China, the wall is over 35 kilometres long, goes over no less than 15 tops, and encloses 36 square kilometres of land.

It was built between 1904 and 1922 as a dry stone wall, without mortar, and averages 1.5 metres high and 0.9 metres thick. Constructed by the Belfast Water Commissioners, it was designed to protect the water supply for city of Belfast from cattle and sheep, and at its’ heart lies the Silent Valley dam and reservoir, completed in 1933. A later reservoir, Ben Crom, was added in the 1950’s.DSC_1949

On the Brandy Pad.

Water from a second river enclosed by the Wall, the Annalong river, is diverted via a tunnel through the mountain of Slieve Binnian, to drain into the Silent Valley reservoir.

A clearly recognisable route through the mountains is the Brandy Pad and the Trassey Track, this was an old smugglers route from the 18th and 19th century, where ponies would bring contraband such as tobacco, wine and spirits from the coast inland.

Today this track sees only enthusiastic hikers, enjoying the mountain air and taking in the wonderful scenery.


About Author

Russell is the founder and owner of mountaintrails.ie. With over 35 years of mountaineering experience, including expeditions in Europe and Africa, Russell leads many of the trips himself, and is a fully qualified Mountain Leader, has a Rescue and Emergency Care First Aid qualification and is fully insured.


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