Slieve Donard at 850 metres is the highest peak in Northern Ireland and one of the ‘4-Peaks’ (the highest points in each of Irelands four provinces). It’s a very popular mountain and is most often climbed from Newcastle via the Glen River path. This is the shortest and quickest ascent of the mountain and is a route much used by charity hikers and those keen to ‘bag’ the summit.
Our route is not so straightforward, as we take the much more scenic trail from Meelmore Lodge and climb both Slievenaglogh and Slieve Commedagh along with Slieve Donard. This is a harder but more satisfying outing (graded as Strenuous) as we can enjoy some of the very best views available in these lovely mountains.
We begin at the conveniently placed Meelmore Lodge camping ground and bistro, here there is ample parking and a clear view of the mountains.
Following the farm track to the right of the buildings we head south towards the open mountainsides, crossing a tall stile we then head east to cross the Trassey River (only awkward in wet weather) and join the Trassey Track beyond.
After around a kilometre we turn left up the slope and follow an old track to climb the flanks of Slievenaglogh until we reach the famous Mourne Wall.
Built between 1904 and 2022 the wall was intended to keep livestock from polluting the waters that fed into the Silent Valley reservoir that ultimately supplied the city of Belfast.
The wall was built from granite using dry stone walling techniques and stands proud as a great landmark in these hills. On average the wall is 1.5 metres high and runs for 31.5 kilometres over the summits of 15 mountains.
Our route now follows the wall as it snakes over the watershed, sticking to the high ground. We follow it over Slievenaglogh and up towards Slieve Commedagh, where a steep grassy climb finally sees us reach the tower that sits atop the mountain.
A small detour takes us to a bronze age burial mound and the true summit before returning to the wall and continuing our journey.
A steep descent follows until we reach the col between it and the imposing bulk of Slieve Donard before us.
Slieve Donard has a smooth conical shape and sits squarely by the Irish Sea, commanding views to the Isle of Man and even to Scotland on days with good visibility.
It’s a tough climb of 270 metres from the col to the summit but there are steps on the left side of the wall to make it a little easier. Nonetheless it is a daunting prospect when standing at the base of the mountain.
When we finally make it to the summit of Slieve Donard the views are spectacular and the effort seems all worthwhile. The tower and the wall here make useful resting places on windy days and an ideal place to catch our breath and have a bite to eat.
After the obligatory photos we head back to the col and regroup before following the lower, much easier and predominantly level Brandy Pad path as it traverses the head of the Annalong valley and then the Silent valley.
Eventually we reach the Hare’s Gap, a pass between the rocky slopes around us, and drop steeply down to re-join the Trassey Track.
After another kilometre we ford the river and follow a rough path back to the field boundary wall and the final few metres back to Meelmore Lodge for a well-earned drink.
This hike is graded as Strenuous on our hike grading system.
Russ Mills is the owner and principal guide at Mountaintrails, a mountain guiding company based in Dublin.
You can find more details of the Slieve Donard hike on our website at: https://mountaintrails.ie/guided-hikes-and-mountaineering-courses/mourne-mountains-guided-trek/