My Favourite Walk -Slieve Bearnagh
Posted on November 15, 2012 @ 4:25 PM in
Ross Millar, keen hill walker and Chairperson of Moutnaineering Ireland shares with WalkNI.com his favourite walk...
I am reliably informed that I first started walking at 11 months. Nothing terribly serious at that stage but then, as now, a voyage of exploration. I was born with a love of the outdoors and still value few things more dearly than the sights, sounds and most smells of the countryside. My love of the outdoors was nurtured by being a ‘cub’ and then a ‘boy’ scout from the ages of 7 until 18. The things we got up to would be deemed so ‘risky’ now that they would be banned or someone would at least be prosecuted but I still remember them with fondness. Cut knees; a broken arm; a couple of scars, so what?
I started ‘hillwalking’ in my mid-teens, cycling to the then nearby Sperrins and walking over the moorlands. I liked the space to think, still do. On that, I am not alone as it has been the practice of many artists, photographers, poets and philosophers to take to the hills. However, given that I claim to be none of these, I can safely say it is a matter of personal choice as to why you go hillwalking and that for many it is a chance to socialise and meet new people. However, enough on the whys and wherefores, I would recommend ‘The Joy of Hillwalking’ by Ralph Storer as an amusing read on the subject.
After spending my student days attending art college ‘across the water’ I came back to Northern Ireland and started earning a living bringing my love of both hillwalking and the great outdoors with me. My career path was quite deliberate. It had to involve the outdoors, so as a by then ‘Town Planner’, I deliberately specialised in rural planning and in that sense got to know almost all the countryside of Northern Ireland fairly intimately over the next 20 years. When I first ventured to the Lake and Peak Districts and then Snowdonia in the 80’s, what was so obvious was the sheer numbers of people and all the paraphernalia of cafes, B&B’s and outdoor gear shops. There was nowhere in Ireland that had anything to compare with this.
However, what we did and still have throughout Ireland is a hugely diverse landscape with glorious hills and mountains embracing the weather and often just kissing the sea. There are endless places to discover and little competition for space (unlike Snowdon!).
I have enjoyed countless beautiful and memorable walks all over Ireland. In the North, I love the sheer splendour of the Mournes, the freshness of the Causeway Coast with the sea breezes, headlands and glimpses of Scotland and the Isles, and Fermanagh will always hold a special place in my heart because of its own magic of contrasts. Add to all that the changes in the seasons and the light and, somewhat like being on Desert Island Discs. I would find it really hard to choose my favourite but I have been asked to so I have chosen Slieve Bernagh in the Mournes.
My Favourite Walk -Slieve Bearnagh
Bearnagh or ‘Gapped Mountain’ is one of the 6 highest peaks in the Mourne range. Whilst at 739 meters it is not a huge mountain, to me it is just so striking. Those rocky tors and the magnificent slabs on its northern face; the (Mourne) Wall almost defying gravity in places, you cannot help but want to go to its summit where you have magnificent views in all directions.
Like all mountains there is more than one way to reach the top. Most people will take the well-established (and relatively dry) route leading from Trassey car park, up the Trassey Track to the quarry and from there take the partially stone pitched path to the Wall at the saddle between Bearnagh and Meelmore.
I prefer the longer approach to the same spot following the ridge from the ‘Ulster Way’ car park to the summit of Meelbeg. As you near the summit Bearnagh majestically appears. From there down to the saddle between Meelbeg and Meelmore and you can take the contour track round.
You then can choose to more or less go straight up (through quite difficult scree) or take one of a number of contoured paths breaking for the summit when you feel able. It’s simply a beautiful mountain.
There are a number of quality walks on WalkNI.com which take in Slieve Bearnagh including ‘Bearnagh and Meelmore’ and the challenging ‘Slieve Donard, Commedagh and Bearnagh’ routes. Visit WalkNI.com for descriptions, images and maps.
In this latter part of my life, I am keen not only to ensure that such places remain accessible and enjoyed but that they are valued and looked after. That is why I give of my time to Mountaineering Ireland and other bodies. I myself am a bit of a ‘lone walker’ or a small group man at most. I like the space and the ability to dawdle if I want. I’m with Hippocrates in believing that “Walking is man's best medicine”. My father was sadly unable to walk for most of his life due to a debilitating bone disease, so to me it is simply a blessing.
Aldous Huxley said his father considered a walk among the mountains as the equivalent of churchgoing. It certainly means that to me and I recall a funny incident when asked by a local Councillor for whose organisation I was then working “What Church do you attend?” the look of sheer bewilderment when I replied “Jesus Christ and Latter Day Mountains”. He probably thought I was a Mormon!