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Hitting The Wall – Literally and Figuratively!

Posted on September 12, 2014 @ 1:04 PM in Adventure

Eternal adventure seeker and sports enthusiast, Andrea Harrower recently decided to take on the mighty Mourne Wall.  Here’s her story…

(NB: Undertaking such a challenge should not be done so lightly and training and preparation is key.  It is not advised that this challenge be attempted without proper planning and consideration and with the correct provision of food and water).   

The last day of freedom before school drop offs/pick ups/extra curricular activities dawned bright and a planned “me time” run in a local forest, then became a planned wee run in the Mournes….which by halfway through the 30min drive to the majestic Kingdom of Mourne became a madcap plan?! of running the entire Mourne Wall! Not a plan?! that I’d be encouraging many to do, unless they actually planned it!

The Mourne Wall was constructed to enclose a reservoir's catchment area in the Mourne Mountains. It was built between 1904 and 1922 by the Belfast Water Commissioners to enclose the water catchment in the Mournes.  The wall was crafted from natural granite stone using traditional dry stone walling techniques. On average the wall is about 1.5 metres high, and 0.8-0.9 metres thick.  It is 22 miles (35 km) long and passes over 15 mountains.  So yes, it is not something to be taken lightly without adequate preparation and provisions !!!! NB do as I say, not as I do!

Walkers generally complete the Mourne Wall over the course of 2 days, camping about halfway around the route, and reports are that anybody attempting to complete the wall in 1 day, does so in about 12-13 hours.  Setting off at around 10am in an anticlockwise direction from Silent Valley car park, with the aim of walking the inclines and running the flats and down hills, I was reckoning about 8 hours. A far cry from the wee forest run I was planning before the madcap plan took hold!

The wall immediately climbs up Moolieve, to Wee Binnian and Binnian on an easy-to-follow narrow path, and from the very start the views are spectacular. The descent from Binnian to Annalong Wood is on rugged and rocky terrain, with stunning views of the wall and ensuing summits rising up above the far side of the trees.

The section through Annalong Wood is testing – heavy undergrowth, brambles, rocks, bore holes and river crossings!  - but then an easy path resumes via Rocky Mountain and the whole way across the Bog of Donard (guess why it’s called that???) and up to the summit of Slieve Donard.

By this stage I had been going 2hr50min and bounced down the descent to the saddle with Slieve Commedagh in less than 10mins. I felt invigorated and full of energy!...or was that just because I’d eaten 1 of my 3 chocolate bars (NB do not attempt this with such meagre supplies! If I’d planned this at all, I’d have had a full blown picnic with me….not to mention way more than an insufficient 1 litre of water) at the top of Donard?!

Up Commedagh and running along the wall on a long, gradual descent across Slieve Corragh and Slievenaglogh, the vista ahead is breathtaking and not only can you see the Mourne Wall snake its way in the distance over peaks to come, but you can see it weaving its way around behind you from where you have come. The ascent up Slieve Bearnagh is a challenging one, as is its descent to Slieve Meelmore – but sure scrambling gives you an upper body workout!

Psychologically, once you’ve done Slieve Meelbeg, then you think you’re pretty much home – as all the biggest summits are behind you. Oh how wrong can you be?! Not even my 2nd chocolate bar of 3 on Meelbeg could spur me through this final section. Yes….it had happened….you know that saying “hit the wall”?!...well, having hit the Mourne Wall lastmin.com with insufficient provisions, I had hit the wall figuratively. So, what do endurance athletes do in such situations? Start talking to yourself like a nutter, using any mantras and methods necessary to keep moving forward!

The section from Slieve Loughshannagh via Carn and Muck was a total slog through boggy, marshy terrain – ending with a slow, sharp, heather-ridden descent down Muck and through further no-mans-land until crossing over Banns Road and ascending the final summit, Slievenaglogh (yip! there are 2 of them along the Mourne Wall!).

With the allure of the final summit, and devouring the 1 final chocolate bar, you’d think that energy levels would be restored. Nope! That final wee summit felt like Everest surely feels. And then, the final straw, just when you’ve crested the top and think all you have to do is drop down to the finish at Silent Valley – the wall sweeps you totally the opposite direction! Sure, what’s an extra 2 miles?!

With aching knees, hammered feet, bruised legs….and so the list goes on…I finally ended up back at the car after 7hrs10min. I hadn’t felt this shattered since doing the Himalaya 100 in 2010, but couldn’t help but think that if I’d had proper food and water then I probably wouldn’t have felt so bad.

No matter what though, the journey reinforced what an exceptionally beautiful area the Kingdom of Mourne is. There is spectacular scenery, varied terrain, diverse flora and fauna around not only the summits themselves, but the low lying foothills too.

Whether you’re going 22 miles, or 2 miles, you can’t help but be in the Mournes and feel lucky to be alive. . . even when you feel nearly dead!  En route I saw only 2 sets of people, the 2nd set being after 5hrs and in my lengthy slog through the last section. I saw 2 women hikers approaching from the opposite direction, and was unsure I could even muster a “hello”. However, I did, and not only that…I even managed to make 1 of them crease up in laughter when she asked me, “How far have you come?”. I told her I’d started in Silent Valley and would be back in Silent Valley in a couple of hours. She asked, “Did you start yesterday?”. I replied, “No, I started just 5 hours ago” and she was astounded. Her hilarity was when I then added, “Sure, the Mourne Wall is 22 miles – that’s not even a marathon” !

Anyone out there wanting a marathon route?......hit the wall!

Andrea Harrower
Andrea Harrower  The Belles

Eternal adventure seeker.... A sports enthusiast, who competes at a high level but who has as much passion for encouraging other females and kids into the great outdoors. Along with 3 other like-minded girls she founded The Belles in 2009!

5 comments have been posted in reply to this article

Posted by Jenny Cosgrove on September 15, 2014 @ 10:44 AM

Full of admiration for you! Amazing effort and great report!

Posted by Jo McCallum on September 15, 2014 @ 6:06 PM

Great work Andrea, both by hand and by foot!!!

Posted by Andrew on September 18, 2014 @ 1:10 PM

Fantastic Andrea! Myself and a friend set out to walk the wall on the 14th sept at 7.30am. I took us just under 11 hours. We were lucky to have a fully stocked packs with sandwiches, chocolate & nuts. One of the hardest things I have ever done, will definitely be doing some training beforehand next time!

Posted by Anthony on September 18, 2014 @ 2:29 PM

Total Respect for anyone why does this.

I love the Mournes but have been away from them for far too long. I attempted this by myself 25 years ago and although fit & healthy and having been hill walking regularly I did no real training - it's not for the faint hearted!

On a blistering sunny August day I suffered heat stroke several miles in and struggled back to the car by myself, dizzy, shivering and throwing up!

BE WARNED - BE PREPARED!

The Mournes are beautiful but do not underestimate them.

Heading back this weekend for a quick trip up Donard with the family- can't wait!

Maybe one day I'll attempt the wall again...!

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