Welcome to our walking blog. The aim of this blog is to give readers a further insight into walking in Northern Ireland. The blog will cover everything from seasonal walking suggestions and events to information on how to best practice ‘Leave No Trace’ techniques and walk responsibly in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We will also be inviting local accomplished mountaineers and industry experts to give their thoughts and opinions into Northern Ireland top walking spots and other trails more off the beaten track.
For your definitive guide to walking in Northern Ireland visit www.walkni.com
Posted on August 12, 2015 @ 11:26 AM in
Organised by the Spartan Red Sox walking club taking place in August each year the Mournes Seven Sevens Challenge sees walkers climb all seven peaks in the Mourne Mountains, Co. Down that are 700m or more above sea level. A distance of 18 miles and 2,495m to climb this is no mean feat! We caught up with John McKenna who recently completed the challenge to get a first hand account of what it takes to complete such a challenge.
*All heights are taken from the 1990 edition of the OS 1:25000 scale map. Other editions show only 6 peaks of over 700m
Are you an avid walker?
I've been walking for years now, Mournes, Wicklow, Donegal & Belfast Hills. I've been over to Snowdon, Ben Nevis and Scallfell Pike several times as well. The Mournes though are my favourite. If it's a 6 hour hike with several peaks or just a short leisurely walk, it has the lot. It also helps that its a stunning place to be at any time of the year especially winter.
How did you prepare / did you do much training for the event?
To be honest it kind of crept up on me. I knew it was coming up but was distracted by other things. So I hadn't really been putting in the miles to be ready for it. I'd been doing a lot of cycling of late so I figured that would help.
Have you done the Mournes Seven Sevens before? What made you decide to do it?
No, I've never done it before, but this last year I've been looking for different things to try. The Sevens in terms of a walking challenge is definitely a box to be ticked if your a walker.
Did you do it alone or as part of a group?
I did the challenge with my old friend Aidan Connelly from Dublin who comes up for regular Mourne walks. It was great to have company on such a tough walk, someone to spur you on when it got tough. I have to say that everybody we met along the walk were great, all sharing the same tough experience with good craic.
What was the highest and lowest point of the challenge? (figuratively speaking!)
I'm not going to lie, I found the later half of this challenge extremely tough. The long boggy part from Meelbeg to Bencrom really drained the energy out of me. Any energy I had left for Binnian and Lamagan was gone. So from that point on I was digging deep just to complete the challenge. I had to have a few hard words with myself on a several occasions!!! The high point was just the scenery and the amazing weather. When I was exhausted I rested and took in the views, a great lift, and I suppose thats the whole point of being there.
What was in your bag? What food/kit did you bring?
I pack light when walking. A fleece, waterproofs and a peaked hat to keep the rain from my face. Lots of water, a flask of coffee and sandwiches. My secret weapon though are a large packet of jelly beans. Guaranteed to pick you up when the energy levels are ebbing away.
How long did it take?
It took 11 hours and 45 minutes. The longest day I've ever spent walking in the Mournes.
Do you have any advice/tips for those thinking of completing the challenge next year?
Apart from getting your head seen to for doing it in the first place, good advice would be to put in the miles beforehand. LOTS!
Would you do it again?
Maybe in a few years time, but I think I'd need my arm twisted a bit.
Now you’ve completed the Mournes Seven Sevens what’s the next challenge (or was that one enough?!)
My next challenge is a 1.5K swim at Glendalough open water festival, Wicklow in September. Something different, challenging and surrounded by mountains from a different angle, should be good!
What is your favourite summit in the Mournes?
That's a hard one. The views from each are all so different but I love Slieve Binnian, especially in winter with snow. Hot coffee & a bar of chocolate, 360 panoramic views all around, amazing!
John McKenna (right) with friend and fellow walker Aidan Connelly
Posted on July 22, 2015 @ 11:51 AM in
Northern Ireland’s countryside is absolutely bursting with history and legacy. To highlight some of the many interesting places you can explore on foot we’ve put together a list of wonderful walks with colourful histories. Get ready to walk in the footsteps of giants, saints, heroes and chieftains:
Starting and finishing at Gortin Glen Forest Park approximately 6 miles North of Omagh, this 9 mile circular walk will take you through the heart of some of Ulster's most spectacular countryside so you can enjoy the relaxing pace of life away from the city. An excellent off-road hill walk opening up views of the Bluestack and High Sperrin Mountain ranges. Robbers Table marks a refuge near the top of Ballynatubbrit Mountain from which a local ‘Rapparee' (bandit) caused havoc along the carriageways a few centuries ago. On clear days the Donegal and high Sperrin mountains can be seen in all their majesty, while the unspoilt plain of Omagh lies to the south
Altnagowna or the Grey Mare's Tail as it is better known is one of the tallest and most spectacular waterfalls in Glenariff. Legend has it that Ossian, warrior/poet son of the giant Finn McCool was trying to outrun a large band of Vikings who chased him into picturesque Glenariff Forest. As they closed in, Ossian decided to climb down a steep gully. About to plunge to his death, he suddenly grabbed a mysterious grey, rope-like column and climbed to safety. On reaching the top he saw a white horse grazing and realised it was her tail. He thanked the horse and asked for help at which point she turned into a mountain mist, fell to the ground as water, and washed away the pursuing Norsemen. Today you can visit this and other spectacular falls along the waymarked Waterfall Walk within the forest park.
Roe Valley Country Park runs for approx. 3.5 miles either side of the River Roe offering a variety of riverside and woodland walks. Found in the park, picturesque Largy Bridge is the very location where the legendary 'leap of the dog' took place, giving Limavady its name which is derived from the Irish meaning “Leim an Mhadaidh” (Leap of the Dog). Originally located on the site of Roe Valley Country Park it was from O’Cahans’ castle where the O’Cahan clan ruled Limavady until the 17th century. On one occasion, when under siege by their enemies, the O’Donnell clan from Country Donegal, the O’Cahans sent for reinforcements across the River Roe via a faithful wolfhound who leapt across the swirling currents of the river to deliver the message. The O’Cahans’ stronghold was secured and their influence continued to thrive until the 17th century.
The most dramatic mountain pass in the Mournes, Hare's Gap once marked the exit point for smuggled goods which had crossed the hills from the coast along the Brandy Pad during the 18th and 19th centuries. A track created by the boots of smugglers and the hooves of heavily laden ponies, illicit cargoes of tobacco, wine, spirits, leather, silk and spices would be spirited through the mountains from the east coast to be distributed inland. Nowadays, the Gap's easily reached central location on the rim of the High Mournes makes it the perfect starting point for routes scaling adjoining peaks, or simply for a walk along the gentle contours of the aptly named Brandy Pad.
The most northerly inhabited island in Ireland, situated 10km off the North East coast, Rathlin’s wonder lies in the variety of birdlife that grace the shores of this remote and tranquil island. With 6 different walks providing just under 20 miles of walking on the island there is plenty to explore. There are many tales of myth and mystery surrounding Rathlin, the most famous tells of Robert the Bruce. In 1306, the Scottish King was driven from Scotland by Edward I of England and took refuge on Rathlin. While he was on Rathlin, it is said that he watched a spider persevering again and again to bridge a gap with its web. Eventually it succeeded. Robert the Bruce took heart from the spider’s efforts, raised fresh forces and returned to Scotland to fight for his kingdom. He too, eventually succeeded and in 1314, regained the crown of Scotland.
Beginning at the newly renovated Bloody Bridge car park this route follows the Bloody Bridge River to the Mourne Wall and onto the summit of Slieve Donard (853m) the highest mountain in Northern Ireland. Once you’ve reached the top you’ll be greeted by a small stone tower as well as the remains of two prehistoric burial cairns. Originally named after the mythical figures Boirche and Slángha it was later associated with, and named after, Saint Donard who made the summit his hermitage. Up until the 1830s, people would climb the mountain as part of a yearly pilgrimage, which may have originally been a Lughnasadh ritual.
Slemish Mountain rises 1500 feet (437 metres) dramatically above the rural plains to the east of Ballymena. The central core of an extinct volcano, this breathtaking monolith dominates the local landscape however its value as a heritage site is entirely bound up with its association with Saint Patrick. Legend tells that Saint Patrick was captured and brought to Slemish to work as a shepherd under a man named Miluic for around six years. After his escape, many believe that Patrick planned his now famous journey back to Ireland to convert his old master and one of Patrick’s churches is thought to be at the site of the nearby Skerry Churchyard. Nowadays, the short walk up Slemish is a popular pilgrimage and offers spectacular panoramic views west to the Bann Valley, north to the Glens of Antrim and east to the distant coast of Scotland.
Beginning at Gortmore Viewpoint both walks take place along the cliff top overlooking Benone Beach, Lough Foyle and the Inishowen Peninsula in Co. Donegal providing stunning panoramas of the surrounding coastline and countryside. Be sure to look out for four life-size sculptures, highlighting the myths and legends of the Roe Valley’s rich cultural heritage.
Posted on June 4, 2015 @ 3:37 PM in
Last month Dublin based walking club Oldtown Road Trailbreakers headed to the North Coast to take on the Causeway Coast Challenge Walk. A 30km walk along the rugged coastal path of the Causeway Coast Way organised by local walking club the Bannside Ramblers, the route features some of the best views Ireland has to offer. Martin Dunne, one of the founding members of the Dublin based club shares his experience of their walking trip North…
Hiking in Northern Ireland is nothing new to the Club, it was actually on an excursion to Slieve Binnian in 2012 where the name The Oldtown Road Trailbreakers was christened!! It was on the recommendation of three of our hikers who attended last years challenge that we decide to take this one on this year and boy we weren't disappointed. The only thing that matched the scenery and banter of the day was the welcome we received on arrival and the care and attention to detail of this well organised event. An absolute credit to the Bannside Ramblers.
Our day started with a 5am start leaving Balbriggan and heading up to have ourselves ready for hiking at 8:30am. The weather didn't seem to want to play ball at the beginning but we were soon we'll into our stride and as the scenery took hold of us the weather seemed to matter little. This truly is one of the most pictorial trails we've taken to date with postcard type views around every corner and over every hill. It's a photographers dream and we were instructed to stop many times by our very own club photographer Sandra to pose for some of the great shots you can see of our day.
The route itself was not extremely difficult but the distance of the challenge made us take it seriously. Again the quality organisation of the event made sure that no one would suffer much as the welcomed water stops and coffee Van at the halfway point were as well positioned as they were well received !! There was certainly nothing technically difficult about the route and the navigation is as straight forward as any hike we've been on however the well maintained trail is a credit to the area and again the views are the absolute making of this special event.
Looking down on Port Moon Bothy
It's safe to say that everyone was happy to finish the trail though after a long day and a decent distance covered. An 8hr hike is always a trek. Again a thanks to the Bannside Ramblers for the snacks and drinks at the finish and the classy touch of a certificate of completion and a badge to remember the day. The after event dinner at the Bayview Hotel was a welcomed celebration of the day and spirits were high and the conversation of the day flowed along with many tasty well earned beverages.
It was a long day as we returned home around 10pm that night, though these long trips are nothing new to us and as long as we enjoy our days as much as we did this one we will continue to take on these type of challenges. We regularly hike in the Mourne Mountains and after sampling what the North Coast has to offer we will certainly be venturing back !! There has already been rumblings within the club about returning for this years Causeway Marathon Challenge so this won't be the last time the Trailbreakers come to the Coast.
The Causeway Coast Challenge Walk takes place at the start of May each year. The route follows part of the Causeway Coast Way from Portballintrae to Portbraddan and back. If you would like to walk this section of fabulous coastline yourself, walking route details and maps can be downloaded for free from WalkNI.com (see sections 3-5 of the Causeway Coast Way).
Posted on May 14, 2015 @ 11:53 AM in
It’s not long to go until the Mourne International Walking Festival happening on 26th-28th June. An ideal time to discover the delights of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, sample some of the excellent local cuisine and accommodation, enjoy traditional music and most importantly participate in some wonderful walking.
This year the festival base is in the pretty seaside resort of Warrenpoint situated on the shores of Carlingford Lough. A relaxed and friendly town with quaint shops, bars and restaurants there is plenty to see and do after you've walked to the impressive summits.
Relax, Eat & Drink
Located 50 miles to the south of Belfast and approximately 1 1/2 hours from Dublin, Warrenpoint is a great base for walkers wanting some fantastic walking as well as a wide choice of cafés, restaurants and pubs on their doorstep. Here are some top tips from the locals for places to relax with a coffee or have a bite to eat:
Café – Fulla Beans Coffee & Food Bar
This family run café offers an extensive menu with everything from delicious breakfast baps to healthy soups, bagels and wraps not to mention gourmet burgers.
Restaurant - Fusion
Husband and wife team, Mark and Patrice O’Kane run this gem of a restaurant on Duke Street in Warrenpoint. With a relaxed wine bar feel, fabulous food and welcoming staff, Fusion is the perfect setting for an evening meal with friends or family.
Bar & Grill - Bennett's Seafood Bar & Grill
Established in 1854 as a coaching inn, Bennett’s has remained a hub of activity in Warrenpoint. Nestled in the heart of Warrenpoint, between the Mourne and Cooley Mountains on Carlingford Lough, they specialise in fresh, local seafood, and prime quality steaks with all their seafood caught from Kilkeel Harbour, every morning.
Hotel – The Whistledown Hotel
Located on the seafront, this independently run hotel boasts two popular restaurants and two lively bars with full cocktail menus not to mention Prosecco on tap! It is also the venue for the social highlight of the festival – the Blister Ball on the Saturday night where you can kick off your boots and socialise with other walkers. This is a casual event with a hot supper and dancing into the small hours.
For more places to refuel check out www.visitmournemountains.co.uk or phone the Visitor Information Centre in Warrenpoint T: +44 (0)28 4175 2256
What else is there to do in the Mournes?
Whilst walking may be the main focus of your trip to the Mournes we know that most of you will probably also want to explore a little during your stay. Check out some of our ideas for other things to do in the Mourne Mountains all within a 30 min drive.
Mourne Seafood Cookery School, Kilkeel
The harbour town of Kilkeel is famed for its fabulous seafood and the Mourne Seafood Cookery School, located in the Nautilus Centre, is the place to learn the art of seafood cuisine from highly skilled professional chefs. Find out all about how fish are caught, filleted, handled and cooked, then serve up and enjoy your own meal on one of their popular culinary courses.
Whitewater Brewery Tour, Kilkeel
All fans of real ale and locally brewed lagers should not miss a trip to Whitewater, one of Northern Ireland’s most loved microbreweries. Also located in Kilkeel, Whitewater produce handcrafted beers from the finest ingredients with no additives and a tour of the brewery will teach you the various processes each bottle goes through before ending up in pubs and bars across Northern Ireland.
Mourne Food Cycle Tour, Newcastle
With the Mourne Mountains as its backdrop, the Mourne Foods Cycle Trail pairs up gentle cycling, stunning scenery and simply delicious food! Devised by the Enniskeen Country House Hotel the trail showcases the wonderful artisan food in this area of Northern Ireland. You will get the chance to stop off with local producers, hear their stories and buy directly from the farmer, before storing your provisions in the specially provided bike panniers adding to this unique and memorable experience.
Soak Seaweed Baths, Newcastle
This multi award winning alternative seaweed bath house and spa is the perfect place to relax and unwind after a day in the hills. Located on the seafront in Newcastle, Soak offers a place to be spoiled in silky hot seaweed baths or enjoy rejuvenating spa treatments.
If you fancy a bit of variety from just hillwalking, there are a whole host of other outdoor activities available in the area. Everything from the Kilkeel Cycle Route, a 28 mile (45km) circular route around the foothills of the Mournes, to mountain biking around purpose built trails at Castlewellan Castlewellan (also home to a fantastic scenic walk trail network) or Rostrevor Forest Park to rock climbing or sea kayaking along the South East Coast Sea Kayak Trail. You can be rest assured that on your trip to the Mournes there will be plenty to keep you busy. Visit OutdoorNI.com for a whole host of other activity ideas to try out during your stay in the Mourne Mountains.
The Royal County Down Golf Club is located in one of the world's most naturally beautiful links settings in the Murlough Nature Reserve. Located on the edge of Newcastle, it is one of the oldest courses in Ireland and is widely regarded as one of the best in the United Kindgom. Against the magnificent backdrop of the Mountains of Mourne, the links stretches along the shores of Dundrum Bay, zigzagging back and forth to provide a different vista from virtually every hole.
Enjoy your time exploring the Mourne Mountains!
Posted on May 13, 2015 @ 9:46 AM in
The highest and most dramatic mountain range in Northern Ireland, there is no shortage of walks with fabulous views and breath-taking hills to climb in the Mourne Mountains, Co. Down. With so many to choose from we’ve put together a list of the top 5 viewed walks in the Mourne Mountains on WalkNI.com. Click on the links below for downloadable route descriptions and maps:
Distance: 2.9 miles (one way) linear
No list of top walks in the Mournes would be complete without including Northern Ireland’s highest summit, Slieve Donard (850m (2,789 ft)). The most well-trodden way to the top, this route begins in Donard Park and follows the Glen River to the saddle between Donard and Commmedagh before meeting the Mourne Wall for the final ascent to the summit. Expect extensive views from the top as the mountains sweep down to the sea opening up views from Newcastle to the Isle of Man, Wicklow, Donegal, Wales and Scotland. For an alternative route to the top check out Slieve Donard via Bloody Bridge.
Distance: 7 miles circular
This fantastic circular walking route begins at Carrick Little Car Park and follows the Mourne Wall to the summit of Slieve Binnian (the 3rdhighest peak at 747m). It then traverses between the spectacular South and North Tors before descending along a track past the Blue Lough, Annalong Forest and back to Carrick Little car park near Annalong village. You’ll encounter fine panoramas along the way with the striking Silent Valley and Ben Crom Reservoirs below and towering summits beyond providing dramatic views.
Distance: 6 miles circular
A strenuous walk this route takes in the peaks of Slieve Bearnagh (one of the most distinctive mountains in the Mournes, renowned for the granite tors on its summit (739m)) and Slieve Meelmore (704m), finishing by walking down Happy Valley and along a section of the Ulster Way. This circuit uses the Mourne Wall as a handrail on the higher parts of the mountain and offers superb views on a clear day stretching as far as the Sperrins, Lough Neagh and Strangford Lough.
Distance: 22 miles circular
A 1 day challenge following the 22 miles (35 km) of the historic Mourne Wall this highly strenuous route incorporates the ascents and descents of 15 peaks including 7 of the 10 highest mountains in the Mournes and Northern Ireland. Taking over 18 years to complete between 1904 - 1922 many skilled people were employed seasonally to build this stone wall which stands up to 8ft high and 3ft wide. Not for the faint hearted it is sure to reward you with a truly unique experience.
*Group numbers of no higher than 12 should attempt this route in one go, due to erosion issues around the fragile Mourne wall.
Distance: 5.9 miles circular
A circular route in the western Mournes giving a taster of views that can be experienced in the region. The route ascends Hen, Cock and Pigeon Rock Mountains using open mountain terrain before descending through a valley to the starting car park. Expect interesting rock formations and luscious green grass of the surrounding countryside.