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 November 29, 2013 @ 1:00 PM in
We asked Hikers Blog to put together some of their best shots from their walking in the Mourne Mountains and here’s what they came up with. I think you’ll agree the results are pretty impressive showing that sometimes a walkers view really is the best!
Binnian Sunrise - Eamonn Patton
After a great camp I took this photo of my friend John standing silhouetted during a beautiful sunrise on Slieve Binnian . This photo was featured in a double page spread in Trail Magazine.
Annalong Valley - Ed Benton
I took this photo after a really enjoyable hike from Annalong Wood, up the valley into Newcastle. The weather was fantastic, with just the occasional light shower. The winding track, secluded rock pools and mountain views made it all truly memorable and the view near the end in the picture above made it worth every step.
Man Meets Mountain - Ed Benton
Slieve Lamagan is my favourite Mourne Mountain. Its rocky character and steep profile are unique in the Mournes and it is a formidable climb which demands respect. My friend Dave is pictured walking the path towards Lamagan, absolutely dwarfed by its immensity and power. For me Lamagan has a unique appeal no other mountain can match.
Alpine Conditions on Slieve Bearnagh - John Surginor
This photo was taken during the heavy snow in mid April this year. A friend, Eamonn stands on Slieve Bearnagh taking in the snow blanketed peaks of the Mournes, a rare and magical sight.
Dawn on Binnian - John Surginor
Slieve Binnian is definitely my favourite Mountain and nothing captures why like this photo. My two friends Spud and Catriona are pictured on the path up Binnian as the sun rises behind them, casting a beautiful golden light right across the Mournes. In this occasion rising early was definitely worth it.
Sundews - Eamonn Patton
Often in the mountains the dramatic views in the distance blind us to the beauty which lies beneath our feet. Take for example this beautiful Sundew, an insect eating plant with special appendages for catching its prey.
Red Sky - Oisin Patenall
We had been walking all day, and it was getting late and we still had a brave distance to cover to complete the Mourne Wall Challenge. We were rushing to pick up the pace and keeping our heads down, when gradually the bright glare of the summer sun started to fade and was replaced with a soft orange glow bouncing off the land all around us. It brought with it a peaceful atmosphere, which made me stop and just stand there, as if trying to absorb the moment.
Towards Hen - Oisin Patenall
It had been raining all day, and the skies had only ever changed colour from grey to dark grey. Then out of nowhere, the clouds cleared, the sky shone blue and Hen Mountain lit up in a golden light that only an autumnal evening sun can bring. It was a beautiful sight and changed the dreary atmosphere of the day
High Mournes From Eagle - Spud O'Hare
This shot was taken on a bright crisp Sunday morning from eagle mountain in the western mournes, I love the fact you can see all the high mournes, gives a real sense of the scale of the mountains.
Frozen Solitude - Spud O'Hare
This shot was taken on a very cold day from the stile at the bog of Donard, I like it because of the sense of frozen isolation, we were the only 2 people there at that time, and it really seemed like we had the frozen mountains to ourselves.
If these fantastic shots have inspired you to get out and experience the views first hand then make sure to visit WalkNI.com for route descriptions, maps, transport and facility information for over 230 quality walks in Northern Ireland.
Posted on October 10, 2013 @ 4:08 PM in
WalkNI.com caught up with long distance runner and all round adventurer Hannah Shields to find out where she gets her inspiration from. In 2007 Hannah became the first woman from Northern Ireland to conquer Mount Everest, just one of her many accolades. An enthusiastic mountaineer, Hannah has climbed extensively in Ireland, Scotland, the Alps, South America and Nepal and also competed in the inaugural Polar Challenge, a race to the Magnetic North Pole in which she came second. Lately she can be found on the podiums after completing some of the toughest Ultra Marathons in the UK and Europe. Currently living in Derry Hannah splits her time between training, expeditions, racing and working as a dentist.
Mountaineering and adventure racing is not a typical hobby, how did you get started?
From an early age I have always loved sports, taking part in everything going. While I was studying at University in Manchester there was a walking club but to be honest at first I was pretty sceptical. Why would I want to go walking? Surely all it involves is being outside and getting soaked. I went along anyway and the first time I went I enjoyed every second of it – I was as high as a kite! I didn’t realise you could get so much from walking. My mountaineering really started when I dated a student who was into climbing and I thought if you can’t beat him, join him! I was scared of heights so it was terrifying to begin with but I pushed through my fear and quickly became hooked. That’s when I realised I wanted to climb. I like to put myself outside of my comfort zone and I’m always looking for a challenge however saying that, if you had asked me 2 or 3 years ago if I would be competing in ultra marathons I would have laughed at you!
You have achieved so much, summiting Everest, racing to the magnetic North Pole, competing in 100 mile Ultra Race’s to name just a few of your accomplishments but what has been your most memorable achievement?
It’s hard to say because they are all so different in their own ways. Obviously summiting Everest was a dream come true but I love the atmosphere when competing in events at home such as the Mourne Way and Causeway Coast Marathons. The polar trips were memorable for their physical challenge, you’re pulling 150lb pulks in temperatures as low as minus 70C having to hold your own against men who have the weight advantage. Then again with my ultra running I still have to pinch myself that I’m completing these 100 mile races. I’m just happy I can do all these things!
Obviously you can’t be away doing specialist training all the time, how do you train at home?
I just get outside as often as I can. Like everyone I like a lie in on a Saturday but if I decide to take up a challenge I have no problem getting up and out! I’m from Derry so I regularly hit the slopes of my beloved Binevenagh. I like to spend as much time there as I can and I know it so well yet I never get bored of going there, it’s just so dynamic. I like to train on my own without too many people so Binevenagh is perfect as you can often go out and not meet a soul so I have it all to myself! I also love training on the Giant’s Causeway Coast, the scenery up there is simply spectacular. I’ll do a 26 mile run along the coast from Portballintrae to Carrick-a-Rede and back. I also try and do a 52-80 mile race every month to keep fit. Many people often think you have to go far afield to find these amazing places and don’t realise or appreciate the fantastic scenery that is right on their doorstep. I have been lucky enough to experience some amazing trips in the British Isles but I can honestly say climbs in Northern Ireland are most definitely on par.
What are the crucial skills needed to train for such extreme conditions?
For something as extreme as Everest the preparation is all about breaking it down to things you need to be good at. For example coping in cold conditions and knowing what the appropriate clothing is to help you with this, being able to hill walk with a weight on your back and functioning without much sleep. When I was on my expedition to the Magnetic North Pole I was only getting a maximum of 2 or 3 hours of sleep at a time for the whole 4 or 5 weeks of the trip, in preparation for this I would deprive myself of sleep and do everyday tasks so my body learnt to do things automatically. You also need to be good at assessing your conditions, it’s a steep learning curve but you just have to get out there and do it! Being part of a walking or running club is a great way to introduce you to a lot of these elements. A lot of the time, it's as much about mental resolve and teamwork as physical fitness.
What was it like coming so close the first time you attempted Everest in 2003?
Absolutely devastating, it felt like the end of the world to come so close (Hannah was forced to make the heartbreaking decision to turn back just 100m from the summit due to frostbite injuries). I hadn’t achieved what I had set out to do and it was heartbreaking but you know what…I think it was the best thing that ever happened. Sometimes you just have to keep trying, if it’s something you really want, you’ll do it.
In 2007 Hannah returned to successfully summit Everest from the North-Tibetan side with the all male 7 summits Russian Team. You were the only woman in a group of 7 males how was that?
It was a real eye opener! None of my team spoke any English so it was a very different experience from the first time. The leader was fantastic though and I felt very safe, it’s amazing how much you can communicate without words. You are completely reliant upon your other team members, so mutual trust has to develop because your life, quite literally, depends on it. With the language barrier there wasn’t the same type of craic however it was a great way to examine and learn about my inner self.
How did you celebrate when you reached the top on your second expedition?
With a thumbs up and a hug! When you reach the summit that’s only half the battle, you still have a dangerous descent ahead of you. My contact lens had frozen to my right eye and we were trying to conserve as much oxygen as possible so the proper celebrations didn’t start until we were down safely.
Do you have any recommendations for those wanting to start mountaineering?
I would definitely recommend getting onto a good course and learning the basic skills properly. It’s so important to get the technical side ride with tuition from the experts from the very start.
What is your next challenge and how are you preparing?
I’m really concentrating on my ultra running at the moment. I only started in my 30s, the long distances require a lot of discipline so you often find older people are good at it as they’re mentally toughened up. Obviously you have to be in good shape physically but that’s only half the battle. I’ve been lucky enough to stay away from injury so far so hopefully the next year will bring plenty of racing both in the UK and Europe.
Visit WalkNI.com for a full list of outdoor activity providers who deliver skills development courses to help improve your confidence in the hills as well as a full range of courses in walking and mountaineering.
Posted on August 27, 2013 @ 11:38 AM in
Mountaineering Ireland's Hillwalking, Access & Conservation Officer, Helen Lawless tells us all about heather and why we should be protecting it in the hills...
Walking in the Sperrins last week, on a day when mist cheated us out of the views, the varied shades of heather splashed across the hills gave the day a lift. Heather seems to have been prolific this summer with colourful displays on most hill and coastal walks, perhaps as a result of the prolonged cold period in the spring. While there is one dominant species, ling, there are three heather species that commonly occur in Northern Ireland. This blog describes the key characteristics of ling, bell heather and cross-leaved heath, and provides some background information on each.
Bell heather and cross-leaved heath flower from June to September, with the more plentiful ling flowering later, normally July to October. They are all woody, evergreen shrubs, growing from 20cm up to 1m tall. As all gardeners know, they are particularly suited to acidic, peaty soils and therefore are principally found on blanket bog, wet heath and dry heath; habitats which are common on the hills.
Ling (Calluna vulgaris)
Ling is by far the most widespread and abundant of our heathers, and perhaps because of this, some people and books refer to it simply as ‘heather’. It can be distinguished from the other common heathers by its leaves which are overlapping and appear to cling to the stem. Ling’s pale purple flowers grow in a loose spike on the upper part of the plant’s woody stems. Its flowers are not bell-shaped, they are smaller and prettier than those of bell heather and cross-leaved heath, so worth the effort of looking closely. Occasionally you will come across ling with white flowers; this is believed to bring good luck.
If left to mature, ling heather can live for around 30 years. The name ling is derived from the Anglo-Saxon lig, meaning ‘fire’, and recalls the importance of heather in early times as fuel. It’s not surprising then that mountain wildfires can burn so vigorously, as seen in the Mournes in May 2011.
Bell heather (Erica cinerea)
Bell heather is the classic heather species, which brings magnificent purple patches to drier hillsides. It is particularly characteristic of the Mournes, but will be easily found among the ling heather and whins (also known as gorse) on most hills. The vivid purple bell-shaped flowers grow in groups along the plant’s wiry stems.
On bell heather, the individual leaves are easy to see and grow in sets of three, with tufts of shorter leaves where the three longer leaves join the stem. The leaves are dark green, and narrow to cope with extended dry periods, from winter frosts and summer drought. This is a feature heathers share with other plants such as whins. As bell heather prefers drier soils it is often found on steeper slopes, dry banks, tussocks, rocks and other well-drained areas.
Cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix)
The plump bell-shaped pink flowers of cross-leaved heath hang in a bunch at the top of the stem. Its leaves are also easy to distinguish. In contrast to bell heather they grow in sets of four, hence the name. The leaves are narrow and grey-green in colour.
Cross-leaved heath plants tend to be smaller than bell heather and are often scattered rather than growing in profusion. Cross-leaved heath favours wetter ground, it is typically found at the edge of bogs, and in damp hollows between tussocks.
Bell heather and cross-leaved heath are closely related and easily confused; bell heather’s preference for drier ground is a useful distinguishing factor. On cross-leaved heath, the flowers are only at the top of the stem and they are usually larger and paler than those of bell heather. Closer examination will reveal tiny hairs on the stems and leaves of cross-leaved heath; bell heather is hairless.
Important for biodiversity
In the exposed environment of Northern Ireland’s mountains, heather plays a major role in maintaining biodiversity. Heather stabilises peat soils, as well as providing shelter and food for many species. For instance, red grouse are heavily reliant on heather, requiring a patchwork of old heather for nesting and nutritious young heather shoots for food. A 2004 survey of red grouse in Northern Ireland showed a marked decline in numbers and a contraction in the range of this species. While many factors underlie the fall in numbers, most are to do with land management changes that have resulted in loss of heather habitat. Red grouse numbers were found to be strongest in the Antrim Hills and the Sperrins, with hardly any birds remaining in the Mournes.
Heather is also an important source of food for bees, moths and other insects. Bees gather nectar from ling and bell heather, which in turn makes tasty and much sought-after honey, most notably the Mourne Heather Honey. You may notice tiny holes in bell heather flowers; these have been drilled by bees to extract the nectar.
As it is a woody plant, heather is easily broken and damaged by trampling. The absence of heather near the Mourne Wall is attributed in part to the intense pressure of huge numbers taking part in the annual Mourne Wall Walk in the late 1970s and early 1980s. By keeping to existing paths and tracks when we walk heathery hills, we will be doing our bit to reduce pressure on these beautiful and valuable plants.
Posted on June 20, 2013 @ 4:07 PM in
This month’s blog comes courtesy from guys at hikersblog.co.uk. With the Summer solstice meaning the days are at their longest Stephen aka ‘Spud’ from hikersblog.co.uk decided to take on the marathon task of walking all 26 miles of the Mourne Way in just one day. Read on to hear a first hand account of his journey along this stunning Way Marked Way in the Mourne Mountains.
The view of the track in front of me blurred, as one or more of the rivulets of sweat streaming down my face, mixed with what was left of the factor 30, found its way into my eyes. The stinging necessitated a quick pit stop and a fumble for something, anything, to wipe my face, so I could see where I was going again, and resume my walking, my word it was warm!
I have a saying, “you can pick the day, but you can’t pick the weather”. This is usually rolled out after heading home to dry out after a prolonged soaking in the hills, but today, exactly the opposite was true. There were times where a shower of rain would have been welcome, but there was no sign of that in the hazy blue sky, where only a few cotton wool wisps lazily and effortlessly made their way along, oblivious to the sweating eejit making his way along the Hen track in the western Mournes.
I had decided a couple of weeks previously that I was going to tackle the Mourne Way in a day. I had never done the whole route, but had walked most of it at one stage or another, and was confident that with a long days walking, I could get it ticked off the ever growing list of walks that I intend to do “some day”. The weather had been fantastic the whole week, and the forecast was for another scorcher, which actually troubled me more than a forecast for rain and wind would have! My plan was to start as early as possible and get as much walking done in the relative cool of the morning, as I knew when the sun really got going, then it would be a tough slog for me to complete the 26 mile route from Newcastle to Rostrevor.
My brilliant wife dropped me off in newcastle just after 6 am, and off I went. The mournes looked glorious, and it was warm, even though the sun had only started its long journey across the deep blue sky. I made my way towards tollymore, smiling when I saw folks on their way to a days graft, while I was going to spend a lovely day enjoying some walking. The thick forest shaded me as I made my way through tollymore, and it was a great way to start the walk, allowing me to get warmed up without getting too warm!
I made good time, and soon found myself making my way up the Trassey Track. Usually I would be making my way into the hills from here, but instead bore right, travelling under the bulk of meelmore and meelbeg, with hardly a breeze strirring. I made it to the far end of Fofanny reservoir, and stopped for a snack, it was just after 10 am, I hadnt seen a single soul the whole way to there from Newcastle, and I felt good sitting in the morning sun enjoying some well needed refuelling.
On I went, making my way up the road to the Ott carpark, a brief brush with civilisation, as a gang of cyclists on what looked like an organised ride swished past on their way down the hill, their effortless speed contrasting with my slower progress going the opposite way. “Morning” “Morning” Morning”, it was to be the longest conversation I would have from now to the end of my walk! Then it was a steep pull up Slievenamuck, round behind Spelga and Spaltha, and across the River Bann. I stopped on the small bridge that crosses it for a while, marvelling at the fact that this small rocky river eventually winds its way right up to the north coast.
The Western Mournes came next. I love this part of the mountains, and the view up the Hen track was something to behold, even though, as previously mentioned, I was finding it difficult to see at times! The Sun was blazing down, with only an occasional warm breeze providing any sort of relief from its glare in the shelter of the mountains. Walking into the sun now, I was glad of the fact that I had packed my sun hat and had brought plenty of fluids! I must admit, I was finding the heat tough, and my pace slowed considerably. The Rocky and Rowan Tree rivers glistened in the sunlight, their deep pools almost hypnotising me, the urge to just jump in and lie in them had to be fought more than once!
I could see my path ahead of me when I crossed the Rowan Tree River, and I knew that when I made it to the col between Rocky and Tornmarock, that it would be pretty much all downhill to the finish in Rostrevor. The breeze had picked up as I made my way up, and its cooling effect combined with the easier downhill walking, buoyed my spirits. Another refuelling stop overlooking Leitrim Lodge was enjoyed, and on I went. As I descended down the valley, pockets of trees provided cooling shade, but I wasn’t out of the woods yet, literally! The last few miles of the walk were on forestry tracks, and their hard surface was tough on my tired feet. It was along one of these tracks that I caught my first glimpse of Rostrevor down on the glistening coast, but it still looked quite far away!
From there it was one foot in front of the other stuff, and the further I walked and the closer I got to the town, the more people I saw. The delighted squeals of children having water fights as parents barbequed their dinner was quite a contrast from the solitude I had experienced on my trek, but it was good to know that I had almost done it. I arrived in Rostrevor about 1730, 11 hours after I had started out in Newcastle, tired but happy.
There was only one thing left to do, and that was to treat myself to a cold pint of cider and ice in one of the bars, it was honestly one of the best things I have ever tasted, and I felt I had more than earned it! The Mourne Way is a fantastic walk, and I plan to do it again, though hopefully in cooler weather this time!
If Spud has inspired you to give the Mourne Way a go yourself – either in one day or over a few then visit WalkNI.com for full route details including walking directions and downloadable maps.
Posted on May 28, 2013 @ 2:46 PM in
Photographs by founder of NI Walking Photography Group David Doyle
Northern Ireland may be a relatively small place however what it lacks in area it makes up for in variety. With so many diverse landscapes all under one roof we have put together a list of the most spectacular natural wonders and manmade structures of the Northern Irish countryside that every walker should experience first hand.
1. Mourne Mountains
The highest and most dramatic mountain range in Northern Ireland, the Mourne uplands are dominated by a compact ring of 12 mountains with many of the summits crowned by impressive granite tors. (However what makes these mountains truly special are the endless places to discover with little competition for space.) Criss-crossed by an unrivalled network of paths and tracks there are incredible opportunities to discover the variety of landscapes and habitats that can be encountered within such a confined geographical area. Everything from the rocky outcrops that can be found on several of the peaks, to upland heath habitat, wooded valleys and the agricultural planes of the lower Mournes, the entire Mournes Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is simply unique. **There are a whole range of Mourne mountain walks to choose from as well as a downloadable guide featuring itinerary suggestions and route descriptions available from WalkNI.
2. Rathlin Island
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. Just 8km east-west and 5.5km north-south it is home to tens of thousands of seabirds, including common guillemots, kittiwakes, puffins and razorbills as well as a world renowned RSPB centre making it a birdwatchers paradise. However as well as enjoying the comical antics of puffins and seals in spring and early summer from the cliffs, walkers can expect to be treated to some magnificent views including Donegal, the North Antrim coastline, the island of Islay and the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland.**There are 2 official walking trails on the island which is accessible by ferry throughout the year from Ballycastle meaning you can experience the island and its wildlife in any season.
3. Mourne Wall
The most distinctive feature of Northern Ireland’s highest mountain range this 22 mile (35.5km) stone wall, encloses 9000 acres of land. Originally built in an effort to keep cattle and sheep out of the water catchment area of the Silent Valley reservoir the wall spans over 9000ft of ascent, rising and falling over 15 of the highest peaks in the Mournes, including Slieve Donard. Built between 1904 and 1922, the Mourne Wall is a remarkable structural feat and frames some of finest mountain views in Ireland. **For a truly unique experience and to appreciate the 18 years of work that went into creating such an iconic part of the countryside walkers can take on the Mourne Wall Challenge a one day itinerary which provides a highly testing 22 mile route taking in 7 of the 10 highest mountains in the Mournes.
4. Silent Valley
Built to supply water to most of County Down and a large part of Belfast the Silent Valley Reservoir is both practical and stunning. Nestled in between the Mourne uplands walkers can expect this man made feat to live up to its name with a peaceful silence creating a sense of solitude. Built between1923 and 1933 by a workforce of over one thousand men the deep blue waters are contrasted against the heather, gorse and peat of the high Mournes enhancing the landscape.
5. North Coast
The North Coast and the Glens of Antrim are justifiably famous for the Giant’s Causeway, wonderful coastlines and unique natural beauty as well as countless myths and legends that accompany this historic part of the country. Comprising of 3 designated areas of outstanding natural beauty, nine glens, lush forest parks, secluded coastal tracks and numerous quaint fishing villages exploring the rugged coastline of the North on foot via the Causeway Coast Way is a must. **Details of the 33mile Causeway Coast Way route can be found on WalkNI as well as a downloadable North Coast & Glens of Antrim walking guide.
6. Glenariff Waterfalls
Glenariff, meaning ‘Queen of the Glens’, is widely regarded as the most beautiful and striking of the 9 Glens of Antrim. Penned by 19th Century English novelist William Thackeray as “a Switzerland in Miniature”, after visiting its waterfalls, rich woodland and steep, glacial escarpments it’s easy to see where he got his inspiration from. The crowning glory however has to be the impressive double-drop of the Ess-na-Larach Waterfall one of the many dramatic waterfalls that punctuates the deep sided gorge of the Glenariff Glen Nature Reserve. Not only do the waterfalls provide a spectacular site, they also provide a distinctive atmospheric noise to any walker who chooses to explore this stunning part of Northern Ireland. **There are 4 quality walks within Glenariff Forest Park including the Waterfalls Walk which takes in the famous Ess-na-Larach.
7. The Sperrins
The Sperrin Mountains, stretching along the border of counties Tyrone and Derry, can best be described as wild, untouched and beautiful. Spanning 40 miles, the mountain range is the largest in Ireland with 10 summits above 500m. Walkers can expect undulating hills covered in heather, quiet valleys, boggy uplands and a land teeming with wildlife. Add in over 90 sets of stone circles and the only commercially operated gold mine in the British Isles and the Sperrins are most definitely a walking wonder.
About the Photographer:
David Doyle had an interest in photography for around 20 years; however only started becoming more serious about photography when he took up walking (about 5-6 years ago) and soon discovered he had an eye for landscape photography. As a member of several walking groups one of the problems he found was that he didn't get enough time to stop to take photographs, so in August 2010 he started the NI Walking Photography Group on facebook especially for people who enjoy walking and photography. Today the group has over 200 members which comprises of photographers and walkers of all ages. For more information visit http://www.facebook.com/groups/niwpg/