Friday, 16 August 2013

Ireland Day Two. Mountains of Mourne.

For our second day in Ireland we headed across Donegal towards the Mountains of Mourne in Northern Ireland by way of Sion Mills and Newtownstewart, passing the Ulster America Folk Park then Omagh and Armagh. All places I'd never been to but already knew the names well enough from media coverage during the troubles.
We parked at a place Graeme had sussed out which was the Meelmore lodge amenity campsite. £6 a night per tent. Situated directly under Slieve Meelmore this has an attached breakfast/lunch CafĂ© doing Ulster fry ups: showers, toilets and picnic tables. It was fairly basic but had everything we needed and has a beautiful rural setting, surrounded by cattle, potato fields and mountains. Great place for children to explore and there were a few families and a couple of mini buses full of well behaved teenagers in the large site when we arrived. The Mournes are popular with Duke of Edinburgh youth groups on adventure treks.
The photo above was taken just as it was getting dark. The midges were bad and biting and I made a joking comment about them to the owner when he came round. It was just an off the cuff remark but he disappeared then came back a few minutes later with a firelog which did a brilliant job of keeping them away. It's sitting on a BBQ stand which was already there. Now that's friendly service for you and totally unexpected.
Another campsite Graeme looked at wanted £16 pounds a night. Wonder if we would have got a free complimentary firebrick thrown in there. Maybe when he heard we were from Glasgow mind you he thought we would rip down all the trees and burn them instead. It's amazing how folk from different cities perceive each other. I knew a friend from Belfast years ago who was slightly worried about coming over to visit me on holiday in Glasgow because he'd heard the city had more gangs than London, a city six times it's size, and that Pollok had more gangs than any other area. (This was only because greater Pollok took in so many separate schemes, around 11 or 12 different dividing lines to be crossed.)
Mind you he was impressed by the brutal, no nonsense architecture of some of the older 1950's tenement estates at that time which looked as if they had been built by the Romans. (Some actually were by way of captured Italian POW's )

This is the view from the campsite in the morning. Beautiful setting. Note the potato fields. You don't see many fields of crops around Glasgow's Central Belt or in the west of Scotland anymore but all over the Emerald Isle the fields are still productive.

A view of Slieve Bearnagh with its magnificent summit Tor. The Mourne Wall is visible here as well, a five foot high wall that is a constant feature of these mountains as it runs in a circle over fifteen different peaks. It was built to protect the Silent valley reservoir and feeder streams from contamination which in turn was constructed to supply nearby Belfast with clean fresh drinking water. Great link to the area here with a  cracking slide show of photographs. The pictures of the ascent of the Devil's Coach Road in here are particularly impressive.
As it was a cracking morning I skipped breakfast and headed straight up the hill around 8:00am.
Some folk like Alex faff around drinking coffee and eating meals and Graeme and Sandra were no different. Fired up for the mountains I arranged to meet them later at a pass called the Hare's gap which is the low coll in the second photograph. I would race up Slieve Bearnagh right away to sample its wonderful summit tor just in case the weather turned nasty later on.

This is the North Tor, which you come to first after a brutal climb. Only problem with the Mourne wall is that it makes a beeline for the summit. No deviations to allow for the steepness of the terrain. A marvellous feat of building but the original maintenance paths tend to go straight up right beside it, without the usual easy gradient zig zags you might expect. In the 4th pic down the path follows the wall. Yep, it is a steep as it looks! Good for the heart.
The summit tor from below.
A different angle.
Bit of a granny stopper this as it's exposed enough scrambling to make this old granddad's legs wobble like jelly. Not sure this is the best ascent route as it was quite tricky.
Back down at Hare's gap I just arrived in time to meet Graeme and Sandra. Graeme had Slieve Donard in his sights, which at 850 metres is not only the highest mountain in Northern Ireland, Ulster and the Mournes but the highest summit in all the northern half of Ireland down as far as Dublin.
We were all very impressed by the Mournes. Formed mainly from granite they are similar to the Arran peaks but cover a larger area. Mountaineering heaven. Loads of rock climbs, distance treks,and outdoor adventures to be had here.
At an easy pace we ambled across the Brandy Pad on a good path before traversing under the curious rock formations known as 'The Castles'.
These stretch in a long line and contain a huge array of free standing pinnacles, walls, towers and granite chimneys so there must be rock climbs here.
Soon we could see the summit of Slieve Donard in the distance looking suitably bulky.
 It was a fair old trek up the side of yet another aspect of the Mourne wall but we made it to the summit.
This is looking down the path towards Slieve Commedagh. It was now early afternoon and the weather had turned by this point, clouds pouring in from the north.
 Can you spot the upward gazing teddy bear here:)  We knew we were in for a soaking soon but it was thunder and lightning we were concerned about. Right beside the summit a small plaque commemorated someone who had been killed by lighting a few years ago at this very spot, at this same time of year probably. High humidity over land coupled with cold sea air blowing off the deep Atlantic Ocean can produce fairly impressive summer storms over the mountains and we didn't really want to be up here in the middle of one.
We had partial views as the mist drifted over the summit.
A zoom of the seaside town of Newcastle from the summit. Like Rothesay or Millport for Glaswegian's this place is loaded with memories for generations of Northern Irish holidaymakers who made this resort their summer playground of choice. Having heard so many people reminiscing about it  I would have liked  to have visited it out of curiosity but we didn't have time on this trip. This was the nearest I managed to get to this seaside jewel. Even from up here it looks nice.
It wasn't long before heavy sweeping curtains of rain fell down on us and the temperature dropped dramatically but the expected thunder and lightning didn't materialize and we returned to the hare's gap soggy but unzapped. This rainstorm only lasted an hour before it passed through then it started to dry up again. By the time we got back to the campsite we had clocked up a long day on the hills. Ten hours for me, nine for Graeme and Sandra but well worth a brief soaking to enjoy such a cracking outing. (The white blobs are bags of sand and rock for path construction.)
Thanks to Graeme and Sandra for great memories and a fun camping experience.

It's been a while since we had a video so here's an absolute cracker. Stumbled across this at random surfing you tube for new music. A world wide dance smash from a few years ago I must have missed. Great catchy tune, great video, sexy band. And lashings of gratuitous Sax. And the best Dominatrix band leader you'll ever see. What more do you want from a song? Only a few years old this video has already been viewed over 23 million times outstripping most established headline hit singles by established acts. Wonder why:)


Carol said...

Those mountains look like a cross between Arran (as you said) and also Ben Loyal I think. Great photos - looks a very interesting area...

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Great mountains, great place. I'm always inspired when I go there as
it's a brand new country to explore and find out about. I'm a stranger in a strange land again, like Scotland was in my youth with every view new and unexpected.

The Glebe Blog said...

A grand bit of hill walking in the one day Bob. When we first saw the white blobs from Rocky Mountain we thought they were snow drifts left over from winter.
I see your teddy bear too.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Jim,
Only following your illustrious footsteps onto the Mourne summits. I always try to pack in as much as I can over there as time is usually limited.
That teddy bear cloud is completely natural. First time I've ever spotted a proper, instantly recognisable animal in a cloud shape without a heavy sprinkle of imagination involved.

Neil said...

I really must get over to the Mourne mountains sometime. They look really great. I've heard that they attract a lot of cloud though so I guess that you take a chance. There really is so much of interest in Ireland. I've only scratched the surface so far.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Neil.
Fantastic hillwalking over there. I've been very impressed with each new area we've visited.

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