Sunday, 25 August 2013

Ireland. Last Day.Slieve Binnian. Gear Review.

Our second day in the Mountains of Mourne was not as good as our first. The weather had changed with a wet front predicted to move in before lunchtime. Graeme and Sandra did not fancy another hill day with such a poor forecast and suggested a wander round one of the Irish coastal towns instead then maybe lunch in a bar. If we'd still been in Scotland with hills you could climb any weekend I would have joined them but as it was a new area I might not get back to in a hurry, if ever, I decided to seize the day.
'God loves a trier!' I told myself.
The photograph above is a small zoomed section of the Slieve Binnian ridge. A magnificent mountain with close to a dozen separate large tors spread out along it's long central spine. It looked impressive and immediately caught the eye from Slieve Bearnagh the previous day.

Approaching Slieve Bearnagh. What a difference one days weather makes.
After a quick glance at the map when we were packing up the tents the best and quickest approach from the campsite seemed to be to drive round to the Silent Valley. This is the massive waterworks  and reservoir area constructed to supply the citizens of nearby Belfast with fresh safe drinking water, the protective wall of which we'd been walking beside over the summits.
Part of which ( The upper reservoir area I think) you can see here from Slieve Donard.
As it was still early and not too bad a day (cloudy and overcast but still warm at low levels with good mountain views) I decided to go for it and chance my luck. Normally my luck is excellent but that's because I've usually seen the forecast myself  the night before and have a fair idea of how bad it's going to be before I start. This time I didn't have as much visual information to go on. Just Graeme's assertion that the weather would turn bad after lunch.

He was kind enough to drop me off at the gates of the Silent Valley Mountain Park. This is just under £5 pounds to get in with a car so I proceeded on foot up a long straight boulevard lined with trees until I came to the dam itself.
  It's a nice enough spot with a couple of ponds and some woodland trails but what I was after was the start of the track which leads up to Wee Binnian, a prominent low tor on the shoulder of the much larger Slieve Binnian. The track on my map was misleading and didn't seem to exist anymore but just before the dam wall( seen in the 3rd photo above) an obvious path on the right leads over a high wooden style then follows the wall steeply uphill to another style. This is the route.
The Silent Valley overflow. Unusual construction. Wouldn't want to fall down this dramatic deep hole in the earth but it had a strange pull on the mind, daring you to look into it from above. Like a magnet pulling you towards it.  The same morbid fascination bare exposed meter terminals have in a house. You know it will kill you instantly but a small stupid part of your brain says 'Go on touch it! See what happens!' Creepy stuff lurks in the human brain...Well, in mine anyway.
By the time I'd climbed up to Wee Binnian the mist and clag had rolled in off the sea. Motivation went down further when it started to rain. Steady drizzle at first then a constant heavy downpour. As I wasn't that far from the summit slopes I kept on going, glad I had some shelter from the wall beside me. A new side of the Mourne Wall became apparent here. Apart from a handy navigational aid for walkers it also provides valuable shelter for hill folk, local farmers, myself, and numerous flocks of sheep who really treasured its five foot protective security. Huddled right in against its bulk they didn't get soaked, which is more than can be said for me.
The rain and wind grew stronger the higher I climbed until I arrived here. The summit area of mighty tors. Man it was grim up here! Not a soul around, a howling, miserable, rain lashed, half seen unknown jungle of tors. The summit is a tor itself  and I think this is it but I'm not sure. I crawled up this one on very slippery holds then slithered off again on bum, knees, elbows and adrenalin. Even in good conditions granite outcrops are a handful. This time it felt like ascending  an awkward pile of giant oranges lavishly covered in washing up liquid. It felt very exposed  up here as the gusting wind and rain made it hard to see anything.
This is a different tor nearby. I went up this as well then called it a day, returning the same way I'd slithered up.
On a good clear day a better option I think would be to travel up the flat water board road along the floor of the silent valley reservoir then up to the secondary dam. From here the map shows a good path up over Buzzard's Roost then the Back Castles, exploring every tor on the mountain. That would be a spectacular outing but a long hard day best saved for decent weather.
I struggled back down over rocks and grass heaving with torrents of water. Water ran up both sleeves on the scrambling sections as it had been a surprisingly arduous ascent this way over boulders and short slabs of moss and rock. Streams and substantial puddles appeared where puddles had not been before an hour ago. Back down at the reservoir area not a car or a visitor remained in the car park and the rain hammered off the tarmac all the way out to the main road.. I felt like God's lonely man as I walked shivering alone down that mile long straight corridor of tarmac with not a soul in sight as the heavens opened like Noah's Flood.
Graeme and Sandra had enjoyed a pleasant time down at the coast and rolled up just in time to save me from hypothermia. Cant win them all!
A fantastic hill I can recommend on a good day. Fairly grim on a bad one.
Thanks again to Graeme for a truly memorable trip and suggesting the Mountains of Mourne as a hillwalking venue. Amazing range of hills.

Gear review.
It has not gone unnoticed that everyone else on blogs seems to have received free gear to review apart from me despite the fact that I am out doing adventurous stuff nearly every weekend. Maybe I'm not the right sort of person or I'm just not in the loop:) To be honest I've never been that interested in what's the best gear, or reading about it, or surfing though mountaineering or hillwalking forums. Everybody's different. I've always preferred just doing it rather than reading about it. Same with the Tour de France. I enjoy cycling but have no interest in watching anyone else doing it unless it's a tour through the worst housing schemes of Paris I haven't been to yet. Now that would be fun viewing.
So I'd probably make a crap gear reviewer anyway as I'm not that fussed what's the most stylish or elegant as long as it does the job and it's cheap but I do know a bargain when I see one.
As I decided to purchase an Asda Ozark Trail 2 Person Tent  for £25 pounds  and an Asda Ozark Mummy Sleeping Bag for £12 pounds for the Mourne camping trip, and, feeling left out, sniff, sniff, I thought I'd review them instead :)
For £25 quid this is a real bargain for folk who just want a basic, no frills, cheap tent. Graeme obtained this one over in Ireland straight off the shelf for me and it proved easy to erect in a matter of minutes without even looking at the instructions. A few hooped poles, bang in the pegs, and it was up. It's fairly roomy inside and can sleep two people comfortably. Only negative points are that it's not flame retardant so you have to be careful with stoves, campfires, matches or smoking. Use basic common sense really.
It's also too heavy and bulky for enjoyable lightweight back packing but apart from that it's a cracking tent for the price. It looked durable enough to stand up to most conditions apart from severe winds and stayed dry inside even after heavy overnight rain. Other online reviews state that it remained dry after a week long rock festival where it rained most days with an amorous young couple inside, on drugs, humping nonstop every night. That's road testing the equipment with a dedicated approach. Serious competition to the established models of tents I'd imagine. Market forces at their best. Although I use supermarkets regularly for speed and convenience they really are the tiger at the bottom of the garden, eating up any other animal within reach or sight. A full range of camping gear. What area will the supermarkets get into next I wonder? Must be a big worry for any independent business that. They've already slashed the price of new paperback books and DVD,s to  £3 each which is good news for the buyer but really bad news for the creators of the work. Might as well give it away for free at that price by the time the publisher and agent take off their percentage.
Asda Sleeping Bag £12. A three season bag but it was fine and cosy with a consistent thick layer of material. Only negative is one of height. If you were over six foot tall your shoulders might stick out the top as it seems to be just one size. I was fine in it ( 6foot. Tall, dark and ugly.) but I could not snuggle down to pull it right over my head  so for that reason alone it's only three season. Fine for Mid Spring, Summer, and Autumn though. A great deal for the money. At a push, if you're under 5'6 inches, you could use it in winter, just keep some clothes and warm socks on. Both items are perfect for the average sea level camper.
They do a cheap spacious day rucksack as well 45litre capacity £16 pounds  in bright orange and grey/white similar to the tent colours. The whole three items for £53 quid. That's a real bargain for anyone starting out.
Nuff said.


Robert Craig said...

Great trip report, always wanted to visit the Mournes and return to Donegal. Might get something organised for this autumn.

The Glebe Blog said...

You really are intrepid Bob. Either that or you've a very strong masochistic streak in you.
I need to go back and climb Ben Crom. Twice I've been thwarted, the first by prudence and the second outvoted (a good thing probably).
That must've been one lonely walk back, i hope you didn't harbour thoughts of throwing yourself down the overflow !
I enjoyed reading your bargain basement review, that's my type of gear.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Craig,
Great mountains; just need a good weather forecast in advance when you go as it's fairly grim otherwise.

blueskyscotland said...

I would have turned back in Scotland Jim as I can pick my sunny days better over here but overall it was a cracking trip.
Slieve Binnian would be a superb day out in fine conditions. It's got to be one of the finest hills in Northern Ireland.

Carol said...

Those mountains are superb (and your photos of them) - I can't believe the scale of those tor walls in the last photo of the walk!

Also, that reservoir outlet-thingie would fascinate me too - horrifying though it looks, I'd feel I had to go and have a little look! As kids, we used to go down the railway to look at a water drain running under the track. It went into a huge pipe, boiled downwards into the bottom of the pipe and, eventually, boiled up again at the far side. We dropped things into it and they took ages to appear at the other end. I was terrified and fascinated in equal measures but spent a lot of time there...

I'm not really into gear as such and, like you, just buy what suits me, preferably at a cheap price. And I fully agree with what you say about supermarkets - we all like to use them and 'save money' but it will put a lot of businesses down the aforementioned drain! :-(