The highest mountain range in Northern Ireland is the beautiful Mourne Mountains, located in the picturesque County Down. A playground for all who love Northern Ireland’s natural beauty, it is the perfect place for walkers, hikers, cyclists, photographers and anyone who loves spending time in nature.
No matter your abilities, this area of outstanding natural beauty has something for everyone and is certainly worth a visit. Over the decades, this location has inspired Mourne Mountain gifts, literature, music, myths and even huge shows like Game of Thrones.
So, if you’re thinking of visiting this year (and you absolutely should be), then this guide is for you. Below we’re going to take a look at why you should visit, where to go, the history of the mountains and how to get there.
How to get there and where to stay
If you’re already in Northern Ireland, driving to the mountains is easy enough, but even when you’re not, the journey shouldn’t be too tricky. Found near the Irish Sea, the journey is about an hour’s drive from Belfast or two hours from Dublin, both of which have their own airports. You can also get there by bus, though these journeys tend to be sporadic and unreliable, making the car the preferred and easiest mode of transport.
Thanks to the easy access, you could simply visit the Mourne Mountains for a day if you wish. However, if you want to spend more time there, you can stay in one of the quaint nearby towns or villages at the base of the range. Newcastle is the main base for those staying in the area, but you could also stay at Annalong, the fishing village of Kilkeel, Warrenpoint or Newry. These will all offer you plenty of opportunities to get out exploring.
Why visit the Mourne Mountains?
The fact it is a hub for hiking, outdoor activities and getting back to nature are just some of the reasons you should visit the Mourne Mountains, and there are many. It is also home to Northern Ireland’s highest peak, Slieve Donard, which stands 850 metres high. On a clear day, from the top, you can get a view of Scotland’s peaks, the Isle of Man and the Donegal Hills.
Found amongst the mountain range, the Mourne Wall, which was constructed in 1904 and took 18 years to complete, is 22 miles long and passes over 15 peaks. This is an interesting feature of the range and can be very useful for navigation while you’re out walking.
There are plenty of remarkable viewpoints along the way; some are moderate climbs, while others are more challenging. If you’re a budding photographer, Slieve Bearnagh is one of the best locations to take pictures, standing at 739 metres high.
If you’re a geology fan, this range is particularly special as it took millions of years and several ice ages to create the breathtaking granite landscapes you see before you. What’s more, the mountain range is a result of the same volcanic activity that shaped the Giant’s Causeway. Interestingly, the Mourne Wall was built using granite from the mountain range itself.
So there you have it, outdoor activities, photo opportunities and exploring the majesty of Northern Ireland are just some of the reasons you should add Mourne Mountain to your bucket list.
The culture of the Mourne Mountains
There are many myths and legends that surround these moors, and the mountains have influenced many aspects of Irish and global culture over the years. Some of the most notable influences are listed below.
Myths and tales of smuggling
The Great Cairn, which is located at the summit of Slieve Donard, is known as an entrance to the ‘otherworld’ and is a recurring theme in many Irish myths and legends. One of the first settlers in Ireland, named Partholón, is said to be buried there, and it is said to be guarded by Saint Domhanghart.
Not only this, but Ireland’s first physician Slángha is the feature of many folklores, and it is said he learned his trade whilst living in the Mournes.
Smuggling stories are also abundant in Ireland, and the mountains are no different. Tales of illicit goods being smuggled along the remote mountain pass are aplenty. Smugglers are said to have carried coffee, tea, silk and spirits through to avoid coast guards and customs.
Influences on literature
Many famous authors have taken inspiration from the Mourne Mountains over the decades. Perhaps most famously, Belfast-born C.S. Lewis was inspired by the scenery, which influenced the setting of the Narnia wonderland.
Not only his, but poet and songwriter Percy French wrote a song called “The Mountains of Mourne”, and another poet, Edward Lear, also created work inspired by this breathtaking location.
But perhaps one of the biggest pop culture reference points is Game of Thrones, as some episodes were filmed in the mountains. Other episodes featured Tollymore Forest and the land just north of the Mourne wall. And it’s easy to see why, as it is the perfect setting for such a fantasy series.
The best places to go walking and hiking
Finally, a huge part of the Mourne Mountains experience is getting out exploring, going for walks, hiking or going for bike rides if you’re able to. Some of the best places to explore on foot include the aforementioned Slieve Donard. The highest point in Northern Ireland, this can be a busy trail, but there are several routes you can take to reach the top.
You can walk along the Glen River and through Donard Forest, or you can make your way from the Bloody Bridge. This can be a more peaceful walk, but it’s a more challenging trip to the summit. It can take up to six hours, so be prepared for a long walk and make sure you take plenty of provisions.
Alternatively, you can follow in the footsteps of the smugglers and walk the famous Brandy Pad. The route starts in the Trassey car park and ends at the Bloody Bridge and is an easier option for a more entry-level walk. Along the way, you’ll see the beautiful Hares Gap and Glenfofanny River.
Lastly, if you’re looking for a bigger challenge, take the Trassey Track to Bearnagh and Meelmore. This route goes along two peaks and starts at the Happy Valley car park.