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The path to the Blue Lough is one of the most popular treks in the Mourne Mountains, frequented by walkers of various ages and fitness levels all year round. It’s a straightforward route following a stony trail through the wild Mourne countryside with a satisfying payoff at the end, providing ample opportunity along the way to take in sweeping scenery in all directions, with the path itself culminating at the foot of Slieve Lamagan where the lough is nestled.
I’ve walked this route many times in my life, and it was a pleasure to head up there again on Saturday 19th January with my wife Christine, this time with two canine companions in tow (or rather, towing us all the way). Lupin and Ghost had never experienced that part of Northern Ireland properly before, so we took the chance on that cold and misty winter morning to ease them in to the Mournes with one of the easier walks available.
Where to park
In days gone by, the route started at Carrick Little car park on the Head Road, about two miles outside of Annalong. It’s a relatively small parking area that often fills up fast, particularly on good days and especially at the weekend or during public holidays.
However, in recent times two new car parks have been established further up the Oldtown Road, which becomes a rough track running next to Carrick Little car park and ends at a gate marking the start of the route to the Blue Lough. We chose to park at the first of the two new parking areas, which you’ll see clearly signposted on the left a good way up the track. You pay £3.00 (just pop coins in the box next to the front door of the house nearby, and don’t fear the friendly Doberman) for the privilege of trimming the overall length of your walk for the day, but it’s worth it if you don’t fancy trudging up the Oldtown Road or if Carrick Little is full. I’d recommend using these new car parks if you have children or pets along – they save a bit of time and energy.
Once your vehicle’s sorted, head up the last bit of the Oldtown Road to the aforementioned gate and pass on through to start your trek to the Blue Lough. At this point you can choose to bear left and follow the Mourne Wall straight up the side of Slieve Binnian, but if you’re heading for the Lough, bear slightly right and follow an earthy path alongside a fence towards Annalong Wood. There’s often a bit of bogginess here, so watch your step – our Golden Retriever wasted no time becoming a black and white retriever by launching himself straight into the nearest pool of mud!
The earthy trail soon gives way to a flatter stony path. The Mourne Wall continues to deviate further away on your left as it ascends the slope of Binnian, and to your right, you’ll see the pointed summit of Hare’s Castle positioned sentinel-like above the Annalong Valley, with the bulk of Slieve Donard, Commedagh, Beg and Cove in the background. Our views were pretty obscured that Saturday due to low-hanging mist, but normally it’s an Instagram-worthy shot.
Keeping Annalong Wood on your right, continue to follow the stony track towards Slieve Lamagan directly ahead in the distance. The heathery slopes of Binnian stretch out on your left, with various streams cutting across your path along the way. If it’s been raining, the streams will be wider and will require a bit of boulder-hopping, but unless you’re a Cockapoo with a mild fear of running water (like Lupin), it won’t present a problem.
After a while you’ll pass beyond Annalong Wood into more open country – the mountains ahead of you, from left to right, are Binnian (left of the path), Lamagan (dead ahead), Cove, Beg, Commedagh, Donard and Rocky Mountain. Ignore any tracks leading off to the right and stick to the same one you started on. Be prepared for one stream that can be a little more difficult to negotiate, but is particularly nice to wade through barefoot on a warm day. Needless to say, we didn’t seize upon that opportunity earlier this month.
Up ahead you’ll see the rocky outcrop of Percy Bysshe. Bear left of it, following the track as it begins to ascend slightly. The further you go past Percy Bysshe (keeping it on your right), the more uneven the track will become. Further ahead, the saddle-like col between Binnian and Lamagan will become visible, beyond which is Ben Crom and the reservoir below.
The track will eventually level out and bear right, and after what will feel like no time at all, the Blue Lough will appear ahead of you. Continue to follow the track to the right all the way to its conclusion on the banks of the lough, where I recommend finding a nice rock to perch on while you crack open your picnic and enjoy the view.
The slabs of Lamagan rise up over the lough to on your right, and you should get a good view of the route up Binnian on your left; if you choose to travel further on from here, a short walk along an easily-visible path will take you to the col between the two mountains, from which point you can start climbing, if the mood strikes you.
To get back to where you started from, simply retrace your steps downhill along the same stony path, this time with Percy Bysshe on your left and Binnian on your right.
The trail will take you right down past Annalong Wood and back to the gate, and from there it’s just a short dander back to your car. And if you need warming up, stop in to the Carrick Cottage Café on your way down the Oldtown Road for a piping hot cup of tea and a bun!