Mourne Mountains

The Slieve Binnian Loop

1st May 2019 by Kathryn Kerr Share

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My name is Kathryn Kerr, I’m a 28-year-old doctor from Co. Tyrone working for the NHS. I currently live in Belfast and have been hiking in the Mourne Mountains for over 20 years. Hiking is my favourite way to wind down from the fast pace during the week and nothing beats a bit of fresh air and some mucky feet to clear the head. The walk I am featuring is a well-known and loved loop walk of Slieve Binnian.

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This is a mildly strenuous walk, but most people of fair fitness should manage fine. Expect it to take 3 or 4 hours depending on pace (and frequency of tea breaks!). There are several steep climbs and some rough terrain. This is an excellent walk because not only is it a good workout, the views are stunning and there is some great scrambling to avail of if you are that way inclined. Slieve Binnian is a playground for this sort of thing because of its large rock outcrops on top. This is another reason why this walk is my favourite – ready yourself for some excellent photo opportunities.

I always say to people, the Mournes are more spectacular in the winter, when the snow and ice adds so much clarity to the views and changes the whole landscape. Certainly my favourite time of the year to do this walk is in January because you are usually guaranteed at least a dusting of snow on top and insane views (when the clouds lift!). All other times of year are pretty amazing too and you won’t be disappointed if you are more of a fair weather walker! Also be aware – often you are not rewarded with a view (or any view!) despite your grinding efforts to get to the top, so when the clouds finally do clear for you, it really is a special treat.

This is my favourite place to walk in the Mournes, or should I say my special place. The Annalong Valley truly is the heart of the Mournes where my fondest memories are. My earliest memory of the Mournes is climbing Binnian for the first time with my Dad aged 7. My Dad is a professional photographer, adventurer and true outdoors man. Going up the mountains most weekends with him in my childhood with my sister has had a massive influence on my love of the outdoors.

The walk begins at the Carrick Little carpark along the head road, a few miles from Kilkeel. Walk up the laneway for about a mile until you reach a metal gate and you have reached the entrance to the Annalong Valley. From here you already have an excellent view of the high Mournes, with Donard and Commedagh in view on the right. Slieve Binnian will be dead ahead. The path will diverge further up the track about 200 metres. Take the left path up the mountain and follow the wall. This will take you straight up to the top of Binnian. The right hand path takes you up to the Ben Crom reservoir and will be our return route.

It’s about a 45-minute climb up the side of Binnian. You will not miss the top of the south tor when it comes in view looming before you, a massive rock outcrop. A stile coming up from the other side of Binnian can be seen on the left as you approach. From there is a convenient path on the right up to a notch in the middle of the outcrop where you will be greeted on the other side by a stunning view of the Silent Valley reservoir.

The South Tor can be climbed up the rocks to the left of the gap to the summit marked by a metal pole. Climb back down and follow the path to the right where there is also a conveniently-placed rock that my sister and myself call “pride rock”, which provides an amazing optical illusion and photo opportunity.

Carry on over the top of the hill to the right and you will be greeted by, in my opinion, the best view in the Mournes. It is a stunning vista of nearly all the high peaks on a clear day that you certainly won’t forget. It is even better in the snow.

In front of you as you carry down the hill are several basalt outcrops named the back castles – these can also be climbed and scrambled up (with care). Beyond these you will see next landmark, the massive rock outcrop of the north tor. Carry on along the path below the castles until you reach a wall – there is a gap on this to the right.

From here you can carry on up to the North Tor of Slieve Binnian, there is a clear well-walked path. Believe it or not the Tor can be climbed easily, particularly the large bulky outcrop seen from the approach can be simply be climbed from a path just behind it. There is a good lunch spot here which is sheltered below the rock. Follow the path down the hill, keeping the Ben Crom reservoir to the left – you will see Slieve Lamagan, a hulking, rocky mass on front of you. It can be added on to this walk but we won’t go there in this guide! It is a scramble down the hill from here along a rough rocky path but the views of the reservoir are stunning.

From the bottom at the gap, take the path right, straight back down the valley past a small lake on the left along the base of Slieve Lamagan. This is appropriately called the Blue Lough. There is then a long but picturesque walk back down the valley along to the forest where we diverged from the path at the start. From here you should know the way back to the car. This is a good walk that can be done in reverse to spice things up I hope you enjoy this walk and take plenty of pictures!

Check out this YouTube link for some good footage of the potential climbing and highlights of the route (guess who the Starring role is!). Credit to my Dad Jim Kerr for this at Skytask Aerial Imaging.

Follow Kathryn on Instagram for more Mournes adventures.


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