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This trek to Lough Shannagh will be familiar to most people but add some folklore and history in there and it’ll guarantee a different experience the next time you hike it.
Difficulty: Relatively easy, weather depending.
Distance: 9 miles / 14.5km.
Terrain: Variable stone track to bog.
Hazards: Ice on track in winter / boggy ground between Mourne Wall and Loughshannagh in wet weather / high wind through the Pollaphuca Gap can make it difficult at times.
Leaving Trassey Car Park you take a left, walk up the road and you’ll see a gate on your left just past the house. This leads onto the Trassey Track. Follow the meandering path through the forest. If it’s clear towards the end of the forest you’ll see glimpses of what awaits you, towering over the track like an intimidating wall of granite.
Go through the gate at the end of the forest and a short distance along a loose stoned track you reach the gateway to the mountain. Normally a great photo opportunity here if the weather is kind. There’s a few shortcut tracks that cut out the bend in the track but if you’re unsure just stick to the main track and continue uphill.
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Spellack, the craggy northern peak of Slieve Meelmore is on your right looming over you and Clonachullion (meaning steep unbroken slope) is to your left on the lower slopes of Slievenagloch. Keeping the Shimna River to your right these two features are very impressive as you make your way towards the ford river crossing just before the ascent to Hares Gap which is the end point of the Brandy Pad where smuggled goods were brought into the country in the 19th Century.
From the ford you take a right and follow the track closest to the river. Above you to the left on the lower northern slopes of Slieve Bernagh you’ll see a small disused granite quarry. You are now entering an area known as the Pollaphuca Gap or just Pollaphuca.
Translated from Irish, Pollaphuca means “the Púca’s hole”. A Púca is a creature of Irish folklore, a ghost or a spirit. Said to be bringers of both good and bad fortune. Púcaí were shape changers and could resemble horses, goats, cats, dogs and hares. Also believed to have the ability to take on human form with animal features such as ears and tails.
Now, believe what you will but after learning this, my experiences in that area became a lot more intense! Let your imagination wander!
The track through Pollaphuca is uneven and in parts off camber. If it’s cold enough there’s a chance the track will be thick with ice as water runs off the side of Bernagh so care is needed here. You’re soon at the Mourne Wall between Bernagh and Slieve Meelmore. A good chance for some lunch or a quick brew.
Climb over the style and face the beauty of what lies ahead. The landscape goes from towering crags to open wilderness in the blink of an eye, the temperature changes, the light changes and even the atmosphere feels different. There’s a noticeable track to follow straight from the wall which follows the contours of Slieve Meelbeg on your right.
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A short distance on the track and you’ll see a small pond to your left further down the slope. This known as Blue Lough (not to be confused with Blue Lough between Slieve Lamagan and Slieve Binnian). During the hotter months of the year it can completely disappear so it’s not a reliable landmark if you’re plotting bearings.
Continue along the track keeping to the contours of Slieve Meelbeg and Slieve Loughshannagh. As Loughshannagh comes into full view, keep an eye to your left just off the track for a very large granite boulder. This is a beautiful spot to sit for a while and take in the scenery. It’s also a great spot out of the wind in an open wilderness.
To the left of Loughshannagh, the mountain that looks like a rather large pimple is Doan, also known as Maol Chobha’s Fort. One of the only summits I’ve actually never been on in the Mournes.
Continue to follow the track down to the shores of Loughshannagh, a strange desolate terrain but beautiful nonetheless. According to folklore, there was once a daughter of an Irish Chieftain called Sheelagh, who was an excellent hunter. One day on a hunt, a fox was raised. They took off on horseback after the fox. Sheelagh soon broke away from the hunt due to her skills as an experienced hunter. The rest of the hunt could not keep up and Sheelagh was now following the fox high into the Mournes by herself on her horse.
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A thick mist came down as the fox pursued by the hunter approached the lough. The fox ran straight into the lough as Sheelagh closely followed only to lose sight of it in the shallows. She tried to find her way out of the lough in the thick mist only to find herself getting deeper and deeper until she and her horse drowned. The rest of the hunt searched for days on end with no luck on finding any sign of her.
Legend has it that if conditions are right and the mist is thick Sheelagh can be still be seen on her horse roaming the shallows of the lough. This is where the lough gets its name Loughshannagh – “Lough of the fox”.
The return journey is an exact opposite of the hike in and an enjoyable pace can be kept on the slow incline towards the Mourne Wall and from there descending again to Trassey Car Park. This route can be done in a matter of hours or over a full day if you’re not in a rush and want to take advantage of the photography opportunities. An alternative starting / end point of this route is Meelmore Lodge, where you can safely park with on hand amenities and facilities. During the summer months Trassey Car Park can be very busy and you’re not always guaranteed a spot.
Happy hiking folks, stay safe and watch out for the Púca!
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