With a few hours to spare after the morning school run it was dander time! Clear skies, brisk breeze and a winter sunrise to warm the heart. I decided on a local spot of mine and another well known area. Murlough Nature Reserve. Just over 3 miles the route loops from the small car park just before the Downshire Bridge, through the Reserve, passing Murlough House then down onto the beach and back along the inner bay to the car park.
A 6000-year-old dune system carved by the sea and the wind, Murlough Nature Reserve sits on the corner of Murlough Bay, Keel Point and Dundrum Inner Bay. As Ireland’s first Nature Reserve and now owned and maintained by the National Trust, its international importance is recognised through its designation as an Area of Special Scientific Interest and Natural Nature Reserve.
There are many access points into the reserve but for this route I chose the car park just before the Downshire Bridge in Dundrum. It’s a small 3-space car park and if you’re not there early you risk not getting a spot, but there is a pay and display car park if you drive over the bridge and on along the road a bit.
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Leaving the car, head for the bridge. Although only a few hundred feet into the route it’s a beautiful spot to stop and look at the beauty that surrounds it. Herons fishing, oyster catchers flying in formation like jet fighters, the majestic swans patrolling and depending on the time of year the wintering geese gathering. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re too old for a game of Pooh Sticks from one side of the bridge to the other!
Follow the road round the bend and pass the little information hut and the Gatehouse. At this point the road is lined with a variety of trees and you start to get a sense of leaving the townland behind and entering something special. Continuing along the corridor of trees with farmland on your right and the inner bay to your left go through the gate into the expanse open heathland. Don’t be tempted by the variety of small intriguing tracks that lead off into the distance, they’re for another day of exploring! You’ll soon come to the pay and display car park along the road that can cater for many vehicles although I always feel that you would miss out on so much by driving this far. A few picnic tables complement the parking and enough space for kids to explore safely and freely.
A short distance past the car park and you’ll see the entrance to Murlough House, a residence with a vast variety of uses over the years from a stately summer home, a training headquarters for American troops during the second world war to a Christian retreat as it stands now. Just before the house there’s a wooden boardwalk on your right – take this path which meanders through the dunes for a short distance with the house on your left and the reserve on your right until suddenly you arrive at the shore. Regardless of weather this view always creates a big impact with me.
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Turn left and make your way along the beach towards Keel Point. If you’re lucky you’ll see the rather large Grey Seal colony on the other side of the inlet waiting on high tide for the next feeding session. The sand here can be very spongy under foot and difficult to walk on so either choose to stay closer to the water or high up on the beach avoiding the leg burning middle ground. This is also where you can find some pretty spectacular shells, so if you’re out with the kids then plan to stop here for a while to explore.
Carry on round the coast and a large sand filled secondary inlet opens up. Locally this is known as the secret beach and during the summer becomes a real heat trap. Now you can see the rooftops of Dundrum, Dundrum Castle high on the hill and the inner bay start to open up. An old boathouse with two boat slips is your next landmark before Dundrum Bay disappears behind you. The bird life comes alive again with a huge variety of wildfowl and waders. A sharp left turn has you approaching the Downshire Bridge again. Just before you reach it there’s an access path onto the road again which takes you back over the bridge and back to the car.
An easy walk but a very rewarding one with a variety of landscapes and wildlife. Perfect for a family day out or a quick dander with the dog.
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About the author
Hiking in the Mournes for over 30 years has given me a close personal connection with the place I call home and with the nature, history and beauty that comes with it. Writing about it is just another way of walking the route twice, but drier!