Mourne Mountains

The Mid-Ulster Mountaineers take on the Tour of Spelga

13th May 2020 by Mark Jameson Share

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Last September, some of our group decided to attempt the Tour of Spelga as outlined in the book The Mourne Mountains: 30 Best Hikes by Andrew McCluggage. This is how that day unfolded.

I have one or two books about hiking in the Mournes – mostly I buy them to see if I’m actually going the right way when I’m hiking or to tick off a route I haven’t done before. I recently came across a book by Andrew McCluggage, a pocket-friendly and sleek handbook that fits lovely into my hiking trousers. That’s the practical aspect – it also has great routes and maps, and the descriptions are easy to follow.

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One route in particular stood out: The Tour of Spelga. It takes in 9 peaks over 9 miles and the author tells us it takes 6 hours to complete. Our group just loves to get up at the crack of dawn to meet at different car parks around the Manor all year round (I write this without a hint of sarcasm), which means a 6-hour hike wouldn’t eat too much into our Sundays, and we all love our Sunday dinners. So when I talked to our group about this hike, it had mixed reactions.

I don’t know about other hiking group but ours practically scattered in the summer, like a reverse hibernation. Summer holidays, BBQs, Gin and Tonics and caravans seemed to take priority over the Manor for some. Fair play to them. The adverse effect to this was that a big slog like the ToS sounded like their worst nightmare (hikers don’t have pre-season training, unfortunately).

For the diehards who don’t have much of a life, it had to be done. Out of a group of 31, six of us felt up to the challenge. Some had feasible excuses, ‘the dog ate my map’, ‘I heard it’s mostly bog’, ‘I’d rather die’. All good and accepted.

So off we went, after some careful planning, as most of us hadn’t been on this route before – we had to get it right. 0700 at Ott Car Park, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I was buzzing for this! It was a beautiful morning and the views were amazing.

Off we went and straight into a climb up Slievenamuck. This one was a bit of a leg burner, everyone reported they were getting it tight. The second wind will come shortly I kept reminding myself. Got to the top and took in the first of the fabulous views, unreal.

We bounced over to Butter Mountain then across the ridge of Slievenamiskan, dropping down onto Spelga Dam car park. A few camper vans were sitting, blinds closed – we shouted over to wake up and stop being so lazy whilst sniggering and walking at a faster pace in case they gave chase.

We came to the ‘upside-down road’. Apparently, an optical illusion, a magnetic field, a paranormal phenomenon or just something for Dads to try and freak their kids out. We discussed this in great detail, set a water bottle on the ground, it didn’t move, and we walked on unimpressed.

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We walked along the front of the dam to the wee bridge that brings us to the bottom of Slievenamiskan. Tanya had a slight hangover and was feeling delicate at this stage, she was holding onto the handrail when Alan shouted, “Tanya, you know that rail is electrified?”, to which Tanya let out a scream and nearly jumped clean off the bridge – at least we wakened the campers at a safe distance. Poor girl took dogs abuse for a while after that, it didn’t help her hangover one bit.

Up Slievenamiskan we went, then over Cock Mountain where we had lunch. This always gives Sam a chance to vent some of her famous one-liners towards anyone in her orbit.

Over to the wee cheeky climb up Pigeon Rock then up the long steep slog of Slieve Muck, which is aptly named as its always wet, even it seems during baking hot summers. At this stage the clouds had dropped, so we completed the journey taking the last and easiest Carn and Ott Mountains.

A great day had by all. As per usual, the crack was 90 and we got to feel slightly sanctimonious as we knew rightly our whole group could beast this route.

We will definitely do this one again.

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