Mourne Mountains

A Novice Family’s Adventure on Hen Mountain

7th July 2020 by Sarah McCarter Share

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A couple of years ago, David McIlroy, esteemed trekker, told me about a brand spanking new trekking blog he was setting up. He said he’d love me to write a piece for it and I had a good laugh at him.

At that time I had a 3 year old and a 1 year old and the closest to trekking we got was a good old fashioned muddy puddle walk down our lane. These days, the 3 year old is now a 5 year old, the 1 year old is a 3 year old and a brand new schmooshy 3 month old has been tossed into to the mix.

Since lockdown restrictions have been eased we’ve been enjoying walking in both new and familiar places. We’ve done Rowallane Gardens a couple of times, the Quoile River and, our personal favourite, Glasswater Wood. Recently though, the 5 year old has been begging to go to the mountains. Why not? I’d finally be able to write that article for David.

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A quick Google search seemed to suggest that Hen Mountain was a reasonable trek for a young family. To my shame as a former Rathfrilander, I’d never actually climbed it before. So one sunny Sunday, we packed an excitable troop into the car for a mountain adventure.

It only took us about 3 hours to get everyone into the car. On the way there all three of them fell asleep, clearly keen to bank up some energy reserves for the big climb. We made a quick pit stop at The Milestone in Rathfriland for some sausage rolls and then made our way to Hen Mountain, the excitement becoming ever more tangible.

Hen Mountain from Cock Mountain (Patrick Higgins Photography)

We had a quick lunch in the car, sun-creamed up and got ready to go. Armed with bottles of water and penguin biscuits we strapped the baby onto Daddy’s chest and headed up the path.

When I say we’re novices, I mean we have about as much experience climbing mountains as a bear has had in playing the piano. We’ve never tried mountain walking as a family. We walk in other lovely places, but mountains have eluded us until now. The husband and I once climbed a mountain on a whim, wearing entirely unsuitable shoes, back when we were dating and had time to be spontaneous. I think I did some mountain hiking on school trips and GB weekends. That’s about it really (again to my shame as a former Rathfrilander).

However, we were pleased to find we were easily able to cope with Hen Mountain. Not too steep and plenty of rocks to sit on so we could eat penguins. There was a first for me as the baby overheated and needed to be released from the baby carrier for a quick wee breastfeed. I don’t usually get to feed her while taking in such spectacular scenery.

The five year old made the keen observation that the higher up you go, the more you can see. The three year old muddled along, doing her own thing, picking up random stones that piqued her interest (as stones are, as I’m sure you know, very interesting indeed). All in all a very enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

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Admittedly, we didn’t make it to the top. The kids are still pretty small and we’re very new to this. We got about halfway there. We’ll definitely be back to conquer it another day. As we wandered back down the five year old couldn’t stop talking about what a great time he’d had. He used the words ‘wonderful’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘fantastic’.

We bustled ourselves back into the car and headed home. We would have introduced the kids to the wonders of Graham’s ice cream, but the queue was massive. We decided to save that for our next trip and made do with some ice lollies from The Milestone.

I would highly recommend Hen Mountain to any novices like us. If you’re inexperienced, but looking to get the kids a bit of fresh air, Hen Mountain is an achievable challenge (even though we didn’t actually complete it).

Now that we’ve started, we’re excited to discover new parts of the Mournes. Maybe we’ll even attempt some other mountain ranges. Who knows? I sense the beginning of an excellent new hobby.

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