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Having checked, rechecked and checked again, reassuring himself that the forecast thunder and lightning was not going to arrive and spoil our planned hike this weekend, Graham finally notified the group that we were on and I was elated. This was to be my first outing with Trek NI since the easing of lock down restrictions and one which I had been looking forward to all week.
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Our instructions were simple: Google the address, find the road and on driving up that road, keep an eye out for the ‘Honey for sale’ sign. When you see the sign, turn right up and follow the laneway and please slow down for ducks!
As if by magic and with the same ease and simplicity disseminated in the instructions, we assembled at Carol Cottage, where we were warmly greeted by our hosts for the day, Darren and Vanessa. Darren immediately swooped into action and took control of the car parking logistics with the militarist might of an Army General, directing traffic and reassuring drivers that the distances between pillars and parked cars were more than adequate for ample parking.
Disembarking from our vehicles, I had the chance to catch up with friends discussing the walks that I had missed out on over the last month, but also took the opportunity to meet and chat with some of the newer members of the group, making them feel welcome and soaking up their excitement for what lay ahead.
The focus then shifted towards the task for the day and the conversations around will the weather hold up, will I wear my shorts, should I wear my coat now or will I need my hat. I live by the motto, better to have it with you and not need it, than to need it and not have it, so my bag is normally heavily laden with lots of different layers.
This hike was intentionally planned to be a bit different than our usual routine. The feedback through the group from recent hikes in the Mournes was that during Covid-19 lockdown it had become a bit congested, with parking being particularly challenging at times. This was a concern due to our planned start times and the fact that our members travel from all over the Province.
For this reason, it had been proposed that the group could explore the South West side of the Mournes, tackling the less-visited Finlieve Mountain. I had never hiked on this side of the Mournes before and was very keen to get off the beaten track.
With Vanessa leading the charge, we left Carol Cottage, heading up a tarmacked road, then veering left onto a rocky path. The weather was dry but clammy and the early morning mist had all but disappeared. We arrived at a closed gate, where we paused briefly to allow everyone to catch up and get a quick breather. This gave us our first views of the amazing Carlingford Lough coastline and to the right the tip of Slieve Binnian in the distance.
From here, we turned left, hiking in single file and following in Vanessa’s footsteps up and over a field before descending to the foot of Rocky. Again, the vista of Carlingford Lough in front of us was stunning with the morning sunlight glistening on the water below. In the distance we were just able to see the ferry making one of its frequent crossings. A short climb from here brought us to our first official stop and a chance for a drink and something to eat.
Back on our feet again, the break was soon forgotten as we climbed steeply up Rocky to its peak. At this point my calves and thighs reminded me that I hadn’t hiked since January and I was relieved when we started our descent down the other side. In the distance we could see our main target, Finlieve however, to get there we needed to cross a very wet and boggy sparse of land. Again, with Vanessa at the helm, we crossed without incident albeit with varying degrees of success in terms of dryness. Stopping at the other side of a small stream, we descended slightly to meet up with the rest of the group as Darren knew a shortcut which brought us all back together.
A quick headcount and direction check with Darren, identified that we can go anyway we wanted, as long as it was up. And true to his word, up it was. Up and up and when you saw the top and thought you were there; it was up a bit further after that. That said, we all arrived safely at the Cairn, where we gratefully availed of another rest and dutifully inhaled our lunch, before posing for the obligatory TrekNI photo. The hard work was now done and from here it was all downhill to our final destination.
Making our way down the east side of Finlieve, we reached the bottom and waited for everyone to descend safely. The sugar rush of lunch had an immediate impact as we conversed about the country folklore and rural mythologies of goat fainting and cow tipping. Every day is a school day with Trek NI!
We then followed the rocky path back down the mountainside towards our starting point at Carol Cottage. To our left, the spectacular Mournes Mountains accompanied our descent and in front of us, the valley down to the sea and beyond now expanded to include views of the Wicklow Mountains and Isle of Man.
We concluded our hike where we had begun and before departing, we were treated to an exhibition from our very own Dr Dolittle, Darren demonstrating his uncanny ability to hypnotise ducks (no ducks were harmed in this demonstration). You had to be there!
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On reflection, this was one of my favourite hikes in the Mournes in recent years. I really liked the fact that it was off the beaten track away from the regular hiking routes and it felt like we had the place to ourselves. I will definitely be back to explore further in the near future. It was unique to be able to hike and be looking across at the Mournes, rather than be looking out from them as we would normally do. Access via the south west side gives a completely different view of the beauty of the Mourne landscape, one which I would really recommend you see.
A big thanks to Darren and Vanessa for hosting and to the TrekNI crew for another great day.
Walk date: Saturday 25th July 2020
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