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Mourne Mountains

Hiking the Mournes Big Eight

27th October 2020 by Niamh McCann Share

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As we know, COVID has kind of put a dampener on, well…everything. It has been a pretty difficult time for most people and for me, the only reprieve was the lifting of non-essential travel which meant – mountains! Prior to 2020 I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t climbed any of the mountains of Mourne but I had been thinking about it for some time. With bouts of furlough and *some* excellent weather, myself and a friend decided to give it a go.

Over the course of the summer, we tackled the 8 highest peaks of the Mournes – Donard, Commedagh, Binnian, Bearnagh, Lamagan, Meelbeg, Meelmore and Muck.

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Donard

Starting with the highest, Slieve Donard stands at 850m high. We started from Donard car park which takes you through a short forest walk, a lengthy steppingstone climb, and a final steep ascent to the peak.

Unfortunately, the day we climbed Donard the weather was pretty horrendous and we were soaked to the skin, but thankfully this cleared after about 45 minutes and stayed away.

In good weather I wouldn’t class this as the most difficult hike – the hardest part for me was the final climb after reaching the Mourne wall, which is a steep 30-minute ascent. This hike should be fairly easy for an experienced climber, but it will depend on your level of fitness.

Commedagh

Commedagh stands second highest at 767m, and this was definitely more difficult. This hike starts through Hare’s gap with a rather difficult rocky climb up to the Mourne wall, which can be tough, but stick it out. When you reach the Mourne wall, turn left and simply follow it up and across Slievenaglogh and Slieve Corragh – it’s a steep incline initially but this levels out a little. The path rises and troughs along the way and provides some wonderful views, before reaching Commedagh’s summit, looking across to Donard.

Binnian

Binnian is probably one of the more popular of the Mourne mountains – standing at 746m high, it provides some of the best views. It can be a little steep and at times very mucky so do take care, but I managed this one twice this year. You will most likely need to take a few short breaks but you will be up in no time – we took the route from Carrick Little which follows the wall to the left. This is somewhat steep and mucky in wet weather, but you should be up in about 1.5 hours.

I have also completed the longer loop route, which is a 5km walk past the Blue Lough to the Binnian-Lamagan col, then a very steep climb left up the mountain. This is a tough climb, but the views are spectacular. The initial path is very rocky and dusty, and it will make the very steep climb even more difficult! I would recommend this for an alternative route, and a bit of a challenge.

Bearnagh

Slieve Bearnagh is another steep climb and there isn’t much of a path marked out. It also passes through Hare’s gap but takes a right after the wall. Take care on the ascent – you may need to use your hands to help you up, as I have seen the odd poor soul lose their footing, so do be careful. The path eventually flattens out before a final brief climb to the looming rocky tors at the top. There is a fair bit to explore around here and although it can be very windy, the views are gorgeous, so take a look around.

Lamagan

Slieve Lamagan is probably the most challenging of the Mournes we climbed this summer – it stands at 704m so it’s by no means the highest, but it is steep! Start at Carrick Little again and follow the trail alongside Annalong Wood. As I mentioned this path is around 5km and will take you past the Blue Lough to the Binnian-Lamagan col (Binnian to your left and Lamagan to your right).

Lamagan doesn’t really have a marked path and it is rather steep and rocky. We thankfully had great weather this day, but it would definitely be challenging in the wind and/or rain. Be prepared to take a few breaks along the way and watch your footing. This mountain provides beautiful views from the summit – some of the best, I would say, so it’s definitely worth it.

Meelbeg and Meelmore

We tackled Meelbeg and Meelmore in one day and they are relatively easy climbs, so are very doable for novices. We began at Ott car park and climbed Slieve Loughshannagh (617m) initially, before continuing on to Meelbeg (708m) and then Meelmore (680m). This sounds daunting but it’s very achievable and enjoyable! The climb to the base of Loughshannagh can be quite mucky in places, but after this the terrain is very accessible.

Muck

Finally, we have Slieve Muck at 670m. We actually climbed this one at the start of the year for an evening hike for sunset and the clue is in the name – it is mucky! This is another one with not much of a path but aside from the muck, it’s accessible terrain and just goes straight up. There is a trig marker at the top and from here you can see Cranfield beach, a peak of Ben Crom reservoir and on the way up you get great views of Spelga Reservoir.

READ: An Autumnal Trek up Beautiful Binevenagh.

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I feel very lucky to be no more than a 30 minute drive from any of the Mourne mountains and over lockdown/summer they were a bit of a Godsend for getting outdoors and clearing the head. The views from each of these mountains is spectacular and I highly recommend giving them a go.

I would definitely recommend a good pair of hiking boots for any and all mountains…for the sake of your feet, please don’t attempt these in running shoes. Hiking boots are tougher and also usually waterproof, which you will be glad of. Make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks as you will be out for most of the day and trust me, the last thing you want is hunger and thirst kicking in at 700m up!

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