Along with a couple of friends, I decided to replicate a hike I did on the same day last year. It was on New Years Eve 2019, a bright and clear day. I was standing on top of Doan watching a glorious sunrise emerge from behind that big beautiful mountain, Slieve Binnian. Cold, yet elated, I reflected on a wonderful year our group (the Mid Ulster Mountaineers) had.
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Fast forward to this year. Standing on top of Doan, the visibility was a few yards, it was freezing, the only people about were direction-seeking, poorly dressed day trippers.
I was disheartened. We knew we’d see no sunrise, but went ahead anyway for the craic. The craic was good, if I’m honest. I find when you can’t see much, the conversations are better. The dark humour of hikers’ flow and the stories are in abundance. The odd time we caught a glimpse of a view around us, when, for a few moments, the cloud would break and we’d be treated to the snow covered tops. Beautiful, and I was really glad as we had a hiking virgin with us, Jordan, who brought most of the dark humour and funny stories aforementioned.
I drew the conclusion that that day tied in well with 2020. A poor start with no ability to see what’s in front, followed by some momentary disorientation, then a sliver of hope at times, only for the fog to drop again. Some laughs, a lot of swearing, isolation and mild anxiety, concluded with a worrying thought of developing a drink problem. Yeah, 2020 wasn’t really a good year to hike, never mind run a hiking group.
Soon after our mighty 52 strong, sexy-army-type march along the hills for our invitation hike at the start of the year – a good start – the world fell into chaos and we were banned from attending our big adult playground in County Down. Then we were allowed, then we weren’t. Then we were, then we weren’t with so many numbers. Disorientation.
The worst thing about the lockdown was that the weather was class! We missed some good days, which was disheartening. Lots of swearing. Our members in our WhatsApp group took to sending photos of gin, beer and questionable attempts at cocktails. I even built a man cave with a bar. More worrying thoughts of developing a drink problem.
When we were allowed out though, the craic was mighty – we tried not to mention the Rona and fell right into the usual slagging and swaggering about the Mournes as if we owned the place. Only this time we had to keep numbers down to 15, keep our distance, try and refrain from hugging (we love a wee hug), and above all, protect our members from the nasty virus. So far so good, in that respect. We still covered a lot of miles and hours up there. We have, if allowed, a major charity event in June to train for and need the leg strength.
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The winter came, and over Christmas the snow appeared. I would take these days over any summer’s day. The snow gives the Mournes a whole new facelift, like an over-painting of an already beautiful painting. That’s the thing about the Mournes, the views and character change every time you visit. Can’t get enough of the place.
Whatever else is going on in the world, and as long as you know the spots the jeans-wearing day trippers don’t know about, you can find a kind of escape in this majestic corner of our wee country.