Pocket Britain
Britain > N.Ireland > Co.Down > Mourne Mountains

The magical slopes of Northern Ireland's south-west


Slieve Donard
Mourne Wall
Silent Valley
Tollymore Forest Park
This range of ominous, misty mountains were the inspiration for the magical Kingdom of Narnia, in C S Lewis' famous series of books. Perhaps that gives you an idea of just how atmospheric this place is. Blue lakes nestle between the peaks. Peregrine Falcons drift lazily in the air, on the lookout for prey. Places often have strange names, like Buzzard's Roost or the Devil's Coach Road. Ancient stone monuments from over 5000 years ago are scattered throughout the landscape; their purpose is no longer clear. Much of the land has been purchased by the National Trust, who keep this mysterious place as unspoiled as it should be.

Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
The tallest peak, Slieve Donard, is also the tallest in Northern Ireland. The word "slieve" appears in most of the Mournes' names - it simply means "mountain". Donard was a saint, who lived in Ireland many centuries ago. Saint Patrick instructed him to watch over the land from the summit of the mountain. Donard took his job so seriously that even death didn't stop him; supposedly his spirit is still here, guarding the surrounding countryside.

The summit of Slieve Donard.
Photo Colin Park
Slieve Donard is 850 metres high, but is still relatively easy to climb. From the top you can see up north to Belfast, or all the way south to Dublin. There are also spectacular views over the coast, which borders the peak on its eastern side. This location was the inspiration for the song "Where The Mountains Of Mourne Sweep Down To The Sea". It was written in way back in 1896, and it's likely that everyone in Northern Ireland can hum the tune.

Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Passing over the southern and western sides of Slieve Donard is the Mourne Wall. This imposing structure runs for 22 miles across 15 different mountains, and is 1.5 metres high on average. It was assembled entirely by hand, a feat that took 18 years. This was at the start of the 20th century, when the Belfast Water Commissioners decided to turn the mountain range into a water supply. The wall was meant to prohibit cattle from entering the 9000 acre catchment area. Inside the boundaries is the Silent Valley Reservoir, which to this day still supplies water to Belfast and County Down. Animals may not be allowed to visit, but people certainly are. A visitor centre gives more information on the reservoir, and the many sights that surround it.

Part of the Mourne Wall.
Photo Oliver Dixon
The wall is a convenient navigational aid for the hikers on the Mourne slopes. There are more walking routes than it's possible to count. The mountains are a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, with opportunities for everything from canoeing to horse riding. The granite cliffs make rock climbing especially popular. There are 26 crags, offering nearly 1000 different routes altogether. For an even scarier experience, try mountain boarding. The idea is that you zoom down the steep inclines on an oversized skateboard! The Mournes' mountain board centre is the only one in Ireland.
Any trip across the slopes echoes the journeys of 18th century smugglers, who made extensive use of the secluded trails. After landing their boats at the nearby shores, the cargoes of liquor, tobacco, tea or silk were quickly taken up the Mournes, away from the reach of the patrolling coastguard. As you explore the mountains yourself, perhaps you might be lucky enough to discover a stray piece of contraband!

Tollymore Forest Park

Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Tollymore's trees are so healthy that some of them were used inside the Titanic. In the 50s this became the first forest park in Northern Ireland. Since then it has been filled with all sorts of strange sights. There are Gothic gate arches, and a barn disguised as a church. Next to the river is a single room made of nothing but carefully-placed stone. Several nearby bridges are further examples of skilled stonework. Among the common trees are more unusual species, like monkey puzzles and eucalyptus. In the arboretum, you'll see a giant redwood that's been struck by lightning! All the sights are linked via several walking trails. They range from short strolls to gruelling mountain hikes. To see everything you'll need to stay the night. A camping and caravan site provides year-round accommodation.
Visitor Information
Newcastle Tourist Information, 10-14 Central Promenade, Newcastle, BT33 0AA. Tel: 028 4372 2222
Tollymore Forest Park is open daily from 10am to sunset. Admission is around £4 for cars and £2 for pedestrians. It's next to Newcastle in the foothills of the Mourne Mountains. NI Forest Service: 028 4372 2428

Back ~ Top ~ Home ~ Index

Pocket Britain is optimised for use on a smartphone or tablet with internet access. All content is subject to copyright. All reasonable methods have been used to ensure information supplied is accurate at the time of publication. However, it is advisable to check information before relying on it. Privacy Policy