The magic of the Mournes
Tollymore Park is perfect for a day out or serious walking
Once upon a time, when grannies wore black and sat around making bonnets for babies, a family day out was probably a drive in the car followed by a nice picnic beside a river. Nowadays grannies will probably be the ones galloping up a mountain.
Tollymore Forest Park in Co Down, with riding, orienteering or mountain biking, is great for a family outing while the serious walkers can head out into the magic of the Mournes.
To really get the best from this walk, a decent sunny day makes it a truly magical experience. The vistas change continuously and the majesty of the mountains, their steepness, the craggy rock formations, the Mourne Wall climbing up and down disappearing off into the distance, makes this one of the most special mountain areas in Ireland.
Trying to find one’s way out of the Forest Park is the first hurdle. A bewildering array of paths through dappled sunlight, over little stone bridges, past follies and grottoes, is designed to confuse. You are heading for Luke’s Mountain, the first of a number of peaks to be climbed. A detailed map of the park to get out into open country side at exactly the right spot would be useful.
This spot is where the track emerges from the forest directly to a ruined old cottage and over a stile out on to the hill side. This is Luke’s Mountain, which then climbs on up to become Slievenaglogh. It is the only bit of terrain that is rough and boggy for the whole of this six-hour walk.
From the summit of your first mountain, at 586 metres, the grandeur of the whole range can be appreciated. Away to the northeast lies the great sweep of Newcastle Bay, while straight ahead and far down below, the sheer rock walls of the Ben Crom reservoir guard the precious waters within. Twelve mountain peaks, over 600 metres, all demand to be climbed.
From here the walk follows the Mourne Wall right to the top of the mighty Slieve Donard. These mountains are steep, particularly Slieve Commedagh and Donard, but the wall a sort of trusty companion upon which you can lean, which shelters you from wind and sun and prevents you from getting lost.
From the summit of Donard it is necessary to retrace your steps to the col at the base of Commedagh. Most of the big climbing is over now and you can relax – it is pretty easy going as you set off along the Brandy Pad. What a fabulous name – you can just see the smugglers with their heavily laden horses transporting their illegal goods through the mountains. The pint of ale in the tavern afterwards must have felt like nectar.
It’s a rough old path but lovely. Now you are walking between the rocky outcrops with rivers down below and big bulky mountains above. Your destination is Hare’s Gap, a most dramatic mountain pass. There is another bit of steep climbing to do. Follow the wall to your right to where the land flattens out, then contour around the mountain heading down the side of Slievnaglogh and down Luke’s Mountain back to where you started.
Start and Finish: Tollymore Forest Park
Map: Activity Map The Mournes 1:25000 (2009 edition) Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland
Time: Allow up to seven hours but it could be done in less