Go Walk: the Mourne Wall, Co Down
Mourne Wall undulates gracefully through and over the Mourne Mountains like the tracks of some Stone Age rollercoaster
The Mourne Wall is solidly built, its architects taking time and care to marry aesthetics with durability
Mourne Wall, Co Down
Map: Sheet 29, Discoverer Series OSNI.
China has its Great Wall, Britain its Hadrian’s Wall and Israel its Wailing Wall, but we have the beautifully built Mourne Wall which undulates gracefully through and over the Mourne Mountains like the tracks of some Stone Age rollercoaster.
Unlike those other walls, ours is not to keep out raiders, nor support a long-gone temple; instead it was constructed in the early 1900s to enclose and delineate the catchment of a major Belfast water supply infrastructure.
The wall is solidly built, its architects taking time and care to marry aesthetics with durability.
Though certainly intrusive in this wild mountain landscape, it has come to be loved and admired, as well as used for navigation and shelter by generations of hikers.
We came on a May day of cold Greenland air and short vicious showers, with bright May sunshine in between. Our plan was to leave a car in Newcastle and take a curvilinear route, mostly beside the wall, from a car park about 1km southwest of Trassey bridge back to Newcastle.
Initially we would follow a short track onto the Ulster Way, before breaking southeast up the long easy slope to the summit of Meelbeg (708m).
This we did, and there joined the wall, our “handrail”, guide and protector from the winds, which would take us all the way to the last mountain on the route – Slieve Donard (850m), the highest mountain in Ulster.
The first impression of the wall, at this point running down and away from us towards Meelmore mountain before turning to climb shapely Bearnagh (739m), is one of both awe and a kind of relief.
We now had our companion for the day and its adjacent clear path over the Mournes’ thin screed of peat and granite sand.
Bearnagh was tough, steep and stoney, even the wall finding the angle of the ascent difficult to cling to. This mountain sports a great fine-grained granite tor, its narrow slit enticing us through to a lovely, sunny sheltered perch overlooking Ben Crom reservoir below.
The wall and its path are “built for speed”, with none of Wicklow’s heathery hard going. And so Slievenaglogh (586m) and stately Commedagh (767m) came and went in rapid succession.
Along the way and elsewhere, we noted new wall collapses, due no doubt to recent hurricane winds and some undercutting, which was a real pity to see.
The pull up Donard was tough, though considerably aided by prepared “steps” nearly all the way to the summit.
The last of the showers blew itself out against the summit, and a beautiful rainbow and the distant Isle of Man enthralled us as we picked our way down in a northeast direction on trackless heather off the summit.
We passed east of Thomas’s Mountain to the quarry above Donard wood, and easily picked up the pleasant wooded Glen Riverside path back to our car in Newcastle.