DIARY: The Dark Mournes

A successful weekend of rambling the Mournes has been completed.

Readers may know that I have a long-standing interest in the Mourne Mountains (since first hearing about them in the song "Mountains of Mourne"). Not only am I fascinated by their alien landscape and dark sheen but was physically impressed by the Donard-Commedagh race I undertook last year.

The Mournes are definitely not your average Wicklow Hills, formed from a granite core and with extinct volcanoes still lingering in their midst, the Mournes stand taller than most ranges in Ireland. While not as physically imposing as the Reeks in Kerry (a chain they will eventually surpass, as the Mournes should not erode as quickly as the Reeks), they feature a large number of hills over 600m as well as the "Sevens Sevens" of which, Donard, the highest mountain in 9-counties Ulster, is the highest at 853m.

I have a long-standing goal of taking on the Seven Sevens race some day, and this weekend's trip allowed Aoife and myself to traverse first Donard-Commedagh (and Shan Slieve or "Old Mountain") on the Friday and Slieve Binnian (including Wee Binnian) and Slieve Lamagan, meaning we recceed 4 of the 7 Sevens. From Lamagan and Binnian we had great views to Meelmore and Meelbeg, two of the remaining 3 as well as rocky Ben Crom guarding one of the two major water reservoirs providing Belfast with water: Ben Crom Dam.

The other major reservoir was the starting point of our Binnian ascent, the Silent Valley reservoir located next to the Mountain Park of the same name. Our Donard ascent started from Newcastle city itself and included a tour of the Donard Forest before following the Glen River to the Mourne Wall (a well erected in the early 20th century to contain and protect the reservoir area).

Donard-Commedagh Loop:
17.01km, 1314m of ascent/-1328m descent (ascent grade 16.2%, descent grade -16.1%)
Binnian-Lamagan Horseshoe: 11.66km, 994m of ascent/-972m descent (ascent grade 20.2%, descent grade 16%)