Sunday, 7 February 2010

Mournes Recce

It's hard to believe but in spite of living within 100 miles of the Mournes I'd only ever been once and that was almost 2 years ago. I'm not sure why but I either stuck to the Antrim hills and moaned about the lack of height and surplus of peat bogs or went off to Scotland and cursed the fact that I had to take the ferry. I ventured down in May 08 for the 1st time and swore I'd be back but it took until this weekend to get down again.

Marcus was keen to get out again and I suggested we head down to the Mournes for a bit of a recce. I'm not an early starter so we decided to leave on Friday morning at about 9.30am, drive down and just have a bit of a hike before returning home again that evening. I'm a bit wary of having to leave the car parked up overnight so that was another reason for sussing things out 1st.

We decided to drive to Meelmore Lodge and go in by the Trassey track on the northernish side of the Mournes rather than from the south side as I'd done previously. Looking at the map and wanting to save Slieve Commedagh and Slieve Donard (the highest in N.I.) for another time Slieve Meelmore, Slieve Meelbeg and Slieve Bearnagh looked the most likely. Initially we looked at Meelmore and Meelbeg but decided instead to keep our options open by heading up to the saddle between Slieve Meelmore and Slieve Bearnagh and then depending on weather conditions and how much time we had we could turn left for Slieve Bearnagh, take in the 2 tops and return to the Trassey track by way of the Hares Gap or turn right and follow the Mourne wall to the summit of Slieve Meelmore then on to Slieve Meelbeg before dropping back down the north side to pick up the Ulster way and back to the car.

It was closer to 10.00am by the time we set off but having missed rush hour through Belfast we were parked up and ready to roll by 11.40am. The weather was better than I'd expected, there was a light breeze at low level but nothing that required a windshirt so we set off towards the Trassey track which follows the Trassey river. Rather than using the track we kept close to the shoulder of Spellack which is really a continuation of Slieve Meelmore. The cloud was low enough to keep the tops hidden but it was easy enought to see the Hares Gap and the saddle between Slieve Bearnagh and Slieve Meelmore. We didn't set much of a pace and I spend some time trying to get a few half decent shots in the rather uninspiring light.

Eventually we reached the saddle and stopped to decide what to do next. Not being able to see the tops and being unfamiliar with the area we decided that we'd take our time and simply make for the summit of Slieve Bearnagh and hope that the cloud lifted. I found the going pretty steep to be honest, much steeper than what I'm used to on the Antrim Hills but we soon reached the summit tors.

We spent some time wandering around, watching the cloud lift, the sun try to break through then closing in again. I really enjoyed it and it was a pleasant change to be on hard, stoney ground rather than the peat bogs of my local hills, in fact it reminded me of the Cairngorms.

We set off again following the Mourne wall to the secondary top of Slieve Bearnagh before dropping down to the Hares Gap. We could have followed the Trassey track at that point but I was getting hungry and wanted to try out my new cooking system so we contoured around the foot of Slieve Bearnagh to the remains of an old quarry that I'd noticed as we were walking in. The quarry made a good 'picnic area' with plenty of flat stones to set the stoves up on, as Marcus commented it was a bit of a change from trying to get them set up on grassy tussocks.

Unfortunately as is often the case in places like this people who seem unable to carry their rubbish out had left their mark by putting empty crisp packets, used teabags etc into cracks in the rock. I just don't get the mentality of people like that, they must enjoy the scenery yet it doesn't seem to register that by leaving rubbish behind they're spoiling the very thing they set out to enjoy. Lets face it, if you can carry the weight of packaging and food on the way in you can carry the weight of the packaging alone on the way out, even thinngs that are biodegradable like apple cores/banana skins should be carried out if possible as they don't exactly fade away overnight and make the area look messy.

This was my 1st real attempt at using my new cooking system and while it worked the shorter cone windshield isn't as efficient as a taller one, the closed cell foam cozies however worked well, using the alu-tape lined cozy as a means of holding the main pot also served to keep the water warm enough for coffee after I had made a soup drink and an instant pasta meal. I've since switched to a taller windshield and silicone rubber band on the pot rather than the short windshield/ti skewer and having tried it last night it does improve the performance significantly with no weight penalty.

Having been fed and watered so to speak we regained the Trassey track and made our way back down past Spellack to the Ulster Way trail and then back to the carpark at Meelmore lodge. It was 4.40pm by the time we returned so we certainly didn't break any speed records, we must have spent more time sitting around that we thought as according to the GPS our 'Time Moving' was 2.35 hours.

We were back home by about 6.30pm again having managed to miss the worst of the Belfast rush hour traffic.

Apart from my cooking gear I wasn't using anything new but Marcus had just bought a Golite Jam and was giving it a test run. Hopefully we'll get back down in the next few weeks, even if it's only for a day it'll be good but an over-night would be better as I'm sure Marcus will want to try the Golite Jam with a heavier load and I want to try my new bivvy bag and down trousers (sorry, Pants just doesn't sound right ;-))

One final thing, Quo have recently released some 1/25,000 scale maps for N.I. together with updates to the existing 1/50,000 scale ones and a new version of the software to handle it all. I bought the map covering the Mournes (£14.99) and it seems good with much more detail (obviously) and now also with gridlines which means maps printed from the program should be useable with a compass.


  1. "I spend some time trying to get a few half decent shots in the rather uninspiring light"

    You managed to get more than half decent shots! Loving the eerie atmosphere of these images.

  2. Grrrr people who shove their rubbish into cracks of walls etc................
    The Mournes look like a great set of hills, you should be there more often seeing as they are only 100 miles away!

  3. Hey Richard,
    Good to see you got down to the Mourne's! Still some snow hugging the wall I see.

    When the clouds come in it does get a bit annoying when half the image whites out, but certainly does add an atmosphere. A bit of HDR can help get a bit more out of the images, if you can be bothered with the PP.

  4. Hi Keith, a wee bit of snow but it's hanging about a bit more on the Antrim Hills which is strange as they're lower.

    I had an ND4 grad but didn't bother to put it on, I probably should have though as I hate spending too much time editing on the computer.