Eat up the miles on a gastronomic bike tour of Mournes
Admit it, you sometimes feel a twinge of envy when you see those super fit cyclists toiling their way along winding mountain roads – and an even bigger twinge of guilt.
But a hotel in the Mournes has come up with an innovative way for all the non-cyclists out there to explore some of our most spectacular scenery without being shut away behind a stifling car window – and discovering some of the finest delicacies the area has to offer.
So the Belfast Telegraph donned a cycle helmet and had a go at Northern Ireland's first food cycling trail, which takes you from the breathtaking heights of Spelga Dam down to the promenade at Newcastle and the byways of Dundrum.
Enniskeen Country House Hotel has teamed up with Newcastle Bike Hire Company to offer a trail that allows tourists to call in with producers and eateries along the route and treat themselves to the local produce. The routes are a mix of quiet rural roads, cycle lanes and smooth off-road trails.
You don't have to be daunted by the towering heights of the Mournes looming above Newcastle – for £28 you get to hire a quality bike with trail pack and a pannier to carry your food purchases, plus a complimentary shuttle bus service that will take to the start point at Spelga Dam. The whole route is downhill – but if that daunts you, an electric bike is also available.
Our group was dropped off on a road overlooking breathtaking Spelga Dam. After we donned helmets and high-vis jackets, it was a freewheel down through the Trassey Valley along quiet country roads.
First stop-off was Meelmore Lodge and cafe at Patterson's, where the spring lambs were grazing. We learned that Mourne blackface lamb gets its distinctive sweet flavour because the lambs roam the mountains, grazing heather and blackberries.
From there, you coast down quiet country lanes past tumbling mountain rivers until you reach a turn-off for the Ulster Way that takes you through Tollymore Forest and the descent along the Shimna River. The route takes you past the hermitage which used to be home to a salmon fishery, as well as the spot where the direwolf pup scene was filmed in Game Of Thrones.
Then you can stop off for a breather at the Enniskeen Country House Hotel to enjoy mountain vistas and afternoon tea on the terrace, everything from dainty sandwiches with Mourne honey ham to delicate cheesecakes and scones with cream and Mourne honey.
Next we wheeled down into the resort of Newcastle, catching a glimpse of a heron fishing the Shimna before arriving at Cafe Creme for a taste of Abernethy Butter Fudge. A few doors away is the Cookie Jar, renowned for its delicious wheaten bread, and across the street is Graham's Ice Cream, which has been producing its delicious fare since the 1950s.
The next stretch takes you north along the promenade and onto the main road to Dundrum, before you turn off onto quiet, gorse-lined lanes skirting Dundrum Bay and Keel Point.
From there, it's a short cycle into Dundrum, although you can take a detour up Dam Lane to Dundrum Castle, or continue to Mourne Seafood Bar or the Buck's Head to enjoy a sumptuous lunch with local produce.
Eileen Jeans, manageress at the Enniskeen Country House Hotel, said: "Our team have often talked about how great our local food produce and landscapes are here and we're delighted to be able to bring these assets together showcasing them for visitors.
"Our key was to collaborate with local producers and eateries to create an inspirational day itinerary – and so the 'Mourne Foods Cycle Trail' was born."
Enniskeen Country House Hotel director Iain Porter dreamed up the idea after trying a food cycle trail on a trip to New Zealand.
"We had a go ourselves and really enjoyed it. And I thought why can't we do this here? The Mournes lends itself to that perfectly," he said.
- The Mourne Foods Cycle Trail will be open daily from mid-May and booking is essential. Call 02843 723933.
Mourne Foods Cycle Trail takes in:
Abernethy Butter Company;
Murlough Farm free range eggs;
Mourne Honey; Dundrum Bay Mussel and Oyster Fishery;
Patterson's Mourne Lamb farm;
Graham's Ice Cream; Cookie Jar bakery, and the Enniskeen Country House Hotel