Belfast Telegraph

TRAVEL GUIDE: Slieve Donard

To describe this week’s recommendation as a ‘hidden gem’ would be a complete contradiction in terms. I mean, Northern Ireland’s highest mountain does not exactly hide its light under a bushel.

Up until two years ago the majestic Slieve Donard was an impressive peak that I had marvelled at and admired only from a distance. But all that changed when a friend suggested a Sunday morning hike to the summit.

An eight o’clock start on a Sunday morning may not be everyone’s idea of a fun hike — but believe me, this is the absolute best time to set off on the five and a half mile walk to the summit.

Firstly, from about 11 o’clock onwards the route actually gets really crowded. And secondly — if you start off at eight in the morning you are down in perfect time for a well-deserved lunch.

There are many different mountain routes — but I would tend to stick to the trail through the woods along the Glen River. The weather can change very quickly and an ominous fog descending on the winding mountain path can leave you totally disorientated so it really is important, at least on your first trek, that you are accompanied by someone who really knows the way.

For the first hour or so you walk up through the trees. This can be extremely slippery underfoot hence the need for a decent pair of walking boots. Trainers are not recommended as they don't support your ankles.

As you leave the trees behind, the path crosses the river and the Mourne Wall becomes visible. It is only then that you realise there is still quite a distance to go.

It’s quite a trek to ‘The Saddle’ and many walkers call it a day at this point — but the views alone are worth the steep and sometimes tough walk to the summit.

On a clear day Slieve Donard offers breathtaking vistas out towards the Isle of Man, Wicklow, Donegal, Scotland and even Wales — but there is something really special about being at the highest point in Northern Ireland and placing your stone at the top of the heap of pebbles left by other walkers. On one occasion I shared coffee and sandwiches with two Slovenian lads who, I hate to admit, had seen much more of the Mournes and the Sperrins than I being a native had.

So, this summer I am on a mission to put that right. Over the next few weekends I intend to get to grips with My NI — so if you have any suggestions for a good hike let me know.

For more information on walks around Northern Ireland visit the www.outdoorni.com website.

In the meantime, keep sending your holiday gems to me at sundaylifetripsandtips@gmail.com or Sunday Life Trips and Tips, Sunday Life, 124 Royal Avenue, Belfast BT1 1EB. You can also join the Facebook group — Sunday Life Trips and Tips — and don’t forget to take a copy of your Sunday Life on holidays. Take a picture and you could be in the money. We have a prize for the best holiday tip or pic published.

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