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Walk of the Week: The Mourne Way

The Mournes are a wonderfully compact range of mountains crowned by Ulster's highest summit, Slieve Donard.

From all over Co Down the dome of Donard and the serrated tors of Bearnagh and Binnian can be seen, crowning a skyline of graceful peaks. The gentler foothills and surrounding farmlands are equally beautiful in their own pastoral way.

Starting in the town of Newcastle, this route follows the Shimna River, taking you through two parks, laneway and the picturesque Tollymore Forest Park, from which there are excellent views across the Co Down countryside and coastline.


Newcastle is on the A4. There are several car parks in Newcastle, close to the start of the walk. Bus routes link Newcastle and Rostrevor and in the summer months the Rural Rambler bus from Newcastle stops at Tollymore Forest Park.

The walk begins in Newcastle, at the Newcastle Centre and Tourist Information Office. Turn right and then left across the road into Castle Park, an area that was reclaimed from marshland in the 1930s. Go through the park, passing the boating lake on your right, which was formed by widening the mouth of the Shimna, then cross the Shimna Road into Islands Park, keeping right across the footbridge over the Shimna River.

Follow the path adjacent to the northern side of the Shimna river up to the Bryansford Road. Turn left over the bridge, then right across the Bryansford Road and up Tipperary Lane. At the top of the lane, turn right onto the Tullybrannigan Road and after about 400m leave the road where it goes around to the right and take the signposted laneway on the left, up the hill.

After about 500m this path enters Tollymore Forest Park. Follow the waymarkers through the park. Shortly past Maria's Bridge, on the western side of the park, the route leaves the park and follows a lane, through a small beech wood to reach the Trassey Road about 1km further ahead. Several metres to the north of this junction is Trassey Car Park.

The Backdrop

Newcastle, with its contemporary award-winning promenade, is a bustling seaside resort that blends old with new.

The resort nestles beneath the domineering backdrop of Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland’s highest peak (853m). Its name originally derives from a long since demolished castle which was built at the mouth of the Shimna River by Felix Magennis in the late 16th century.

In the 17th century, the area grew as a port and was famously used as a landing point for smugglers who docked their ships full of illicit cargoes of alcohol and tobacco. These illegal goods were then transported through the Mournes to be sold in the bustling market village of Hilltown. This route was used so much that the hooves of the smugglers’ horses defined a distinct track that still exists today and is a popular walking route through the high Mournes known as the Brandy Pad.

Castle Park was opened in 1935 by Lord Glentoran and the boating pond has been operational for many years, a favourite with families from Down district and those visiting Newcastle.

Tollymore Forest Park was the first state forest park in Northern Ireland, established in 1955. A barn dressed up to look like a church, stone cones atop gate piers and gothic-style gate arches all show the influence of that highly individualistic designer, Thomas Wright of Durham (1711-1786), who was a friend of Lord Clanbrassil, owner of Tollymore at that time. A walk along the Shimna river is marked by many curiosities, natural and artificial — rocky outcrops, bridges, grottos and caves.

Elsewhere in the park the tree lover can examine experimental forest plots — some of exotic trees such as monkey puzzle and eucalyptus — or admire the tall giant redwoods and Monterey pines.

The Shimna River is a spate river that rises on the slopes of Ott Mountain, in the Mourne Mountains. It is an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) because of the physical features of the river and its associated riverine flora and fauna. It also provides excellent habitat for spawning salmonids, with populations of Atlantic salmon, brown trout and sea trout present.

Further information

For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Outdoor Recreation NI (formerly CAAN) at, tel: 028 9030 3930 or

Outdoor Recreation NI (formerly CAAN) in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. Outdoor Recreation NI and Belfast Telegraph, however, cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions but where such are brought to our attention, the information for future publications will be amended accordingly.

Walk Name: The Mourne Way – Newcastle to Tollymore Forest Park.

Area: Mourne Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Nearest big town to start point: Newcastle.

Distance: 2 miles, linear.

Terrain: Road, laneways, tarmac path, and forest roads.

Time: You should leave approximately 30 minutes to complete this walk.

Access Restrictions: Please be aware that Tollymore Forest Park is a working environment. Sections of the trail may close from time to time to facilitate forestry and other essential operations. Please take care on forest tracks as some are used as bridle paths and all are used by forestry vehicles.

Publications: ‘Mourne Way: An Illustrated Guide to Walking the Mourne Way’, available free of charge from Tourist Information Centres and Mourne Heritage Trust in Newcastle.

Walk Developed By: Newry and Mourne District Council and Down District Council.

Map: Sheet 29 of the Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland (OSNI) Discoverer Series (1:50,000) map and the Mournes Map (1:25,000) available from LPSNI Map Shop (

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