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Mourne mountains: Dos and don'ts for wannabe hikers

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The Mournes offers fantastic views of Co Down

The Mournes offers fantastic views of Co Down

Prepare for all weather eventualities when waking on the Mournes

Prepare for all weather eventualities when waking on the Mournes

Getting properly equipped for your trip up the Mournes is imperative

Getting properly equipped for your trip up the Mournes is imperative

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The Mournes offers fantastic views of Co Down

Irish songwriter Percy French famously wrote about how the Mourne Mountains sweep down to the sea, which is unlike any other mountain range in the British Isles.

Belfast-born author CS Lewis loved exploring the Mourne Mountains and was inspired by the magical landscape. He once stated: “I have seen landscapes, notably in the Mourne Mountains and southwards, which under a particular light, made me feel that any moment a giant might raise his head over the next ridge.”

If you’re not familiar with the Mournes you may have read or seen The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a novel turned film which was inspired by Mr Lewis on one of his many visits up into the Mournes.

If you’re looking to start hiking in the Mournes better first check that you’ve got the right kit. The most important thing is footwear. You need to make sure you’ve good ankle support as the ground is uneven in places.

Yes, there are paths on many routes, but you will be walking over felled tree trunks one minute and possibly over wet spongy moss the next.

Most accidents that occur in the mountains are due to a sprained or broken ankle.

Plus having waterproof boots along with a thick pair of woolly socks will help prevent blisters from water getting in and will also keep your feet warm in winter conditions.

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Over the past months there has been some snow showers and yes, the snowy hills make for a beautiful Narniaesque landscape, but in snow and ice conditions crampons are sometimes needed for extra grip. Crampons are attachable spikes for the soles of stiff mountaineering boots that attach on or off.

The Mournes have one of the most sphagnum moss areas in Ireland and often the moss was used to treat soldiers’ wounds in the First World War.

This moss was discovered to have great infection treating properties. It is found along many of the areas of Mourne and it has an incredible sponge like feeling, as if you’re walking on a trampoline.

It’s important to always bring an outer shell raincoat and an inner layer, possibly just a jumper for when the winds pick up. If you don’t mind spending a bit of money, marino wool is a favourite for outdoor clothing as it wicks away the sweat and keeps you warm in the process.

It is crucial to always check the weather forecast before heading to the mountains as they can be a treacherous place if not prepared for, especially with the wind.

I always check the weather online on mountainforecast.com. If you’re planning on taking regular hikes, it’s useful to get into the way of sticking to the same weather forecast website as often there are discrepancies with varying sites but at least when you use the one site week in week out you will be able to predict the weather closer to the given forecast.

The Met Office is another good online site and both will give specific weather for the Mourne Mountains.

If you have a compass and map and know how to use them, I advise to bring them. However, if you don’t but do have a smartphone, a really good app called viewranger can display your location and direction travelled via GPS with detailed maps of the Mournes. If you plan on hiking regularly you can buy a compass and map and then just look up videos on YouTube on learning navigation techniques.

There are plenty of video tutorials teaching the basic techniques on how to find a bearing. Also, it will give you confidence and you will not have to rely on mountain rescue if you do get lost.

I believe in starting off with small challenges and seeing how that walk felt before just tackling the likes of Slieve Donard, 850m high, the highest peak in Northern Ireland, especially if taking a family out.

There are a few options starting out. Hen Mountain is a family favourite and can often offer spectacular views with the sunset and sunrise.

However, if attempting to see the sunrise or set always remember to bring a head torch and check the batteries before setting off. Also, it’s advisable to at least get a few daytime hikes under your belt to gain experience and familiarity with the walking terrain and route before attempting any night walks.

Hen Mountain starts at the Sandbank Road car park. To get there follow the Kilkeel Road out of Hilltown for 2.9km, turn right at the Sandbank Road crossroads and continue for 1.4km. Hen car park is on the right-hand side. It is important to note that dogs are not allowed on this particular mountain as it’s owned by private landowners.

Another option for hiking and is family friendly is the Granite Trail, although it’s not a summit unless followed up with a more challenging hike to Thomas mountain — so not advisable for first timers.

The Granite Trail leads to the quarry, offering stunning views of Newcastle town centre and a nice waterfall with plenty of rocks to perch on and have a flask of tea, a few buns and a sandwich or two. It’s also very handily found just outside the town centre of Newcastle. You can park down at the second slipway from Newcastle Harbour and follow signposts across the road for Granite Trail.

It starts off with one rather steep incline that will for sure feel like a challenge but the reward at the top is worth the red cheeks.

You will follow a path to the right-hand side that will lead you to the quarry. Sometimes the odd wild pony can be seen on this route as they commute their way along the mountain fronts in search of food.

The wild mountain ponies of Mourne are actually often friendly and can be petted; however, it’s worthwhile noting that they can be malnourished.

If spotted, you can contact Mourne Horse Watch on Facebook and let them know you spotted some horses so they can track them and check their health condition.

The Granite Trail is steeped in history being the path into the Millstone quarries that local Mourne men used to cart granite from the mountains back in the 1800s. Some of this granite can be seen in London in various roads.

Along this route you will also see some artefacts i.e., the huts where local Mourne workers slept during the week.

They would often sleep in the mountains Monday to Friday and go back down to their homes on the weekend. A very tough job indeed only for the strong hearty men of Mourne.

Follow Nathan on Instagram @nathancoulter


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