Hiding in the mists of Northern Ireland’s beautiful ‘border country’ lies Kilbroney Park, Rostrevor, home to Slievemartin and thee most stunning views of Carlingford Lough you will ever see. We allowed 3 hours for this 7km walk which included plenty of time for breathers and a relaxing lunch.
Part of the splendid ‘Kingdom of Mourne’ mountain range this lesser known venue (when compared to it’s more northerly Newcastle counterparts) is a ‘must-do’ for any touring hill walker who fancies a great day out with an uphill challenge. In fact from the moment you enter the park you will understand why I’ve called it a distinctly two-pole day …everything is immediately uphill!
The main and largest car park is the ‘middle’ one of three. This is where you’ll find all the usual amenities loos, coffee shop (newly refurbished 2018) and mountain bikes. Yes, I did say mountain bikes …yikes! Be warned, there are plenty of them in this park. The good news is that the park is well sign posted and there are lots of bike-only trails so keep an eye out for those and stay off them! Adhere to the trail signs and try not to stray onto any dedicated bike routes, hopefully the bikers will do the same. For shared routes or when weather conditions obscure signage I’ve included a link to the mountain bike code of conduct so you know what to expect and can get safely out of the way.
If you want to test first gear on your car then head to the top car park. There are no amenities here but the views are superb (even from the carpark) and it’ll be a less strenuous route to ‘The Cloughmore’ stone and up to the summit of Slievemartin. I’ve often started from this carpark and find it makes for a thoroughly enjoyable day especially for those in our group who may be less attracted to a steep climb. Note, I said ‘less‘ strenuous route, there is still a good variety of uphill walking to do from here but it’ll definitely cut out a great deal of the main ‘lung-busting’ climb.
On this occasion, we started from the first and smallest, lower car park, not far from the main entrance, leaving the Carlingford shoreline behind and following the Oakwood Nature Reserve forestry track. This track soon turns upwards towards Fiddlers Green, so look out for the trail sign to keep you on the right path. From Fiddlers Green we kept going and connected with a much narrower trail that took us up through gorgeous woodland onto the grassy area at The Cloughmore stone. This narrower trail steadily winds its way uphill and can get rather steep quite quickly so be sure to do your stretches before setting of. Note to self: I must remember to do more stretches! This trail also tends to be the route of choice for rainwater that’s determined to run off the hill and make its way back to shore, so gaiters and poles are advised. It can get a bit slippery when wet.
Now, for me, one of hill walking’s big attractions is the link between Irish mythology and nature. I adore our folklore, our legends, our myths. In my mind these are some of our greatest treasures. So with that in mind you may want to read up on our legendary giant Finn MacCool before you visit. (Fionn mac Cumhaill). You know, the one responsible for the Giants Causeway.
Considering that the geology of the 30ton Cloughmore stone proves that it’s not local, I’m fascinated that our folklore explains this fact (long before science) by telling us that it was thrown here during a battle between two giants. Finn being one of them. Incidentally that’s also how Lough Neagh and the Isle of Man were formed too. They really were a very clever bunch back then. Now many will tell you that the ice age played a significant part in this stones history but for me, I’d much rather take pleasure from the romance of our wonderful legends and all their richness. See if you can spot the sleeping giant, hidden within the views as you gaze along the lines of the neighbouring mountain ridge.
From the ‘big stone’ we rejoined the track which took us further uphill towards the summit of Slievemartin (485m). To get to the summit we veered ‘off piste’ a little and up a grassy slope to the summits trig after one last trek uphill. Anywhere around the banks of the grassy summit is a great place to stop for lunch and enjoy the spectacular views …and after that climb you can eat whatever you like, so make sure you bring a good’n! It can be a bit soggy at the summit so remember to bring a little waterproof mat for under your bum …I never leave home without one!
After our lunch at the summit we rejoined the path for the final time and carried on, gradually heading back downhill. With knees buckling all the way through beautiful woodland, we eventually emerged at the top carpark.
We continued along the tarmac road for a little bit further until we crossed the Glen Stream. Beside the small stone bridge we found the sunken river path and meandered our way along it’s magical muddy banks, past the fairies (who were watching us the whole way) and back to our vehicles. A glorious end to an invigorating day that never fails to impress me. Pork pies, chocolate and legendary giants for everyone!
If you’d like a sneak peek, check out this beautiful short video – A walk on Slievemartin by Patrick Zerkowski.
If you like this you may also be interested in Slieve Binnian – Mournes