It’s a fantastic feeling when you finish the day knowing you’ve maximised a unique weather window. That’s how I felt last Saturday evening as I landed on the sofa, in a heap of splendid contentment, satisfied that I couldn’t have squeezed another stride into the day. It may be lashing rain at the moment but just a few days ago it was absolutely glorious. With barely a cloud in the sky, sun shining, breeze blowing, and no traffic… it was the perfect day to climb Slieve Binnian (747m) in the high Mournes. Magical and mystical in equal measure it’s no surprise this landscape was the inspiration for the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis (a regular here) and has formed the backdrop for thinkers, scholars and poets the world over …naturally I fitted right in! We had originally planned to bimble around the Blue Lough but with the threat of blue skies and a “19°C” heat wave on the horizon that soon changed, especially for Binnian …which is much better known for it’s fog, mist, low cloud and injuries!
In fact, just a few weeks ago, some friends of mine got completely caught out here. The weather closed around them, the fog rolled in, the rain turned to snow and what started out as a fun day on the hills soon became much more unpleasant. I’m sooooo glad I wasn’t there. They had a fall with an ankle injury, then an inevitable hillside falling out and a good dose of disorientation. A potential recipe for disaster but thankfully they got home in one piece with friendship intact. There was absolutely NO chance of that happening to me today. I’m pretty risk averse and always have my “just in case” supplies close by …windprooofs, woollies, radios and bandages …well, it is the Mournes! and if you’ve ever been caught out here (which I have in the past) you’ll totally understand. So it frustrates the hell out of me when I see day trippers in trainers and gym wear climbing these hills … best I don’t get started on that one …it’s a whole other blog …grrrrrr! But that was completely offset this time by a chance meeting with hillwalkers from Scotland and their Labradors who were loving it. It lifts me right up to hear visitors talk so positively about the beauty of Northern Ireland. We really don’t give ourselves and our unique environment enough credit.
Anyway, getting back on track….my Fitbit stats: over 17km walked, 11 miles (that’s mountain miles mind you!) and roughly 6 hours on the mountain which included a stop for lunch (with chocolate) at the summit, a stop at the Blue Lough (for some more chocolate) and a decent pause on the top of Percy Bysshe to breathe in the last of the ‘big’ views (and finish off the chocolate) before we levelled off for home at Annalong Woods. We left Belfast at 8.30am, to get parked, and after a Walnut Whip (this one was given to me!!!) and a chat with the farmer our walk started at 10am and finished at 4pm at the nearby ‘Cottage’ with a scrumptious coffee and bannoffee. Why does everything taste soooo good after a day on the hills?
A word of caution, Slieve Binnian is not to be taken lightly. At 747m high every step up and down is a climb over boulders and bog. In fact at one point I had to scramble down on my bum but the views are simply outstanding, even the granite stone walls are gorgeous! From the drive in, to the summit and back, with every turn of your head it’s another breathtaking picture postcard view. Silent Valley, Donard, Lamagan, Ben Crom, Doan they’re all here. So there’s no need to rush it, pace yourself. Allow enough time for plenty of breaks and remember to look behind you. Too often we forge ahead uphill, concentrating so much on every step, that we forget to stop, breathe and look behind us. No matter how far you get along this trail, even if you have to turn back, there’s no way you’ll be disappointed. It’s truly fantastic and a great challenge whatever the weather.
If you’re new to hill walking it’s best to try Binnian when you’re confident the weather window is on your side. Be patient. Those days may be less common here but they are well worth the wait. That’s what makes our island so special. Rush it, on a day when there’s mist or fog and in reality you may not want to return and if that happens you’ll be missing out on something very special.
Our Circular Route:
From Carrick Little car park (OSNI: J345220) we followed the track to the Mourne Wall and let the wall take us to the summit. From here we walked across the plateau trail, through The Back Castles towards the North Tor. This part of the trail sports some of the finest views of Silent Valley and Ben Crom reservoir but can get pretty hairy at the steep rocks (OSNI: J319255) that overlook Ben Crom and Slievelamagan as you approach the cross trail junction. We scrambled (occasionally on my bum ’cause I was scared) down these rocks, thanking God with every step that the weather was on our side. I pity any soul who does this in fog, so be warned! We headed for the stoney cross roads and followed this rocky trail to the Blue Lough. We went around the back of the Lough to approach the top of Percy Bysshe, a small rocky outcrop and cave (named after a well known poet and romantic revolutionary), and then rejoined the rough trail which took us back along Annalong Woods to the car park. Exhausted.
If you like this you may also be interested in Slievemartin – Kilbroney
Looking across the valley to the run off waterfall. We rejoined the path, that’s prominent in the left hand side of the photo.
You can find even more information here: Walking and hiking Ireland – Slieve Binnian