I arrived home from work around 6pm on Saturday, grabbed a quick shower and change of clothes, popped our small tent in the boot of the car along with a few snacks and off my husband, Trevor, and I took for a night of camping and hiking in the Mourne Mountains. Trevor had dropped our 3 boys to their Grandparents while I was at work so we turned on the radio and settled into our 1-night adventure to celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary.
First stop was Maginns Bar in Castlewellan for some delicious pub grub to fuel our planned evening hike. It was not a fancy meal by any means, but it was very tasty and with the combination of tiredness from being at work all day and the welcoming atmosphere in the bar we were almost tempted to cosy up right there for the night with a Guinness or two! We had our plan though, so, we shook ourselves awake once more and drove to Ott Car Park on the Slievenaman Road for a trek along the trail to the Mourne Wall. It was around 9pm when we started the walk and we met only one other walker coming back along the trail which passes between Slieve LoughShannagh and Carn Mountain. We knew we had a few hours before it would be completely dark but nonetheless we had brought a couple of head torches just in case!
After being in a noisy workplace all day, it was so lovely to walk along in the twilight, chatting occasionally, but mostly enjoying the silence and the sound of Meadow Pipits which hopped up onto the wall alongside the path to greet us.
We then veered off the path to traverse some boggy ground, spotting as we walked some impressive insectivorous plants, before rejoining the trail which juts through some peatland where we had spotted lots of icicles during a Winter walk here with the kids. I recalled the day with fondness, a story-telling day of fire and dragons on this same trail which had been transformed by the snow and ice, and smiled as the memory unfurled in my mind.
We reached the Mourne Wall in just over an hour, pausing here for a hug and to enjoy the view across to Doan, Buzzard’s Roost and Binian, as darkness began to silently fall down around us. There was barely a breeze, which is highly unusual in the Mournes, and the stillness washed over us like a welcome hug from a dear friend. We slowly trekked back along the trail to the car, satisfied with our walk but at the same time tired after a long, busy week, and definitely ready to go find a spot to pitch our tent!
We had spied a little wooded spot on a previous trip which we had thought might be the ideal location for an overnight camp, so we drove on round past Rocky Mountain and were relieved to find that it was indeed perfect. Within ten minutes we had the tent up, a bottle of cider in one hand and a book in the other.
We read by torchlight until our eyes would no longer stay open, then drowsily crawled into our sleeping bags. At 4am, we awoke to the sound of birds calling, and pulled on our layers of hiking gear and boots. We stashed some food and a flask of strong coffee in the rucksack and made our way for the trail which leads to Pierce’s Castle on beyond Rocky Mountain. We walked alongside the forest, listening to the incredible sound of a Cuckoo’s call as we went.
After so little sleep, the pace was slow, but it was great to be out so early in the day without another person in sight – we had the world all to ourselves it seemed. It was already quite light and despite plenty of cloud and mist, visibility was good. Once again, there was barely a breeze, and an eerie stillness seemed to have settled across the Mournes.
Mummy sheep and their lambs bleated as we passed by but didn’t rise from their resting spots. When we reached the rocky ascent to Pierce’s Castle a little before 6am, a little mizzle began to fall, we pulled down our caps and snuggled into our coat collars, but it never developed into anything heavier.
We climbed over the flat rocks atop the summit, marvelling at the early morning view across to Hen, Cock and Pigeon Rock and found a little sheltered nook between the rocks for breakfast and coffee – a real room with a view!
It was the ideal place to mark our 14 years of marriage; together, in a place we love so much and where we have created so many wonderful memories with our children. Afterwards, we spent some time climbing and exploring among the rocks before following the trail back down towards Batt’s Wall and crossing over into the forest which leads down to the Glen River.
This part of the journey was a pure delight. Trekking downhill through the lush forest, alongside the Yellow Water River was just perfect! The landscape, the sound of the river, the birds calling, the weather staying on our side and the simple pleasure of one another’s company, made for a morning of deep joy, connectedness and fun. We ducked under and climbed over fallen tree trunks, paused on giant boulders in the river for a coffee top-up, before reaching the Mourne Way trail.
Here we met some new friends, two adorable but feisty little ponies, who happily munched their way through our leftover apple cores before trying to take a bite out of our camera! Once they realised we had no more food left to share with them, they trotted off to munch on some grass and we journeyed onwards back towards our starting point. By this stage the clouds were darkening and the wind was picking up. We arrived back at the tent around 8.30 and managed to pack-up before the heavens opened! What fine luck!