I have been contacted a number of times recently by people asking me for suitable trails in the Mourne Mountains for walking with young children and toddlers. Rather than answer everyone individually and after much discussion with my husband and sons, here’s a blog post instead, recommending our TOP 5 MOURNE MOUNTAIN TRAILS for getting started in our beautiful mountains.
We have been trekking in the Mournes regularly for over 6 years with our 3 boys and you’ll usually find us checking out a new trail most weekends and during school holidays. Our youngest boy was only 2 when we first set-out to explore the Mourne Mountain range, and we as a family wholeheartedly believe that everyone can enjoy the mountain landscape with a little bit of knowledge, preparation (essential with kids!), creativity and patience! So, here goes…
OUR TOP 5 FAMILY-FRIENDLY TRAILS IN THE MOURNE MOUNTAINS
Ott Track + Doan
I am listing this one first because this is a track we have enjoyed particularly in the colder, winter months. It is very easy to find and has a well-marked-out trail to follow all the way to the Mourne Wall. In the winter of 2017 we spent hours and hours studying the many large icicles that had formed on the heather. Our boys absolutely loved this and we didn’t cover much ground distance-wise but we believe it is important to let kids wander and explore, to learn through natural curiosity that the land is an interesting and fun place to be. A mountainside is a whole new classroom of discovery and if you want your kids to build up stamina to go further and higher, you’ve got to let them first of all fall in love with the land! I promise, it really does work! If you do manage to make it as far as the Mourne Wall, cross over using the stile (after you’ve had your lunch of course!) and you will see Doan mountain in the distance slightly to the left. It is a flat-topped mountain and is very easy to climb once you get there following the trail round. The views on top are some of the best in the Mournes in our opinion – well worth the walk!
GETTING TO THE START-POINT
You will need to park at Ott Car Park on the Slievenaman Road, BT34 5XL. You will see Fofanny Reservoir at the bottom of the hill. Cross the road and climb over the stile to join the trail which swings around to the right and leads all the way to the Mourne Wall.
Annalong Valley/ Carrick Little Trail
This is another favourite ‘starter-route’ of ours and the reason we recommend it to people wanting to start out hiking with kids is because it is an easy to follow, mostly-flat trail, but it is nestled down between Slieve Binnian (3rd highest mountain in the Mournes) and Slieve Lamagan and offers views across to Slieve Donard (highest mountain in the Mournes) and Slieve Commedagh (2nd highest mountain in the Mournes) and passes the Blue Lough, which makes an ideal spot to stop for lunch and if you’re brave, a little dip! So, while you are able to take it easy along the trail which leads to a magnificent panoramic viewpoint overlooking Ben Crom Reservoir – stunningly beautiful on a clear day and the perfect spot for family photo to take as a souvenir of your achievement, you are also well enough immersed in the mountain terrain to feel like a ‘real’ hiker. What we found also was that each time we took our 3 boys along this trail was that their hunger to get up Slieve Binnian grew and soon enough they were able to summit it!
GETTING TO THE START POINT
Park at Carrick Little Car Park located on Head Road in Annalong, BT34 4RW. There is a main, free car park, or you can follow the farm trail up to another car park which operates on an honesty-box policy. Here you will find 2 toilets. Follow the main trail through the gate, remembering to close it behind you (this is working farmland so you don’t want to let any sheep out!), you will then follow the trail which passes alongside Annalong Wood.
Hen Mountain is an absolute favourite of ours. Out of the way, it is usually a fairly quiet place to walk and we have more often than not had the entire little mountain to ourselves! Bliss! Again, Hen is what we call a ‘starter-route’ because it offers different options. You can trek to the summits (yes, there are a couple of them) to explore the rocky tors and take-in the fab views, or if your littles are just starting out and you’re not quite ready to go upwards, you can instead follow the trail alongside the Rowan Tree River and pass Hen Mountain, Cock Mountain all the way to the foot of Pigeon Rock. Usually, our 3 love to get their socks and shoes off and play in the shallow pools of the river. On a good day, it’s easy to spend hours here paddling and enjoying the peace and quiet! Just remember to pack a towel and spare socks!
GETTING TO THE START-POINT
For Hen Track, park at Sandbank Road Car Park, BT34 5XU. From there, cross the road and follow the lane up to the gate close to the foot of Hen Mountain. Again, this is working farmland, so please be respectful, close the gate. Note – dogs are not permitted on this route.
The first time we ever did this route with our boys it was covered in snow! It is another ‘starter-route’, which, in time and with increased stamina and a developed curiosity, becomes a gateway to Slieve Meelmore and Meelbeg, Slieve Bearnagh and Slieve Commedagh and even Slieve Donard. We would recommend parking at Meelmore Lodge, where you will find a little café, campsite and toilet facilities for hikers to respectfully use. Follow the trail from the back of Meelmore Lodge until it reaches the Mourne Wall, cross the stile and turn left. You will clearly see the Trassey Track in the distance, so follow the wall over to meet it, crossing over a couple of streams (much fun for intrepid young explorers!). The Trassey Track is a loose stone path which does climb slightly upwards at a gentle gradient, our boys tend to make straight for the river to do some bouldering. If you follow the path far enough you will come to a large rock-pile descending from Hare’s Gap. You can climb over the rocks all the way to the Mourne Wall at Hare’s gap, or you can follow the little trail which swings off to the right then loops round and leads all the way to Hare’s Gap. Over the rocks is a lot of fun for kids of course and keeps the hike interesting, plus they feel they’ve really conquered the mountainside once they reach Hare’s Gap – enjoy the super views back along the track you’ve just walked up and don’t forget to climb over the stile to appreciate the awesome views on the other side. If you’re keen to explore further, you can follow the Brandy Pad, the little trail on the left on round past Slievenaglogh towards Slieve Donard.
GETTING TO THE START-POINT
Meelmore Lodge on Trassey Road is our recommended place to park for this walk. If the car park it full, the farmer usually opens the camping field as an overflow car park.
So, you’ve read Slieve Donard and think I am crazy for sending you to the highest mountain in the Mournes for a walk with your children. But, bear with me on this one…! While the summit of Slieve Donard may not be on your radar just yet, the lower levels of Donard still make an ideal ‘starter-route’ as it’s so much fun to explore! We have whiled away many hours in the beautiful woodland at the base of Donard and playing on the boulders in the Glen River as our boys learned to navigate the land. It’s a really interesting place and as your kids grow, they will soon be pointing to the summit of Slieve Donard and saying they want to hike all the way up there! If your kids are slightly older, Slieve Donard is totally doable as there is a really good quality trail which is easy to follow the entire way to the Mourne Wall. Once you emerge from the woodland (stunning in Autumn by the way), which crosses 3 bridges, you will then see the trail which you need to follow up past the Ice House on the opposite side of the river.
GETTING TO THE START-POINT
For this walk, park in the large Donard Car Park in Newcastle and follow the road on the back left hand-side of the car park to the beginning of the trail
A LITTLE MORE INFORMATION
You might also enjoy this blog I wrote: HIKING WITH KIDS – STAYING SAFE IN THE MOUNTAINS – It contains lots of information on how to prepare for hiking with children.
We really hope that you find this information useful and that you are inspired to get the family outside exploring the mountains. I would also recommend that you give this feature I wrote for WalkNI a read-through as it offers lots of advice on WHAT TO WEAR and WHAT TO BRING when hiking with kids. It is also a good idea to take note of the LEAVE NO TRACE PRINCIPLES so that the landscape of the mountains stays healthy for nature to thrive and others to enjoy.