MY TRUE LOVE FOR THE MOURNE MOUNTAINS
By Jen D
Hi I’m Jen. I love hiking the Mournes, especially with my family and really enjoy landscape photography as a hobby.
As a young girl I used to visit the Mourne area as my Granny grew up in the heart of the Mourne community. We often revisited the area and drove through the higher Mournes stopping for picnics and to pick blackberries.
Skip forward 20 years and I found myself moving to County Down. For several years we felt drawn to the local area and finally bit the bullet and moved.
Unfortunately I suffered a lower back injury in 2017 and found myself very immobile. After some physio I was recommended to exercise to strengthen my core. We often drove through the higher Mournes, but one Sunday in early Feb this year my husband took us to Pigeon Rock (back then I didn’t even know the name of where I was!). I really enjoyed the gentle hike and found the exercise really helped me. The views from the top where fantastic. That was me hooked! The kids loved the thrill of it and getting to explore nature.
Skip a few weeks, and I said to my husband I would love to climb Slieve Donard. So we set off nice and early and made a day of it. Not sure what I was expecting but boy did it show me how unfit I was! I think I lost count how many times I lay flat on my back on those the final slopes of Donard feeling like giving up! I think this was the turning point for me and I was determined to increase my fitness levels.
The only problem now is I’m being told to slow the pace down.
So here we are 9 months later. As a family of 4 we have hiked 20 summits in the Mournes on multiple occasions. We’ve added a few more round Ireland to that list too. We have had the pleasure of experiencing winter, spring, summer and now autumn in our beloved mountains. With every season having its blessings.
With every adventure my camera and tripod come along too. Much to everyone else’s disappointment. I think they get a little fed up when I take 100 photos of the same scene. But the joy of the mountains is that no two days are the same. I’ve always enjoyed photography as a hobby. For years I’ve taken portraits of my children and for friends and family. I’d taken a few landscape photos but never any of the mountains. It started off that I wanted to capture the perfect photo to frame on my wall. Nine months later I’m still trying to decide on which photo to frame! Anyone who knows me, knows that sunset is my favourite time of the day and my favourite time to photograph in the Mournes. There is something magical about that red glow over the mountains as the sun slips away. I’ve sat till the latest sunsets in summer and rose at 2am to head off for sunrise. Some might think I’m mad but I honestly don’t think there is anything more peaceful and tranquil than atop a mountain watching that burning sun light up the sky.
I love to share my photographs with the world to give them a taste of our beautiful scenery, for people who have never hiked the Mournes and for those who maybe feel they can’t. It’s lovely to share our scenery and hear other people’s stories and love for the kingdom of Mourne too.
I think one of the most important things for me is that we get to spend time as a family. Weekdays are a blur in our house with the kids’ activities, school and work, and so by the time the weekend comes it is lovely to switch-off and just spend time as a family. The girls have learnt so much; they have seen the heather and bog cotton blossom over spring and summer, watched the frogspawn grow to tadpoles and even spotted a few frogs on our treks. We have seen buzzards soar above us and rabbits hop ahead of us. For my youngest who is sheep obsessed, she loves walking amongst them. I really feel that the girls have learnt so much from our hikes and to love, respect and appreciate nature.
We try to make each hike as fun for the kids as possible. Over spring and summer we hiked at least once to twice a week and my eldest absolutely loved watching the sunset from the top of a mountain. She felt like such a big girl getting to experience it and stay up a little later. My husband usually carries our 3-year old on his back, it’s the only practical way we have found to hike as a family. I’ve carried her in a sling since she was 4-days old so she’s comfortable and used to it. Without the sling we just couldn’t have had the adventures we did this year. She loves the free ride on Daddy to the top and then gets to explore before being carried back down. She definitely has the right idea!
I feel the Mournes are such a special place for me; as my Granny is no longer with us and I feel close to her when I visit. Especially on Slieve Binnian. I have a board in my kitchen with this quote “going to the Mournes is going home”, and that sums it up for me. It’s my happy place, the place we have made so many memories this year and the place that reminds me how small we really are and how intricate and vast the mountains and nature are.
I think my one word of advice to any individual or family would be- just do it! Go try something new and outdoors. It doesn’t have to be the highest peaks it can be the valleys, forests or even lower hills. Just try it as you never know what you are capable of until you do. There really is something special about just switching-off from the world and enjoying nature – ‘go where the WiFi is weak’, you won’t regret it.