Climb every mountain!

Thu, 15/10/2009 - 17:09
Submitted by Clare Wright

Slieve Donard is the highest mountain in Northern Ireland at 852 metres (2,795 ft).  Although not high in mountain terms, Sl. Donard literally sweeps down to sea level.  The walk to the summit from Donard car park, at the southern end of Newcastle therefore involves ascending the full 852m to the top.

The annual Slieve Donard Race starts and finishes outside the Newcastle Centre on Main Street.  Now in its 65th year, the race continually gains popularity with 115 runners taking up the challenge in 2009.  This year’s winner, Des Woods, crossed the line to retain his title from last year and set a new record of 54.49 minutes. Our climb earlier this month took over 3 hours!

It is probably the best-known mountain in the Mournes and therefore the one mountain within this range, which our Scottish friends, on a weekend visit to Ireland wished to climb. We set off from Donard car park on a sunny September afternoon - four adults and Niamh aged 6 and ¾’s!  Niamh was determined to climb her first ‘proper mountain’ and was equally determined to be the first from within our group to get to the top.

The first section of the walk follows the Glen River through Donard Wood.  Characterised by large, crystal clear pools carved out of the granite, the Glen River is a popular short walk, with people stopping off for picnics, photos and swimming along the way. On reaching the third bridge, walkers decide if they wish to proceed to the open hillside and then onto the summit, or retrace their steps back down the Glen River to the car park.
We continued, passing the Ice House a reminder of the Annesley family who built this domed ‘fridge’ in the nineteenth Centuary. A simple igloo of brick and granite, it provided natural refrigerated storage for ice.  It was restored for the National Trust in 1996-97. The path continues upwards following and then crossing the river to steeply rise to ‘The Saddle’ and the Mourne Wall, a 35 kilometres (22 mile) dry stone granite wall that crosses the fifteen highest summits within this mountain range.  The Mourne Wall was constructed to define the boundaries of the 36 square kilometres (8,900 acres) area of land purchased by the Belfast Water Commissioners in the late 1800s.  Started in 1904 the Mourne Wall was completed in 1922.
From here the path to the summit is completely stone pitched with granite.  It is a steep climb up numerous steps running close to the Mourne Wall. On a clear day the top affords 360 degree views to Scotland across the Irish Sea, south to Dublin and Wicklow and local landmarks such as Scrabo Tower at the northern end of Strangford Lough and Cave Hill marking Belfast’s northern city limits. 
Niamh was first to reach the top running the last 20m.  This was much to the surprise of a group of adults puffing and blowing after their challenge event to climb the highest mountain in Ulster. Encouraging children to experience the outdoors from an early age inspires and motivates them to develop a passion that can be carried throughout life.  Whether its climbing mountains, swimming in rivers, or even stone pitching a path the rewards are individual and endless.
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