PYW - Marvelling at the Mournes 2012

Walkers:

Leaders:  Claire M and John
Followers:  Stephen, Sarah A, Claire W, Linda, Ian C, Mary, Suzi, Ian J, Julie, Kirsty, Sarah D, Debbie, Marion A, Paul, Chris, Sara

Friday 4th May

The majority of the group travelled together on the same flight from Stansted, arriving at the splendidly named George Best Belfast City airport in the early afternoon, whilst Claire W and Kirsty took an earlier flight from East Midlands.  On arrival the 16 strong group from Stansted managed to overcrowd the Airport bus much to annoyance of the other passengers.  After disembarking from the bus near the Titanic Exhibition it was an interesting sight to see the group lined up walking down busy roads with large rucksacks and a trail of trolley cases. 

The brand new Titanic exhibition, attended by the larger proportion of the group, provided ample opportunity for Stephen to gather new facts to add to his quiz database!  The exhibition displayed detail of Belfast’s history of industry and riverside development before an indoor car ride guided visitors through the shipyard mock up. Aside from displays of cabins and models of various parts of the ship there was an abundance of information on the post disaster enquiries and films of the vessel on the ocean bottom. Some people struggled to get round in the time available whilst others managed to sneak a look in the old White Star offices next door including the architect's drawing room.

Those of the group who didn’t attend the exhibition went on the Belfast sightseeing bus tour visiting landmarks of the city including Stormont, the Falls and Shankhill roads and the impressive wall murals.  Claire W and Kirsty spent the afternoon in the John Hewitt pub watching a mural being painted across the road!  Not quite the Belfast experience they expected watching paint dry!

Late afternoon the group assembled at the Robinsons pub (after finding the renowned Crown too full for 18 people and their luggage) before being picked up by our driver Vincent for the hour transfer to our base for the weekend in Newcastle. There was a slight detour whilst Stephen and photographer John made the bus stop at the County Down sign.  The majority stayed at the Golf Links Hotel, which was most suitable. Claire W and Linda opted for the Newcastle Youth Hostel which was a quiet hostel with beautiful sea views.  However, the mixed dorm did panic Linda when she realised her pyjamas were somewhat inappropriate for a mixed dorm!!! 

Saturday 5th May

After a fairly sedate evening at the Golf Links Hotel the group awoke full of energy, or rather they thought we were until they started the steep ascent of Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland’s highest peak!  The total distance covered during the Saturday walk was approximately 8.8 miles with an elevation gain of 4640ft, the maximum elevation being 3010ft.

Taxi’s delivered the group to the Bloody Bridge car park on the coast south of Newcastle.  The route followed the Bloody Bridge river to the Mourne Wall situated on the Bog of Donard.  The ascent to the top of Slieve Donard was incredibly steep and proved to be very challenging for the group.  This was evident in the lack of conversation during the climb, unusual for the group! Congratulations especially  to Suzi and Ian C who managed to walk up the Mourne Wall to the top!  Despite the fact the sun was splitting the tree’s and many of the group were walking in a t-shirt, it was surprising to find a couple of small patches of snow near the peak! 

After a well deserved, but slightly breezy, lunch break at the peak of Slieve Donard the group followed the wall down the col between Donard and Commedagh before rising to the summit of Slieve Commedagh.  Fortunately this next climb was not quite as challenging as Slieve Donard!  The group completed the walk by following  the Slieve Corragh/ Slieve aglogh ridge with beautiful views over Ben Crom reservoir and the Silent Valley before descending to a most welcome tea room for tea and cakes.  At the tea room the group separated into a boy’s table and a girls table.  Rather ironically it was the boy’s table that were discussing calories whilst the girls conversations were of a somewhat lower tone in what could be termed role reversal!

Dinner was organised at Hugh McCann’s in Newcastle which had been pre-arranged.  After dinner the hotel group returned to the Golf Links  whilst Claire and Linda moved to the bar to watch a local band.  Julie, Debbie and Kirsty joined briefly whilst the band were setting up with an impatient Julie asking the singer “if he always spends this long checking his equipment!”!  Julie and Debbie had a brief dance before being dragged reluctantly to their taxi.  Whilst Claire and Linda danced the night away some of the others spent the night drinking tea in Sara and Julie’s room.

Sunday 6th May

Sunday’s walk covered a total distance of approximately 12.5 miles with an elevation gain of 4243ft, the maximum elevation being 2091ft.  Whilst less challenging than Saturday in terms of steep ascent, it proved much tougher in terms of  terrain.

Taxi’s delivered the group to the car park at Carrick Little where the group had a rather gradual climb up to and across the Mourne Wall before walking the col between Slieve Lamagan and Slieve Binnian through the Annalong Wood and Blue Lough.  There was then an extremely steep descent to the edge of the Ben Crom Resovoir.  This proved to be extremely challenging for some group members and resulted in the first of a number of casualties, Stephen (dodgy knee).  After a brief lunch stop the group walked along the eastern shore of the reservoir to the Kilkeel River before searching for a path which later disappeared!  Along this stretch claimed another 2 casualties; Kirsty and Sara.  On reaching the col between Donard and Commedagh there was a brief snow flurry which was surprising as the weather until then was fairly mild.  The group followed the Glen river down through the Donard Forest arriving back at Newcastle.

The last stretch was difficult, particularly for those that had acquired injuries along the way.  There was a point during the walk where we considered the need for mountain rescue!  However, thankfully everyone made it back to Newcastle safely and taxi’s were ordered to drive the injured back to the hotel.

For dinner Sunday night the group divided with the majority staying at the hotel to eat and the breakaway group preferring  to try the local Indian at the Cinnamon Hotel next door to the hostel.  After dinner many of the hotel group joined those in the Cinnamon Hotel for cocktails before a fairly early night.

Monday 7th May

Unfortunately we woke to an extremely windy and rainy Monday, more akin to the weather expected in Northern Ireland.  After packing and leaving bags in the hotel’s function room the group split.  Approximately half (the sensible half) decided to go into Newcastle town and explore, while the adventurous and uninjured walked.

Dressed in waterproofs the walking group walked along to the Nature reserve in the sand dunes south of Newcastle with the intention of returning to town along the beach.  However, on reaching the beach it was clear that the tide was coming in very fast.  At one point the group were running along the beach in between waves then jumping on rocks to prevent wet feet; a tactic that didn’t completely work!  A decision was taken to climb up to the golf course on the rocks to escape the rising tide as there were concerns that if we had continued we may have required sea rescue!  On return to Newcastle the group met at a tea room where some of the fair weather walkers had already assembled.  After warming up and drying off the group returned to the hotel to await their final pickup and to present the walk leaders with some tokens of the Group’s thanks. 

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On behalf of the group I’d like to thank the walk leaders Claire and John for their efforts planning  the trip and organising the group.  They did an excellent job and it was much appreciated.

Claire W.