Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Mourne Wall Wild Camping Experience

I'm hoping to get out this week, where to I don't yet know, I'm spoilt for choice, somewhere with a refreshing breeze and a cosy pub fire nearby would be just the ticket. In the meantime I thought I'd put up some of the photos from the Mourne Wall walk I did last summer with a good friend. The Mourne wall can be walked in one arduously long day. We decided to make it a comfortable multi day wild camping trip and it turned out to be a cracker.

The Mourne wall itself was constructed over 100 years ago between 1904 and 1922. It was built to keep cattle and sheep out of the water catchment area of the Silent Valley reservoir. These were the days before sophisticated water treatment techniques so it was important to ensure that potential contamination of the water was kept to a minimum.

The wall stretches for 35km and completely encloses the high Mournes. Its course takes in no less than fifteen mountains and is an arduous trek for anyone wishing to complete it in a single day.

Instead of beginning first thing on the Monday morning, we decided to head up on the Sunday evening and camp up high on Slieve Bearnagh. It meant we could start at the wall afresh on Monday morning. It also meant we would get to enjoy two wild camps instead of one. The skies that evening were softly lit and a light mist began to form in the plains below.

The first morning, we woke early, a thin layer of cloud had settled down over the hills, the sunlight trying to force through its rays.

Setting off, with boundless energy, we headed down Bearnagh towards Hares Gap and beyond to Slieve Commedagh. Before the final push to the summit there is a pipe with constantly flowing fresh water where we refilled our bladders and bottles. There would be no fresh drinking water now until Silent Valley.

Upon reaching the highest point on our walk, Slieve Donard, we realised the entire mountain range was poking up above the clouds. We had found oursleves in a cloud inversion. It wasn't the most dramatic but it did mean we were now walking in unexpected heat, we began to drain our reserves of water at a higher rate than we'd planned.

Due to the cloud inversion, views out to sea were minimised. Views in toward the inner mountains were great though. Above is an impressive view of the Devils Coachroad on Cove Mountain with the rocky tors of Slieve Bearnagh in the background, where we began earlier that day.

From Donard, the wall sweeps alongside Rocky mountain and around into the Annalong Valley. Here the wall splits into 4 directions and we took a short break to discuss which way was correct.

After minimal deliberation, we took what turned out to be the correct route. There is a short break in the wall where the Annalong River cuts through. The shallow waters provided much needed cooling in the worsening humidity.

That same humidity was taking its toll, we were feeling tired and the legs were fading. I was affected by brief bouts of cramp on the ascent of Slieve Binnian. Luckily we had planned to camp on the summit where we could rest up.

We were relieved to arrive at the summit of Binnian, the first day had been tough, tougher than first imagined thanks to the energy sapping humidity experienced from early in the day. Now, perched high above the Silent Valley reservoir we were able to brew up and rehydrate.

The clouds had dissipated as we pitched our tents for the second time and views over Carlingford Lough and the Kingdom of Mourne were extensive.

Waking up on the second day was fantastic, a warm and windless night made for a great sleep so we were refreshed once more. The clouds today were high and the sun bright, it was going to be a scorcher.

With seven mountains remaining to be climbed that day, we were far from home and dry and our water supplies were running low. Luckily we weren't far from Silent Valley where we knew we could top up.

By the time we reached the reservoir, we were out of water and almost gasping. We were early for the opening of the cafe so we waited a while on the freshly cut grass beside the water. The temperature was beginning to rise, it was turning out to be a gorgeous summers day.

The Mournes are a very 'up and down' mountain range. You don't get up high and stay there for the whole walk. On this walk there were great descents between the mountains. It makes for a challenging day out.

The last stretch took us over the summits of Slieve Muck, Carn Mountain, Slieve Loughshannagh, Slieve Meelbeg and Slieve Meelmore. From Slieve Muck, the wall stretches out, almost to infinity over the following hills.

Our minds were taken off the sweltering heat and discomfort it was causing by the fantastic views all around.

The wall at this point was immense in proportion, I'd say it was nearly six feet high in places along Slieve Meelbeg and Meelmore and almost a metre thick. I took to walking the last two mountains on top of the sturdy construction. An enjoyable end to the walk.

Picking our way down the boulders on the slope of Slieve Meelmore brought the finish post into view and a sense of relief washed over me that we had finished. It had been an epic walk and one of the highlights of 2009. Our luck with views, weather and wild camp spots couldn't have been bettered. This is an adventure sure to be repeated.


  1. Great report Stuart, I think we're going down this coming weekend, no definite route planned yet but I expect Slieve Bearnagh will be in there somewhere :-)

  2. Excellent news, i wish you well and hope the weather holds. I think the snow will probably be gone by then too

  3. That wall is amazing. Handy thing to have in the mist. I like the whole post and the photos. Great stuff and thanks.

  4. Cheers Martin, your right, the wall can act as a handy handrail in poor weather

  5. fantastic post, I love all your photos and a peak into what it might be like to walk this gorgeous land.

  6. Stuart thats a lovely walk and the photo's are great. Enjoyed the post. Thanks very much.

  7. Wow, that sounds like a fantastic trip. Nice post with great pictures. Murray

  8. Staggering scenery - that looked incredible!

  9. Really enjoyed that post. We did Hadrian's Wall last year and I am writing that post as I type this, but it just doesn't have the drama of the Mourne Wall from what can be seen in your photography. The misty mornings were breathtaking, I can see. I'd love to have woken up to that, a brew in my hand, wrapped in my bag. Check out what pure joy looks like! Hope you find the time to post some more photos and trips. I am looking forward to seeing what kit you take...

  10. I love stone walls, but a 35 km one really takes the cake. Looks like a great walk to take myself sometime. Thanks for the write-up.

  11. These are some of the loveliest photos I've seen of the Mournes! I don't think I've ever seen them looking so green (or the sky so blue, for that matter!)

  12. Fantastic.. Great blog and gives us great ideas as we are new to camping especially wild camping.

    Actually one of our first nights out was at the top of Ben Crom Reservoir. Lots of rubbish and broken beer bottles in the stream. But still very enjoyable.


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