Slieve Donard

So in August 2019, my son and I decided to go to Ireland and climb both the highest peak in Northern Ireland; Slieve Donard in the Mourne Mountains and the highest peak in all of Ireland; Carrauntoohil in the Reeks in County Kerry in the Republic of Ireland (this is covered in another posting on this site).

This posting covers Slieve Donard…

For those of you not already aware Slieve Donard is the highest peak in the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland at 850m (or 2,790 feet). The Mourne Mountains are in County Down.

So, for my son and I to get there from ‘Old Blighty’ (England), we took a flight to Belfast International Airport and stayed the night in the center of Belfast. We got up early, and as we were in Ireland, it was raining (it doesn’t always rain, honest!)… Had a nice big breakfast and then headed off (in the rain) to the Bus Station to catch a bus down to Newcastle (the nearest town to Slieve Donard). My son was not happy as he thought that this trip (and climb) was going to be either wet and uncomfortable, or a complete wash-out. I said, “let’s see what it is like when we get to Newcastle”.

We boarded the bus to Newcastle and found that we could get a Rambler ticket that was not only cheaper than the return ticket, but also allowed us to use any other bus service that day! We left Belfast and as we were going along the rain was slowly easing, and as we got nearer to Newcastle it had stopped and the roads were dry; the sun was even making an appearance. Things were looking up; indeed we could see the Mourne mountains as we got closer to Newcastle and when we got to Newcastle bus station we could see the mountains (including Slieve Donard) looming above the town, and the sun was still shining, and it was still dry.

Houston, we are a go!

The route up the mountain in 2D mode – TT 1:50K Look n Feel map of the British Isles

The route up the mountain in 3D mode – TT 1:50K Look n Feel map of the British Isles

Left to Right: Slieve Donard seen from the High St. | Slieve Donard seen from near Donard Park
We wandered down through the town center to Donard Park (lovely little town), all the while watching as the mountains grew larger and nearer. We originally though that this was going to be a “stroll in the park” compared to the other peaks we have climbed. But, as I often say, “always respect the mountain!”

We found the start of the trail in Donard Park, this trail runs alongside and over (at several points) the Glen River (the trail is around 3 miles from the start to the summit). The path is a mixture of scree, eroded tree roots, bare rock and all of them at once, so you need to be nimble and sure-footed, as it is easy to slip on the rocks or catch your foot on an exposed tree root (as we both found out). The first part of the path is through woodland and you don’t get any views until you break out of the trees and get to the main path (near the final bridge), but when you do see the view it is fantastic!

Left to Right: Just after the final bridge (Me). | Just after the final bridge (My Son) | Looking up the track towards Slieve Donard | The Ice House
Once you get out of the woods, the path becomes a more standard mountain path (at least until you get to the col (plateau between two peaks)) it is the usual mix of gravel, scree, bare rock, boulders, grass, etc. The going is pretty easy at this stage, until you cross the river the final time via stepping stones, and you start the ascent to the col/saddle. The path gets significantly steeper after crossing the river; it is quite similar to parts of Ben Nevis (main route), Scafell Pike (Wassdale Head route) and Snowdon (Rhyd Ddhu route); like a large but uneven staircase that seems to go on and on…
Left to Right: Looking down towards Newcastle | Looking down just after the stepping stones | Looking down from the col/saddle towards Newcastle
Once you have got to the col/saddle you can see the Great Mourne Wall that stretches over 19 miles and over 15 mountain peaks, quite a sight to see! However, once you get to the wall and see the next section, the final one to the summit, you may think “ah, this will be easy”, but you will quickly change your mind as you start up it, as the path is very uneven, eroded and quite dangerous in places. It is also far steeper and longer than it looks (you have been warned).

When you finally make it to the top, hopefully without any twisted ankles, slips, and out of breath, the view (on a clear day) is amazing! Luckily for us the rain did hold off, and it was pretty much perfect weather for climbing.

The Mourne wall at the top of the col/saddle looking towards the peak | The wall snaking off over other peaks
Above: The Mourne wall as seen from the summit
Above: The Mourne wall at the summit (with me and my son)The route up the mountain is described as “Moderate to Strenuous” and “Not too Technical or Difficult”, although when wet I can see that the final push to the summit from the saddle/col to the summit could be very muddy, slippery and far more challenging.

I found the climb to be harder that I had expected, and I should have known better! I would say that the final part is by far the hardest and at least at tiring as parts of Ben Nevis and Snowdon. It isn’t technical, you just need to be nimble (sure footed), and take regular rests to get your breath back. In fact coming down from the summit to the saddle/col was more dangerous than going up. It would be easy to slip, trip or fall, so take it slowly and carefully. A walking pole (or poles) help immensely in these situations.

The rest of the descent is fairly straightforward, and very pleasant when you get back to the stepping stones, walking back down to Donard Park. My knees were starting to complain as we neared the end of the return journey, and I did mention that the bare rock was rather slippery in places, and I slipped and fell; luckily I inly bruised my hands, knees and my pride 😉

Thoroughly recommended, and I’d love to visit the Mourne Mountains again and do many of the other trails and peaks.

That is peak 4 of the 5 highest peaks in the British Isles (by geography), just one left to tackle, but that’s another story!

Have you climbed Slieve Donard? Feel free to share your experience of your adventure, via the comments box or via the contact form/ticketing option.

All photos and other material used in this posting is Copyright, 2019 by Talkytoaster or Ben Overton, All Rights Reserved.

One thought on “Slieve Donard

  1. Hello – loved your description of the Slieve Donard climb. I climbed Donard last in 2017. Your description of the route and it’s challenges was spot on. I similarly took the bus to from Belfast to Newcastle to access the mountain. I climbed Donard and then took the trail around a couple of other Mourne peaks. I had loaded your British Isles maps on my Garmin GPS – and I was glad I had, because with the regular thick fog it was often difficult to navigate the route otherwise. I am planning to be back in Ireland next year for a bit more hillwalking. Probably back to the Mournes and then the Sperrins and possibly Donnegal. TalkyToaster maps loaded! Cheers.

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