Slieve Bernagh in the Mountains of Mourne, Co Down
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Slieve Bearnagh (Irish: Sliabh Bearnach, 'gapped mountain') at 739 metres is the fourth highest mountain in the Mournes after Slieve Donnard, Slieve Commadagh and Slieve Binnian. It is one of the most interesting to climb and faces the walker with a steep climb and descent. However, there are rewards for the effort and reaching the wide summit area gives the walker a sense of achievement. The two tors each provide impressive granite formations unique in the Mournes, with which only Binnion can compete. The climb is reached by a gentle and long pull up to the base of the col known as Hare's Gap and is the most dramatic mountain pass in the Mournes. Its sharply defined outlines indicate that ice once passed this way. Hare's Gap marked the exit point for smuggled goods which had crossed the hills from the coast along the Brandy Pad and included soap, leather, spices and coffee. For walkers it is an access point to the centre of the Mournes. The easiest and best approach is to scramble directly to the stile and iron gate at the top.
Of great interest is the dry-stone Mourne Wall which provided a 'handrail' for the climb (and also throughout the Mournes). On the steep climb close alongside the wall, one is forced into an appreciation of the quarrymen who built it by hand. The climb to the North Tor presents evidence of their skill and tenacity. The North Tor hints at things to come, its 'castles' providing an 'eyrie' to survey the high Mournes and the country to the north as far as the Sperrins and Lough Neagh. However, generally walkers take the track under and around the tor.
Leaving the North Tor behind, the impressive massif of the Main Tor demands that cameras are unshipped! The name 'gapped mountain' is justified as the grassy dip between the two tors is traversed.
The Main Summit is grass-covered and its huge granite tor arrests the eye and can enthuse the hill photographer. Here the views are extensive for 360 degrees. The summit covers a large area and is well worth spending a little time to explore, as it reveals splendid views across the Mournes and beyond. From here Carlingford Lough, Slieve Foye, Carlingford Hills and the Cooleys can be seen. For the adventurous, climbing the tor is a challenge if weather permits, but rarely have I seen any takers. Sheep graze the summit area and so the grass is like a garden lawn! The top is large enough to absorb a party of twenty with ease and yet still provide spots for those seeking solitude and reflection.
The descent is straightforward in that the handrail of the wall leads down to a stile across which is reached the pass between Slieve Meelmore and Slieve Bearnagh. Interestingly, many of the Mourne's stiles were placed by helicopters. The first part of this track away from the stile is called the Pollaphuca, meaning 'hole of the fairies or sprites' and is followed by the impressive 'Bearnagh Slabs' towering above on the right. The old quarryman's road that leads back to the Trassey Track is a remnant of the huge industry that provided granite kerb-stones for Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow until the early 20th Century; and evidence of this is strewn over many slopes of the Mourne Mountains. In fact where the two tracks join, if looking towards the Hare's Gap, an old quarry can be seen on the right-hand side. Once on the Trassey Track, retracing one's steps sees you back at the Meelmore Lodge where coffee and apple pie are available in season.
Northern Ireland - East Northern Ireland - County Down - Mourne Mountains
Great Views, Mountains, Tea Shop, Toilets