are we in northern Ireland?
With the traditional NYE hangover just about gone, it was time to brave the elements and get down to one of my favourite places in Northern Ireland: Slieve Donard. Not the hotel & spa, but the highest peak in this country, nestled among the Mourne Mountains at the edge of Newcaslte, Co. Down.
Accompanying me on this adventure was Wayne and Max - one being my chum since the age of three, the other only having just turned three years old - my sister's golden retriever.
After a quick pit stop to clean up the remnants of Max's sick (fair play to him for helping out and eating most of it again) we arrived in Newcastle, at the foot of the Mournes. From here you can start the trek up Slieve Donard from Donard Car Park, but for a change we headed on out of Newcastle, another 10 minutes round the coast to 'Bloody Bridge' car park. The ascent to Hare's Gap (where the two starting points eventually meet) from here is a bit gentler; well needed with post-NYE effects still lingering.
The scenery is phenomenal even after just 25 minutes of walking. With a bit of rainfall in the days prior, the river was booming and made for a great stopping point for a couple of pics and some fluids. As you'll know doubt see in the posts which follow this, Max isn't really a water dog - so no fear of him heading too close to the river. If you're bringing your own canine up, do keep a close eye as the river edge can be quite steep in places - never mind some of the waterfalls and rocks that they'll experience on the way down to the Irish Sea.
For the next hour of ascent, visibility was poor. Fog and light rain were constant and we could only see about 5 metres in front. Despite being up that path several times before, we ended up totally off track and in no time were on hands and knees climbing up unfamiliar rocky outcrops. Lonely rams and sheep had great pleasure in scaring the absolute crap out of us, appearing out of nowhere and disappearing at the same speed. Max was quickly back on the lead.
Deciding to venture on, figuring if we just keep climbing we're bound to come across the the wall, we thankfully arrived at Hare's Gap with only soggy feet to worry about. Lesson learnt - buy hiking shoes - gym trainers just don't cut it outside of summertime.
Snow had long-disappeared down at sea level from the early December fall, but as we made the final, semi-steep climb to the summit, patches of white grew larger.
Not like me, I only took a few photos at the top - partly due to instantly-freezing hands and also the dense fog. Definitely have to get back down this winter and bring some proper gear. See you there?