So with Derry Marathon now confined to the memory bank, it was time to find myself again for a few weeks before launching into another marathon training phase.
Not one to stick with the mundane, I set myself a challenge on a whole new level. The Mourne Walking Festival. Lets face it, I love the mountains, I’ll never run in them but I do love getting lost in my thoughts as I trek my way over them, never walking the same step twice.
It might sound a bit odd that I would take myself off on a walking festival- sure is it not for retired people? WRONG! I arrived to be greeted by those who like me just wanted to get up the mountains. People from all over the country, from across the water in England, Belgium, Germany and even as far afield as the US. It was very multicultural and with that came the mutual respect for everyones beliefs, values and a common goal to enjoy the experience.
Being my first walking festival I was feeling very out of my comfort zone surrounded by people I didn’t know and no idea what lay ahead in the coming days.
Day 1- Spelga over the Mourne Way to Rostrevor.
So after a cracker few weeks weather’s.. .the weather gods decided it would be perfect to open the heavens and let it rain.
Standing at Spelga it was minging. But the Mourne Way was calling and with a spring in my step I was off. It wasn’t long before I found myself surrounded by those who were my pace and unlike running, I was in the lead group.
I am convinced that I couldn’t even get that wet in the shower. However the craic was mighty, the stories and journeys of those out enroute where interesting and as we came down of Rocky (the mountain that I had a few weeks earlier watched runners catapult themselves down) I knew the track ahead well having run it a few times, including in pitch black at the 26 Extreme 10k Night Race in January.
With it being a mixed ability group we stuck together between the guides. But day one was done and that evening I had the best shower ever!
Day 2 Carricklittle Annalong to Ott car park, Slievenaman Road.
So this was the big Challange of the weekend. Right across the heart of the Mournes from one end to the other. There was going to be some big climbs but as always I kept in mind what goes up must come down.
Day 2 started with seeing all those drier versions of the people I had spent the previous day with. The sun had come out and knowing the route I couldn’t wait to get to Binnian and look over the middle of the Mournes. By far my favourite mountain ever.
We set off and as the first hour passed the group split up into those who where out to walk and those who where out to walk and take in the views and photo’s. A natural split in the group was welcomed and as we sat on the side of Binnian overlooking Ben Crom eating lunch, I felt that mountain moment set upon me. I relaxed, I felt calm and counted myself lucky to be apart of this festival. I love how the mountains are able to do that to your mind.
Discovering the actual way down from Binnian to Ben Crom was a tick on my list of things I wanted to figure out but the descent was short lived as we began the ascent back up at the other side of the Dam on the approach to Doan.
Over marshland we went, navigating the bog cotton, hidden trenches and rivers we arrived in what I would say is the heart of the mournes as we where surrounded by the main mountains associated with the Mournes. On the climb to Loughshannagh the sky was clear and the rain from the previous day had left the ground green and glowing.
Adding on an additional 2 peaks to the original route was welcomed by me as we climbed Carn and Ott before descending onto the Slievenaman Road.
Growing up at the other end of the the Slievenaman Road it made me think about why it took me so long to get up the mountains in the first place. Maybe having them as your back garden I took them for granted but finishing that day I knew that I’d be back on that route again soon.
The walk was finished off with a cool bottle of locally brewed beer with thanks to Mourne Mountains Brewery. Perfect end to the day.
Day 3 The Rostrevor end of the Mournes
There was a choice to go for as multi peak walk on the Sunday but I had enjoyed the weekend so much and with an impending half marathon in 5 days I opted for the moderate walk and this time I had brought along Michael for company.
Lesson learned…never take someone with fresh legs with you on the last day of a walking festival. He was motoring up the tracks and cross country mountains with ease and although my legs where still hanging in rightly. I was glad when he finally took the pace back and realised it wasn’t a race and more an experience.
With some members of the group recovering from the blister ball the night before and others who had been by my side for the past few days.
As we made our way from Ballintur to Knockshee across the skyline we could see Slieve Martin in the distance. Again another hill and Dale classic where I wondered what lay beyond Fiddlers Green that had runners looking so ruined on the way back down. Although the weather wasn’t as nice as the previous day, the ground was still tight and as we went up and over many smaller hills and mountains it was let’s say, refreshing.
With views out into Carlingford Lough to one side and the whole collection of the Mournes to the other. We could see the Tors of Binnian, the scene of the previous days adventure. And across the way Slieve Gullion poked out from behind the Cooley mountains.
As we descended down past Cloughmore stone and into Kilbroney I was saddened that after nearly 5000ft in elevation gain and over 20hours out in the mountains that the weekend was coming to a close.
Of course we finished the day off with another cool one and toasted a successful weekend where new places where visited, new friends made and where I saw through a challenge which was not only tough going but enlightening and restored peace in my mind and body.
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