Category: Hill walking

High on a Hill – The Mourne Walking Festival 2017

High on a Hill – The Mourne Walking Festival 2017

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. 

Remember that time is ticking on the chance to vote for me in the Dublin Rock n Run Idol competition. As always scroll to the bottom and vote for Siobhan Grant!

http://www.runrocknroll.com/dublin/rock-idol/

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Hi ho, hi ho,  it’s up the mountain we go

Hi ho, hi ho,  it’s up the mountain we go

OK so next quest is the Christmas Cracker. 

Run by neighbouring club Newcastle AC, the route is nothing short of challenging.  Each year the route changes and spans anything from 8 to 10 miles. 

That’s alright if on road but since its Christmas, it’s a bit of Craic and sure we’ve plenty of hills on our doorstep they might as well throw in Slieve Na Slat and some muck too. I imagine this may be on par with Causeway Coast and as a Christmas Cracker Virgin I say this might just be the death of me.

Also the great thing about this race is the fact you do it in pairs! So who else fits the bill other than similarily mental running buddy extrodinare, Caitriona who I am desperate to get off the bench and back out there doing crazy things with me.

So the only way to train for this is really to embrace the hills. I’m still trying this embracing concept. In fairness I like hills and mountains and have walked too many of them the past few years. However I just don’t think I’m cut out to run up them. 
Though when has that ever stopped me from doing something?

So a Saturday night chat with Caitriona resulted in us deciding that instead of going round the lake to break her in again…we’d go up Slieve Na Slat. Sure it’s only 220m elevation. Not a patch on Donard or the likes more of a hill.

So as I woke on Sunday morning and looked outside, a heavy frost had descended upon  Castlewellan and it was starting to look a lot like Christmas.

Though the clear blue skies meant that on a hill you’re sure to get great views so in a bid to take advantage of the weather and get back up where I am happiest the time was set and at 10.30 Caitriona was there ready to rock n roll.
Layered up and ready for a few hours passing a Sunday morning. We headed for the hills. It had been brought to my attention that Caitriona had never been up SlievenaSlat so I was looking forward to the stark realisation of what exactly the cracker was asking of us as we began the short but steep climb to the top.

It wasn’t long before her face was as picture. Each corner brought another even steeper hill and even though I’ve been up it a hundred times it never gets any easier. 

Though as the tough bit was over and more stunning views came into full view, she began to see the reason why it’s worth it.

It was like a winter wonderland. The trees where thick with ice and as the ground began to thaw you could hear the leaves crunching and crackling. Icicles fell like rain drops and as you looked up beyond the trees there was a low mist engulfing the foot of the mountains as they towered above the white fields surrounded by cleat blue sky.
That’s it right there. That’s the feeling I love. Nothing beats being up the mountain..fact. Standing there, there was no denying the existance of a God. There was no way this can all coincidently occur at the same time. 

The walk was finished with all wee tour round the hills and down into the Cyprus Pond finishing the lake. 

I returned home less than 2 hours later; refreshed, content and realising I’ve a hell of a lot of work to do for the Cracker in 5 weeks. 

Friday Funday… Good Friday shenannigans

I’ve a friend…shocking, I know. I’ve a few good ones actually.

Lauren has come into my life like a breath of fresh country air. Although a few more years younger than me than I’d like to admit, I couldn’t see life without her. A bundle of unending energy, something you wouldn’t expect of a student in her final year. With drive, motivation and a sense of adventure which would scare Bear Grylls yet refined enough to be a hot contender for the Down Rose 2016.

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What started out as a wee walk to pass an hour every now and again has progressed into the blind leading the blind through the various tracks and trails of the Mourne Countryside on what is usually a Friday..hence Friday Funday.

Today’s hike was roughly planned. We knew where we were starting and knew roughly where we’d finish. However the middle bit was a bit blurry.

I woke to clear blue skies and the excitement when I could see the mountains from my window. Not a cloud in sight and for once I thought..yes this is it. A day to scale a few peaks and admire God’s country from the top of Northern Ireland.

The Yellow Bug pulled up outside my house at 7.30am and with our packed lunch we headed to the foothills.

Up we climbed to Hares Gap…followed by a drone which was creepy. The air was still and skies still blue. However that was soon to change. We opted for the lower route across the Valley as we knew it had a path and as we were getting to where you could see right into the reservoir the mist descended and what are normally stunning views where engulfed by it.

After a good few km we locked eyes on the summit of Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland highest Mountain. We had both been to the top a few times but the excitement as we caught a glimpse of the tower on top glistening in the sun there was only one way we where heading…and that was UP.

My heart broke as we began the final ascent and the mist which ruined the views across the valley an hour previously had completely taken over the mountain. It became cold, dull and felt like walking through a wind tunnel. Sheltered only by the Mourne Wall.
The pull in the back of your legs was burning and as you climbed on…you felt that reaching the end was never going to happen.

In the distance we seen the tower, beside the tower was a man beginning to get undressed (free strip show) sadly it was just to change into dry gear. I felt it extremely fitting for it being Good Friday to recite a biblical quote of “my god my god, why have you forsaken me”
As although we knew the end was near and the suffering was going to end shortly…the surroundings, the weather and the struggle was still to be endured. Maybe not on the same scale as Jesus in his dying moments on the cross but still sort of reflected the pain and mild anger within us.

The sighs of relief from us both I am sure could be heard for miles around. We made it but.

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Yip could see no more than 10metres! Not the 360 degree view we were expecting or quite rightly deserved.

Sure if the sun had shone we wouldn’t have been able to procrastinate the whole way back down and for the rest of the day essentially…actually I think I can moan about it for a while.

Anyway 4.45mins, 14.5km and over 700m gained in elevation later, we grinded to a halt at Nugelato where we shared the most immense chocolate egg with ice cream and covered in badness.

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So today…Friday Funday from the top of Slieve Donard. I had 4.8km on my training plan today…think I can tick that off as well and truly complete.