Bank holiday weekends are a great opportunity for making a dash to the hills. This year I was working the 12th July for a little overtime, but had a camping bag packed in the car and ready to go. The plan was to bivi on a summit on Friday night, then make my way round to Doan to meet the rest of the lads for night two.
I finished up work at 4pm and headed straight for Donard Park. Traffic was light, I got there in under an hour and began the dander up the Glen River track in a humid, heavy heat.
When I got to the clearing near the ice house the weather I was to have for the evening became clear. Thick, low hanging cloud was building and winds were starting to pick up. At least the wind keeps things fresher!
Plenty of hikers and campers were out and about taking advantage of the long weekend. It was great to see. About five tents were pitched in Donard wood and a couple of families had made their home for the evening around the area of the Ice House.
It looked like they had a relatively dry night ahead of them. The cloud was low, but they were still well beneath it. I needed to be further on before laying my head down for the night, given the route I had planned.
Visibility at the saddle was the standard, with cloud pouring down off Commedagh towards Donard. The mizzle from the cloud had a nice cooling effect, so I pressed on towards the summit.
Commedagh gets the cloud pretty often. It still makes a fantastic spot for a summit camp however, as the water pipe on the Corragh side negates the need to carry lots of water to the summit. For this reason it’s my usual go-to for a quick bivi at the start of a multi-day in the high Mournes.
The water pipe took care of my hydration needs. I had a pot of noodles and a couple of cups of tea. My sleep was pretty broken through the night, mostly due to the high winds, but I still got enough rest to feel fresh in the morning.
I set off down over Corragh, with the cloud still hanging over the summits. The view from here is absolutely breathtaking on a clear day and definitely worth stopping for. On Saturday however it was better to keep moving.
The low visibility can be nice at times if you’re on well known paths. It brings a sense of solitude. The hills were quite busy on Saturday, but when you can barely see your hand in front of your face you tend not to notice!
By the time I was approaching Bearnagh the clouds had started to clear a little. Bearnagh never fails to impress (and even intimidate slightly) when you’re standing far enough back to take it all in.
The view on the way over Bearnagh was fantastic. The scale of the tors never fail to impress and I’m always thankful for the excellent path quality around there.
I had a quick bite of lunch at Hare’s gap where I reflected on how to get to Doan. Should I contour around Meelbeg and SlieveLoughshannagh? Or do some more summits? Given that I intended to fill my MSR Dromedary bag (10 litre) from the river before going up Doan, I opted for the contour.
The path contouring around Meelbeg is a lovely walk and not at all challenging, just what I needed to prepare my legs for bringing water for four lads up Doan. I filled my water carrier up at the Ben Crom river and headed over towards Doan, where Eamonn, Spud and Chip were due to meet me later on.
It was beautifully sunny, but also brutally windy. Groups of people were streaming up and down Doan constantly. At the actual summit the winds were very high. I’d have been fine in my Bivi, but it wouldn’t have been very sociable to sit around in. Also Spud and Chip might have had trouble with their tents.
I reached out to the lads and we decided that dropping down to Lough Shannagh made sense. There was enough wind that we wouldn’t be tortured by the midge.
After lugging an extra 10 kilos in water weight up Doan, it didn’t make sense to carry it back down to the edge of a Lough, so I emptied it. There was plenty of spring in my step on the way back down.
Lough Shannagh was shining in the sun and the breeze was keeping the midge away. The perfect combination. I laid out my bivi in the sun to dry off Commedagh’s drizzle from the night before and chilled out for a while enjoying the sunshine and beautiful view.
Before long I was joined by a gentleman called Joseph. He had a brand new Quechua tent from Decathlon to try out. I gave him a quick hand putting it up and tried some of the Czech plum vodka he had brought with him. It had flavour and punch in equal measure!
Spud and Chip arrived shortly afterward, followed by Eamonn. Everyone got their tents up and we spent the evening at the shore of the Lough having a few drinks and enjoying a BBQ.
After living off high carb, low protein, low fat junk like noodles, scones and granola bars for a day, burgers off the BBQ were like manna from heaven.
It was a good clear night, which meant with the high winds things got a little chilly. A few families and youth groups were also camping around the Lough and seemed to retire early due to the chill. It’s easy to underestimate how chilly the evening can feel after a day in the sun.
Spud and Chip headed back to their tents and Eamonn and I climbed into our Bivvy bags. It was a good dry night with a gentle breeze. You couldn’t ask for better.
Morning came after a great night’s rest and the sun was already feeling powerful. The wind died down occasionally, allowing the midge to launch brief biting. skirmishes.
We packed up, had some coffee and a granola bar each and started the climb up towards the path in the blazing sun. Everyone and their dog was bound to be en route to the Mournes given the weather and we were lucky enough to already be there!
Walking uphill in such heat is thirsty work. We made good use of our Water to Go bottles to keep hydrated without carrying water. We were sent one of these to review about five years ago at time of writing. Since then every member of the group has picked one up. Filtering water rather than carrying it makes things a lot easier.
We stopped at Hare’s Gap for a drink where we encountered a very gustsy Raven. It seemingly had little fear of humans, hopping around looking for crumbs left behind by snacking hikers.
We passed a lot of hikers on our way down into Meelmore lodge, which was unsurprising. It was an unbelievably good day’s weather. Once we arrived at Meelmore Lodge Eamonn dropped me back to Newcastle where I was parked and I headed on home. The queues of traffic headed into Newcastle were substantial. Bumper to bumper between Clough and Seaforde!
Three fantastic days in the Mournes and two great nights – one of solitude and one with friends. We’re incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful place right on our doorstep.