Meelmore Ridge Circular Walk
A walk over three Mourne peaks, starting and finishing at Ott Car Park. Slieve Loughshannagh is followed by the Meels, Slieves Meelbeg and Meelmore, with a return to the car park via Spellack and Fofanny Reservoir.
Route Start Location: Ott Car Park
|11.79 km||818 m||4 hours|
Calculate the time using Naismith’s Rule and factor in your own pace.
Activivity Type: Hard Walk
Summits and Places on this Route
Toilet facilities for customers of Meelmore Lodge and Hare’s Gap Bistro, BT32 0QB, which is about 3 miles towards Newcastle on Trassey Road. The Lodge also offers parking, accommodation, camping and catering T: 028 4372 5949 E: [email protected]
Newcastle and Castlewellan are both about a 10-minute drive away. Both towns have plentiful pubs, cafés, restaurants and accommodation options. Maginn’s Bar in Castlewellan’s Main Street, BT31 9DF, is a lively venue with frequent entertainment and a varied food offering T: 028 4377 8235. The Coffee Dock, also in Main Street, BT31 9DQ, is a popular café offering coffees and snacks Tel:28 4377 1741.
In Newcastle, Hugh McCann’s offers food and drinks in the shadow of Slieve Donard, 119-121 Central Promenade, BT33 0EU, T: 028 4372 2487. Great Jones Craft & Kitchen, 73 Main Street, BT33 0AE, has a wide-ranging menu encompassing local cuisine, American, Irish and contemporary dishes T: 028 4372 3328
Although it involves some steep ascents the walk is mostly straightforward on the mountain sections with the Mourne Wall acting as a route guide. Careful navigation is needed on the stretch from Meelmore to Spellack as the path is in parts indistinct or non-existent. The journey between Spellack and the Mourne Way is also steep and rocky and the sheer slopes to the east of Spellack need to be given wide clearance.
Ott Car Park on Slievenaman Rd, BT34 5XL. If the car park is full, on-road parking on Slievenaman Road is an option. Alternatively, the main Spelga Dam car parks, BT34 5XL, will usually have spaces but will add about 4 kilometres to the walk. There is also a small car park to the left of Slievenaman Road just before its junction with the B27 Kilkeel Rd (Grid Ref: IJ 277269)
The Mourne Rambler service run by www.translink.co.uk operates in July and August and has a stop close to the starting point. No bus service at other times. The AIMSS (Activities in Mourne Shuttle Service) also known as The Black Sheep Mournes Shuttle operates a pick-up/set-down year round booking service for walkers and bikers, weekends only in winter. Contact them via https://www.facebook.com/AIMSS2013/ or to book: T: 0751 6412076
Meelmore Ridge Circular Walk
The walk begins with a gentle climb up Ott Track to meet the Mourne Wall which crosses the peaks of Slieves Loughshannagh (612m), Meelbeg (708m) and Meelmore (687m). From Meelmore, the walk continues to the rocky ridge known as Spellack (470m) and from there makes a steep descent to meet the Mourne Way and return to the starting point skirting the attractive Fofanny Dam on the way. The walk over the three peaks is moderately strenuous but benefits from a well-trodden path and the Mourne Wall’s assistance as a navigational aid. The descent to Spellack is tricky as is the steep, rocky course from Spellack to the Mourne Way. The views are first-rate, particularly as the route passes close to Slieve Bearnagh, one of the most distinctive and visually stunning peaks of the High Mournes.
Meelmore Ridge Circular Walk Route Details
1 From the car park, turn left, cross the road and take the stile on the right a few metres from the car park. Walk up the stony Ott Track and veer right and upwards at a junction of paths after about 120m. Fofanny Dam and, beyond it, Lough Island Reavy soon come into view on your left with Slieve Croob and the Dromara Hills further beyond.
2 The track continues for 2km becoming muddier and less distinct as it nears the Mourne Wall. Cross the stile and make your way along the wall to the summit of Slieve Loughshannagh. The ascent is fairly easy and as you gain height Lough Shannagh and the Silent Valley stretch out behind you to the south-east, with Doan, Binnian and Wee Binnian on view to the east of Silent Valley.
3 Loughshannagh’s rocky summit is marked by a ramshackle cairn. Looking ahead, you’ll see Slieve Meelbeg and to its right Slieve Bearnagh with its distinctive jagged peak. Further on, Commedagh and Donard make an appearance with Cove Mountain and Slieve Beg also in the line-up. Looking back to the south, the waters of Carlingford Lough are just about visible.
4 Follow the wall down to the col between Slieves Loughshannagh and Meelbeg passing a stile at the col as you begin to ascend Meelbeg. The walking is steep but easily managed on the well-trodden path which generally sticks close to the wall. The view over your shoulder reveals a display of two of the largest masses of water in the Mournes, Spelga Dam and Lough Shannagh, the largest natural lough in the range.
5 A scattering of rocks announces the summit and with it comes a superb view encompassing many of the tallest peaks.
6 The shelter at the top of Meelmore (from the Irish for “big mountain of the ants”) is visible from Meelbeg’s (from the Irish for “little mountain of the ants”) summit and the route is obvious with the wall still your guide. Make your way alongside the wall down the steep, grassy slope passing a stile at the col between the two Meels to begin the ascent of Meelmore. If you wish to visit the cairn on Meelmore, cross the stile and climb up the left (north) side of the wall.
7 As the ascent proceeds, the Mourne Wall carves through a much older boundary wall which has suffered damage over the years. A little further up, the sheer slopes of Bearnagh dominate the view to the east, while a look back to the south reveals a panorama of peaks with the conically shaped Doan and to its left, Ben Crom, towered over by Binnian’s North Tor. Far away to the south, the rounded hill of Knockchree ushers in a glimpse of Carlingford Lough. As you near the top of Meelmore, Commedagh and Donard enter the sightline while, to the north-east, Dundrum Bay and the dunes of Murlough Nature Reserve stretch out towards the Irish Sea.
8 The shelter on Meelmore is one of only three on the Mourne Wall, the others being on Donard and Commedagh. Cross the stile beside the shelter and, if you wish to visit the cairn, turn left and walk for about 250m staying fairly close to the wall. The views are not as spectacular as from the other side of the wall, but the green County Down countryside and the Dromara Hills to the north-west can gladden the heart in good visibility. Lough Island Reavy is also visible and will be a handy waymark for a later section of the walk.
9 From the shelter, head north for a few metres to arrive at a stone cairn. Turn right for a few metres and look out for a faint path which takes you down the crest of a ridge in a north-easterly trajectory. After about 1km you should arrive at the rocky outcrop known as Spellack.
On this walk, I was seduced by a gorge running east which looked fairly innocent. I scrambled down it with difficulty and headed north to Spellack. This turned out to be a potentially hazardous and definitely time-consuming mistake so please follow the route directions and not the attached gpx.
10 It’s well worth lingering on Spellack as the views to the west are splendid with Slievenaglogh, Commedagh, Donard and Hare’s Gap all drawing the eye.
11 To the left of Spellack, make your way north-west down a steep gorge using the lough in the distance, Lough Island Reavy, as a waypoint. Vestiges of a path appear intermittently but care is advised on the sharp descent which may involve interludes of shuffling and scrambling with all four limbs in dexterous action.
12 At the foot of the gorge you arrive at a track near the remains of an old quarry whose stone was used in the construction of the Mourne Wall. Follow the track which runs to the left at first, then straightens to run north-west. The track continues slightly downhill to reach a dry-stone wall and a stile which takes walkers to and from Meelmore Lodge. Turn left at the wall and follow the waymarkers for the Mourne Way.
13 After about 1.5 kilometres of effortless progress the wall ends and the path crosses a stream and gorge at the foot of Meelbeg and Meelmore. Turn left and climb up a small rocky bank. A few metres later, turn right and follow a grassy path.
14 Follow the waymarkers over the desolate terrain for another kilometre before arriving at Fofanny Dam. The track is on top of a pipeline which at one point makes a brief appearance above ground. Take the narrow path that borders the left side of the reservoir. The path veers to the right and enters forestry for a short distance before exiting at a stile. Turn right and walk uphill beside a fence heading for a stile that leads on to Slievenaman Road where a glorious walk ends with a rather mundane 800m trudge up to the car park.
The Mourne Wall
The Mourne Wall was built by the Belfast Water Commissioners to enclose the 9,000 acres of land forming the catchment area of the Silent Valley Reservoir. The wall is 22 miles long and took 18 years to build starting in 1904. It crosses 15 mountains and is constructed entirely of granite from local Mourne quarries using traditional dry-stone wall techniques.
The Mourne Wall Challenge entails a walk over the whole 35 km of the wall scaling 7 of the 10 highest peaks with a total ascent of close to 3000 metres. Between 1957 and 1984, the route took the form of an organized annual walk under the auspices of the Youth Hostel Association of NI. It was cancelled as a result of its own popularity when fears were raised over erosion to the route due to the huge crowds participating. Today, only the very fit attempt to complete the walk in a single day, most preferring to take 2 days with an overnight camp.