Walk up Cratlieve
A circular walk in the Dromara Hills from Windy Gap via a footpath, quiet country roads and sheep tracks to the summit of Cratlieve Mountain with the added attraction of a dolmen and an ancient pillar-cross.
Route Start Location: Windy Gap Car Park, BT31 9UD.
|13.81 km||632 m||4 hours|
Calculate the time using Naismith’s Rule and factor in your own pace.
Activivity Type: Moderate Walk
Summits and Places on this Route
- Toilet facilities for customers of Eurospar, Dromara. Refreshments and toilet facilities for customers of Square One Bar & Bistro, Dromara https://www.facebook.com/SquareOneDromara/ T: 028 9753 2986.
- Turnip House Craft Workshop and Tea Room, BT31 9UF, is just over a mile from Windy Gap, but check opening hours first https://turniphouse.com/visitus.html T: 028 4065 0848..
- Plentiful bars and restaurants in Ballynahinch, 6 miles away, including the excellent Primrose Bar https://www.primrosebar.co.uk/ T: 028 9756 3177. Accommodation available in Millbrook Lodge Hotel, Ballynahinch https://www.millbrooklodge.co.uk/
In wet weather, parts of the route on Cratlieve can be boggy and gaiters may be an advantage. This is an outing to be reserved for good, clear weather as there is no clear path on Cratlieve; also, the views of the Mourne Mountains are the scenic highlight of the walk. About two-thirds of the walk is on public roads, which are very quiet, but not traffic-free. Therefore, it would be unsuitable for groups of more than 3 or 4 people.
Parking : BT31 9UD
Windy Gap car park, Slievenaboley Road.
Walk up Cratlieve
This Walk up Cratlieve is a varied walk using country roads, footpaths, farm tracks and mountain sheep tracks. The Dromara Hills are one of the hidden gems of the Ulster countryside, offering some of the country’s best views of the Mourne Mountains. It’s a landscape where rugged hills rub shoulders with fertile farmland and desolate moorland. The walk will appeal to those who appreciate solitude. The roads and footpaths are seldom busy and on Cratlieve the only distractions will be the glorious scenery, the sustained staccato singing of skylarks and the watchful eyes of wary sheep. The dolmen and the pillar-cross are vivid, evocative reminders of the rich prehistory of the area.
Walk up Cratlieve Route Description
1 Leaving the car park, turn left and walk down Slievenaboley Road for about 150 metres. Turn right at the footpath sign. The footpath, or Windy Gap Pad as it is known locally, is an attractive 1.5 kilometres which, in summer, is festooned with wildflowers and their attendant butterflies. It is guided by yellow waymarkers and is interrupted by a couple of stiles and a double gate which accommodates a farm track. Glimpses of the Mournes enhance the pleasure of the walk and, just after the second stile, the mountains come into view in spectacular fashion as the peaks line up for inspection in an east-west formation.
2 On arrival at Legananny Road, turn right and walk for another kilometre through desolate, but attractive countryside until a sign for Legananny Dolmen directs left.
3 After 150m, a left turn and a walk of a few metres brings you face to face with the formidable, mysterious dolmen. The 4000- to 5000-year-old structure’s prominent setting delivers extensive views of the Mournes to the south. Its massive coffin-like capstone, estimated to weigh 25 tonnes, is over three metres long and its frontal supporting stones are over two metres, making it one of the most imposing and photogenic monuments in the country.
4 The track to the dolmen runs on northwards past abandoned homesteads, a grim reminder that the people of this beautiful, but inhospitable landscape must have struggled to eke out a sustainable living from the land.
5 The track continues for about 600 metres becoming gradually more rocky, narrow and floriferous until it meets an old, rusting gate which leads to open ground at the foot of Cratlieve (also known as Legananny Mountain).
6 The prospect of reaching Cratlieve’s summit at first appears somewhat daunting and confusing, but after a few metres of upward progress a pathway of sorts is discernible. There are numerous rocky outcrops and densely packed thickets of gorse, but some clear areas appear to snake through the rough terrain.
7 Initially, head generally east towards the most likely pathway through the gorse and rock, then veer north as the gorse thickens again. If in doubt, just try to find the best way to keep moving in an upward direction.
8 As you gain height, the Mournes will gradually appear to the south-east, often fighting to break through cloud. The terrain changes gradually to a series of hollows followed by rocky ridges. The hollows can be quite boggy, but in summer the bog cotton helpfully gives warning of wet ground.
9 Continue to move gradually in a vaguely northerly orientation following the sheep tracks. The ground flattens out a little the higher you climb and there are fewer boggy areas as you near the 429m summit (Grid Ref IJ 296446). There are written reports of a cairn at the summit but although there are several groupings of stones in vague circles, it is doubtful if any could be described as a cairn or stone circle.
10 Slieve Croob should be visible to the east and on a good day, the Belfast Hills will appear to the north-west, with Slievegarran, another of the Dromara Hills, materialising a few kilometres south and to the left of the distant Mournes. To the west lies nearby Dechomet Mountain with County Armagh high point Slieve Gullion in the distance.
11 The area’s weather is notoriously fickle, but if you are fortunate enough to enjoy good visibility a short detour to the southern end of Cratlieve will reward you with excellent views of the Mournes and the landscape towards the coast.
12 From the summit, walk in a north-northwest direction, using a large outcrop of rock as a waymark. You are heading for a track at Grid Ref IJ 298450. A reasonably distinct path travels around the right of the outcrop and leads to a point where two gates can be seen lower down above a house and farm buildings.
13 Go through the gate to the right and down the farm track through another gate until you reach Finnis Road.
14 Finnis Road is usually quiet, but it is the one road on which you will almost certainly meet some traffic. After about 200m, Dree Hill runs off uphill to the left. If you are in the mood, you can turn onto the road and after about 400m reach the Slieve Croob car park, from where a road leads to the 534m summit, the highest point in the Dromara Hills.
15 If you manage to resist the lure of Slieve Croob, continue along Finnis Road for 800m before turning right onto Kilnhill Road, one of the most scenically pleasing roads in County Down.
16 After 1.8km, turn right onto Dolmen Road and a few metres further go through a newish looking gate on the left. Cross the field and look out for Legananny Pillar-Cross (Grid Ref IG J 303427), which from a distance resembles a small person. The cross is in pretty good condition after 1,000 years or so standing in the middle of a field.
17 Returning to Dolmen Road, turn left and follow the road back towards the dolmen enjoying the wildflowers along the roadside, views of the Mournes to the left and the desolate lower slopes of Cratlieve on the right.
18 On reaching Legananny Road, turn right and continue until meeting the footpath sign and making the return walk up the Windy Gap Pad to the car park.
19 Before leaving, take another look at the views from what must surely be one of the most scenic car park locations in Ireland.
Cratlieve is pronounced ‘Crotchlieve’ by local people after the Irish word for the mountain Crotshliabh (hump-mountain).
Nearby Finnis Souterrain, known locally as Binder’s Cove, dates from around the 9th century. It comprises one main passage and two side passages, lit by 21st century solar power. To visit, turn left out of Windy Gap car park and take the first road on the right, Carrigagh Road. Look out for the small lay-by and a path on the right. The souterrain is open all year and can be entered if you are prepared to bend and stoop. It may be impossible to enter after heavy rain as it is liable to flooding.