Walk up Rocky Mountain via Hare’s Castle
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A circular walk to Rocky Mountain via Hare’s Castle (430m) and the attractive Annalong River.
Route Start Location: Northern Ireland Water entrance gates, Head Road, Annalong
|10.54 km||511 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
- Carrick Cottage Café, BT34 4RJ is about two miles further along Head Road up the track from Carrick Little car park https://www.facebook.com/CarrickCottageCafe/ T: 07595 929307
- The nearby village of Annalong has a small number of shops and cafés and the well-appointed restaurant and bar, The Harbour Inn, BT34 4TT, which offers splendid views of the Mournes and an adjacent refurbished cornmill www.harbourinnannalong.co.uk T: 028 4376 8678.
- The Galley Restaurant and Take-away https://thegalleyannalong.co.uk/ is well known for its excellent fish dishes sourced from the local catch. Alcoholic requirements are well served by The Halfway House www.facebook.com/halfwayhouseannalong
- The seaside resort of Newcastle has numerous bars and restaurants including award-winning Brunel’s restaurant which offers a range of menus from quick snacks to fine dining. https://www.brunelsrestaurant.co.uk/
- Plentiful accommodation options include a wide range of B&Bs, small family run hotels or, for a touch of luxury, the historic Slieve Donard Hotel www.hastingshotels.com/slieve-donard-resort-and-spa/
The route from Hare’s Castle to the foot of Rocky Mountain is tricky and unmarked. Look out for holes in the boggy terrain. There is no obvious path up Rocky Mountain and good navigation is needed in poor weather. There are several boggy patches throughout the ascents to Hare’s Castle and Rocky Mountain. Gaiters would be a distinct asset.
Parking : BT34 4RL
Park in the off-road space at the entrance to the Northern Ireland Water gates on Head Road, BT34 4RL. If there is no space, limited roadside parking is possible in the area known as Rourke’s Park at the junction of Head Road and Quarter Road, about 300m before the NI Water gates.
The Mourne Rambler service run by www.translink.co.uk operates in July and August, Mondays excepted, and stops at Rourke’s Park. The Black Sheep Mournes Hiker/Biker Uplift, formerly known as AIMSS (Activities in Mourne Shuttle Service), operates a flexible year round service for walkers and cyclists, weekends only in winter. Contact them via https://www.facebook.com/AIMSS2013/ or to book: T: 0751 6412076. A bus service operates between Newcastle and Kilkeel with a stop near the start of Quarter Road. However, you’ll need to add 4km to the trip to allow for the walk to Head Road and back. Check out www.translink,co.uk
Walk up Rocky Mountain via Hare’s Castle
This looped walk to Rocky Mountain (525m) via Hare’s Castle (430m) in the Mournes begins with a stroll up a forest road beside the attractive Annalong River before gaining height to arrive at Hare’s Castle with its extensive views of the Annalong Valley. The summit of Rocky Mountain is then approached by its north-western slopes before the return to the NI Water gates along the Mourne Wall passing over Long Seefin (325m) and Round Seefin (231m). This is an easy walk with several moderately strenuous sections; it would be a suitable walk for anyone new to hill walking.
Rocky Mountain via Hare’s Castle Route Details
1 Walk straight up the NI Water service road for 2.8km until reaching the Dunnywater catchment area at its end. You have the option to turn left and take a few minutes to have a look at the information panels outlining the construction of the Binnian Tunnel which runs underneath Slieve Binnian channelling the waters of the Annalong Valley to augment the Silent Valley reservoir.
2 At the top of the NI Water road, turn right and continue on the path north until you reach a metal gate. To the left of the gate, follow the track up the bank of the Annalong River. Cross a stile after about 500m and enjoy the views of Slieves Binnian, Lamagan, Cove and Beg on the left and Rocky Mountain on your right.
3 As you lose sight of Slieve Lamagan on your left, follow a faint path heading north-east which brings Hare’s Castle into a direct line in front of you. Incidentally, its name is thought to derive from its resemblance to a hare when viewed from the west, but it must have been christened before the stone-men got to work. The path ascends a small hillside before turning to the left and climbing gradually towards the Castle. Keep left of the stream and gorge and to the right of Hare’s Castle while savouring the views of the Annalong Valley and its surrounding peaks to the north while the long summit plateau of Slieve Binnian deserves a lingering look back to the west.
4 Keep to the path as it turns temporarily north before heading north-east and becoming quite faint. Pass the Castle on its right and stick to the path which turns gradually left and follows a north-east course flanking the eastern slopes of the Castle. The views open out with the Irish Sea to the south-east and Cove Mountain and the Annalong Valley peaks to the north-west. Leave the path as you pass behind the northern edge of the summit and clamber west up the peaty terrain until you reach a small flattish, grassy area on the northern side of the peak. The summit is about 5km from the NI Water gates and should take about 1½ hours to reach.
5 You will see a shallow, grooved channel along the rocks leading to the summit. Negotiating the short distance to the top is a little daunting given the steep drop down to the valley, but the views from the flat, grassy summit make it worthwhile. To the north lies the Annalong Valley while to the south, the Irish Sea can be seen washing onto the beaches of the County Down coast. The south-west vista is dominated by Binnian and, in good visibility, you may catch a glimpse of Binnian Lough beneath its north tor. Slieve Lamagan and Cove Mountain lie to the north-west and to the north-east, clear skies will allow Slieve Donard to reveal its 853m summit.
6 The most practical way of getting from Hare’s Castle to Rocky Mountain is to rejoin the path that you left to reach the Castle summit. Follow the path until it veers further to the left. At that point, walk towards the stream and follow its north-easterly upstream course. There is a rudimentary track which is probably sheep-made. It disappears and reappears several times as it becomes engulfed by the intermittently boggy ground. Care is needed in the tricky, variable terrain. Keep fairly close to the stream and cross at or near Grid Ref J IG 349258. The OS map shows two tracks leading part of the way up Rocky Mountain, but don’t rely on finding them; tellingly, the Harvey map doesn’t display any paths.
7 The ascent of Rocky Mountain is quite benign. It begins on what looks at first like a clear track, but this continues for only a few metres before petering out. The terrain is quite soggy on the lower slopes, but dries out nicely as height is gained. A south-east line of approach will take you to the summit which is marked by a cairn. The views from the slopes of the mountain are superb. As the eye travels from west to north, first to appear are the tors of Binnian, followed by Lamagan, Cove and Slieve Beg where a 150m high gully known as The Devil’s Coach Road gouges through its eastern slopes. Slieves Commedagh and Donard, the two highest peaks in the range, regally dominate the northern vista.
8 Rocky Mountain certainly lives up to its name, but the summit is surprisingly flat, open and airy. Magnificent views of the High Mournes abound with the big hitters, Bearnagh, Commedagh and Donard all attracting attention while the Irish Sea draws the eye to the east. Rocky Mountain shares its name with two other mountains in the Mourne range. This is the most northerly and, at 525m, also the highest.
9 The configuration of the return route is clear from the summit as the Mourne Wall makes its way towards the coast passing over the peaks of Long Seefin and Round Seefin. A clear track descends to the wall zigzagging through the heather between boulders and rock formations.
10 Arriving at the wall, the choice of which side to walk on depends largely on wind conditions, but the left (north) side is slightly more favoured by walkers. It is possible to walk on top of the wall although this practice is frowned upon by those responsible for its upkeep.
11 As the wall traverses Long Seefin and drops down towards Round Seefin, you will pass a small round tower that marks the intersection of the Mourne Wall and the wall leading to Round Seefin. If you are walking on the right hand side of the wall, cross the stile just before the tower. The views to the south and west encompass the tors of Slieve Binnian and, through the saddle between Binnian and Lamagan, the conical summit of Doan and the rugged peak of Ben Crom. Towards the south-east, the landscape softens to embrace green farmland and the distant waters of Carlingford Lough.
12 From the tower to the summit of Round Seefin is just under 1km of effortless walking. Glancing back up the wall, Long Seefin lives up to its name as it stretches out towards the symmetrical summit of Rocky Mountain to its left. On the right, Chimney Rock Mountain is topped by a distant Slieve Donard. Round Seefin’s summit is capped by a rock platform with a fairly steep eastern flank. It’s possible to climb down directly from the top, but the safer option is to veer left to descend by a gentler path round the overhang and walk towards a stile.
13 Pass to the left of the stile and take the bracken-lined path close to the wall for the next 400m. The steep path passes through a large rocky outcrop which bears the signs of former stone workings – Seefin granite setts (blocks) were in high demand in the 19th century for use as paving slabs in the construction of roads and pavements in British cities. The path takes a few twists and turns before returning close to the wall. The Irish Sea, Binnian’s summit tor, the lower Mourne slopes and the distant Cooley Mountains present a glorious palette of colours to the south.
14 Continuing downhill, the bracken is replaced by trees as the path reaches a dry stone wall. Cross the stile on your right and carry on along the path which takes a sharp left turn after about 100m and runs between a low wall on the left and trees on the right. The scenery is typical of the lower Mourne slopes, perfect dry stone walls dissecting the green fields with the mountains providing a lavish backdrop. After about 400m, stone steps lead to a gate on the left. Turn right along a farm track and ford a small stream before meeting Head Road and walking to the NI Water gates.
The Binnian Tunnel
The tunnel was needed to carry water from the Annalong valley to top up the Silent Valley Dam to cope with Belfast’s increasing demand for water. The hugely challenging project involved a workforce of 150 men tasked with constructing a tunnel underneath Slieve Binnian. Two work squads started at either end with the aim of meeting in the middle. Work on the 2½ mile tunnel began in 1947 and the two squads met in the middle 800 metres underneath Binnian’s summit on 6 December 1950. The project was completed without any of today’s sophisticated equipment. Candles were used to gauge the straightness of the bore and when the squads met they were only centimetres off-centre.