Walk up Slieve Bearnagh
A circular walk from Trassey car park, climbing Slieve Bearnagh and returning via Hare’s Gap, Slievenaglogh and Trassey Track.
Route Start Location: Trassey car park
|10.5 km||723 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 less than a mile further up Trassey Road from the car park. The Lodge also offers parking, accommodation, camping and catering T: 028 4372 5949 E: [email protected]
Newcastle and Castlewellan are each about a 10-minute drive away. Both towns have plentiful pubs, cafés, restaurants and accommodation options.
- Mulholland’s Bar in Castlewellan’s Main Street, BT31 9DG, is a lively venue that offers a bar menu and an extensive drinks list https://www.facebook.com/mulhollandssportsbarcastlewellan/ T: 028 4377 8294
- Nana’s Kitchen, also in Main Street, BT31 9DJ, is a popular café offering delicious homemade fare https://www.facebook.com/Nanas-kitchen-Castlewellan-1128737833928559/ T: 028 4377 2872
- The Anchor Bar, 9-11 Bryansford Road, BT33 0HJ, T: 028 4372 3344 is a popular Newcastle hostelry with excellent pub grub, located conveniently to Donard Car Park https://www.anchorbar.co.uk/
- Sea Salt Café and Bistro, 51 Central Promenade, BT33 0HH, T: 028 4321 8091 is a popular small restaurant which can cater for special dietary requirements and offers a wonderful sea view http://seasaltnewcastle.com/
- Tollymore Forest operates a camping and caravan site. Details at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/tollymore-forest-park
Steep slopes, rocky outcrops and tempting tors make Bearnagh one of the most challenging peaks in the Mourne range. It is not a walk to attempt in poor visibility unless you possess first-rate navigational skills. Only the very surefooted should attempt to climb to the top of the tors. Map and compass are essential kit and a moderate level of fitness is desirable.
Trassey car park, BT33 0QA. At weekends and public holidays, the car park can fill up quickly and an early start is advised. A charged car park is available at Meelmore Lodge, BT32 0QB, about 800m further up Trassey Road. Parking rates (January 2021) are £4 per day and £8 overnight.
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
Walk up Slieve Bearnagh
The walk begins with a stroll up the Trassey Track, approaching the saddle between Slieves Bearnagh and Meelmore via Pollaphuca (hole of the fairies), the name given to the rocky path and the col to which it leads. The steep slopes of Bearnagh demand respect and stamina, but the views from the summit tors are ample reward. After descending Bearnagh (739m), the route passes over Hare’s Gap and travels about halfway up Slievenaglogh before crossing a stile and heading north to rejoin the Trassey Track.
Walk up Slieve Bearnagh Route Description
1 From Trassey car park, turn left and walk a few metres up the road. Cross the stone stile beside the gate that leads onto a gravel forest road running along the edge of Clonachullion wood. Carry on up the track passing through two sets of gates as the track changes underfoot to become narrower and stonier. As the track steepens, the Mournes sweep out majestically in front of you, the path rising to the left with views of Slievenaglogh before veering right to skirt the granite bulk of Spellack, a rocky outcrop on the slopes of Meelmore. About 2.3km from the car park, look out for a path on the right (Grid Ref IG J 314296) which crosses the Trassey River and veers left (south) to meet the track that eventually meets the col between Binnian and Meelmore. Alternatively, continue up Trassey Track and turn right at the base of Hare’s Gap. Both paths merge later on.
2 Following the track after crossing the river, the terrain fluctuates between rocks, mud and gravel, falling into the rough-but-manageable category. Cross a shallow gully and stream before joining the main Pollaphuca track. The surface is generally quite good with several flattish stretches interspersed with rocky interventions. The Bearnagh slabs reach up towards the summit to your left while a glance to the right (north) picks out the attractive County Down countryside with the Dromara Hills beyond.
3 A handy set of stone steps announces your arrival at the stile on the col between Meelmore and Bearnagh. The ascent of Bearnagh is steep, but bear in mind you’re already at a height of over 500m at the col. A faint path runs off to the right and it is possible to follow it round the mountain and ascend from under the summit. However, it makes more sense to use the path for a few metres before circling back to the wall at a point higher than the rocky gap that interrupts it. The wall builders’ craftsmanship was hampered by Bearnagh’s steep, rugged slopes and several gaps had to be left where the terrain defeated the stone-men’s ingenuity. The perspective of Bearnagh’s slopes from neighbouring Meelmore gives an idea of the gradient facing the walker.
4 Weather conditions will determine which side of the wall to choose from this point. The left (north) side is smoother and grassier, but is usually very slippy, whereas the south side is all rocks, but the views are better. There are a couple of breaches in the wall, hopefully temporary, which can be used to sample both sides. The wall serves as a handrail on what is undoubtedly one of the steepest gradients the walker is likely to encounter in the Mournes. You won’t be disappointed by the views if you stop for a rest. To the south, the Silent Valley, Lough Shannagh and the Irish Sea catch the eye, with the conical peak of Doan dominating the mountain landscape. Looking north, the wall threads its way up Meelmore while the north-west vista features Lough Island Reavy and the Dromara Hills.
5 The views get even better as you progress. With its height and position, Bearnagh offers great views of most of the other high peaks. Before reaching the Summit Tor, the “castles” of the North Tor come into view with Dundrum Bay and the Irish Sea stretching beyond.
6 On reaching the grassy top of the mountain, the large granite tor that marks the highest point of the summit sits to the right. Climbing right to the top is not easy and should only be attempted by those completely confident of their ability. The summit area is a magnet for photographers as it delivers views of many of the higher mountains in the Mourne range including the other five peaks over 700m – Slieves Donard, Commedagh, Binnian, Lamagan and Meelbeg, Bearnagh itself coming in at 739m, the fourth highest in the range.
7 A clear path running north from the summit begins the descent. It steers clear of the wall which is interrupted by the castles of the North Tor and drops quite steeply through a mixture of rock, grass and heather. The views west are dominated by Commedagh and Donard, both skirted by the old smugglers’ route, the Brandy Pad, while swivelling south picks out the majestic bulk of Binnian with a glimpse of shimmering Binnian Lough.
8 As Hare’s Gap comes into view, look out for a set of stone steps, well to the right of the wall, that lead safely down to the Gap. Hare’s Gap is thought to be named after a family named O’Hare who farmed land in Clonachullion. It sits at 430m between Bearnagh and Slievenaglogh, perched above the Trassey Track and leading on to the Brandy Pad which snakes around the mountains for about 12km to its destination at Bloody Bridge. A look back at Bearnagh emphasizes the forbidding nature of the terrain that faced the builders of the Mourne Wall.
9 The return to the car park involves a short ascent to a stile on Slievenaglogh. The walk begins gently with a stone staircase to reach higher ground above Hare’s Gap. Continue on any of the several paths that run parallel to the wall until, after about 600m, you reach the stile. Cross the stile and follow the stony path in a north-west direction. The path disappears and reappears as it runs beside a grassy, boggy gully. Soon, in the distance, you will be able to make out the junction with Trassey Track. The path becomes more distinct, but also more muddy, as it wends its way downhill.
10 A look to your left will clearly show the network of paths peeling off from the Trassey Track towards the Meelmore col. As the ground flattens out you pass a small disused quarry with several large granite blocks showing marks of the plug and feathers method of rock splitting used by the Mourne stone workers. The path becomes grassier as it runs towards a flat stony area. Turn left here and head west to meet Trassey Track at roughly the same point that you left it for Bearnagh earlier in the day. Turn right and head downhill for the car park.
Plug and Feathers stone splitting
A line of holes was drilled in the rock. Each hole was fitted with two thin steel pieces (feathers) into which an iron plug was inserted. The plugs were hammered in sequence until the rock split.
In the late nineteenth century, improvements in transport infrastructure facilitated the export of dressed stone, boosting the local economy particularly in Newcastle and Annalong. British cities like Liverpool, London and Manchester were paved with Mourne granite which was renowned for its hardness and durability.
Life for the stonemen was tough. They worked long hours, often spending all week on the mountainside. Payment was by piece work, with wages dependent upon the number of paving setts produced. The industry suffered a gradual decline in the twentieth century with improved mechanisation mainly responsible for the end of the traditional stoneman’s way of life.
The Mourne Mountains: the 30 best hikes, hand-picked by a County Down local, by Andrew McCluggage. Knife Edge, 2019. ISBN 978-1-912933-03-7
Excellent up-to-date collection of varied walks. One of its key features is the strategy of reproducing OS maps and relating the route descriptions to numbered waypoints on the maps. This walk corresponds in part to Walk 7 in the book, entitled Slieve Bearnagh. However, the book walk proceeds in the opposite (clockwise) direction and involves an ascent to Hare’s Gap before tackling Bearnagh.
The Mournes Walks by Paddy Dillon. O’Brien Press, Dublin. Updated edition. Revised 2009. ISBN 978-1-84717-761-2
Walk No 18 in Paddy’s book, titled Slieve Bearnagh from Trassey covers this route, but the final section differs by connecting to the Trassey Track from Hare’s Gap. Generally, the book is an interesting and varied set of walk suggestions, hampered by basic production values, by 2020 standards. A new edition would be welcomed as some of the information is out of date.
Ireland’s Best Walks: a walking guide, by Helen Fairbairn. Collins, 2014. ISBN 978-1-84889211-8
Route No 9, Slieve Bearnagh and the Silent Valley, is a tough 11km looped walk covering Bearnagh and several other peaks with alternative starting points at either Trassey car park or Ben Crom reservoir.