Walk up Slieve Commedagh via Hare’s Gap
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A circular walk from Trassey car park, following the course of the Mourne Wall over Slievenaglogh and Slieve Corragh to arrive at Slieve Commedagh, the second highest peak in the Mourne range, returning through Tollymore Forest Park via Shan Slieve.
Route Start Location: Trassey car park.
|14.24 km||959 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 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. Urban Cafe, also in Main Street, BT31 9DL, offers vegetarian and vegan menus as well as an extensive range of coffees T: 028 4321 8029
Diamond Pat’s is a popular Newcastle hostelry with decent pub grub, located on Central Promenade, BT33 0HH, T: 028 4372 5700. Villa Vinci in Newcastle’s Main Street, BT33 0AD, is an established restaurant with an excellent reputation. The menu is inspired by its Mediterranean origins. T: 028 4372 3080
Tollymore Forest operates a camping and caravan site. Details at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/tollymore-forest-park
The usual precautions and equipment for a mountain hike should suffice. There is no definite path on the descent from Commedagh so map and compass are essential. As there are also some steep cliffs to be avoided on the descent, this is not a route to be undertaken in poor visibility.
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 Commedagh via Hare’s Gap
The route from the end of the Trassey Track along the ridge defined by the Mourne Wall to Slieve Commedagh encompasses some of the most spectacular Mourne scenery, passing over Slievenaglogh (586m) and Slieve Corragh (640m) before reaching Commedagh (767m). The return route descends down the grassy northern slopes of Commedagh and Shan Slieve before passing through Tollymore Forest Park, one of the most attractive publicly accessible forested areas in Ireland. The route is mostly moderately strenuous, but does have several tough sections requiring serious stamina.
Walk up Slieve Commedagh via Hare’s Gap 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 for about 750m, pass through a set of gates and after a further 500m pass another set of gates as the track becomes narrower and stonier. The gradient increases gradually as the Mournes spread out dramatically in front of you. The path rises to the left offering views of Slievenaglogh before it veers right and passes the granite bulk of Spellack on the slopes of Slieve Meelmore. Your first target point now becomes clear – the col known as Hare’s Gap between Slievenaglogh and Slieve Bearnagh. Three kilometres after leaving the car park, arrive at the foot of the col ignoring any offshoots to the right.
2 The quickest way to Hare’s Gap is straight up the slope to the col. Use the rocks of the stream as stepping stones initially before taking one of several well used tracks that snake through the boulder field – this is a popular route and finding your way should not pose any significant problems until you reach Commedagh. At the Gap, a gate and stile lead the way to the other side of the Mourne Wall.
3 You have already reached a height of 435m and the views from the Gap are extensive, encompassing the full length of the Trassey Track to the north, Bearnagh to the west, Slievenaglogh to the east, and, to the south-east, the Brandy Pad, an old smuggler’s route that skirts the mountains from Hare’s Gap to Bloody Bridge.
4 The ascent of Slievenaglogh begins with some handy stone steps and proceeds reasonably gently keeping fairly close to the wall. As height is gained the vistas in all directions take on more detail. Looking east, the shelter at the summit of Commedagh gives an idea of the job in hand, while over the wall to the north, the County Down countryside stretches away into the distance. A first glimpse of Ben Crom Reservoir appears to the south-west and a look back towards Hare’s Gap reveals the great bulk of Bearnagh with Meelbeg lurking behind.
5 The summit of Slievenaglogh is marked by a cairn which commands a view of the shimmering Irish Sea to the east and the elephantine mass of Commedagh to the south. Over to the west, the eastern slopes of Ben Crom sweep down, all gullies and gouges, to the dam below.
6 The onward journey to Slieve Corragh affords more views of the coast to the east and great vistas of Ben Crom and beyond to the west. A backward glance along the wall vividly portrays the topography covered since leaving Hare’s Gap.
7 As the path approaches the col between Corragh and Commedagh, the ascent of Commedagh may seem a daunting prospect. The mountain is second only to Slieve Donard in height, but is much less frequently visited. On the left side of the col lies the Pot of Legawherry, a grim, dark cauldron scooped out of the rock. The corrie hosts the Cascade River which you will meet later in this walk. Just beneath the wall, several weathered granite pillars sit at the top of the corrie. These are replicated in abundance on the southern flank of Commedagh, just above the Brandy Pad, in a feature known as The Castles.
8 The ascent of Commedagh is not as challenging as it may appear. It’s definitely steep, but the paths are clear, mostly grassy and fairly even. The views, of course, are excellent in all directions.
9 The shelter at the top of Commedagh is ideal for a spot of rest, recuperation and an infusion of calories. Suitably refreshed, cross the stile and head north-east to the summit cairn with Slieve Donard making an impressive appearance to the right.
10 From the cairn, take a faint path north which soon comes close to steep cliffs overlooking the Pot of Pulgarve, another corrie, but not as vast or lugubrious as the Pot of Legawherry. Expansive views of Newcastle and the County Down coast open up as you continue along the path that eventually leads to Shan Slieve.
11 It’s all downhill, often steeply, on the way to Shan Slieve. Looking to the left, the full magnificence of the Mourne Wall and the skill of its builders can be appreciated as it makes its way summit to summit. Shan Slieve’s summit cairn presents further views of the County Down coast and, to the north-west, the town of Castlewellan, with Slieve Croob beyond.
12 Leaving the cairn, turn left and take a north-west course gradually descending along the grassy slopes. Lough Island Reavy is a useful landmark for maintaining the right direction, assuming weather conditions render it visible. The slope gets steadily steeper as you pass the Pot of Legawherry on your left between Commedagh and Corragh. Look out for a wall to the north running east to west before it takes a right-angle turn towards forestry – this is the wall that will lead you to Tollymore Forest. Castlewellan and Slieve Croob again come into view as the slope becomes rockier.
13 Take care when you see a line of rocks running west to east in front of you. Although not obvious from this perspective, these rocks mark the top of a cliff line. The cliffs are steep and need to be avoided. Instead, turn right and make your way down a steep grassy slope to meet the wall. Follow the wall as it leads west. The ground conditions are tricky with long grass, clumps of heather and frequent boggy patches. Just before the wall turns sharply right, cross the gully that carries the Cascade River. Take care as the banks are quite steep.
14 Follow the course of the wall to the north towards the forest. The ground conditions are not friendly, with heather, blaeberry bushes, long grass, uneven surfaces and general wetness impeding progress. However, the Cascade River is a pleasant diversion from the difficult terrain and its banks make for an ideal picnic spot. If you are not already on the left of the wall, cross over at some point before the wall ends and meets a fence. Otherwise, you will be faced with tackling a barbed wire obstruction.
15 Continue west beside the fence which soon meets a wall. Keeping the wall on your right, walk through rough vegetation for about 250m until meeting a stile. Cross the stile and walk down a stony path to reach a boarded-up farm cottage on the left. Follow a grassy path until you reach a gate which takes you into Tollymore Forest.
16 Go straight ahead for a few metres, turn left and after a further 300m, turn right at a junction of tracks and continue for 400m. At the next track junction, go straight ahead for about 500m before turning right and descending the path. About 350m further, turn left and immediately left again. Follow the track for the next 1.3km passing over a bridge and waterfall and, a little further, passing a prehistoric site known as the King’s Grave on your left. Cross a stone stile and pass through two gates and arrive back at Trassey car park.
As an alternative to returning to the car park, you may prefer to explore Tollymore Forest. It has many interesting features including the Cascade, where a path leads to a rock platform to view the Cascade River, at this stage of its journey known as the Spinkwee, tumbling down a gorge in spectacular fashion. At the nearby beauty spot the Meeting of the Waters, the Spinkwee flows into the Shimna River. The Shimna is spanned by a number of ornate old bridges and an interesting 18th century hermitage sits above its steep, rocky banks.
Tollymore was opened in 1957 and has become one of Northern Ireland’s most popular outdoor destinations. Highlights of the park include:
- The Shimna River with its rocky outcrops, waterfalls and abundant bird life
- Ornate bridges built by the various owners of the estate. Several were built over 200 years ago
- The hermitage above the Shimna River. It was built in 1777 by James Hamilton, the 2nd Earl of Clanbrassil, in remembrance of his friend John Montagu, the Marques of Monthermer, who died in 1770 at the age of 35
- Follies, including a barn disguised as a church, stone cones on top of gates and gothic-style gate arches
- Wildlife. The tree-shaded Shimna is home to a variety of birds and mammals such as dippers, kingfishers and otters. The park has a population of approximately 120-150 wild fallow deer. The fragile red squirrel population is protected by volunteers who work tirelessly to preserve the species. Pine martens, one of Ireland’s rarest native mammals, are present but rarely seen. A recent avian arrival is the Greater Spotted Woodpecker
- Trees, including the beautiful avenue of Deodar cedars at the entrance to the park. Elsewhere in the park, there are examples of monkey puzzle, eucalyptus, giant redwoods and Monterey pines and many other exotics. Tollymore oak was the preferred material for the interiors of the White Star liners including the Belfast-built Titanic
- Walks – there are four waymarked trails of varying lengths. The 13km Drinns Trail will be of particular interest to serious walkers. For walk details and comprehensive information on Tollymore Park check out https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/tollymore-forest-park and a 10-minute video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlN2nrkiNAg