Walk up Slieve Gullion
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A moderately strenuous circular walk on country roads and forest track, ascending Slieve Gullion, the highest peak in County Armagh
Route Start Location: Slieve Gullion Forest Park
|13.41 km||511 m||4½ 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 and café at the Forest Park Courtyard; pubs and shops in nearby Meigh (pronounced “Mike”); accommodation and hotel services available at adjacent Killeavy Castle Estate.
Care needed on the roads, although they are generally traffic-free. However, the route would not be suitable for groups of more than 2 or 3 people. Not a walk to be undertaken in poor visibility.
Slieve Gullion Forest Park car park, BT35 8SW. This is a large car park capable of accommodating 120 cars.
A limited bus service runs between Newry and Forkhill with a stop near the Forest Park. Contact www.translink.co.uk for further information.
OSNI Map: No 29 (1:50000)
The Ring of Gullion Activity Map (1:25000) Currently out of print, but a similar online, interactive version is available from www.ringofgullion.org/interactive-map
Walk up Slieve Gullion
Towering above a ring of low, rugged hills known collectively as The Ring of Gullion, County Armagh’s highest peak Slieve Gullion (573m) commands a prominent position at the centre of the Ring of Gullion Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). This unique landscape was the first ring dyke in the world to be geologically mapped. The area enjoys a rich archaeological heritage giving rise to an abundance of myths and legends.
The Ring of Gullion Way is a 58km circular route from Newry. The walk described here follows much of section 4 (Slieve Gullion alternative route) of the Way, but in the opposite direction www.walkni.com
Walk up Slieve Gullion
1 From the car park at Slieve Gullion Forest Park, make your way out the exit road and turn right at its junction with Wood Road. Continue downhill on Wood Road for about 500m before turning left onto Ballintemple Road.
2 Very soon, on your left, you will pass Killeavy Castle, which has recently been transformed from a ruin to a hotel and wellness centre. Another 1.5km takes you to Clonlum Cairn, which has been badly disturbed over the years, some of the stones having been used in the building of the original Killeavy Castle in the 19th century.
3 After a further 1.5km, the atmospheric Killeavy churches appear through the trees. The site has been a place of worship since the 5th century when it was established as the Convent of Killeavy by Saint Moninna. In 923, it was plundered by Vikings and later, during the Middle Ages, it functioned as a convent of Augustinian nuns before final dissolution in 1542. The west church is the older of the two. Its west wall, with its massive lintelled door, is thought to date from the 10th or 11th century and it is the county’s only surviving pre-Norman church The site is always open to visitors.
4 Ballintemple Road soon veers slightly left at a junction and merges into Ballard Road, which follows a steep incline until reaching Ballintemple viewpoint where spectacular views await. To the south-east the gently rolling countryside with its latticework of small green fields stretches towards the Mourne Mountains in the distance. To the north-east lies Cam Lough, an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) because of its profusion of rare aquatic plants.
5 Continue along the quiet, scenic Ballard Road for about 1.5km until reaching a gate on the left opposite a whitewashed bungalow. The gate bears a sign requesting that dogs be kept on a lead. The gate opens onto the well-worn path that leads up the mountain.
6 The gradual ascent to the summit is reasonably straightforward, although there are opportunities for wrong turnings. There are three or four ancient metal waymarkers, the first of which often points in the wrong direction – it should point upwards and south so, if in any doubt, check map and compass at this point. As height is gained, excellent views emerge with Camlough Mountain and the surrounding hills and forests to the north and, to the east, the distant Cooley Mountains come into view with Black Mountain and its summit transmitters giving way to Louth county top Slieve Foye and its rocky summit.
7 Your endurance will be tested by a couple of false peaks before you eventually reach the North Cairn of Gullion, which, frankly, resembles little more than a pile of rubble. From there, the trig point and toposcope on the South Cairn are just about visible, but distant. The terrain becomes boggy as you make your way towards the desolate and atmospheric Calliagh Berra’s Lough, whose name derives from a legendary local witch.
8 Leaving the lough, the hike to the summit is relatively undemanding, but can be a little boggy. On reaching the South Cairn, you will be greeted by magnificent 360˚ views. In good visibility, just about all the peaks and locations shown on the toposcope should be visible.
9 The South Cairn, known locally as Calliagh Berra’s House, is an impressive sight. At an altitude of 570m, it is the highest surviving passage tomb in the British Isles. It is possible to pass through the ample entrance and into the tomb for a closer look.
10 From the cairn, make your way west down the clear, but steep, track to the forest road. You can expect a small amount of traffic on the road as visitors can enjoy a 10km circular drive through the forest. The walk back to the car park and Courtyard Centre is enhanced by splendid views throughout. As you enjoy the easy downhill return, look out for red squirrels, birds of prey and, if you are very fortunate, a glimpse of one of the resident pine martens.
11 On arriving back at the Courtyard Centre, treat yourself to a coffee in the excellent café http://syngeandbyrne.com/. The Courtyard facilities in general are first-rate and a Tourist Information Centre has been added recently. Find out more about the Slieve Gullion AONB at http://www.ringofgullion.org.
If you are pressed for time, or if you don’t wish to attempt the full circuit, it’s possible to visit the summit by driving to the upper car park on the scenic drive and heading up the adjacent track that leads to the summit and the South Cairn; however, check beforehand that the scenic drive is open as it closes occasionally for forestry operations.