The Mourne Mountains have impressed writers, musicians and adventurers for hundreds of years. The literary connections – the mountains sweeping right down to the ocean within the songs of Percy French, or inspiring CS Lewis’s Narnia – have given approach in recent times to the TV titan that’s Sport of Thrones. A lot of the sequence was filmed round these mountains, making them, within the area of a decade, Northern Eire’s most useful vacationer draw.
However older (and arguably extra enduring) than the Thrones juggernaut is the lure of this space for journey sports activities fanatics. County Down has a very numerous panorama, and Newcastle, a horny seaside resort within the shadow of Slieve Donard (Northern Eire’s highest mountain at 850 metres) capitalises commendably on its enviable setting. It’s the proper base for these in quest of an adrenaline rush.
Set your sights excessive from the outset by taking a hike to the highest of Donard, a five- to six-hour spherical journey. Climbs start from Donard Park, simply minutes from the centre of Newcastle and near widespread pubs and cafes. The mountain is hardly a colossus but it surely’s a major problem and to not be taken frivolously, particularly given the notoriously unpredictable native climate. On the summit, on a transparent day the views over the Irish Sea take within the Isle of Man and the coastlines of Wales and Scotland.
Under Donard, the Kilkeel Highway hugs the coast south to Bloody Bridge, which derives its identify from a bloodbath throughout the 1641 Irish Riot and is one other entry level to the Mournes’ actions.
There’s a campsite right here and a public automotive park the place a variety of guided walks start, and it is usually the launch level for “moist bouldering”. Because the identify implies, that is mainly a water-based model of conventional bouldering – rope-free climbing on rock formations – so in addition to clambering up and round big rocks, you can even count on to be plunging and sliding into the deep swimming pools and waterfalls of the Bloody Bridge River. That is the place all of the unstoppable water operating off the jap slopes of Donard gathers and meets immovable granite, creating an epic pure water park. Invigorating and galvanizing, that is an expertise that may be tailor-made for a variety of ages.
Or swap freshwater for saltwater and have a go at coasteering. You’ll be on the identical aspect of Donard, however this time leaping from its steep decrease reaches into the chilly froth of the Irish Sea. There are numerous ranges for this exercise, relying on age or nerve. These brief on years or valour ought to begin with the half-day expertise at Maggie’s Leap, which additionally begins on the Bloody Bridge automotive park. (Evocative place names derived from native folklore are one other enduring function of the Mournes.)
To bob on the water fairly than plunge into it, sea kayaking journeys discover rocky inlets, small stony seashores and caves.
Inland, two forest parks provide exercise bases. Tollymore is dwelling to Northern Eire’s Nationwide Outside Centre, which additionally has glorious indoor services, together with a 9.5-metre climbing wall and bouldering space with professional tuition (entry £5, under-14s £2.50, four-evening abilities course grownup £64, baby £40, one-day course £67). Residential packages embrace canoeing and kayaking on Strangford and Carlingford Loughs, hillwalking, mountain biking, mountaineering and orienteering, and specialist programs akin to night time navigation for sea kayakers and mountain abilities.
A couple of miles away, Life Journey Centre has made its dwelling within the restored cottages of the previous Castlewellan property, on the fringe of the huge forest park above Castlewellan city. Guests can paddle, pedal, canoe and climb throughout the park and far additional afield. The centre supplies moist bouldering and coasteering journeys, but in addition an enormous vary of actions on the doorstep: kayaking on the park’s intensive lake, mountain biking on its 30km of blended capability trails, raft constructing, archery programs and extra (from £15-£29pp).
A much less bodily strenuous however significantly extra confounding exercise is attempting to navigate the centre’s Peace Maze. It’s made up of over two miles of yew hedging, and attending to the centre, the place there’s a peace bell to ring, takes most individuals round 40 minutes.
All that exercise requires substantial gasoline, and the Railway Road Cafe and Brew Bar within the centre of Newcastle presents filling breakfasts of sourdough, poached eggs and bacon, fruit-topped pancakes, and an ingenious brunch menu that includes dishes akin to salt and chilli king prawns on a mattress of Thai slaw drizzled with sriracha mayo.
Newcastle can be dwelling to the Soak Seaweed Baths (from £25pp for one hour) – a novel approach to loosen up after a tough day’s adventuring – which sustainably harvests native seaweed day by day. It’s near the harbour and the seaside, and likewise presents self-catering Snooze Residences upstairs (two-night weekend round £195/£280 for a one-/two-bedroom condo, friends obtain a 10% low cost on the seaweed baths).
Searching for a vacation with a distinction? Browse Guardian Holidays to see a variety of implausible journeys