You’ll enjoy the views whether on mountain bike, on foot or from the sea. Where to go and what to do
The highest peaks in Northern Ireland serve up spectacular views for those prepared to run, hike or bike to their summits. Slieve Donard is closest to the sky at 850m, but the paths and trails that criss-cross this surprisingly wild landscape make the Mourne Mountains a playground for outdoor adventurers.
In clear weather you can see the Isle of Man out to sea and the Wicklow Mountains beyond Dublin. The extraordinary Mourne Wall crosses the Mournes, a 22-mile barrier made of granite that was constructed in the early 20th century to keep sheep and cattle out of the catchment area of the Silent Valley Reservoir, created to supply Belfast with clean water. The wall itself passes over 15 mountains.
Mountain bike here
Two trail centres in the Mourne Mountains give bikers an exhilarating dose of adrenaline on twisty singletrack and rapid descents. Rostrevor boasts two purpose-built downhill trails alongside amazing views over Carlingford Lough, and hosted the Irish National MTB Championships in September. Castlewellan has a good mix of green, blue and red trails for bikers of all abilities (mountainbikeni.com).
Granite tors top many of the peaks, giving the Mourne Mountains a genuinely rugged, mountain feel. For a short up-and-down yomp that will have your chest heaving, head from Bloody Bridge at sea level to the top of Slieve Donard, following the Mourne Wall. For a full day on the hills, have a crack at the Mourne Wall Challenge, a 22-mile circular route that crosses seven of the 10 highest mountains in the range (walkni.com).
The same paths that draw walkers to the hills serve as great trail runs, and the short sharp climbs will test any runner’s fitness. For the more competitive athlete, the Mourne Skyline Mountain-Trail Race is a 35km run with 3,370m of ascent, and is now part of the Skyrunning UK Series (mourneskylinemtr.com).
For the endurance focused, the Mourne Mountain Marathon held every September is a two-day orienteering event with distances ranging from 35-55km; teams of two have to navigate between various controls and checkpoints (mourne2day.com).
Sea kayak here
One of the best views of the Mourne Mountains emerges as you head out to sea. The South East Coast Trail stretches for over 50 nautical miles from Strangford to Newry, with a mix of sheltered paddling within the loughs for beginners, and tidal waters at the lough entrances that will challenge even the most experienced paddler. Mountainous views and sandy beaches make this a stunning sea kayaking trail (loughsagency.org).
Find your way with the 1:25000 scale Superwalker map of the Mourne Mountains by Harvey Maps (harveymaps.co.uk) or the Mournes Activity Map from Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland (nidirect.gov.uk/osni).
Stay here: Newcastle at the foot of Slieve Donard makes a good basecamp for a visit to the Mournes. The Hutt Hostel (hutthostel.com) offers dormitory beds from about £22pppn. The Mountain View B&B (mountainviewbandb.webs.com) tops Tripadvisor ratings and has rooms from £37.50pppn.
Just out of town the Enniskeen Country House Hotel (enniskeenhotel. co.uk) sits in a 12-acre estate, with just 12 rooms.