The Mountains of Mourne loom large behind the resort town of Newcastle.

The beaches and dunes here are superb for walking, but Newcastle’s jewel in the crown sits inland; a fulfilling circuit of two of the Mournes’ most notable summits, Slieve Bearnagh (739m) and Slieve Meelmore (682m).

Mountains on a sunny day
The peak of Slieve Bearnagh in the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland on a sunny day/Credit: Getty

Hanging over the beautiful Happy Valley, Slieve Meelmore – Irish for ‘big bare mountain’ – lives up to its name. It’s a naked, whale-backed wonder of a peak, offering remarkable views right across Ulster to the distant Sperrin Mountains, way beyond the glistening inland waters of Lough Neagh. Its neighbouring summit Slieve Bearnagh (‘gapped mountain’) is arguably more spectacular still – truly one of Ireland’s natural wonders.

Slieve Bearnagh and Slieve Meelmore walk

Respect the Ridge

This seven-mile route is technically easy. However, with steady climbs, steep pitches, scrambles and ridges, it’s a hard day’s walking and one that should not be taken lightly; all mountains demand respect.

1. Along the way

Commencing at the car park at Trassey, the waymarked Mourne Way (and Ulster Way) heads south, clipping through woodlands before turning south-west, shadowing a boundary wall.

2. Drystone guide

In just over a mile, meet the path rising from Happy Valley and head left uphill. A steady climb takes you to the deep col between Slieve Meelbeg and Slieve Meelmore. This airy gap is crossed by almost unlikely feature, Mourne Wall, built 100 years ago, partly as a job-creation task to employ local craftsmen. The drystone boundary undulates across the peaks and vales of these lonely mountains, marking the watershed that fills the secluded reservoirs below. The Wall is now a constant companion and guide.

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Mountains on a sunny day
Mourn Wall with ladder on the Hares Gap overseeing Slieve Bearnagh mountain/Credit: Getty

3. To the tower

Turn left alongside the wall on a well-formed path that curves north to the squat observation tower on Slieve Meelmore.

4. Volcanic view

Turn right on the wallside path to Slieve Bearnagh. The twin tops rise as astonishing granite tors and bluffs, a huge, eroded volcanic dome. Belfast-born CS Lewis is said to have based Narnia on the mighty Mournes – it’s easy to see why.

5. Mourne descent

Stick with the Wall, dropping steeply down steps to Hare’s Gap. Turn left and return to the car park on the Trassey Track.

Slieve Bearnagh and Slieve Meelmore map

Slieve Bearnagh and Slieve Meelmore walking route and map/Credit: OpenStreetMap
Slieve Bearnagh and Slieve Meelmore walking route and map/Credit: OpenStreetMap

For more great walks, go to WalkNIyour definitive guide to walking in Northern Ireland.


Neil Coates is a Manchester-based writer with nearly 40 walking/guidebooks published.