Introducing Mourne Mountains
The humpbacked granite hills of the Mourne Mountains dominate the horizon as you head south from Belfast towards Newcastle. This is one of the most beautiful corners of Northern Ireland, with a distinctive landscape of yellow gorse, grey granite and whitewashed cottages, the lower slopes of the hills latticed with a neat patchwork of drystone walls cobbled together from huge, rounded granite boulders.
The hills were made famous in a popular song penned by Irish songwriter William Percy French in 1896, whose chorus, 'Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea', captures perfectly their scenic blend of ocean, sky and hillside. For the last decade a debate has rumbled on about the possible creation of Mourne National Park, with tourism and environmental lobbies for the project, and farmers and developers against; at the time of research, no decision had yet been taken.
The Mournes offer some of the best hill walking and rock climbing in the North. Specialist guidebooks include The Mournes: Walks by Paddy Dillon and A Rock-Climbing Guide to the Mourne Mountains by Robert Bankhead. You'll also need an Ordnance Survey map, either the 1:50,000 Discoverer Series (Sheet No 29: The Mournes), or the 1:25,000 Activity Series (The Mournes). You can buy maps at the tourist office in Newcastle.