Welcome to the Mournes and Ring of Gullion
Welcome to the Mournes and Ring of Gullion, two of Northern Ireland’s most scenic areas and both designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
The Mournes is home to Northern Ireland’s highest mountain peak Slieve Donard and is said to have inspired C.S. Lewis’ magical world of Narnia, whereas the landscape of the Ring of Gullion and its ancient Ring Dyke makes it officially listed as a unique area of special interest, rich in culture, heritage and mythology.
The landscape lends itself perfectly to outdoors adventure activity. The combination of sea and mountains means you can choose from full on adventure or a more laid back approach to the outdoors and there are many outdoor adventure centres providing activities from hill walking, rock climbing and mountain boarding to mountain biking, bouldering, fishing, and horse riding.
Don a wetsuit and prepare to take on waterfalls, rock slides and plunge pools at Bloody Bridge as you enter the world of wet bouldering, or go sea kayaking.
The array of adventures on offer is all under the gaze of Northern Ireland’s highest mountain peak, Slieve Donard which rises to an impressive height of 848 metres. Discovering the Mourne Mountains by foot is a must. Dominated by a compact ring of 12 mountains rising above 2000ft or 600m, there are walks to suit everyone.
Alternatively you can explore a section of the Mourne Way Walk, a 26 mile off-road walk traversing the foothills from Newcastle to Rostrevor. The route provides a amazing views of the impressive Mourne landscape and historic Mourne Wall.
The towns in the Mournes area have their own stories to tell: the fishing centres of Kilkeel and Annalong, Banbridge with its linen industry legacy, Victorian Rostrevor and the historic city of Newry. Indeed the charming seaside town of Newcastle is home to the famous Royal County Down Golf Club, one of the world’s top ten links courses and host of the 2015 Irish Open. Other golf courses can also be found in Ardglass, Warrenpoint and Kilkeel.
Along the coast, you can enjoy the wild and natural dunes of Murlough National Nature Reserve, a habitat for a diversity of wildlife. Visit the colourful village of Dundrum, where a splendid Norman castle overlooks restaurants offering Dundrum Bay oysters, the day’s fish catch and venison reared in the surrounding drumlins. Be sure to visit the Mourne Maritime Visitor Centre in Kilkeel, which tells the story of the local fishing and maritime heritage, with panoramic views of the town's 19th century harbour.
Take in the beauty of the coastline and its unique towns and villages by following the brown-signed Mourne Coastal Route, which runs between Belfast and Newry and includes a number of scenic loops into the heart of the Mournes. The long-distance Saint Patrick's Trail, which explores our Christian heritage and the legacy of our patron saint, also passes through the dramatic Mournes landscape, with key sites including Bagenal's Castle and Newry and Mourne Museum in Newry.
There are many forest parks in the region, two of which are Tollymore and Castlewellan.
In the upper Mournes are the vast tranquil reservoirs of Silent Valley and Ben Crom, which stand as testament to the stoneworking skills of the hardy locals. The former is the main water supply source for most of County Down and a large part of Belfast, and houses beautiful parkland, lakes and a pond. There are many walking trails showcasing the stunning scenery and the 22-mile Mourne Wall, which runs from peak to peak over some of the highest summits, is used by many walkers as a marker. The granite wall was completed in 1922, haven taken over 18 years to complete.
It’s not all fast paced though, in the evening, why not unwind the Mourne Way with a steaming seaweed bath, sample some local food and ‘craic’ or simply watch the sunset beneath the magnificent mountains that give the area its enduring appeal - then you will be refreshed for another day’s activities… and all without straying from the splendour of the Mountains of Mourne.
The Ring of Gullion Area
Adjoining the Mourne Mountains is the Ring of Gullion in County Armagh, another Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty. This area is rich in cultural heritage and mythology, as well as excellent walking, cycling and angling.
Sites of interest include a number of impressive megalithic tombs, Kilnasaggart Inscribed Stone (one of Ireland’s earliest Christian monuments) and nearby Moyry Castle, built in 1601 to secure the historic mountain pass known as the ‘Gap of the North’. Visit Victoria Lock on the Newry Canal where you can learn about its history, have a picnic and enjoy the wildlife and views of Carlingford Lough. Slieve Gullion Forest Park is the jewel in South Armagh's crown and hosts a variety of events throughout the year. Visit its action-packed Adventure Playpark then enjoy a magical walk around The Giants Lair - A Children’s Storybook. Round off your day out with a spin around the mountain’s 10km scenic drive or hike the trail to the summit, which is home to Ireland’s highest surviving passage tomb.