Slieve Donard: Ain't no mountain high enough...
Lots of ups in Co. Down.
Deirdre Reynolds climbs Slieve Donard... before checking into the hotel of the same name for a well-earned rest.
Climb every mountain ... or so the Mother Abbess famously urged Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. Almost 50 years on, my friend - also called Deirdre - and I recently made a pact to follow our own slightly less dramatic dream of scaling Ireland's four most famous peaks: Slieve Donard in Ulster, Carrauntoohil in Munster, Lugnaquilla in Leinster and Mweelrea in Connaught.
And so it was, with a song in our hearts and pretty much no hiking experience, that we chucked our runners into the back of the car and headed North to climb one mountain, at least.
For many of those making the 140km trek from the capital to Newcastle, Co Down, Slieve Donard Hotel is where you accumulate calories - not burn them off.
Famous for its afternoon tea, the four-star spa hotel named after the Mourne mountain that lords over it is worth the windy two-hour drive alone. If you're planning on getting mucky like we did though, try Snooze Apartments on the South Promenade, which offers a number of fabulous self-catering apartments popular with walkers - as well as those who have no intention of leaving the cosy couch overlooking the bay for the weekend.
Surging 2,790-feet from sea to sky, Slieve Donard is Northern Ireland's highest mountain, and reaching its summit is by no means a walk in the park. Getting up and down took almost five hours, and by the time we reached the pinnacle, a rather unflattering icicle had formed from my nose.
But no pain, no gain, and as they make their way through the forest and along rivers, walkers are well-rewarded with stunning views of Newcastle Bay and the Mourne Mountains. As for our own personal 'Four Peaks Challenge', for now, it's a case of one Co. Down - three to go.
Speaking of mountains, that's the only way to describe the scrumptious plate of stuffed peppers I got at Hugh McCann's restaurant on the promenade later that night.
Nestled at the foot of the majestic Mournes, with panoramic views of the Irish Sea, the family-owned business is legendary among hungry hikers. In fact, there's no shortage of sustenance in Newcastle, where we also fuelled up at Vanilla Restaurant on Main Street - a chic little place focused on fresh, local food - the night before the big climb. And we couldn't resist popping into the other Slieve Donard for a coffee and a nose around before hitting the road back to Dublin.
With an award-winning seaweed bath house on site, Soak is something of a double whammy for walkers. Mind you, my aching legs barely made it down the stairs for a soak in the slimy stuff - renowned for its healing properties - the next morning.
Also boasting a spa and tea rooms, the stunning old Victorian building has been lovingly restored by 'copreneurs' Claire Dickinson and Dermot Devine, who harvests the seaweed by hand himself. Wherever it comes from, trust me when I say that it works a treat on tired tendons - and the best bit is that you don't even have to scrub the tub down after!
Two nights' accommodation at SNOOZE Apartments for two people including a double seaweed bath and couple's massage costs £220 midweek or £250 weekends - see www.snoozeapartments.co.uk.
WHAT TO DO: Do nothing or Do-nard, it's up to you - but don't miss SOAK's seaweed baths. Prices start from £25 for a single bath - see www.soakseaweedbaths.co.uk.
+44 (0) 28 4372 1066; www.hastingshotels.com