Walk of the Week: Doan and Ott Mountain, Co Down
It was a beautiful day of blue sky and cold wind over the Mourne Mountains, with the promise of rain to arrive by tea time. "Okay, what we'll do," offered Fiona Mullan of Mountain Sojourns, "is head up Doan. That's a good wee scramble, and it's right in the heart of the Mournes so there's brilliant views of all the main peaks."
That sounded good to us. It looked pretty good, too, setting out from Blue Quarry car park up near Spelga Dam.
The dimpled face of Ott Mountain rose to the south ("We'll bag that on the way back," Fiona promised), the round hummock of Slieve Loughshannagh stood ahead and, off in the north-east, a long, rising shoulder sloped up to the summit of Slieve Meelbeg (odd, that, by the way -- in spite of the name, Meelbeg is taller than its sister Meelmore!)
Proper hills, yet undaunting to the ordinary walker who'd no more go a-mountaineering than pogo across Lough Neagh.
That's the thing about the Mournes -- they are manageable mountains, extending an invitation rather than a threat.
And if you're going to them as a stranger, or as someone who wouldn't mind a bit of help and advice, then go with Fiona. She's been in outdoor activities all her life, she's cheerful and funny, and she knows the Mournes as well as anyone.
The stone-rubbled path led gently up a slope of short grass spattered with heath bedstraw. White feathery tufts of bog cotton flew above the peaty pools as though a squadron of careless rabbits had left their scuts behind.
"Last Mother's Day, I brought a party of women up here and we all had great crack. Really, variety's the keynote -- I do full-moon walks, long tough hikes, Duke of Edinburgh expeditions, city kids, strolls in the mountains.
"Walking's become so popular recently, everyone wants to be up in these hills," she said.
They certainly do -- and you can see why once you're up at Mourne Wall, that 22-mile long monument to the hungry men of the 1900s. They built it across the main summit to demarcate the Mourne catchment area, and it stands as a guide for anyone roaming here.
At the Wall stile we stopped to stare over the crescent of Lough Shannagh lying low, the long back of Slieve Binnian looming over Silent Valley Reservoir, the ragged granite castle of Bearnagh's summit and mighty Donard in the east with a pimple of cairn on top, looking out on a broad sweep of sea.
In the foreground rose the horse's neck and craggy head of Doan, our aiming point.
Down into the hollow of the hills, a slog among eroded peat hags and a climb up the nape of Doan. A scramble by boot and fingertip up a rough granite outcrop and we were sitting pretty with our sandwiches at the peak, absorbed in a great cartwheel panorama of mountains, lakes, sea and sky.
A pair of ravens cronked us down from the rocks and back up to the Mourne Wall once more. Looking down at Lough Shannagh, we made out a slip of sandy beach and a pair of tiny figures swimming out from shore. "Hmm," said Jane, "I envy them. What a gorgeous place to cool off."
Back beyond the Wall, we struck up the broad green flank of Ott Mountain, walking the grass with a soft swish of boots. A trackless uphill pull under lark song up to the summit cairn, a heap of striped and contorted shale and quartz.
A quick glance back to the rugged head of Doan and we were bowling downhill on the homeward stretch with a cup of tea in our sights. And a warm scone, too, damn ye.
WAY TO GO
Map: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery Sheet 29; 1:25,000 Activity Map 'The Mournes'.
Travel: Bus: Mourne Rambler (mourne-mountains. com/mournes/information), May-August.
Road: A2 to Newcastle; A50 towards Castlewellan; left on B180 ('Bryansford, Hilltown').
In three miles (5km), left ('Kilkeel, Silent Valley, The Rock'). In 3Â½ miles (5.5km) park in Ott/Blue Quarry car park on right (OS ref J280278).
walk: Cross road, over stile, follow stony path. In 200m fork right, uphill. Rubbly path leads to Mourne Wall on saddle between Ott Mountain and Slieve Loughshannagh (OS ref 290265).
Cross wall by stile; take left of two paths, aiming for Doan ahead. In Â½ mile (0.8km), fork right just past heap of white stones, aiming into dip, then up ridge of Doan. At top, pass to left of first craggy outcrop; bear right up to second outcrop. Keep to left side of it, and scramble to top (302262).
Return to Mourne Wall stile and recross. Aim half left up rough ground to cairn on summit of Ott Mountain (284270); descend to road and car park.
length: Five miles (8km) -- allow three-and-a-half to four hours.
conditions: Some steady climbs, some boggy sections; a little scramble at Doan summit. Could be hazardous in bad weather.
Don't miss: Scramble to Doan summit; sensational views of the Mourne Mountains; mountain flowers -- sundews, butterwort, milkwort and more.
refreshments: Picnic; or Meelmore Lodge, signposted off B180. Tel: 028 4372 5949; meelmorelodge.com.
accommodation: Burrendale Hotel, Castlewellan Road, Newcastle. Tel: 028 4372 2599; burrendale.com.
guided walks: Fiona Mullan, Mountain Sojourns. Tel: 07740 285794, mountainsojourns.co.uk.
information: Newcastle Tourist Office. Tel: 028 4372 2222; mournelive.com. Or see discovernorthernireland.com; discoverireland.ie/walking.