This has been something i’d been wanting to do for a long time.
However, as soon as I decided to take the plunge, we had two Summers of restrictions.
I know I have a car, but i’d prefer to do it by public transport as I don’t know where i’m going. Let the bus doo all the work.
So, armed with a couple of Translink timetables, I decided to head off and do some Mourne Ramblering.
I had originally planned to do this during the second Bank Holiday in July, Wednesday 13th July.
The timetables weren’t on my side as I was going to the Linfield match that night.
Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to go rambling and make it back to Belfast by public transport for the match, so that plan bit the dust.
Thankfully, that Linfield match, was worth giving up Mourne Rambling for.
As well as that, my Plan B for that day, a trip to North Down Coastal Path was also worth it.
Although, I did miss another Linfield match, a 2-0 defeat to Crusaders in the Charity Shield. I think I can live with that.
Another football match it turned out I missed was Newcastle FC beating 18th Newtownabbey Old Boys (yes, actually) in the Steel and Sons Cup.
No, I didn’t even know there was a Newcastle FC. Everyday is a schoolday. One to add for the pre-season wishlist perhaps.
I wasn’t going to let Summer 2022 go without doing some Mourne Ramblering, so I put aside Saturday 6th August as the day to do it.
The weather was kind. Dry, that’s all I ask for. Sunny in bits but dry. I can’t really emphasise the importance of it being dry.
Part of that day would be spent in Newcastle Town Centre killing time.
The timetable for Mourne Rambler isn’t that frequent, only three a day, leaving at 9am, 12.30pm and 3.30pm from Newcastle Bus Station.
For me, it would be the 12.30pm bus as there was no bus from Belfast that would get me there in time for the 9am bus.
I left Belfast at 9.30am, arriving in Newcastle just before 11am, meaning I had just over an hour and a half to kill.
No problem, just do a charity shop tour (managed to get some Thomas The Tank Engine books for my nephew) and a walk along Newcastle Beach before heading back to the Bus Station.
Incidentally, when I purchased my ticket at Great Victoria Street Bus Station, I was able to get an all day ticket (I was expecting to have to buy a ticket to and from Newcastle, and then another one within Newcastle) for £9.50 which covered my journey to Newcastle back, my connection within Newcastle, and a Metro within Belfast if I wanted to use it.
Excited, I decided to head to Mourne Mountains for the first time.
I decided to head to Spelga Dam.
The bus stop that served it was actually twenty minutes away, dropping you off at a layby at the side of the road and you had to walk the rest.
This meant I had just over two hours to work with.
Miss my bus back to Newcastle, and my options will be:
A) Sleep the night in the Mournes and get the first bus the next day
B) Hitch hike back to Newcastle
C) Walk it back to Newcastle
None of which seemed that appealing. In short, I simply could not afford to miss my bus back to Newcastle, scheduled for 3.56pm.
I went for a walk around Spelga Dam, before heading down the road beside it to see where it went.
The answer, was nowhere, so I headed back to Spelga Dam.
While walking back, I remembered that I won a map of Mourne Mountains in a competition last year. I didn’t bring it with me because I had totally forgotten that I had it.
Time for another walk around Spelga Dam before a walk up a hill across the road.
It was about twenty to thirty minutes up, not particularly demanding.
Unfortunately, if I wanted to have a sit down when I reached the top, it was probably best avoided as the whole trail was covered in sheep poo.
I did say hello to some of the sheep as I walked up.
Curiously, when I reached the top, I got a message from Vodafone welcoming me to the Republic Of Ireland.
In the interests of balance, I should point out that I still had “Vodafone UK” on my phone screen when I visited Carlingford in March.
As someone who would happily turn up at an airport hours in advance, I headed back to the layby turned bus stop (ten minute wait for the bus) to go back to Newcastle.
I wouldn’t usually turn up this early for a bus, but it’s the last bus out of the middle of nowhere, I think I can be excused on this occasion.
Frustratingly, I noticed a hill beside the layby, a decent trek too. Wishing i’d done that one instead to be honest.
I got on my bus which ventured to the other drop-off points, one of which was Silent Valley, which I definitely plan on visiting the next time I go Mourne Rambling.
There definitely will be a next time, although it might not be until 2023.
When I do it, i’ll do Silent Valley first.
As much as I enjoyed Spelga Dam, I get the feeling I missed the most spectacular part of The Mournes.
You can accuse me of being Belfast centric, but surely it is worth testing out a direct bus from Belfast to Mourne Mountains, even on a trial basis next Summer.
Even a more frequent Mourne Rambler Bus Service in terms of per day and how many months it runs for. Why not add May and September?
You can’t exactly boost domestic tourism if you make it hard for people to visit places, it’s not rocket science.
I am tempted by the idea of an overnight stay in Newcastle, so I can have a day in the Mournes, then get the 9am bus the next day to do some more.
Not at the Slieve Donard Hotel though. I’m not made of money.
12th July is on a Wednesday next year, so there is the option of a Wednesday to Friday getaway.
Although, I did observe Murlough Nature Reserve from the bus going into Newcastle, a stop of two before Newcastle.
That looks like somewhere that looks worth exploring. I definitely intend on doing that before 2022 is over, especially as i’ll probably be using up a lot of Annual Leave days in the final months of the year.
So, overall, a very enjoyable first visit to Mourne Mountains, but it felt like a warm-up.
Now that I know how to get there and where to go and how to get there, i’m ready to go again and see more of it.
Although, that probably won’t be until the Summer of 2023.
I’ll try to remember to bring my map with me.
That wasn’t the end of the Saturday Shenanigans, as the following week, I headed to Bangor for Seaside Revival.
It wasn’t as big as it was in 2019, but it was still an enjoyable day out, doing a charity shop tour before heading to the main action in Bangor Marina.
On the train back, I am 99% certain I saw Eric Bell of Thin Lizzy.
Which was a bit of a strange coincidence as I got myself a photo of the Thin Lizzy mural in Bangor. It hadn’t been painted when I got some photos of Bangor Street Art last year.
I took a detour on the way home to Helen’s Bay for a quick stroll.
As a result, i’m going to put this on my Walk Hitlist, get the train to there and do that leg of the North Down Coastal Walk, walk for an hour, see where it takes me and get some photos.
Looks like i’ll be busy in the final months of 2022.