The Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland are by no means strange to bikers from across the world. Just look at Newcastle, Co. Down’s Main Street on any given Sunday (or any given sunny day) and you will see rows of bikes lined up outside the Town Hall, awaiting or having just returned from a zip through the Mournes. Look across the street at anyone of the Coffee Shops or ice-cream shops and you’ll find the riders of said bikes enjoying a much needed treat, or getting the energy levels up before starting off on their journey.
Bikes from across the country and beyond congregate here, the riders all united by their two wheeled machines. And it is from here that the journey begins.
Many bikes have left the coast at Newcastle and ascended into the mountains, where well maintained roads twist upwards and onwards. The sights are enough to guarantee a return by any visitor, especially on a bright sunny day, the landscape here is truly breath taking.
But there is another side to the Mournes, after all this is the Kingdom of Mourne, not simply a one way route. However this other side of the mountain range is effectively untouched, but it is no less beautiful. There are sights on the other sode of the Mournes that will leave you breathless as quickly, maybe even more so, than anywhere else on the range.
Most riders go Newcastle and up, may I suggest that you try Newry and up.
There are many stops on this route and it can take you as high and as off the main routes as you could desire. You can travel along smooth well maintained roads, and within seconds take a turn up the mountain and be convinced that you are the first vehicle to travel the road you have found yourself on in a decade.
Admittedly this is not the sort of place a race bike will be at home, in fact I don’t think a sports bike should even try going off the main routes in the ‘Alternate Mournes’ but if you are on an Adventure Bike, in this part of the world you can be on the road and completely off it at the same time.
Today I spent about 5 hours in the ‘Alternate Mournes’ and could easily spend another week on this side of the range getting lost, there are so many places to see it is unreal. The Brown Tourist signs litter the junctions, the old monuments just appear with a single old styled sign that should have been replaced but the Roads Service have probably simply forgotten that it even exists.
One thing does unfortunately ring true throughout this area though. It has never truly benefitted from tourism.
This is Bandit Country. A place that, in the past, is synonymous with terrorism. A reputation that it will be hard for such an area to refute and even harder for it change, it also shows in its state of repair. This place is untouched and raw. That’s a good thing for an Adventure Bike though! To put it in comparison a short distance away the roads through the mountains are crisp, well maintained and suitable for any vehicle. Here however some roads would only be passable in a tractor, and a rugged tractor at that! Don’t be put off though by the above paragraph, everywhere has a history, it’s just this part of the world’s history is dark. Read up on it if you are interested. Wikipedia has pretty much every story to be told. Both fact and fiction.
A Brief Extract from WikiPedia.Org :
“The South of Armagh was the most militarised region in Western Europe due to the history of the Troubles. The region has been a stronghold of support for the IRA, earning it the nickname “Bandit Country”. South Armagh is predominantly nationalist, with most of the population being opposed to any form of British presence, especially that of a military nature. See Provisional IRA South Armagh Brigade for further information.”
One other unfortunate thing I noticed about the area was an apparent disregard for the natural beauty it so evidently does possess. At one viewpoint in particular it looked more like someone’s private landfill. If you look one way you have sweeping views across the entire island, but turn round and there is a pile of festering household waste.
I have to stress though, it is clearly the minority that are intent on wrecking the scenery. The ones who couldn’t care less about how their area is perceived are not worth considering themselves. This part of the world needs to be seen, forgetting a few areas that are ‘private landfills’, this part of the world is bathed in rich, deep and often painful history.
The local people are great. I spoke to a few on my journey, each one was receptive, pleasant and almost seemed shocked that someone on a bike was out exploring in their back yard! That in itself is a shame, that such a beautiful place exists, but is so undiscovered.
So simply get out there, instead of hitting Newcastle and up, try Newry and up. A few stops to consider are :
– Newry, Bernish Viewpoint.
– Meigh Village.
– Slieve Gullion Forest Park.
– Camlough Lake
– Newtownhamilton, Carrickatuke Viewpoint
At any one of these destinations or whilst on route to them you will see Monuments, Tourists attractions and maybe even more importantly, little roads that seem to lead nowhere but up and into the mountains, if you are on the right bike follow a few and see where they take you, afterall what goes up must come down.
— Interesting pic from Newtownhamilton Viewpoint, with all the knickers on the fence, must be what you do if you get lucky up there! —