The Mournes: A Bonsai Playground

Slieve Binian

Have you a yearning for adventure, but don’t know how to access the amazing places on your doorstep?

Our guest blogger, mountain goat and adventure guide David Buchanan introduces the Mournes, County Down…..

I’ve been playing in the Mournes for the past 10 years but I didn’t always call it home.
Growing up here I had some experiences in the hills with scouts, cadets and training for an overseas expedition with school. These were fond memories for sure but they stayed in the back of my mind. Other interests dominated my late teens and early 20’s. I’d spent time in Scotland, New Zealand and South East Asia and had a lack of respect and appreciation for home.

It wasn’t until my 30’s that I started to fully appreciate what we have here. Adventure in NI can be overlooked and many feel the need to go further afield to experience beauty, danger, excitement and the feeling of remoteness. I held that mindset for a long time.

The View Ascending Binian

Over the last decade I’ve held passions for a number of outdoor activities that can be experienced at a world-class level in our very own Mourne Mountains. Hiking, Fell Running, Rock Climbing and Mountain Biking. I’ve also spent a lot of time delivering Duke Of Edinburgh award expeditions and many hours spent training for my Mountain Leader.

I have a rather ADHD approach to the outdoors. Getting really into something for a while then getting distracted by another shiny thing and moving onto that. Now that is not normally a thing to be proud of, a fickle lack of commitment and too easily distracted. The kind of things said in my old school reports in fact. But this chop-and-change has rebooted the Mournes as a place to play and indulge. I notice climbing crags I may have run past before. Spotting mountain bike trails while out running. It’s finding a brand new environment in somewhere familiar that can really keep the imagination flowing.

Fell Running in the Mourne’s

I’ve also learned about the history of these activities and the status the Mournes has on a global scale. The Fell races, Mountain bike events and climbing routes that people all over the world know about but many locals don’t realise the status and significance of.

I was cycling through New Zealand 2 years ago and when I mentioned where I was from to any mountain bikers they almost always went nuts for “Red Bull Foxhunt Bru!”. This kinda blew my mind with pride that we were on the map. This was NZ, the adventure capital of the world and local riders were psyched for Kilbroney. If you don’t know what the Red Bull Foxhunt is look it up on YouTube, it’s absolutely bonkers.

Redbull Foxhunt
Red Bull Foxhunt

Also in the culture of fell running, the Mourne Mountain Marathon has a reputation as one of the friendliest and enjoyable Mountain Marathons in what can be a serious sporting scene. The 7 7’s race also gets a mention in the classic fell running book Feet in the Clouds.

Then there’s the climbing. I’ve only been indulging in this for the past 4 years and early on discovered the hardest route in the Mournes called Divided Years, which is on the side of Binian. At the time it was first climbed, it was the hardest climbing route in the UK. Again more pride and and a new history to learn about.

But it’s not all about big endurance events, bat-shit crazy downhill mountain biking races and top grade climbing. There’s an amazing range of options for all levels in these here hills. This is what the title of the blog is all about. It’s like a shrunken, perfect sample of a larger mountain range but with so many options for adventure and most importantly very few crowds.

If your only experience of the Mournes is climbing Donard from the carpark in Newcastle you’ve barely scratched the surface. Carrick Little at the southern end of the Mournes offers amazing views of the entire range and stunning sea views in the other direction. Slieve Binian is the obvious choice from this starting point (and my favourite) but there is a lot more to explore in and around the Annalong valley. SLAC can deliver walking and wild camping experiences in this beautiful area and beyond.

Buzzards Roost Crag
Buzzards Roost Crag

There is such a variety of mountain biking options too at pretty much every forested area in the Mournes and some big open mountain days too. Castlewellan and Kilbroney offer very accessible purpose built trail centres with bike hire available. For the more adventurous (and fit!) the AIMSS shuttle bus have a bike trailer and can provide drop off and pick up at various points allowing for big days out.

Mournes granite is amazing rock to climb on and climbers from all over the world have travelled here to experience it. There are also amazing, unique views from these crags which are quite often off the beaten track for even regular visitors to the Mourne mountains. SLAC can offer safe, exciting introductions to climbing outdoors!

There’s a whole lot more waiting to be discovered. To find out more about what Strangford Lough Activity Centre offer or to create a bespoke adventure, call us on 07909 721898 or drop us an email

4 Comments on “The Mournes: A Bonsai Playground

  1. Class blog Dave, makes me very itchy under my foot!

  2. Tempting me home to discover and explore at a time I can’t step out of my front door. Inspiring little Bro who would have known you had words and verse hidden deep . Thank you for allowing us to explore if only in our imagination presently. Just realised my lockdown wish to walk in them hills with my you as my guide. Stay safe and strong

  3. I didn’t know our wee patch of Green was so famous. Can’t wait to get a wild camp in. Nice words about work you love. Well done.

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