Three Walks Through the Mourne Mountains

Sit back as David Cleland takes you on a walking tour of the best photo spots in Northern Ireland’s Mourne Mountains…

 

Three Walks Through the Mourne Mountains

 

Northern Ireland is a remarkable country, home to an array of creative talent. From poets and writers to actors and musicians, the country has been a key source of inspiration to many people who visit.

The country has seen significant change in the last few decades, now welcoming visitors from around the world and being used as a filming location for the likes of Game of ThronesDracula Untold and City of Ember. It isn’t uncommon to bump into the odd celebrity around Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter.

The Mourne Mountains are among my favourite Northern Ireland locations. Situated approximately thirty miles from the capital city of Belfast, they are said to be the key inspiration for C.S. Lewis and his tales of Narnia. The breathtaking Mourne Mountains unfold as you approach the coastal town of Dundrum (home to comedian Patrick Kielty) on the edge of the Irish Sea.  From smooth, green valleys to jagged crags, the Mourne Mountains are simply a hillwalker and landscape photographer’s dream.

There is no better way to detox from a busy week than with a walk through one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, and I try to get out in the mountains two or three times per month. I pack light with the Fujifilm X100T, and most recently the Fujifilm X-T1 paired with the amazing Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 and the versatile Fujinon 16-55mm f/2.8. Accessory-wise, I have stripped down my kit to the bare essentials, carrying just a few spare batteries, the Lee Filters Seven5 filters in their little outdoor carry case and the Manfrotto BeFree tripod.

For this post I will outline my three favourite Mourne Mountain walks that offer a wealth of breathtaking photographic opportunities.

 

 

Walk #1: Slieve Bernagh

 

The jagged tors of Bernagh can be seen as you approach the Mournes and the challenging route to the top offers some opportunities for absolutely stunning photographs. Starting at Trassey car park, the route along the Trassey river towards Hare’s Gap is stunning in every direction.

 

Three Walks Through the Mourne Mountains

I captured this image with the on-camera panorama mode featured on the X-E1, X-T1 and X100 cameras.

 

A light scramble up the rocks to Hare’s Gap opens up the breathtaking view across the famous Brandy Pad towards Northern Ireland’s highest mountain, Slieve Donard.

 

Three Walks Through the Mourne Mountains

 

Hare’s Gap is a great spot for a rest before climbing the steps and steep incline to Bernagh’s North Tor. The Mourne Wall lines the route, so as you walk through the clouds it offers a degree of navigational reassurance.

 

Three Walks Through the Mourne Mountains

Bernagh from the Brandy Pad. The Mourne Wall in this image offers a sense of scale.

 

The views from the North Tor take offer fantastic views of the Mourne Mountains. It is a great place to sit and take in the rolling clouds and luscious green landscapes while contemplating the route down.

 

 

Three Walks Through the Mourne Mountains

 

Part of the allure of the mountains is that they allow you to climb above the clouds – the air is pure and the rolling cloud adds an element of drama to any landscape photography.

 

Three Walks Through the Mourne Mountains

 

Cameras

 

I carry my X100T around my neck in the fantastic little Fujifilm leather case. The case offers protection from the weather but also offers easy accessibility when the time comes. ABlackRapid strap harnesses the X-T1 and 16mm across my upper body, and keeping the strap tight prevents the camera from coming into danger and getting in the way as I climb.

 

Three Walks Through the Mourne Mountains

The X100 camera resting on the Mourne Wall at Hare’s Gap (captured with the X-T1).

 

I lock the ISO at 200 and shoot using a range of apertures. Both the X100T and X100 have a circular exposure compensation dial on the top that offers an easy way to dial in the drama. Somewhat unusually, I shoot my X100T panoramas with a larger aperture and tend to underexpose by half a stop.  Underexposing the images ensures the detail is retained, and the exposure can be finely adjusted in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom back at the computer.

 

Walk #2: Slieve Binnian

 

One of my favourite peaks, Slieve Binnian offers views of the Blue Lough, Doan Mountain and Ben Crom Reservoir. Approached from the Carrick Little car park, the mountain offers a relatively constant incline as you approach Silent Valley and Ben Crom.

 

Three Walks Through the Mourne Mountains

I captured this image on a very bleak afternoon last April. The sky was heavy with rain and I used the ND9 graduated filter to increase the drama. I’d love to say we didn’t get wet, but unfortunately I can’t. However, it was definitely worth it.

 

Filters

 

The Lee Filters Seven5 ND graduated filters are essential – I pack the 0.6 and 0.9 ND grads to tame the bright skyline. While this effect can be recreated and enhanced with the software graduation filters offered in Adobe Lightroom, using the Seven5 filters ensures the clarity and detail at the point of capture.

Lee Filters has also released a little over-the-shoulder carry case for the Seven5 range. The case makes life easy when changing filters but I find it also great for storing memory cards and lens caps when roaming the outdoors. 

 

Three Walks Through the Mourne Mountains

 

The surrounding area offers a friendlier walk, skipping the main summit of Binnian and passing up past Annalong wood and the Blue Lough to the valley overlooking Ben Crom reservoir. It still requires proper walking gear but it is certainly less of a challenge than climbing to the top of Binnian.

 

 

Walk #3: Doan Mountain

 

I was pointed in the direction of Doan Mountain by fellow Northern Ireland landscape photographer Alistair Hamill. The route takes in three stages: first from Ott car park up to the famous Mourne Wall, then the walk to the foot of the mountain, and finally the climb to the top. The view as you reach the Mourne Wall is utterly breathtaking, a cinematic panorama that takes in all of the main Mourne peaks.

 

Three Walks Through the Mourne Mountains

You can see the more ‘friendly’ path along the Blue Lough in the above image.

 

Three Walks Through the Mourne Mountains

The view across Ben Crom Reservoir is a definite ‘wow’ moment when it first appears over the horizon.

 

Walk #3: Doan Mountain

 

I was pointed in the direction of Doan Mountain by fellow Northern Ireland landscape photographer Alistair Hamill. The route takes in three stages: first from Ott car park up to the famous Mourne Wall, then the walk to the foot of the mountain, and finally the climb to the top. The view as you reach the Mourne Wall is utterly breathtaking, a cinematic panorama that takes in all of the main Mourne peaks.

 

Three Walks Through the Mourne Mountains

This image was taken from the Mourne Wall again using the X100T panorama feature. You can see Doan on the right-hand third of the image.

 

The route can be a little wet and marshy underfoot so walking poles are recommended in order to stay sure-footed. I use the Manfrotto Off Road Walking Poles, which also double up as a very handy monopod.

The climb to the very top involves some light rock climbing, although you don’t need to go right to the peak to enjoy the stunning 360-degree panoramic views so don’t worry if this is a little much for you.

 

 

Three Walks Through the Mourne Mountains

You can see Bernagh, exactly one third from the left-hand side of the frame.

 

It is a fantastic spot to sit and take in the views, I love the panoramic feature on the Fujifilm range, so I often take in the view whilst sweeping my camera across from Bernagh through to Donard.

 

Safety

 

Safety is of paramount importance: never head out into the unknown without the proper equipment. The weather can change in an instant, so the ability to navigate in the outdoors is essential. If you haven’t been out before I would recommend partnering up with someone who can teach you the necessary skills.

 

Navigation

 

As well as carrying the traditional map and compass, I track my routes with the brilliant ViewRanger app for Android and iOS. I have made a few of the walks available on my own ViewRanger account, though please note that these are for information only and are used at your own risk. Always take care in the outdoors!

If outdoor walking doesn’t appeal, the Higher Mourne drive from Bryansford through to Annalong is well worth taking and there are a few vantage points along the way that are worth photographing. The Silent Valley park is great for a picnic stop-off and casual walk.

Finally, once you’ve returned to firmer and dryer ground there are plenty of high-quality restaurants in the local towns of Maghera, Dundrum, Newcastle and Castlewellan. Be aware that it is advisable to book ahead, especially if you are out walking at the weekend or during one of the busier holiday periods.

If you want to expand your landscape portfolio, the Mourne Mountains are certainly well worth a visit. The best part is you don’t need to worry too much about the weather, as the Mournes are often best seen with clouds adding a sense of drama.

 

About the Author

David is a documentary and landscape photographer covering everything from dramatic long-exposure landscape photography through to live music. David is also an official Fujifilm X photographer. You can see more of his work on his website or follow him on Twitter

 

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