Slieve Donard is the highest mountain in Ulster. As part of preparation for an upcoming hiking trip we used it as a practice hike and treated ourselves to some luxury in the Slieve Donard Hotel.
Slieve Donard Hotel
Overall, the hotel was gorgeous and the spa was excellent. However, the foreground view from the spa is actually a car park which you don’t see in the photographs, and the noise of screaming and diving children mean that it isn’t particularly relaxing. There is a general swimming pool, a hot jacuzzi type pool, a sauna and a steam room.
That said, the staff were really wonderful and always went over and beyond. We had dinner in the hotel’s Oak Tree restaurant which had a piano player, wonderful service, and great views. The breakfast was excellent, with plenty of variety for all diets. The hotel grounds are beautiful, and Newcastle is a classic seaside town.
Tip: Have lunch in the Railway St Cafe across the road, it is much cheaper than the hotel and the food was incredible!!
Slieve Donard Hike
I am going to preface this by saying that we hiked Spinc Mountain (Glendalough, Co Wicklow) two days previously so I found this hike particularly challenging.
- Height: 850m (start from sea level)
- Distance: 4.6km each of way
- Parking: free car park with plenty of parking at the base
- Toilets: I have read that there are toilets at the base, but I did not see them
The first part of the hike is a very doable incline through a rich Lord of the Rings-esque forest along the Glen River. It gets steeper as you climb higher, so you need to watch your step.
Following this, exposure to the elements increases and you walk at a very mild incline towards the stunning views. You will walk alongside the river with forest to your right. It is at the end of this track that the real work begins. You will come to the climb to the saddle between Slieve Commedagh and Slieve Donard. This part is a steep incline up steps and definitely a leg burner. Once you reach the top, the iconic Mourne Wall will be directly in front of you with Slieve Donard to the left and Slieve Commedagh to the right. The views are absolutely stunning, and there is even a ladder/seat to climb over the wall and take some nice photographs.
After a short break by the wall (protecting us from the sun and wind), we turned left towards Slieve Donard walking alongside it. This section of the hike was really challenging. My legs were burnt out from the previous hike, and you really need to take care with your step. However, the 1.5m Mourne Wall saves you from being battered by the wind which is a huge help. There are a few false peaks as you climb so take it easy and pace yourself. The real peak has a large mound of rocks and a cairn at the top.
The views from the top are truly spectacular, with ample opportunity for incredible photographs.
Please be aware that coming down from the peak to the saddle is challenging and it is very easy to slip and slide. We did it in hiking boots and runners, but runners really weren’t ideal. Hiking boots recommended.
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