Explore County Down

Mourne Mountains in County Down

By Lisa Johnston, Tour Guide, Belfast City Sightseeing

“So I’ll wait for the wild rose
That’s waitin’ for me
Where the Mountains o’ Mourne
Sweep down to the sea”

The stunning natural beauty of the Mountains of Mourne has long since been immortalised in the song of the same name by Percy French who was, without doubt, one of Ireland’s most prolific songwriters. He wrote it one clear day in 1896 when the Mourne Mountains were still visible on the horizon from the Hill of Howth.

It’s exactly 120 years since Percy French sent the lyrics of the song on the back of a postcard to Houston Collisson with whom he had formed a partnership and who supplied much of the music for his songs.

Collisson arranged the lyrics to a traditional tune, a tune which has since been sung and recorded many thousands of times over without losing any of its original charm.

From Newcastle Promenade you can make your way to Tollymore Forest Park which is situated in the foothills of the Mountains of Mourne. The park is a tree lover’s delight with many exotic specimens like the monkey puzzle and the eucalyptus. Best of all, though, are the tall giant Redwoods and Monterey pines.

And, by the way, it was the oak wood from Tollymore which was the preferred material for the interiors of the White Star liners including the Titanic which was built in Belfast.

You can also enjoy a relaxing walk along the River Shimna with its rocky outcrops, bridges, grottos and caves.

Just beyond Newcastle is the town of Castlewellan which nestles between the Mountains of Mourne and Slieve Croob. Castlewellan Forest Park has one of the most outstanding tree and shrub collections in Europe. The gardens are a mixture of informal and formal design with terraces, fountains, ornamental gates and flower borders.

One of the park’s key attractions is the Peace Maze which is one of the world’s largest permanent hedge mazes. It was planted in 2000 and 2001 when more than 4000 school-children and 1000 people from across the community planted 6000 yew trees.

It represents the path to a peaceful future for the people of Northern Ireland. The whole maze covers nearly 3 acres and has 2.18 miles of pathway. If you like a challenge, why not attempt to solve the Peace Maze and find the peace bell right in the centre! While the more energetic might want to try their hand at cycling or kayaking in the forest grounds.

The town of Dundrum near Castlewellan is also worth a visit, make sure you take time to visit the the ruins of Dundrum Castle.

The castle was built in or around 1177 by John de Courcy, an Anglo-Norman knight, as part of his coastal defence when he invaded Ulster. It’s located on a wooded hill and overlooks Dundrum Bay with its spectacular views of the Mournes.

If you fancy a swim or a stroll along the seashore, then head for Murlough Beach. It’s a wide, sandy beach which is backed by an ancient sand dune system throughout its 6 km length. A large area of the dunes is designated as a National Nature Reserve due to its 6,000-year-old sand dune system.

The shingle beach and four-mile strand at Murlough is one of the finest in Co Down and on a clear day you can even see the Isle of Man and enjoy the splendour of the Mountains of Mourne.

As Percy French wrote, when describing the city of London:

“But for all that I found there
I might as well be
Where the Mountains o’ Mourne
Sweep down to the sea”

We couldn’t agree more!

We can be contacted by email at info@citysightseeingbelfast.com or through our tour office on +44 (0)28 90 321321. We look forward to seeing you soon!

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