Maps and photos note: click or tap to see any maps or photographs below as a high resolution version.
This route starts in Newcastle, follows the Mourne way to Tollymore and on to the high points of Curraghard (738 ft) in Tollymore and Drinahilly (833 ft) in Donard Wood. Both sites offer fine views over Newcastle and Drumdrum and into the higher Mournes behind. The heights are significant, bearing in mind that the Mountains of Mourne do drop down straight to the sea, but the surrounding forest provides protection from the worst of the wind. Underfoot conditions are generally good but with short steep, rough and muddy sections.
|TYPE||Circular walk with forest and open mountain sections (no dogs allowed)|
|DISTANCE||6.3 miles / 10.1 km|
|SURFACES||Mostly on surfaced forest tracks and paths but with short sections on rough paths which are sometimes wet and muddy|
|HEIGHT GAIN / LOSS||1250 feet of descent and ascent|
Equipment and Precautions
This walk has significant sections on open hillside and should be treated as a hill walk. Walking boots should be worn, a waterproof jacket and warm clothing carried. In addition to carrying a printed copy of the route map, it is recommended you also carry a hillwalking map and compass. As always for such walks, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return home. Finally see the post Get a Mountain Map (and look at it)!
Newcastle is relatively well served by bus services with the main bus station at the north end of the town centre – a short walk from the starting point described below.
For car travellers there are several public car parks. The walk description starts in the primary visitor car park in Donard Park – a very popular spot so at peak visitor times it might be wise to use one of the other public parking locations such as Bryansford Road, which is also adjacent to this route.
Leave Donard Park through the archway at the main vehicular entrance and head North along the seafront. There are good opportunities here for a breakfast / coffee stop or taking on walking supplies. After 0.25 miles turn left into Castle Park. You will see signage here for the ‘Mournes Way’ which you will be following as far as Tollymore Forest. The signage is useful but inconsistent and mixed with other waymarking for ‘Newcastle Way’ and ‘Ulster Way’ – for this section they are the same thing. I definitely would not suggest relying on this waymarking as an alternative to carrying (and using) a good map of your route.
Keeping the boating lake on your right walk through the park, across the Shimna Road into Islands Park where you turn right and cross TWO bridges to get onto the right bank of the Shimna River, heading out of town. The river now becomes much wilder, rocky and clear with a wooded bank providing wildlife shelter and interest.
On reaching Bryansford Road turn left across the road bridge and then right to join the left hand side of the river and ‘Tipperary Lane’ – a woodland track which follows the river for a time and then turns left between high hedges passing through small fields and then climbs up past a number of rural houses to join the Tullybrannigan Road.
Turn right and follow for 300m, taking care as there is no footpath and this is a relatively busy minor road.
At the sharp right hand corner, cross with care onto the minor road marked with ‘No Through Road’ and Mourne Way signage. You now climb steeply towards Tollymore Forest and as you leave the high hedges a view opens up behind. On your right you will pass various waterworks facilities, including a now defunct rather fine building with intricate brickwork.
Just before reaching the forest the public road ends and the path passes through a gate / stile and runs along the side of a private house coming to a path crossroads at the forest entrance.
Enter the forest through the wooden gate and proceed uphill for 500m until you come to a track junction. Turn left and follow the track for a further 700m as it steadily climbs and turns around the forest slopes of Curraghard.
Just before the track approaches the boundary wall you will come to a waymark post on your left. This marks the point where the Tollymore Forest ‘Black Trail’ exits the forest on your right where a rough dirt pathway climbs steeply into the larch wood. This is your path.
Update June 2019 A fallen tree across the end of the small trail currently blocks the view. Skirt around and the way ahead should then be obvious.
100m of steep climb on this rocky and sometimes muddy path will bring you to Curraghard open hill top with great views over the Mournes and Newcastle. As you climb you will pass through a barren rocky area, burnt in the mountain wildfire of Easter 2019. Looking around it is clear that the fire-fighters did an amazing job in preventing it spreading to the rest of the forest. This is a reminder of the constant danger of wildfires which can start so easily through the carelessness of visitors – be alert!
The path now levels and heads for stone built seats on the summit – a great place to take a short rest and let the panorama soak in. Despite the lack of easy access this is a popular spot and you may have to share the seat and maybe a few reflections on the day with fellow walkers.
Curraghard is at the east end of a chain of hills (the Drinns) which all lie inside Tollymore Forest Park. You are now going to follow a short section of the ridge which joins them. Leave the seat and branch right at the junction just behind, dropping down a short steep section to where the clearly defined path re-enters the larch wood. After a short distance you will find yourself at the edge of a recently felled area of forest beside a large waymark post.
Felling had obliterated the path here, but walkers feet have re-instated a clear line slightly to your right and uphill. The path then joins a broader track where you turn left.
The path now broadens and skirts the higher ground on your right before descending gradually back down to a forest track junction.
This crossroads on the Drinn ridge is a great viewpoint with the felling ahead giving you a clear view of the next forested hill and, over the saddle to the north, Castlewellan and the surrounding rugged drumlins – again a good spot to stop, look around and enjoy the view.
Your route now cuts back to the left towards Donard Forest along the forest track for about 100m where a small dirt path leaves the track and makes its way to a corner of the boundary wall and metal bar stile.
Cross to the open mountain and turn left along the track which follows outside the boundary wall.
On your right a shallow boggy valley and the Tullybrannigan river separates Tollymore Forest and the Drinns from the lower slopes of Slievenabrock.
Follow the path for 300m to where it subtly splits with the left hand (less used) option staying with the boundary wall and the right option (yours) striking out downhill directly towards a pumping station.
If visibility is poor, a safer option here is to bear left and stay with the boundary wall, dropping down until it intersects another wall bounding fields. You can then follow this wall across the valley, then head up to the pumping station from below (see map).
Below (visibility permitting) you will see two buildings – at the edge of Donard Forest, Shepherd’s Lodge Centre and to the left, in the open area, a pumping station (with associated electricity posts). The path heads for a point between the two. As it drops down the ground is often peaty and wet and you have to cross a short boggy section before arriving at Tullybrannigan river. Turn left here (ignoring the path branching directly across the river), follow downstream past an electricity pole and continue for a short distance to where the path now joins the pumping station service road. Now turn right and cross the Tullybrannigan river on an excellent bridge and enter Donard Forest via a small pedestrian gate which is to the left of the full size gate.
As you enter the forest you will see the buildings of the Shepherd’s Lodge Centre directly ahead.
You can cut your walk short here if visibility is poor (perhaps only cloud views on offer) or you have just had enough great outdoors for the day. Just bear left along the wide well-used vehicle track and follow it for about 2km downhill past the YMCA Centre to Donard Park (see map).
On and up to Drinnahilly
To complete the full walk you have a further 4km walk and 400 feet of climb ahead.
Turn right just past Shepherd’s Lodge and proceed uphill along the forest track. You will be walking through a mixture of relatively recently felled forest and stands of gloriously mature conifers with rich ground level vegetation and habitat. The climb is steady as you approach Drinnahilly directly ahead. You will come to a T-junction where you turn right and continue to climb until the track begins to level out and you pass into a largely felled level saddle between Drinnahilly on your left and Slievenamaddy on your right.
Hidden from view from Newcastle below and partially sheltered from northern winds, this place has its own distinct personality and feels far from Newcastle and the bustle below.
Half way along the valley you turn left on to the Drinnahilly mast access road, re-entering the forest and zig-zagging as you climb to the high point. Here you will enjoy a complementary view to that at Curraghard, with Tollymore, the Drinns, Newcastle and Dundrum Bay laid out below you.
Now retrace your route back to the valley and turn left and after 350m left again onto a another forest track which now heads downhill. All the trees in this section have been recently felled, but on the plus side there are spectacular views over Newcastle and beyond to Dundrum Bay.
Follow the track as it zig-zags downhill (ignoring a level track heading off to your right) until it terminates and you join a level forest road, where you now turn right. After a short distance you will pass two former forestry cottages on your right (a variation on living above the shop!) Proceed a further 400m to where your track turns downhill and drops to join the entrance road to the YMCA centre.
Turn right and proceed until the bridge over the Glen River comes into view. Now either turn left to follow the road down to Donard park, or take the shorter rough path down along the left hand river bank. Either way you will shortly arrive back at your starting point, the Donard Park car park.