Please continue to avoid hot-spots and exercise additional caution in places where the paths are narrow. Turn back if unsure, practice social distancing and step off paths if they are narrow when passing others.
Do not over-stretch yourself physically or explore beyond your comfort zone.
Maps and photos note: click or tap to see any maps or photographs below as a high resolution version.
This route starts in Newcastle and visits the east edge of Tollymore Forest Park. The path skirts along the outside edge of the forest gaining height and a fine view over Newcastle and Dundrum Bay. It then cuts across to Donard Forest along a wall at the edge of open mountainside before dropping down to Donard Park to its starting point.
|TYPE||Circular walk with forest and short hillside section (no dogs allowed)|
|DISTANCE||4 miles / 6.4 km|
|SURFACES||Mostly on surfaced forest tracks and paths, but with a short section on a soft hillside path with some wet ground|
|HEIGHT GAIN / LOSS||600 feet of descent and ascent|
Equipment and Precautions
This walk has a short spell 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 hill walking 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.
You now take your leave of the Newcastle and Mourne Ways and turn left through the left-hand galvanised gate (ensuring it is properly closed), onto a narrow green lane / path which follows upwards along the outside of the Tollymore Forest boundary wall.
After just over 100m the path passes through an old rusty pedestrian gate and you are on the open mountainside.
Once through the gate turn immediately left and follow the path along stone wall away from the forest.
As the picture above shows sudden hill mist is always a real possibility. If you don’t have map and compass skills this is the place to turn back and retrace your route.
However, on a fine day the views from here over Newcastle are excellent. Now follow the wall up and around a bend where you find yourself looking down on the shallow valley which separates Tollymore and Donard Forests.
The path now swings to the right away from the stone wall and directly towards the pumping station in the mid ground. In good visibility it is easy to follow. However, it does become increasingly boggy as you drop down into the marshy valley ahead. The electricity poles beside the pumping station provide additional waymarks to guide you on your way.
As you get near the poles the path improves and climbs up and around the right side of the pumping station to join with a service road.
This road now provides an easy passage around the rest of the open mountain section to Donard Wood which you enter via another metal pedestrian gate, set a little distance to the left from the padlocked vehicle gateway.
As you enter the forest you will see the buildings of the Shepherd’s Lodge Centre directly ahead. Bear left along the wide well-used vehicle track and continue on this track for 1500m until it turns sharply downhill and zigzags to join the access road to the Greenhill YMCA Centre.
Turn right and continue for a short distance until you come to a bridge where the road crosses the Donard River. Turn sharply downhill on the left hand side of the river along a well used rough footpath back down to your starting point in the large Donard Park car park.
River Walk Option
An alternative option from Shepherd’s Lodge is to start by following the small path which descends along the boundary stream as it tumbles through a series of granite rock pools and cascades – the dashed orange route above. This is a similar length but more difficult underfoot.
The start of the small path can be found opposite the major track junction at the back of an area of hard standing. After a short distant it joins a stream bank and the descent ahead is clear, if slightly tricky underfoot.
After 400m the path bears right and joins a level vehicle track. Follow this for almost a kilometre ignoring a path dropping to the left and another joining from the right, until you reach the grounds of the YMCA centre. Proceed directly through and shortly after the exit you will come to a bridge over the Donard River. Turn downstream before the bridge on a very rough track crossed with tree roots, and after 100m you will find yourself back on the edge of the Donard Park car parking area.