Walking Ireland’s Iconic Mountains – Number 3: Slieve Binnian

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Walking Ireland's Iconic Mountains

Magical, mystical and dramatic in equal measures, the Mourne Mountains have enchanted so many who have set eye upon them. Immortalised in verse by Percy French in 1896 and the inspiration behind the magical land of Narnia crafted by C.S. Lewis in the lauded Chronicles of Narnia, the mountains offer some of the best walking in Ireland.

The Mournes are the highest mountain range in Northern Ireland and can lay claim to being its most dramatic. The Mourne area is a recognised Area of Outstanding National Beauty and has been proposed as the first national park in Northern Ireland. Boasting 6 peaks over 700 meters and numerous smaller peaks neatly bundled into a compact area of only 7 miles in breath, the mountains are a haven for hill-walkers.

The highest peak of the range is the mighty Slieve Donard at 849 metres. The mountain is hugely popular and is often climbed as part of a charity event or challenge walk. Being very accessible from Newcastle, the summit of the mountain comes alive with swarms of walkers over the summer weekends. Slieve Bearnagh is another well-walked and well-liked mountain in the Mournes but it is spectacular Slieve Binnian that we feel deserves inclusion in our ‘Iconic Mountain’ series.

Slieve Binnian translates as ‘mountain of the little horns’, a name derived from its distinct rugged crest of rocky tors. This high, tor-capped summit dominates the countryside and the mountain looms impressively large over Annalong, Silent Valley and the surrounding area. Set as a backdrop against the stone walls and contrasting flat patchwork landscape of the Kingdom of Mourne, the Mountain is a photographer’s delight. It is the rocky tors that make Binnian so easy to identify in views of the Mournes. However, to really appreciate Slieve Binnian, you need to make the walk up to its summit to explore it’s spectacular tors.

Getting There
The M1 motorway has made the Mournes very accessible from the South. The motorway will take you past Dundalk and onto Newry from where you should follow the coast-road to Warrenpoint and continue along the coast heading towards Newcastle. You will need to turn off onto the Oldtown road and locate the Carrick Little car-park which is at the junction of the Head road and Oldtown Road near Annalong. Note that the car-park fills up quickly on weekends. We advise getting hold of the Mournes Activity Map if you plan on doing any walking in the Mournes.

Where To Stay
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The Route

From the car-park, follow a stony track running alongside an impressive boulder wall as far as an iron gate and stone stile. Crossing the stile, veer left to follow the Mourne Wall which runs uphill. For me, the wall is a something of a wonder and has fascinated me from the first time I encountered it. It stretches more than 35km crossing the tops of 15 mountains and took over 18 years to build. Construction started in 1904 and one can only be amazed at the sheer strength of effort required to complete the project. The wall aids navigation in the Mournes and it offers a sure guide almost all the way to the summit of Slieve Binnian over some quite steep and rocky ground.On the walk up Binnian, you will meet a couple of subsidiary walls and, as you near the top, will see a break in the wall where it runs into a sheer face of granite. You should aim for a prominent notch in the granite to the right.

Walking Holidays in the Mourne Mountains - Hotels and Hostels in Newcastle

Aim for the prominent notch

It is on passing through the notch in the granite that the ‘wow-factor’ kicks in as huge and expansive views open up down onto Silent Valley reservoir. For many, the view from Binnian is the best in the Mournes and one of the best in Ireland. To the North-East and West, you have clear views of virtually all the peaks that dominate the Mourne Mountains. To the South lie the exquisite patchwork of fields and stone-walls that dominate the Kingdom of Mourne against a backdrop of the Irish Sea. The unrelenting views encompass Carlingford Lough, Slieve Foye and the ridge of the Cooley Mountains. On a clear day, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Isle of Man or the Wicklow Mountains.

It is only up close that you can fully appreciate the scale of the Tors that characterise Slieve Binnian. The sheer bulk of the summit Tor acts as a fantastic focal point for photographs and if you are feeling brave, you will need to use your hands to clamber up onto it to reach the summit proper of Slieve Binnian. I can’t think of many better places to enjoy a tea-break and take in the expansive views before taking some time to explore the granite formations around you.

Accommodation for walkers in Northern Ireland

Silent Valley, the Kingdom of Mourne and the Cooleys

Looking down at Silent Valley from the summit of Slieve Binnian, it is fascinating to think that a tunnel runs under the mountain. In 1947, work commenced on driving a tunnel through Binnian to transport water from the Annalong Valley to the Silent Valley. This huge construction project was to take four years to complete and was to provide major challenges to engineers and tunnelling teams alike. The challenge for the engineers was to ensure that the tunnel had exactly the correct gradient to deliver water into the Silent Valley at the required rate and volume. For the two tunnelling teams who started at either end, the challenge was to ensure that they met in the middle. The teams were only two inches off course when the tunnels met, an amazing feat given that the job was done without the use of any high-tech aids, the teams used candles to determine the straightness of their bore.

Hill Walker on Slieve Binnian Mountain, Mourne Mountains

View across to Slieve Commedagh and Slieve Donard

From the summit, the walk progresses along the wide ridge of Slieve Binnian across a broken wall and past some impressive towers of granite known as the Back Castles. Towards the end of the ridge, you will reach the towering North Tor, another magnificent lump of granite. Continuing on, you are treated to captivating views down onto Ben Crom Dam which have been the backdrop to many a photo. From here, the path heads downhill towards a prominent gap between Slieve Binnian and the impressive Slieve Lamagan.

View to Back Castles and the North Tor

On reaching the gap, turn right and follow the path down past mysterious and serene Blue Lough nestled snugly under Slieve Binnian. Continue on past a corner of Annalong Wood and back to the gate you originally passed through at the start of the walk.

“A beautiful, dramatic and magical mountain which simply demands to be walked and explored. Slieve Binnian can be incorporated into numerous routes but time should be taken to enjoy it for its own sake”

A beautiful, dramatic and magical mountain which simply demands to be walked and explored. Slieve Binnian can be incorporated into numerous routes but time should be taken to enjoy it for its own sake. The mix of stunning views and rugged rocky tors are hard to beat. If you are in the area, make sure to take in Binnian; if you’re not, start making plans to head north as soon as you possibly can.

Further Reading

The Mournes Walks by Paddy Dillon

Guidebook featuring 32 different walks in the Mournes. If you’re planning to do any walking in the Mourne Mountains, I can’t recommend this highly enough.
The Classic Walks of Ireland: The struggle to tame the Mourne Wall
An account of my walk of the length of the Mourne Wall, one of the classic walks in Ireland.
BBC Website about the Binnian Tunnel
Great resource of information on the Binnian Tunnel including accounts from those involved in the construction project.