‘A walking event in the Mourne Mountains’, they said. ‘It will be fun’, they said. Well it was fun when I look back at it now, as I type this sitting in my comfy desk chair while enjoying a glass of prosecco, but ‘fun’ is not a word I would have chosen to describe it when I was in the thick of it.
The cache page for the Brandy Pad Walking Event (GC6NKKG) describes it as a “7.5 miles (12 km), rising to a maximum height of 1650 feet (500 m).” Easy. Well, easy if you’re used to such feats, which I am very much not. A group of over 50 set off at 10am from Meelmore Lodge and I was in high spirits, catching up with friends I haven’t seen for a while and putting faces to various other caching names I’ve seen in logbooks. Unfortunately, it was more than high spirits needed to endure the slog ahead of me but the spectacular views and great company, not to mention the 18 caches in total along the route, came together to produce a great day I won’t be forgetting for a long time.
It was cold as we set out but we soon warmed up carefully making our way along the route laid out by the Brandy Pad caches placed by bawnman, one half of our event hosts, along with Halywid Hunters. WalkNI describes the Brandy Pad as,
A track created by the boots of smugglers and the hooves of heavily laden ponies, particularly during the 18th and 19th centuries. Illicit cargoes of tobacco, wine, spirits, leather, silk and spices would be spirited through the mountains from the east coast to be distributed inland. So popular was the trade that by 1835 in the village of Hilltown, almost half the houses were pubs on the summit.
Sadly, there were no pubs at the summit for me to collapse in to.
Following in the footsteps of the smugglers, we made our way to Hare’s Gap, the ‘most dramatic mountain pass in the Mournes’, according to WalkNI. Climbing up to it certainly felt dramatic anyway. Hare’s Gap was the location of the event, so a well-deserved rest was enjoyed, and a few biscuits and cakes were passed around while the logbook was signed and the answers were gathered for the Earthcache, Hare’s Gap – from “furnace” to “fridge.”
The impressive dry stone wall pictured above is the Mourne Wall, which is 22 miles long and crosses 15 mountains. It was built between 1904 and 1922 to enclose the catchment area for the Silent Valley Reservoir and is constructed of granite from quarries around the Mourne Mountains.
As we left the event location and started making our way along the undulating track to the rest of the day’s caches, it started snowing! Hard to believe given that we had blue skies and white fluffy clouds only minutes before. It turned out to be just a little joke courtesy of Mother Nature, as it stopped snowing in less than five minutes and we were all very grateful for that.
The sun was soon shining on us again and affording us great views of the Annalong Valley. We made our way towards the high point of our walk, where a beautiful cairn greeted us, and further past the ‘castles’ – amazing rock formations that resemble the towers of a castle. There were amazing vistas everywhere you looked. A spot was chosen for lunch and it most definitely afforded the greatest lunchtime view I’ve ever enjoyed!
The hike wasn’t over yet. Not by a long shot. A breakaway group had already formed to ascend Slieve Donard, the highest peak in Northern Ireland. Maybe one day I will manage that but Saturday was not definitely not that day. The uphill part of the day was over but there was a couple of hours of trekking left to do yet.
After we crossed over the Mourne Wall again, I walked the rest of the route with Bertienz and EYEBRIGHT. I cannot thank these two gentlemen enough. They were both very patient with me when I was really struggling. We were treated to more amazing sights, as we passed a waterfall at a granite quarry, where the cache Mourne Quarry Waterfall is hidden, and we could just about spot the Isle of Man out to sea, before a brief rain shower set in.
The final part included a short hop over a river – thank you waterproof hiking boots for making the process relatively painless. The scent of coconuts filled the air thanks to the abundance of bright yellow gorse flowers. When we finally arrived at Bloody Bridge, the sense of relief was overwhelming. I did it. I survived, or as someone more optimistic than me put it, I triumphed!
As we chatted at the end, I was asked was I glad I did it. Standing there exhausted, legs shaking, joints aching, face glowing red, I couldn’t bring myself to say yes. But, I conceded, that my answer would probably be different the next day, and indeed it was. I am very glad I did it. To quote the cliche, “life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” This event pushed me head first off the cliff edge of my comfort zone but it was so worth it.
Many thanks due to the event organisers, bawnman and Halywid Hunters, and of course, to those who encouraged me along the way, in particular, SargeNI (who even carried my backpack for some of the way!), Bertienz and EYEBRIGHT.
A fitting quote to end this post, particularly since it comes from Sir Edmund Hillary and my log for the event began, “this was my Everest!” The whole experience has spurred me on to do more hill-walking and go for those higher terrain caches. Watch this space!
Do you enjoy geocaching in the mountains or on tougher terrains? Let me know in the comments!
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