The forecast was awful for Saturday. Rain, followed by rain and more rain. It was one of those days where you know you really couldn’t be bothered to go out in it, but neither me nor Andrew had the heart to bail. We’d planned on doing this for a while. Spurred on by doing the Brandy Pad and Binnian in recent months we knew it had to be done sooner rather than later.
Friday night we got the route planned. Rostrevor to Newcastle throws up a lot of possibilities. Do we want to stay completely off road? How many peaks do we do? What will be the best descent? After getting the route sorted it was time to sort the kit. I knew this was going to be an all dayer so needed to pack properly. Plenty of food, extra tube, extra layers and a head torch were the essentials. The rest of the stuff was what’s always in my bag, pump, tyre levers, leather man, multi tool and various other bits and bobs.
Saturday arrived and off to Newcastle I went. My car would be at the end point. Andrew picked me up and by this stage we had a new recruit with us. Josh, one of the new trainees at Tollymore was to join us. I’m not sure if he realised what he had let himself in for!
We set off at 10am into the rain. The first part was easy. I knew exactly what to expect. This was my standard Sunday morning spin back in the day. Rostrevor to Leitrim lodge. A nice wee warm up to get the legs ready for the day. The boys really enjoyed the last approach into Leitrim Lodge, pity it wasn’t any longer!
From Leitrim lodge it was up the Ulster way. The descent from the col of Rocky and Tornamrock was our first real taste of the open mountains on the day. A large covered hole left me clutching at the air trying to find solid ground. The front wheel had almost completely disappeared beneath the grass. The landing was soft so I walked away without a scratch.
From here it was over to Rowan Tree river and up around the side of Cock mountain. Tough going in the long wet grass. This was probably the biggest slog of the day. Some serious man handling of the bikes to get through this. Off the side off Cock was epic. Massive steep rock slabs. Weight back and pray the tyres grip! The cloud came down at this stage so a bit of nav was needed to get us round Slievenamiskan and down below Spelga Dam. Lunch stop along the Bann was well deserved. The climb up past Spelga was tough and reminded me why I’ve never had the urge to take up road cycling. Andrew scraped a few quid together to get a chip for the lads at the chippy van in the car park. A pleasant surprise and a real moral booster.
From here it was up round the road to the Ott track. The track itself was tough going on the bike. The shale not doing us any favours when putting the power down. Wheels spinning everywhere.
From the wall we contoured round the hills following the path towards Bernagh. Some nice sections along here, but nothing sustained. At this stage we were starting to feel the day catching up on us. Any climbs were starting to sap a fair bit of energy.
The descent down towards the quarry below Hares gap was so so good. Just what was needed to get some psyche back. Next stop Hares gap. Me and Andrew had been up this way before. Always good to get back on familiar ground. Josh got his first real sense of hike a bike here. No chance you can push your bike along here, on the back it goes and hope to god your legs still have the energy to pick a line through the boulder strewn ground.
Another rest was called for at Hares Gap. Here we met a lot of people heading home for the day, trying to figure out had we seen the forecast or if we were just a bit mental.
From here the route was simple. Follow the wall to Commedagh. Well I say simple but this was a killer. Very little time on the bike here, lots of steep ground to cover. I lost the lads on the last ascent to the top. I think this was the first time I’ve ever lost Andrew on a climb! The water tower a welcom sight through the cloud. I’d never felt such relief to see the top of a mountain. The two lads soon appeared through the clouds, looking a bit worse for wear by this stage. However, some snacks and we were psyched for the route ahead. Once again the descent entailed getting the weight on the back wheel and hoping there’s no holes under the grass and heather. We made it to the top of Donard forest unscathed by the descent, but absolutely shattered. At this stage the sun was out. Eagle rocks appeared through the mist. An amazing sight to end the day.
A few trails through the forest and we were back at the car praying I hadn’t forgot the keys. 18:00 was the time. A long day.
This was without doubt one of my favourite days on the bike. I love being in the mournes and having my bike makes the descents so much fun. Having checked the forecast I wouldn’t normally go out in the onslaught of rain that was forecast. But with two ML awards and two MBL awards between us we were never going to be out of our depth in the hills in those conditions.
However I wouldn’t recommend the route to everyone. It took a lot of energy, planning and motivation to complete it. At times we had to rely on a map and compass as visibility was less than 20m.
If you have experience of big mountain days go for it. If not, get a guide for the day or stick to the forests!