VINE VOICEon 28 April 2011
This is very useful. Good selection of walks, takes in all the High and Low Mournes. Each walk has its own good, simple map (no annoying doubling or trebling up) and is clearly described and helpfully annotated with bits of local and/or particular interest - you can't go wrong for the most part. At various high points along the way you are invited to take in a panoramic view and the author excels at elucidating the big picture. Also, the walks are individually graded (quite accurately, in my opinion), so you know exactly what you are taking on. And you won't always be hugging the Mourne Wall: one of the best things about the book is that the author chooses his routes carefully, on many occasions taking you away from the wall, varying the terrain within walks too, to keep you alert.
The High Mournes get most attention from walkers, but thanks to this book you can discover wonderful walks in the lesser mountains, too. My favourite is the one beginning at Leitrim Lodge picnic area and taking in Tievedockaragh, Pierce's Castle and Rocky Mountain (walk 5); this includes forest track, high slope and summit paths, old bog roads and a couple of interesting rocky tors to grapple with. It exemplifies the care and attention that Mr Dillon employs; end result for us is a superb collection.
Informative and accessible introduction gives short sections on the area's geology, history, water catchment (one reason for the famous Mourne Wall), the Wall itself, flora and fauna, access and walking opportunities, the Mourne Heritage Trust and safety for walkers. There is tourist information, too, although you should note that the telephone numbers given all have the dialling code used from the Republic of Ireland - so if you are ringing from the UK prefix 028 instead of the 048 listed.
Four stars however because of a few niggles. Though some local history is given I think more translations of, for example, the names of mountains would have enhanced enjoyment on route - one look at Slieve Bearnagh in the distance and it's translated name (Gapped Mountain) becomes gloriously appropriate. Loads more local names are crying out to be translated as you walk. And I can't do it for you - I don't know much Irish.
Even though the cover says updated edition, a few directions are no longer current and you can find youself stymied when some path or track or turn is no longer accessible for whatever reason. So far though, this has only happened a couple of times.
In Ireland we learn at the mammy's knee to revere our sons of the soil - backbone of the community, honest and industrious as the day is long, fiercely fair in financial dealings, passionate custodians of hedgerow and wildlife, well-mannered but plain speaking lads and lasses who mightn't be dancing at the crossroads anymore, but who still know right from wrong and are ready to clue you in any time they think you need it. The job's a good 'un, and we are eternally grateful.
Now, Mr Dillon correctly points out that walkers are tolerated in the Mournes, but the fact remains that you are often walking on someone else's land and Get Orf Moy Land syndrome will rear its head occasionally. A few landowners (or, to give them their generic name, agricola redneckii gurning-ignoramus) will give you hell if you put so much as a foot 'wrong'. This can happen in a number of places so keep yourself right if you are, just to give one example, in the vicinity of, say, Slievemageogh. Paddy does his delicate best to warn about these spots, and if you read carefully about your proposed route his tactful but firm reminders about how exactly to navigate certain stretches will alert you.
And should you bring along your beloved dogs (who live and run free in the countryside, surrounded by sheep, and haven't bothered one in their lives) there are notices up all over the place saying that you damned well shouldn't have! If you and your canine chums run into the wrong (but mercifully rare) hillbilly, well, you'll get both barrels - my solicitor has pointed out that I'm speaking metaphorically there. Mind you, poncey walkers don't realise what their mutts are capable of, and what if it's lambing and/or a full moon and they get the scent of blood and go sheep-tearing mad? and it's the placid ones who are most likely to go berserk, a spaniel can kill a horse, and my boot up your smart alec backside might help, from the look of you you've never done a hand's turn in your life, bloody pen pusher, and it's the taxes on the farmer feeds us all ...
Not that this is anything new:
The great Irish naturalist Robert Lloyd Praegar was walking the Mournes in 1901 (recalled in his famous The Way That I Went, published 1937) with two dogs (his 'girls'), and found himself embroiled in a not unfamiliar scenario which he subsequently encapsulated in verse:
I and my girls, on the Brandy Pad,
we met a man who cried, 'You're mad!'
His next spake stalled my onward tread:
'They'll fill your fine dogs full of lead!'.
'Only blackguards, sir,' said I, 'would shoot;
none but the most nefarious brute'.
'Well', says he,'just so you ken -
full these hills is of them men.'
'That sort's long gone', I laughed, 'extinct, dead as the dodo'.
'Is that right?' says he. 'Then here comes Quasimodo' -
and pointed down the stony track
where scurried Paddy Farmer with his bended back.
'Begorrah', Pat says, 'and bejapers,
I'll not stand no canine capers.
Them dogs is vicious to my flock',
and lifts his gun, trigger to cock.
'Hold hard!' called I, and, charming quick,
his gun sent flying with my stick.
'You, of good manners I'll remind',
and shipped my boot to his behind.
'Dash it, sir, you have a nerve;
are you inbred? some kind of perv?
Hence to your squalid kitchen make
and lie down with your pig, you rake.
'And do not look at me askance, sir -
I know too well you are a chancer.
The sheep you keep are for the grants, sir;
and filthy euros is your answer.
'Without that EU subsidy
you could not flaunt so publicly
the vulgar fruit of bold connive -
your bloody, bull-barred four wheel drive!'
Praegar was subsequently convicted of assault and fined £20 (a considerable sum in those days). On a later Mourne trek he encountered three sons of 'Paddy Farmer'; they recognised him and administered a severe beating. He wasn't seriously hurt, but never returned to the area.
Percy French set Praegar's verse to music and his song ('Doing the Brandy Pad Jig') has been recorded many times since - notably by Count John McCormack, Perry Como, Thin Lizzy, Sinead O'Connor, and, most recently, Susan Boyle.