Visiting The South East – The Mournes, St Patrick’s Country & the Ards Peninsula

The inspiration for Narnia, this really is a magical land

The South East area of Northern Ireland is a popular area for outdoors holidays with probably the most prominent attraction being the Mountains of Mourne where there is plenty of hiking to enjoy.

As with anywhere in Northern Ireland, all points of interest are within a short drive of each other, and although the Mourne Mountains sit between attractions such as Carlingford Lough and the Newcastle area, there are scenic drives through and around the mountains.



  • Belfast to Newcastle:  35 miles, 1 hour approx
  • Dublin to Newcastle (via Newry): 92 miles, 2 hours approx
  • Newcastle to Rostrevor:  18 miles, 1/2 hour approx
  • Newcastle to Downpatrick: 14 miles, 1/2 hour approx

The Mournes

Pierce's Castle - Mournes
Pierce’s Castle in the Mournes – could this be CS Lewis’ inspiration for Aslan’s Stone Table?

The Mountains of Mourne comprise a compact area of  more than 12 granite peaks including Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland’s highest peak at 850 m (2,790ft). The area is criss-crossed with hiking trails and with the circular Mourne Mountain Rambler bus service, which runs through the summer months (May to August), hikers are not restricted to circular walks, getting dropped off and picked up at different points.

The Mourne Wall is a distinctive 22 mile (35km) long wall that was built between 1904-1922 and snakes over the Mournes, forming the reservoirs’ catchment area.

Scenic Drives – there are several scenic drives you can take around and through the Mournes including the Mourne Coastal Route, the High Mournes Scenic Loop, the Slieve Croob Scenic Loop and the Roosley Scenic Loop.

Carlingford Lough Area – Rostrevor and Silent Valley

The Mourne Mountains, Rostrevor and Carlinford Lough
Looking across Carlingford Lough towards Rostrevor, Northern Ireland

South of the Mournes you will find the breathtaking and magical Carlingford Lough which forms a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – the border runs down the centre of the lough.

The lough is framed by the Mournes on its northern shores, and the Cooley Mountains of the Republic of Ireland to the south. It is this area that CS Lewis, the Belfast born author of the Narnia tales, described as his idea of Narnia. A popular day out is to take a drive around the lough, completing the circuit by taking the car ferry that runs between Greencastle and Greenore in the Republic of Ireland which sit on opposite shores at the mouth of Carlingford Lough.

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That part of Rostrevor which overlooks Carlingford Lough is my idea of Narnia.”  – CS Lewis, author of ‘The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe’, and other Narnia Chronicles

Rostrevor & Kilbroney Park


Rostrevor, a town with many pubs, sits on the shores of Carlingford Lough

Rostrevor sits on the northern shore and with the adjacent Kilbroney Park which stretches back into the Mournes and is a popular place for camping holidays (there is a campsite), walkers and mountain bikers. The lough itself provides for some watersports.

There are several trails allowing you to explore the park, ranging from the family friendly Fairy-Trail (a riverside walk) and the Narnia Trail (you enter through a wardrobe door), to a more challenging walk up to the Cloughmore Stone, 300m above sea level, and to Kodak Corner. However, you can also drive to a carpark which his just a short but steep 10-minute walk from the stone.

We stayed at the Rostrevor Inn which served and excellent breakfast and has regular live traditional music sessions in the bar.

Cloughmore Stone Rostrevor
Walk or drive to the Cloughmore Stone for amazing views across Carlingford Lough and Rostrevor. The rock is thought to have been transported here from Scotland in the last ice age, around 10,000 years ago.

Silent Valley

Silent Valley Reservoir and Park
Silent Valley Reservoir and Park, Mourne Mountains

The Silent Valley Mountain Park is found on the Carlingford side of the Mournes, and provides a more accessible way to enjoy the Mournes with several less challenging walks tailored for different levels of fitness and mobility.  The park is home to the Silent Valley Reservoir, built between 1923 and 1933 as well as the higher Ben Crom Reservoir. A pleasant, mostly flat walk is along the side of the Silent Valley Reservoir up to the Ben Crom Reservoir with it’s massive reservoir wall.

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Newcastle Area

Newcastle - hub for the Mournes
Quinns pub, the iconic Slieve Donard Hotel, and Newcastle waterfront promenade

Newcastle is a popular seaside town just north of the Mournes and naturally provides a base for hiking the mountains, including Slieve Donard, our highest peak. It is also famous for the Slieve Donard Hotel & Spa and the 130-year-old Royal County Down Golf Club links.

Tollymore Forest Park

Tollymore stepping stones across the Shimna River
Stepping Stones across the Shimna River, Tollymore

The Shimna river runs through this attractive wooded park, which used to form part of the estate of Tollymore Park House, demolished in 1952. It has also recently found fame as a filming location for Game of Thrones. Enjoy walks and picnics and see if you can find the Game of Thrones locations. The river walk to the Game of Thrones filming location takes you past the stepping stones and The Hermitage, a grotto by the river.

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There are several marked trails within the park and the park also forms part of the challenging Mourne Way, a 23.4 mile walking route between Rostrevor and Newcastle.  Download trail map. Camping options are available. There are no restaurants or cafés, but a food van is sometimes serving drinks and snacks. Most people take a picnic. Entry charge of £5 per car.

A grotto, the entrance gate and a Game of Thrones filming location, Tollymore Forest Park

Castlewellan Forest Park

Peace Maze
The Peace Maze at Castlewellan with the Mournes, again, as a magnificent backdrop

Another grand estate turned over to public use, Castlewellan is a 10 minute drive from Tollymore Forest park on the edge of Castlewellan town. Castlewellan Forest Park is a popular destination for picnics, walking, mountain biking, kayaking and stand up paddleboarding and a highlight is the Peace Maze with the Mountains of Mourne as a backdrop. Our tip, take a photo of the maze map board before entering the maze…

The large house you see by the lake is a Christian conference centre and not open to the public, but you can walk around the castle’s walled garden and arboretum.

Booking for equipment hire can be made through the Life Adventure centre. Entry charge of £5 per car.

Castlewellan lake - for watersports
Castlewellan lake offers a scenic spot to kayak or paddleboard

Murlough Beach

Murlough Beach
Murlough Beach looking towards Newcastle, with the Mournes in the background

Murlough Beach is an expansive five-mile-long sandy Blue Flag beach with the Mournes providing a dramatic backdrop. The beach is backed by an extensive 6000-year-old sand dune system that is the home to a diverse range of plant and animal life, and is managed by The National Trust as a nature reserve. There is a carpark charge of £3-£7 depending on the season.

Game of Thrones Studio Tour

Game of Thrones Studio Tour
The award-winning Game of Thrones Studio Tour is situated at the Linen Studios where much of the studio filming was done.

For Game of Thrones fans, the award-winning Game of Thrones Studio Tour in Banbridge is an absolute must do. The tour is a three-in-one experience, taking you on a sentimental trip down memory lane while giving you ‘aha’ moments as you get to see how some of the special effects were carried out, all while getting to play with special effects yourself. Read more – Game of Thrones Studio Tour

St Patrick’s Country

St Patricks grave and Slieve Patrick
St Patrick’s grave at Downpatrick Cathedral,  and Slieve Patrick with the what is said to be the world’s largest statue of St Patrick.

Probably the world’s best known saint, St Patrick became the patron saint of Ireland for the simple reason that he was incredibly successful at converting the ‘heathen’ Irish to Christianity. He was so successful that Ireland became a shining beacon of Christianity at a time when much of Europe was going through the dark ages.

Naturally, to be so successful St Patrick travelled far and wide throughout Ireland,  but this area is rich in St Patrick’s history as it is believed that when he returned to Ireland to convert his former kidnappers to Christianity, he came ashore near Downpatrick  and set up his first Church at Saul near by.  Newry and Downpatrick (the clue is in the name) were early centres of Christianity, and St Patrick is believed to be buried at Downpatrick Cathedral. A large stone marks his grave.

The large St Patrick’s statue that stands atop Slieve Patrick is also worth a visit for great views over North Down, Strangford Lough, the Mournes and the Isle of Man. At just 120 metres (above sea level), it is a gentle walk to the top. Address: St Patricks Rd, Saul, Downpatrick BT30 7JG

St Patrick’s Visitor Centre

St Patrick Centre, Downpatrick cathedral
St Patrick Centre with the tower of Downpatrick cathedral in the background

The St Patrick’s Visitor Centre in Downpatrick has a permanent exhibition about the saint’s life, and also offers St Patrick themed walks and a kayak trip! This is a short walk from Downpatrick Cathedral.

Down County Gaol Museum

Down County Gaol museum
Down County Gaol museum with the oriignal Downpatrick High Cross, and exhibits highlighting the stories of ‘convicts’ who were transported to Australia for what were often petty crimes.

Just down the road from Downpatrick Cathedral is a free museum inside the old county gaol. This is very worth a visit as it covers the stories of the ‘convicts’ – some children – who were deported to places like Australia through this gaol. There is an interesting exhibit that tells the story of visit in 1999 of descendants of two convicts who had passed through the gaol in 1822 before being sent to Australia.

An interesting section has the original Downpatrick High Cross on display – a replica stands in front of the cathedral – and explains the carvings and how these crosses were erected in villages in early Christian times in Ireland.

It is also here at County Down Gaol that Thomas Russell, a founder and leader of the United Irishmen was executed in 1803, having been arrested in 1798 ahead of the Irish Rebellian of that year. Learn More – Down County Goal Museum

Inch Abbey

Inch Abbey
Inch Abbey – a Game of Thrones filming site just outside Downpatrick

Inch Abbey, just outside Downpatrick on the River Quoile, is a Game of Thrones filming location and a scenic spot for a visit. The old cemetery behind the abbey is also worth a visit with some interesting headstones telling stories of locals who travelled the world. If you are in luck, you may be able to catch the Downpatrick & County Down summer steam train which runs on occasional weekends from Downpatrick to Inch Abbey train station. Click the link for the schedule and ticket purchase.

Strangford Lough & The Ards Peninsula

Castle Ward

Castle Ward – open for a visit

Castle Ward is a large estate on the shores of Strangford Lough, about 20 minutes drive from Downpatrick, with an 18th century stately home you can tour and large grounds you can explore. The estate was used in the filming of Game of Thrones to shoot scenes set at Winterfell and Robb Stark’s camp. There is also a campsite and an adventure centre where you can hire canoes and bicycles, or take an archery class. Prebooking essential.

The Ards Peninsula

Catch the car ferry that runs between Strangford and Portaferry and take a tour of the Ards Peninsula, a land of picture-perfect rolling hills (Drumlins from the glacial era) and fishing towns. Places to visit include Exploris Aquarium in Portaferry, Echlinville Distillery in Kirkubbin, Grey Abbey,  Mount Stewart stately home, Ballycopeland Windmill, the Copeland Distillery  in Donaghadee and Donaghadee Lighthouse and Moat. Bangor, a seaside resort town, sits at the top of the peninsula and provides accommodation, seafront restaurants and Pickie Fun Park for the kids.

Bangor Marina

Places to visit on the western shores of the lough  include Scrabo Tower, Hill Island, Castle Espie Wildfowl and Wetlands Park, and the Royal Palace, Hillsborough Castle.  There are many restaurants to enjoy along the route with Daft Eddie’s at Sketrick being a perfect choice for a summer’s day.

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