A Relaxed Run of the Mourne’s Seven Sevens

The Seven Seven’s is a 30 kilometre race over the seven peaks that are over seven hundred metres in the Mourne Mountains. Traditionally, the Seven Seven’s is a challenge walk run by the Spartan Red Sox Walking Club. However in recent times, the Northern Irish Mountain runners (NIMRA) have also opted to race this classic route.

The Mournes on a Gloriously Sunny Day!
The Mournes on a Gloriously Sunny Day!

The walk and running race normally takes place on the first weekend of August and, for some reason, I always tend to miss it. This year as well, I know I won’t be around for the event. Not wanting to miss out on all the Seven Seven’s fun, and what with the fine weather Ireland is having at the moment, I decided to just head up on my own and to do the course at a leisurely pace.

So to start the run early on Tuesday morning, I drove up from Dublin on Monday all ready for a bit of overnight camping. I chose to stay at the Meelmore Lodge, with fine views of Slieve Meelmore and Hare’s Gap from the luxury of my one person tent. In stark contrast to the gently rolling hills found in Wicklow, the Mournes are a stunning sight with their magnificent cliffs and lake-filled valleys.

The Mourne Mountains from my Tent at Meelmore Lodge.
The Mourne Mountains from my Tent at Meelmore Lodge.

Starting at Donard Park in Newcastle, the route first summits Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland’s highest mountain. From there it goes on to climb Commedagh, Bearnagh, Meelmore and Meelbeg.  Runners then passes through Ben Crom Dam for the final ascents of Binnian and Lamagan before the long haul back to Donard Park. The women’s record for the race lies at 5 hours 44 minutes, so I was aiming realistically to get around in a 6-7 hour pace.

The Start of the Seven Sevens - Climbing out of Donard Forest with the Ice house on the left.
The Start of the Seven Sevens - Climbing out of Donard Forest with the Ice house on the left.

I knew it was going to be a long day out. It wasn’t so much the distance that was daunting, but the amount of climb that the route presents. With over 2500 metres of ups and downs, the route has some seriously savage ascents and dead-defying descents. Much of the route is fortunately on well worn paths with a few short-cuts here and there through heather and bog. I took the easy option up to Donard, climbing the tourist path via the Glen River, then up via the Mourne Wall. I presume the actual race route would cut through the Black Stairs to the West of Thomas’s Mountain, but this I only figured out later.

With a momentary pause at the top of Donard to take in the stunning scenes and the remaining six peaks so clearly in view, I followed the wall back down to the gap and on up Commedagh, cutting the corner to the cairn on top.

Commedagh taken from Slieve Donard.
Commedagh taken from Slieve Donard.

The skies were already becoming blue, and with no sign of wind, the day was starting to heat up. I looked at the map and started to work out where I would pick up water on the way. With my cardinal rule of half a litre every hour, I saw there were enough rivers to fill my bottle up as far as to Ben Crom. From Binnian to Lamagan no rivers flowed, so I planned to stock up from Ben Crom River then ration myself until the stream south of Slieve Beg.

I crossed the stile on Commedagh and took an off-road descent to the well worn Brandy Pad. My shoes were sliding a bit on the descent, reminded me that the Mournes demands nothing less than proper fell running studs. Ah well, I wasn’t racing and was out for a gentle jog, so my more comfortable Inov-8 roclites just had to do.

The Brandy Pad brought me to the foot of the third peak, Slieve Bearnagh. Suddenly I had flashbacks of the 2008 Mourne Mountain Marathon. Our twelfth control (out of 16) was west of Slieve Bearnagh’s north tor, and so demanded both an ascent and descent of the same mountain. ‘Steep’ would be an understatement, as the closely packed contour lines littered with boulders and shifting silt made our drop back to the col dangerous to say the least. The two mountain marathon backpacks containing ten kilograms between us also didn’t help to steady us on the way down. This time around, I had enough time to look down as I headed off the summit. Bad idea, as momentary vertigo kicked in making me decide to just concentrate instead on where I put my feet. I kept my mind busy too by thanking God I didn’t have a tent, sleeping bag, and two days of food in my rucksack this time around.

The Steep and Rocky Ascent up Slieve Bernagh.
The Steep and Rocky Ascent up Slieve Bernagh.

The ascent of Meelmore and Meelbeg were simple enough to navigate following the line of the Mourne Wall. The Wall itself was built between 1904 and 1922 to protect the water catchment area and to mark the boundary within which no habitation or farming is allowed. It is a most impressive edifice, being built almost completely without cement, standing up to 1.5 metres in height and around 1 metre in width. Also building it on the top of all those mountains must have required some serious stamina and strength from all those lads at the start of the century.

Meelmore Summit encompassed by the Mourne Wall.
Meelmore Summit encompassed by the Mourne Wall.

From Meelbeg I headed straight for Ben Crom River flowing right between the pointy peaks of Doan and Ben Crom. This part of the course many people hate. They talk of the energy sapping bog and heather that wets legs and trips up feet. After all my years of running around Wicklow, I was however happy to be back on terrain I know and have begrudgingly started to love. In fact, the stony sloping paths I had been on thus far that day were starting to heat up and slightly hurt my feet.

Ben Crom Dam taken from the ascent up Slieve Binnian.
Ben Crom Dam taken from the ascent up Slieve Binnian.

Finding small paths along the river and the walkers’ track that leads to the dam, I was soon making my ascent up Slieve Binnian. I had never been to the top of this mountain, and was utterly amazed by the weird and wonderful rock formations that litter the summit. A quick pause for a picture, and then it was the return journey to the col north west of Blue Lough for the final ascent of the seventh peak, Slieve Lamagan.

Rock Formations on top of Slieve Binnian
Rock Formations on top of Slieve Binnian

It was a long old haul up this mountain, and I was starting to feel the day’s heat. My hands were beginning to swell slightly, my own little external sign that water is required. Cutting across Cove Mountain, I filled my bottle at the next stream and made my way back on water and gels to the Brandy Pad. Past the Castles and over the stile, it was then a long luxurious descent back down the Glen River, through Donard Forest and back to my little old car. I had run around in under six and a half hours, and had a wonderful collection of tan lines for good measure.

The descent back via the Glen River to Newcastle below.
The descent back via the Glen River to Newcastle below.

Seeing that it was such a sunny day, with not even a cloud in the sky, I decided to stay and do just one more night of camping. And with my tent set up and a cold bottle of beer in hand, I took in the magnificent view of Slieve Meelmore once more, marvelling how I’d just been up there just a few hours before.

It was a wonderful way to spend a few days, camping and running alone in the Mournes. It also reminded me why I had spent so many years trying to learn how to navigate: it was so that I didn’t have to depend on races or others to show me around the mountains, so that I could do it at my own pace and in my own time, and so that I could always enjoy the mountains in my own little way.

I managed to race the Mournes 7×7 in 2010. Race report can be found here.

17 thoughts on “A Relaxed Run of the Mourne’s Seven Sevens

  1. Found your post tonight and was reminded of my own attempts at the 7-7’s. Excellent photos and surperb writing. Missed the 7-7’s in 10 but fully intend to be there in 11. Would love to beat 6 hours but that’ll require major denial program. Sod that tonight I’ll have another glass of red and enjoy your photos and wonderfull words from a great adventure available from your own back door. Many thanks. PS the last time I did the 7-7 there was torrential rain in August!!!

    1. Hi Andrew, this year, both records were beaten by following this route: Car Park, to Slieve Donard (I went via Black Stairs), Commadagh (following the Mourne wall), Lamangan, Binninan, double back on yourself to Ben Crom Dam, Meelmore (either via river or contouring on 390m straight up from Dam), them following Mourne wall to Meelbeg, Bearnargh, and then back to Donard Car Park via Glen Valley. However, I suspect the anti-clockwise direction would be faster as you’d come off Commadagh at an angle to get the Brandy Pad. My race report can be found here: https://moireosullivan.wordpress.com/2010/08/11/racing-the-mournes-seven-sevens/

      Hope this is of some help!

  2. Hi Moire

    Just read your article which was most enjoyable. It was well worth your while getting back to the Mournes and really going for it as you are now the undisputed lady record holder. Congratulations on a plan well executed, and I hope you enjoyed the celebrations we laid on at the finish — The Red Arrows!

    Race organizer Jim Brown.

    1. Thanks Jim for laying on a great race – you can’t beat the Mournes and the race route does indeed take in the best peaks. And of course, thanks for laying on the Red Arrows! I’ll put up a race report shortly.

  3. Hi,

    An absolutely superb write-up. I’ve walked these hills and can’t imagine how tough it must be running it! Thanks for a superb article.

    On a side note, I’m involved in a new website that is just about to launch at http://www.walkingandhikingireland.com. Hoping it can be an online magazine for hill walkers and hikers but would really like to branch across into Trail Running as well so if you ever feel like penning an article on Trail Running, we’d be delighted to include it.

    Was also reading here that you are writing a book as well so really hoping that comes to fruition and really looking forward to it – you can put me down to purchase a copy! I’ve ordered ‘Feet In The Clouds’ online so looking forward to having a read of that when it arrives in the post.


    1. You might want to check out the 2009 IMRA yearbook (http://www.imra.ie/yearbook2009?PHPSESSID=3ecb040c871136678543445a6f8fdc54) – Its got loads of articles that would give you a good flavour of mountain running stories.

      Thanks for the vote of confidence about the book. Its actually finished and currently submitted to a number of publishers thanks to my amazing agent. Its now just a case of fingers crossed and praying that they want to publish!

      Best of luck with the new online magazine – if its as good as your blog, you’ll have no problem!

      1. Thanks for that, I’ll check out the IMRA yearbook.

        Keep us all update on the book, would be really great to read about the Irish scene!

        About to order a pair of trail runners myself and see if I can combine my hobbies of jogging and hill walking, looks great fun!

  4. Just wanted to second everyone else Moire- lovely post. The pictures really helped the envisaging! I hope we get weather like that on Saturday week! It’s my first trip to the Seven Sevens, having started running this year. There’s a group of us (4) heading round, so it’ll be grand.

    Elaine- I’ve found my Walshes to be grand even when wet- they’re made of some sort of magic material and as long as their tight, they feel good- bogs and all. See you there!

    Just off to find some smartwool socks!

  5. Great pictures! I havent made it up to the Mournes yet, but like Jackie I’m definitely inspired now. I only hike when it comes to altitude, very impressed with people like you who run it! Great stuff!

    1. The Mournes are really beautiful and very impressive alright Niamh. If you get a chance, you should definitely head up there.

      Don’t be too impressed by the running bit though. Some of those mountains I can only manage to walk up – but almost everyone can enjoy a run down such slopes… lots of fun and highly recommended!

      1. Great article, really enjoyed the photos and what a fantastic achievement in this time.

        I’m planning to come back home for the Mourne 7 Sevens in a few weeks. I normally walk the Mournes boots but as I’ve been doing a bit of trail running in Inov8 Roclites, you’ve inspired me to maybe take these and walk/run the course.

        Sorry if this is a stupid question, but what happens if you get really wet feet – is that a problem? It can get pretty boggy between Meelbeg and Ben Crom and I’m worried that I mightn’t last the course if I exchange the waterproof boots for Roclites. I’d welcome an experienced view.

        Thanks and well done.

      2. Hi Elaine,
        Good on you for deciding to do the Mourne 7 Sevens. Its a really great run, espeically if you get the weather for it.

        You are right thought – the section before Ben Crom is wet and boggy in parts and you should plan on getting wet feet. As a mountain runner, I’d even be surprised if I don’t get wet feet on a run! If you are going to run the event, I’d just wear the Roclites and then use good socks that keep your feet warm even when wet: I am a huge fan of Smartwool socks like these performance trail running ones: https://www.smartwool.com/default.cfm#/Womens/Socks/PerformanceSocks/_/2385/. Also you can put vaseline or sudocream on your feet the night before just to soften them up and protect them from getting blisters.

        If you are going to walk most of it, roclites don’t have much cushioning and so could end up being uncomfortable. Bringing both along I think would be too much to carry and too much hassle.

        Hope this of some help and hope you have fun out there!

  6. Wow, stunning! Amazing pics and weather!
    One of those days/memories and experiences that stay with you forever I’d say! Inspired I am!

    1. Thanks Jackie – oh yeah, it was really worth it. Nice to also run mountains other than those in Wicklow. Its hard to believe that the Mournes are only 80 minutes away and that us Dubliners rarely go there!

      Overall, highly recommended…

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