The Wonderful World of Murlough and It's Wildlife.
The Mourne Mountains
A Place to visit.
The mountains sweep down to meet the sea, in such a majestic way that one can be forgiven for believing they call our name. Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland’s highest mountain, and its neighbour Slieve Commedagh, nestle commandingly over the sea from Newcastle, County Down. They stand just like two God’s watching over the mere mortals living below them, in the beauty and serenity that their shadows afford. Lost in low lying mist, caressing the shore line, is Ireland’s first Nature Reserve, Murlough.
Murlough National Nature Reserve, is a 6000 year old network of fragile sand and wet land dune systems, owned and managed by the National Trust, since 1967. Its spectacular location, at the edge of Dundrum Bay, makes it an ideal walking destination for anyone who shares an interest in our heritage, and wildlife. Depending on the season, this vast acreage of board walks and carefully connected pathways, lends the imagination to many fantasies surrounding the area. The frequent frets, flowing silently through the trees and across the dunes, can whisper of the pirates and smugglers, who in days gone by, hauled their wears from all over the County Down coastline. The marsh land surrounding the area is similar to Jane Eyre country, in Yorkshire, and again, many damsel s have been saved from the inclement weather that at times, the area is subject too.
Murlough, commands the position of the best and most extensive example of dune heath within Ireland. The woodland area is home to the Herons, who nest in the tall pine trees sitting at the edge of the bay. When walking, you can hear their warble from miles away, and as you approach the thicket of trees, you can hear the whoosh of their wings as they land on their nests, feeding young birds looking eagerly for sustenance.
The heath plays host to twenty two different species of butterflies, one in particular, the Marsh Fritillary, is of great European importance. It is a fond favourite of the photographers in the summer months, because it is rarely sighted elsewhere.
From the shore, it is not unusual to watch the grey seal and her pups, play lovingly in the shallow waters just off shore. This is a pastime which enthrals children swimming in the bay during the summer months, when the sea temperature rises a little. Throughout the reserve, are located many stunning path ways, leading to one of the nicest and best kept beaches in County Down. This is an ideal location for a picnic or bar-b-que, followed by camp fire cook outs in the evening. The sea air always stimulates a good appetite, and there are ample sites approaching the beach specifically for the lighting of a bar-b-que.
In the evening, and early morning, you are treated by a crescendo of coloured lights from the sun’s rays, dancing across the water. It is a combination of beautiful stunning skies, with colours from red to purple in the evening, and silver to lemon in the early morning. Camping is available, and there is a hostel on sight, for those people who wish to stay a little longer than the annual procession of day trippers.
There has been evidence of human habitation in the area from Neolithic times, through the Bronze Age, to the present day. These finds can be viewed in the Down Museum some 12 miles away. However, today the heaths are home to wild horses grazing the common land, rabbits and hares as well as wintering wild fowl and waders, from all over the world.
Whatever time of year you decide to visit, the landscape and spectacular coastal views, will never cease to amaze and bring sheer delight to its visitors and residents alike. As for me, I am still looking for my “Heathcliffe” between the grassland and dunes, or maybe, a red blooded pirate to sail me away into the sunset and beyond.