Everyone knows about the beautiful Slieve Gullion Forest Drive and the magnificent Kilbroney Park with it's Big Stone, but even closer to Newry City is a hidden gem that through time has been erased from local memory.

Camlough Mountain Forest walk. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
Camlough Mountain Forest walk. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

Just a few miles from Newry an unsung gem in the South Armagh countryside is waiting for your visit. Camlough Forest nestled on the side of Camlough Mountain has been closed to traffic for years, but with the arrival of Covid-19 it is starting to get noticed again, at least by those living beside it or those wanting to climb the mountain.

Ballymacdermot Cairn. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
Ballymacdermot Cairn. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

Years ago it was a popular forest drive, possibly more popular that even Slieve Gullion, but when the Army moved in and put their look-out post atop of Camlough Mountain that all changed, with the addition of large concrete deposits and metal spikes to stop traffic using the facility which might have been an easy route for a potential sniper attack or suchlike.

DAERA add that the drive was closed to public vehicle access in the late 1980's due to "limited use" 

The Tamnaghbane Road. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
The Tamnaghbane Road. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

All change happened in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement and in the early years of the 21st century the army look out towers and structures were removed, but still almost 20 years later the concrete and spikes remain.

Owned and maintained by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs - Forest Service the tarred road is perfect for a walk or a cycle, albeit a strenuous one, but well worth it for the views.

A track at the side of the masts takes you to the summit of Camlough Mountain. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
A track at the side of the masts takes you to the summit of Camlough Mountain. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
The Route

This writer took the trip last weekend with his bicycle and with a combination of cycling, and walking the bike up steep hills, the entire circular route took just over three and a half hours!

On leaving Newry take Doran's Hill up through Barcroft, and after the road travels under the A1 follow it as it veers to the left and on the right you'll see a path up to Altnaveigh Road where you turn left. Take first right, up the Bernish Road and stop at the panoramic Bernish Viewpoint where your eyes can sweep from Newry to the distant  Mourne Mountains. Travelling on make sure you also take time to stop at the stunning Ballymacdermot Cairn, a burial chamber dating to around 3500BC.

Everywhere you look the landscape is beautiful, especially in Spring with the fragrant whin bushes all around.

After the Cairn bear right on to Seavers Road and take the next right, Tamnaghbane Road. Half a mile along on the right you will see the entrance to the Forest where you can travel all the way up the side of Camlough Mountain in incredibly peaceful calm surroundings.

When you come to the Masts if you are still feeling energetic there's a track up the side that will take you to the summit of Camlough Mountain, a journey of about 30 minutes on foot (Leave the bike!). On your return continue along the tarred road and it's a wonderful freewheel back down through the forest, with the wind in your hair, that beautiful pine smell and the sun reflecting through the trees as you zoom past.

On leaving the Forest take your bike over the barrier and at the end of the road take right, then next right along Chancellors Road, followed by next left over the A1. Take right along Martins Lane merging into Carnagat Road then take first right past Rathore School down Daisy Hill and you are back in Newry!

The barrier at the exit to the Forest. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
The barrier at the exit to the Forest. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

Improvement works?

It would cost very little to improve the Camlough Forest  facility. Perhaps the most pressing matter would be changing the entrances so that bicycles can be pushed through, rather than the present need to lift it over the barrier.

DAERA say the barriers are required to reduce the risk of unauthorised dumping and anti-social activities which has been an issue over recent years, but surely the actions of a few shouldn't keep such a wonderful facility inaccessible for the rest of us. The barriers could easily be adapted to be more walker/ cyclist friendly while still acting as a deterrent to other vehicles. Add a few rustic picnic tables and seats and the facility would be complete. 

Camlough Forest. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
Camlough Forest. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

When asked are there any plans for the forest a DAERA spokesperson said "Forest Service has a memorandum of understanding with Newry Mourne and Down DC for the development of recreation facilities in forests and this provides a framework for new priorities to be progressed. During recent years this approach has enabled many new and improved recreation facilities in forests in the Council area such as at Slieve Gullion Forest Park and Kilbroney."

Perhaps now is the time for our Council to make another terrific walking route on our doorstep more accessible!

NOTE: The Forest Service is inviting comments about how state owned forests in County Armagh should be managed. Feel free to give them your views on Camlough Forest. You have till 30 April at CONSULTATIONS.NIDIRECT.GOV.UK

UPDATE 22/3/2021

Please note, there are no parking facilities at either end of the route. If you are in a car, the nearest car parks for you to park in are at the Bernish Viewpoint or Camlough Lake car park, both just over a mile away from the entrance but easy to make a part of your walk.

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