On a recent trip to Castlewellan, a group of us got to experience some epic cycle trails whilst sampling some local artisan craft beers amidst the stunning Mournes scenery.
Launched in Brewing and Distilling Month, part of Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink, the Mourne Trails and Ales Tour wasdeveloped by Life Adventure Centre in Castlewellan.
Mourne Trails & Ales Tour
This fully guided cycling tour takes in the iconic trails of the Mourne Mountains and teams them with a sample of a select batch of Mourne Mountains Brewery’s equally iconic ales.
The concept behind the tour is to bring you by bike through the stunning scenery and locations that have sparked the names of the beers and ales that you taste along the way.
Influenced by Irish myth and legend, and taking in the landscapes that inspired C.S. Lewis to write Narnia, the Mournes Trails and Ales Tour is ideal for the adventure seeker. If soft cycling is more your thing, the guides at Life Adventure can adjust the tour to suit all abilities.
Over a warming brew, accompanied by some delicious homemade oat and ale cakes – made by Martin’s own fair hands and including Mourne Mountains Brewery’s ales - we get an overview of the day ahead before we’re equipped with bikes and helmets.
After the necessary safety checks, we set off on the first part of the day – the mountain bike trail.
Now this is where things turn interesting, and I don’t just mean the stories that Martin regales about the history of Castlewellan park and its links with the Earl of Annesley’s family.
Oh no! I mean the bit when I realise I’m actually going to be on a mountain bike, mountain biking on a mountain bike trail. Help!
As a novice cyclist however, my fears are unfounded, and after a bumpy start I manage to stay upright (most of the time) as we make our way through the purpose trails trails – with only one minor mishap along the way.
At various points throughout the trail, we get to hear stories of old and experience some of the wonderful natural exhibits the forest has to offer.
We also take in the striking views of the northern Mourne Mountains that can be glimpsed before reaching Castlewellan Lake.
The park is also home to the Peace Maze, one of the world’s largest permanent hedge mazes, and the National Arboretum, a mixture of informal and formal garden design with terraces, fountains, ornamental gates and flower borders.
After an action-packed morning we make our way back to the centre where we get our first taste of Mourne Mountains Brewery’s Red Trail Ale.
Combining the finest speciality malts and barley, Red Trail Ale has a long dry finish and was a favourite for two of our group.
Refreshed and ready for action, our bikes are loaded into the trailer before we set off for the next stage of the trail – Spelga descent.
Spelga Descent to Mourne Gold
Taking in the wondrous scenery as we drive through the country roads, our guide tells stories about smugglers of old and the area’s prospecting past.
Arriving at Spelga, we’re kitted out with electric bikes for the next stage of the trail.
For the uninitiated (like I was), an electric bike is a bicycle that has been adapted with an electric motor which gives the rider assistance when cycling – a must for Spelga descent.
Our spin round Spelga culminates at the lake - the inspiration and water source behind our next sample of the day, Mourne Gold.
This very pale ale was definitely my favourite tipple of the day as it’s a lighter ale than the others. Cheers!
With the bikes loaded back onto the trailer, we make the short drive into the picturesque village of Rostrevor where we’re served up a delicious soup lunch before we make our way to Kilbroney Forest Park.
Ascending and Descending Kilbroney Park
Set in 97 acres of beautiful parkland,Kilbroney Parkoverlooks Carlingford Lough and is nestled within the shadow of Slieve Martin and the Mountains of Mourne.
With a steep incline to the summit, we’re taxied up the two-mile forest drive where the panoramic views over Carlingford Lough are just stunning.
We hop on the electric bikes and, with the assistance of some much needed turbo injection, we take the final steep climb to Cloughmore or ‘the big stone’ as it’s known locally.
This 30ton glacial erratic sits at approx 1000ft above Rostrevor. Geologists explain its presence here as being deposited during the ice age.
However, local folklore has it that Finn Mac Cool thrust the stone here during a fight with a Scottish Giant. I know which story I prefer!
Our final tipple for the day, atop the summit, is Big Rock. Taking inspiration from German-style wheat beers, and of course the big stone, this beer has a fruity aroma balanced with spicy German Northern Brewer hops.
And it is here that our trail nears its end.
We make the short journey back to Life Adventure Centre in Castlewellan where our cycling journey ends for the day.
Explore More on Two Wheels
We know that cycling and scenery is a winning combination, and when you add in a beer that has been hand crafted and locally made, it’s a refreshing way to enjoy great produce and stunning scenery on two wheels.
The Mourne Trails and Ales Tour will appeal to those that enjoy a more leisurely approach to sampling the sights, although the trails can be adapted for those that seek a more challenging experience.
If you’ve been inspired to get off the beaten track and find out more about our artisan producers this Brewing and Distilling Month, take a short break to Northern Ireland and explore more with discovernorthernireland.com