Black Mountain – Belfast

My scratches weren’t deep, but there was definitely blood on my arms as I fought to escape the clutches of the mountain.

Black Mountain is neither black, nor what usually passes for a mountain. At less than two thousand feet, it is still a decent climb, or at least a long trek with some steep bits.

There was no need for me to go off road, but I remained convinced that there is an old mountain path that leads to Whiterock from the top. Dragging my bicycle across boggy fields, over barbed wire and through whins and hawthorn is not the smartest thing I have done. So I made sure to do it twice, with the same result. The cows weren’t as startled as I was, but still managed to register their disapproval with that deep-throated belching noise they make. I registered my disapproval of the cow muck I was wading through with a soft tutting sound to accompany the squelching of my feet.

I don’t wrestle with the Black Mountain out of any antagonism; in fact I am drawn to it by a sense of wondrous fascination. It forms the West flank of Belfast and with Divis Mountain constitutes a range of hills ending in Cave Hill and a feature known as Napoleon’s nose.  Cave Hill has its cave, castle and disused quarry, whereas Black Mountain has its working quarry, a couple of farms on the lower slopes and an ominous presence in bad weather.

It’s the ruggedness I go for every time. The boggy approach from the Southern end near the communications mast was my first introduction to its charms, more than a decade ago. The payoff comes after you have had a good walk along the summit. That first panoramic view was spectacular. I would have said awesome, but unfortunately that word has lost its true meaning. However, awe sums up the emotional response I had to nature laid out in all its magnificence. It’s hard to beat the experience of standing on top of a mountain where sea, sky, and cityscape can be viewed as a large three-dimensional picture and the horizons hint at infinity.

Looking around you can see the Mourne Mountains to the South and Belfast city below you. The city stretches over the River Lagan past the docks towards the gentler hills on the Eastern flank. Two great yellow cranes can be seen to remind you of Belfast’s shipbuilding heritage, although most of the work carried out in those docks nowadays is to repair oil platforms. Ferries make their way to the horizon as the harbour fans out towards the open sea.

Once started on my foolhardy exit quest, there was no stopping me. I wore my scratches with pride as I tumbled towards a housing estate and the road home. My Black Mountain adventures occasionally come to mind when I take a proper gaze at the mountain from the back of our house. Then I promise myself that someday soon I will make another attempt to find the mountain path to Whiterock.

This beautiful geographical feature of Belfast can wrap itself in clouds, fog, mist and darkness. It encourages the sea to form rain clouds, and changes colour with the seasons. You catch glimpses of it between the tall buildings in the city centre and its slopes are often festooned with huge, white letters making political statements like “Viva Palestine”.  The mountain was once used as a military firing range, but, as another symbol of the peace process, it is now maintained by the National Trust and a treasure for all.


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