Slemish, from the northeast, rising in splendid isolation from the surrounding plains.
At only 437m high, Slemish is not a big mountain, even by Irish standards. However, it achives great prominence as it stands alone, surrounded for miles around by flat plains in Co. Antrim. It is a fascinating mountain, being a volcanic plug, formed by several eruptions of molten lava rising to the surface, which was hundreds of metres higher than it is today, higher even than the present summit of Slemish. As the volcano became dormant, the lava hardened into dolerite rock, much harder than the surrounding basalt, also formed by volcanic action. Over millions of years the surrounding rock was worn away by erosion, and the volcanic plug of Slemish was all that remained.
Due to its prominence, many legends have attached themselves to the mountain, and it is claimed to be the location of St Patrick’s first visit to Ireland, as a captive slave. The story says he tended sheep on Slemish for his master Milchu, before eventually escaping.
There is a visitors centre at the foot of the mountain on the northeast side, with parking and good information boards, It was from there that I set off up the steep but short climb to the top.
Approaching Slemish across the Antrim plains.
A closer view as I started up the slope.
Initially, I ignored the visitor centre, as I wanted to take advantage of the good weather, which is always likely to change quickly in Ireland. I could call into the centre after the ascent, when it wouldn’t matter if the weather changed. The slope on this side of the mountain is fairly steep, which makes for a more interesting ascent, but not too difficult as there is no great height gain. It didn’t take much height to get expansive views over the surrounding flat countryside, with sunlight breaking through the clouds and raking the patchwork fields.
Looking north towards the higher Antrim Hills. You can see the conical roof of the visitors centre on the bottom left.
Looking west, where the Sperrin Mountains form a low line on the horizon.
Seemingly in no time, I had reached the summit, at the northern end of a long, gradually dropping plateau. From there, I could now clearly see the Sperrins in the west, and also just about distinguish the silver line of Lough Neagh. North were the higher Antrim Hills, far away over the lush farmland. To the east the sea was visible. South, the landscape was a little bleaker, and fittingly the weather in that direction was more threatening with black clouds overhead, making me glad I had left the visitors centre to later. Beyond the bleaker southern landscape, I could see the Belfast Hills, and, again just about, the Mourne Mountains.
At the summit, looking east, the sea just visible in the distance.
The Sperrins to the west.
The Belfast Hills on the southern horizon.
A gap in the threatening clouds to the south.
The landscape to the south was a little wilder than that to the north, with the sky seeming to match the terrain.
Fleeting light moving across the western view.
I walked down the slowy dropping plateau to the south, here looking back north along its length to the summit.
East to the sea and the Glens of Antrim.
Another view east from near the summit.
Gloomier now to the west too. Viewed larger, in this image you can just see a silver line on the horizon formed by Lough Neagh, the largest lake in the British Isles.
One shaft of light breaking through the clouds and illuminating a small part of the patchwork fields in the north, as I started back down the mountain.
Back at the visitor centre, I popped inside and spent a while reading the information boards which were excellent in explaining the geology of the mountain. Well worth a visit. It was not attended, and the doors were left open, allowing swallows to come in and perch inside the glass topped conical roof I had looked down on earlier from the mountainside.
Swallows inside the visitors centre.
Despite its small size, this is a fascinating mountain, given its geology and legends, and its isolated position ensure magnificent views out of proportion to its height. A great walk if you’re after something not too taxing.