Inspirational Trails 10: Slieve Croob
Written By: SportsShoes
Here, in part ten of a series featuring inspirational trails, Salomon athlete and international mountain runner, Zak Hanna, describes his favourite local trails around Slieve Croob in Northern Ireland.
"I've been all around the world, but there's nowhere that compares to my hometown"
These lyrics, penned in the song ‘Diamonds in the Mud’, by Scottish singer Gerry Cinnamon, resonate deeply with me.
Since I first started running in 2016, I have been extremely fortunate and feel very grateful to have visited many countries that I never thought I would ever get to see, such as Argentina, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Italy, to name but a few. Between racing and training I have seen some amazing places and ran on world class trails, but despite all of these fantastic experiences, my favourite place to run will always lie closer to home. So close in fact, that it's basically classed as my own back yard.
I live on the slopes of a mountain called Slieve Croob, nestled just outside Dromara Village in County Down, Northern Ireland. Whilst it isn't the highest mountain in the country, the summit peaks at 534 metres/1752ft above sea level, living beside it means that I have easy access to some great fell running terrain.
In just 20 minutes, I can arrive at the summit after leaving my house. On a clear day from the top, you are greeted to a 360° panoramic view of Northern Ireland, with the famous Mourne Mountains and Newcastle facing straight ahead as soon as you arrive at the trigpoint. Reaching the summit in winter is even more magical, especially when the sun starts to rise over the horizon on the Irish Sea, and if the weather is kind, you can see as far as the Isle of Man, Scotland and the Lake District.
Photo credit: Zak Hanna
From the summit I have a choice of routes I can take, ranging from a quick 5 miles to a much longer 15-mile loop that climbs Slieve Croob from its steepest side, as well as the side that I live on. Depending on what you are looking for in a run, there are plenty of options and you'll never be left feeling disappointed.
Throughout the winter I train on the roads and lower trails that surround Slieve Croob, 95% of it is experienced in the dark with a head torch, to prepare me for a summer of mountain racing on the continent. The terrain surrounding the mountain makes you tough, with the exposed nature of the area making it a hotspot for gale force winds and deep snow in the middle of the coldest season. When it comes to racing in Europe, I can arrive on the start line satisfied that I have trained on some brutal terrain, always ready and prepared for whatever I have to face.
The luxury of a month on an altitude or warm weather training camp isn't something I'm able to do because of work, so making the most of what I have is the only option. But I'm not complaining. I love running at home, and with my dog Corragh by my side for the majority of my training. We both get to enjoy our local scenery which is well-known to be an area of outstanding natural beauty.
The national lockdown earlier this year made me realise and appreciate just how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place. The novelty of running new routes, either planned or randomly created, was a joyous thing to do, as it challenged me to search for new places to run in my local area. The lack of people along these routes was also an added bonus, just me, myself and my dog alone on the open fells, with blue skies and sun shining, is just how one would envisage a perfect run.
Learning to explore the local area you live in is a very rewarding and worthwhile experience, as it shows you just what is out there if you are willing to leave your comfort zone to do so.
You don’t always have to travel far to find what you are looking for. The most inspiring trails to run are often in your back garden.
Want to explore this part of Northern Ireland? Then check out Zak Hanna’s recommended 7.5 mile trail route (GPX file), which takes in the summit of Slieve Croob and the beautiful surrounding area.