Camp at Ben Crom

Since our recent camps have been gentle affairs near the car I had been itching for a wild camp for a quite a while. Not 10 minutes after I had tentatively floated the idea of a Friday night away to the wife, Matt from NI-Wild texted me to say that he was bored lying around the house and did I fancy a bivvy somewhere. Never one to turn down an offer like that, I leapt at the chance and the Shelter Stone at Ben Crom, somewhere neither of us had been was picked as our destination.

The Shelter Stone is a set of several flat granite slabs jutting out from the steep slopes of the northern end of Ben Crom. There is enough room beneath for a few people to lie down and it has been a recognised camping spot for as long as anyone can remember. Stories float around the internet of days of yore when campers left tins of beans and candles there for future inhabitants and there is even a rumor that there was once a visitors log book and pencil for passing campers to sign. These days it’s a well traveled spot and alas the beans are no more.

Ben Crom from Hares Gap

Ben Crom isn’t hard to get to and the thought of not having to thrash myself to the top of a mountain pleased me greatly. After a glance at the map, starting from the secure parking at Meelmore Lodge seemed the easiest plan hiking to Hares Gap, then dropping down the slopes of Slieve Bearnagh to our destination.

I checked with numerous people and gave the internet a damn good searching but was unable to find very much information on the Shelter Stone despite it being such a popular destination. Simon from the Northern Focus blog was able to supply a photo showing roughly where it was but it seemed we were going to have to assume we could find it on the night.

Walking towards Ben Crom

We made final plans and posted the trip on NI-Wild gathering 10 or so potential companions. We had been warned that the midges would be wild but decided we were manly enough to withstand a few flying beasties and would bivvy rather than take tents.

Come 730pm Friday evening we collected Flipmeb and met Dowser, Landyliam, Rumblebum and Chuck at Meelmore Lodge and prepared to set off. The weather was lovely with low winds and bright sunshine and we could clearly see Hares Gap beconing us in the distance. The walk to the foot of the boulder field was uneventful and we chewed the fat as we wandered at a leisurely pace. At Hares we split into two groups with Chuck and Flipmeb choosing the clamber straight up with the rest of us hitting the Goat Path that skirts the side on the westerly slopes of Slieve Bearnagh. Once we had reached the Mourne Wall Landyliam spotted the path and we began the descent to the reservoir by a sizable river unnamed on the OS map.

The Shelter Stone at Ben Crom

By this stage it was after 830pm and we started to notice the midges but while we were moving they were no trouble. Nearing our destination we passed a group of 4 tents camped on the flat boggy ground surrounded by people wearing head nets and complaining vigorously about the swarms of insects. By the time we reached the shores of Ben Crom Reservoir the air was thick and we couldn’t stand around too long without discomfort. We saw a few lone tents and assumed it was the others we were expecting to meet but no-one seemed to be about so we didn’t stop. Climbing back up the hill we spotted that two of our group had found the Shelter Stone so we hiked up to meet them. The hill leading from the water is really quite steep and has no path to make movement easier requiring a slog through long grass and heather.

Under the Shelter Stone

Reaching the rocky outcrop there was no doubt that it was the Shelter Stone that we were looking for but for some reason it was vaguely disappointing. Maybe I expected it to be bigger! There would have been room to squeeze 3 or 4 underneath but there was no way 7 would fit and with the surrounding area being too sloped to camp, we elected to drop down to a flat spot by the Kilkeel River that we had passed on the way up.

Come Prepared!

It was now after 9pm and it was becoming clear that the midges were going to be more of a problem than anticipated. They hung in the air like a fog, settling on every inch of bare skin leaving us scratching and slapping continuously. The assumption that as the sun went down the little buggers would bugger off turned out to be fallacious and we were still at war with them at 11pm. Lighting a hobo stove with firelog, a notoriously smoky, smelly fuel was hoped to be our savior but the midges seemed unperturbed and we could actually hear the popping as they flew into the flames. Everyone put off cooking not wanting to eat a meal peppered with insects and we huddled around the stove waiting for them to retreat. The tents by the loughside had turned out to be Redspud and Hendy with two friends and they came to join us for some chat before being beaten back to their insect free tents. Everyone was covered in insect repellent and some had head nets but the truth is, a full hazmat suit probably wouldn’t have helped.

After 11pm the battle finally eased, the midges gradually relented and we were able to cook some food and have a snifter or two of Scotch. After midnight BillyBackpack appeared out of the dark having raced over from Meelmore late and we chewed the fat until after 3am.

Round the Hobo Stove at Ben Crom

By 630am the sun was bright in the cloudless sky and the midges were starting to rise again so me, Matt and Flipmeb decided the only plan was retreat. BillyBackpack the man/machine was already packed and ready to leave for a days work and as he left we packed up our gear and started the climb back to Hares Gap leaving everyone else slumbering. It was a glorious hike and despite having only 3 hours sleep and carrying a bit of a Jack Daniels hangover it was a pleasant walk. Back at Meelmore we stopped for a quick bacon and egg roll before jumping in the car to head home and try and survive what was going to be a very tiring day!

Sun over the Peaks

I can heartily recommend Ben Crom as a top place for an overnight. It’s not a tough hike and once you drop down to the shoreline you are completely enclosed on all sides by mountain and the feeling of being deep in the Mournes is awesome. The midges were unbearable and did really put a downer on the trip so next time we’ll definitely be picking our weather a bit more carefully!

Meelmore Lodge to Ben Crom Route Map

This entry was posted in Trip Reviews.

4 Responses to Camp at Ben Crom

  1. Gareth says:

    Good write up mate. It sounds like a good spot for a winter camp. No Midges.

  2. Sounds like a great night (with the exception of those little winged terrors!). Really sorry I missed it, but sounds like it will be well worth a repeat visit. Might stick to Gareth’s suggestion though and wait for winter 🙂

  3. Pingback: Slieve Commedagh Summit Camp | NI-Wild Blog

  4. Chuck says:

    If you are heading back be sure to have a walk up the Killkeel River valley, much more fun than going up the river to Hare Gap direction…you can boulder right along the river and there is some very cool rock features, and bivvy spots beside the river. (click my name for a pic or two)

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