Bloody Bridge Bouldering

Since NI-Wild started one of the things that we have never done is a pure car camp. As a group we have usually avoided organised campsites mostly because we like the remoteness and peace of a wild camp but also because they can be uncomfortable places sometimes. I wouldn’t paint all car campers and caravanners with the same brush, there are plenty of lovely people to meet but there is definitely an element both young and old who see it purely as a cheap way to get a nights drinking in away from the boozer. Whether it’s yoofs revving their huge exhaust equipped Corsas, threats from loud drunken caravan owners or having to listen to violent marital disputes, when things kick off at a public campsite everyone usually has to duck. However, a few weeks ago we had a night at Bloody Bridge Campsite after a day hiking the Brandy Pad and it was really quite good fun. The place was suprisingly quiet through the day and into the night and if I was honest, once we had a few ales round the fire we were possibly the noisiest people there. This weekend for a change we decided to go back and just spend some time chilling out. Several groups went down early and headed for Carrick Little to give the kids a run up the Annalong Valley and we planned to drift down in the afternoon with a view to doing some bouldering on the Bloody Bridge River.

Mickey D addiction and its destructive effects
Experts agree that the problem with drugs is not always medical but rather the effect they can have on a normal person trying to lead a normal life. It would appear that when it comes to the outdoors McDonalds has the same effect on us. Invariably the best laid plans to be somewhere in the Mournes to do something at a specific time are always derailed on the Saintfield Road when we approach everyones favourite fast food joint and can’t resist the lure of a quarter pounder with cheese regardless of how bad an idea it is as we’re already late. Add the fact that the one element missing from the UK McDonards Fast Food outfit is “fast” and you can always plan we’ll be at least an hour late for everything. So as normal, we planned to be at camp for 3pm and didn’t get there until after 4 and once the tents were erected and we were lazing in the sun everyone pretty much decided that the river seemed an awfully long distance away and maybe dinner was a better idea.

This zombie wants your beer

How I learned to stop worrying and love comfortable camping
When you need to lug all your gear for an overnight camp even part way up a mountain it breeds a very specific mindset. Every kilo suddenly makes a difference and having a rucksack heavier than it needs to be simply isn’t worth it. I wouldn’t go as far as sawing off the handle off my toothbrush but when listing stuff I want to take, everything that isn’t absolutely essential gets left at home. Any tent choice will have little enough fabric to make putting on your trousers an event needing some serious planning, spare clothes are the first item in the discard pile meaning a possible damp night filled with chaffing, food gets chosen based on weight vs calories and anyone daring to bring an actual tin of beer to a summit is likely to have an experience similar to being the last non-zombie on earth when everyone else is crying out for fresh brains. So as a normal lightweight camper the thought of being able to fill the car with all sorts of camping goodies makes me giddy and a bit weak at the knees. Imagine being able to sit on an honest-to-God chair. I don’t mean a rock with a square of closed cell foam mat on it, I mean an actual collapseable fabric chair with a holder for your cup…. Luxury….. Needless to say the car was packed to the point that opening the boot would remind you of a one of those kids toys comprising a tin with a boxing glove on a spring and when you wound the handle it punched you up the coupon. When I opened the boot there was every chance of a taking a bag with every mountain jacket I’ve ever owned to the face.

How I learned to stop worrying about weight and just get on with it
Comfy seats aside, the problem with the lovely luxury of car camping is a) I’m not very good at it and b) It needs more exercise than carrying your rucksack up a hill does anyway. When I say I’m not very good at it what I mean is half of the stuff I bring is crap I don’t really need but at the same time, I still somehow manage to leave essential gear at home. Think remembering to pack two tarps incase we fancied some setup experimentation but not bothering to bring a knife to spread butter with. On the exercise front, when the car is parked a bit of a distance from the tent and you have the boot filled to bursting with stuff, you can expect to have to do a return journey to the car roughly every 30 seconds for something you need. Ultralight is the way to go, just pack a chair.

Camping at Bloody Bridge

Setting up camp

Of burgers and bacon
Having lounged around for long enough marvelling at wonder of sitting in a chair we decided it was grub time. By this stage we were about 15 strong having some still to arrive and the groups at Annalong still getting some healthy exercise. We fired up a handful of BBQs and the odd gas stove and as usual, meat was the standard fair as we all sizzled our way through an evening meal. By this stage Frank the campsite owner had left us an unassembled garden burner and some bags of logs and in no time we were alite. One of the undeniably great things about car camping is that it’s extremely child friendly. The kids can bring all their essential gubbins and there is always someone for them to go and climb a wall with so with the young’uns all amusing themselves we settled down for some banter and a few beers around the fire. The night was long and pleasant after an afternoon of broken sunshine and it was warm enough to sit out without discomfort which we did until the small hours of 3am(ish!).

Chillin' out maxin' relaxin' all cool

The outdoors alarm clock
After a very comfortable nights sleep on a lovely weighty and thick mat came the one, massive downside to camping when the weather is nice – sunrise. At ouch o’clock the sun comes up and without walls and heavy curtains it burns through your eyelids and seemingly directly into your brain. Even with your eyes closed it’s so bright it hurts your head, moreso if you thought a snifter of port was a good idea last thing before bed! Suddenly you crave the cold winter mornings where you can happily laze in bed until 9am without feeling like you’re trying to sleep in the testing room of a lightbulb factory. By 7am coffee and breakfast seemed the only plan and everyone started to appear bleary eyed and wobbly and I didn’t seem to be the only one wondering whose idea the port had been. However, after some caffeine and a bite to eat the unusual summer sunshine perked everyone up and following some tentative negotiations we decided that since the cars were filled with helmets and PFDs it would be a shame to waste the glorious weather and so we packed away the tents and headed up the Bloody Bridge Trail for a date with some very chilly water.

It doesn’t matter how cold you think it’s going to be, trust me, it’s going to be colder
We paused briefly at the bridge where the bouldering trail starts if you want to traverse up the river but decided that looked like hard work and since not everyone was game to get wet we agreed to walk on. On a recent Chimney Rock Mountain summit bivvy we had passed deep pools on the descent and been unable to resist stripping to our underwear for a swim and had always vowed to come back for some dedicated messing and this seemed like the perfect time. The river starts around a granite quarry near the Bog of Donard and flows to the sea with plenty of small falls and pools along the way. The spot we were aiming for has two deep joined pools about a meter drop from its rocky edges making them ideal to leap into. The drop is just high enough to make you nervous with the water deep enough that you wont hit the bottom when you leap. When we reached them they were already pretty busy and we recognised some young people who had been camping near us the night before and had obviously seen the weather and had the same idea. It was a great laugh as we all generally frolicked like carefree kids and the actual kids also dipped in and had a play, I’m assuming with the same carefree attitude. Regardless of the time of year all water running off a mountain is going to be extremely chilly. When you jump in and completely submerge the cold is such a shock that it forces the air from your lungs leaving you gasping like a fool when you break the surface and as you try to swim to safety it’s still hard to get a breath. We had a decent play and as we spent more time in the water and became more accustomed to its fridgid temperatures making our way to sea level by the river rather than the path started to seem like a great idea.

Clambering down a fall

Many drops can someday make a river
Looking at the river dropping away beneath, it actually looks quite easy to follow it seawards – after all, technically if it was moving fast enough and you just lay down you’d get washed to your destination. Needless to say this river doesn’t flow quickly enough for that sort of a descent and the only way down is a slow clamber over the falls and through the pools. In the millenia since glaciers shaped the Mourne Mountains, water has risen and dropped carving ever deeper paths through the rocks leaving the summer slow flowing river running in winding channels sometimes fast and sometimes slowing to a trickle. The riverbed tends to be slick with algae and it can be treacherous trying to keep your balance needing every step considered. When you come to the small waterfalls and gulleys you need to shuffle down on your bum with the water flowing round your thighs and hope the pool you’re heading for doesn’t have anything pointy waiting below the surface. On the drop there are numerous spots deep enough for actual swimming so we shuffled, slipped and swam our way gently downstream in what was turning into a truly glorious summers day. The others that had elected for a dryer descent would creep down to the banks to see us pass and kids dropped in and out through the fun parts until eventually five remained, then four. Having come this far we were determined to see it through and pressed on to finally meet our chums near the sea. The final stretch included a fall large enough to need lowered down on a rope which was a scary and suprising twist but ultimately provided a challenge which when completed made the success of the entire undertaking all the sweeter and ensured we would have grand tales to tell around the next campfire!

Having a swim

Dicing with the rolling pin
The decision to come down the slowest possible way not only meant the rest of the NI-Wilders had to stand around and wait for ages (in unbroken sunshine – we did you a favour!) but endangered a promise I had made to be home around lunch. The descent had taken several hours against the 15 minute wander down the path and it was already 2pm and I was straying away from a time I could still claim to be “lunch” leaving me with some potential marital explaining to do. With this in mind we hurredly gave any borrowed gear back, changed quickly in the car park behind the car whilst inadvertantly flashing an engine full of firemen, and made for home. After another date with destiny on the Saintfield Road (KFC this time, why can’t we help ourselves?) we had a lazy half hour in the garden for some discussions on the highs and lows of the weekend with a tacit agreement that it had been yet another blinder and that both car camping and playing like children in the water would both likely to be future fixtures on the NI-Wild calendar.

So long and thanks for all the… Advice…
A big thanks to Shamara, Sonya and Kevin for gear, advice and when it came to it, occasional shove, mental or physical. We need to do this again some time!

More photos to follow of the bouldering when Lenny gets them extracted.

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This entry was posted in Trip Reviews.

2 Responses to Bloody Bridge Bouldering

  1. LennyJ1 says:

    Great write up J. Really enjoyed reading it.

  2. Gareth says:

    Good write up mate. I wish i could of made it.

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