Heading up Hen

As the evenings draw out more and more, it gives us the chance to squeeze in a cheeky mid-week hike up into the Kingdom of Mourne. And, with the forecast looking good for Wednesday evening and sunset around 6.15, I couldn't resist a quite scoot up!

I originally had thought of heading up into the High Mournes to the east. But, as I drove closer, seeing the sun already low in the sky, I realised that that plan was decidedly over-ambitious. A change of plan was needed. So I headed for the lower Western Mournes, and for a summit I have not visited before: Hen Mountain.

I vividly remember driving past Hen on my way to start my first hike into the mountains a couple of summers ago. Acting as a sentinel watching over all those who drive from Hilltown up the steep road to Spelga Dam, the small yet perfectly formed peak is striking and beautiful. It's sides are conical just the way a mountain should be. And the top of the summit is crowned with three summit tors, trusty outcrops of rough granite, the photographer's friend when looking for foreground interest.

Since then, I have driven past it many times on my way to the High Mournes. And I have gazed down at it from the other side, from Pierces Castle, looking down the Rocky River to the umistakable shape of those trusty tors.

The summit tors of Hen, as seen from Pierces Castle

But this week it was my turn to visit the summit for myself. And what a pleasant hike it is too. In under thirty minutes, you can be from the car to the top - perfect for a quick after work hike.

When I arrived at the top, the peak didn't at all disappoint. I reached the West Tor first. I followed a well trod path up onto the coarse-grained granite and paused to take in the view all around. The sun was now very low, bathing the whole vista around me in ever warmer and softer light. As I came down off the tor, the sun was just about poking over the rock - and I had to squeeze in a quick photo.

But, really, with the sun quickly setting, I had no time to lose - but where to shoot? When you visit somewhere for the first time, you need a bit of time to take in all the possibilities and options for shots around you. And Hen provides plenty of these for sure. I'll scope the place out as quickly as I can, I thought to myself, heading on up to the slightly higher Summit Tor. By now, warmth was streaming into the valleys below, so I paused to take a shot from there with the craggy tor featuring in the foreground.

I quickly looked over at the South Tor - it looked great too. But I had made my mind up. Tonight was going to be about the West Tor. And I had to act fast. I wanted to set my camera well back from the tor, to take it in, a slab of granite on the ground, and as much of the valleys beyond as possible. But I wanted to have me standing on the summit of the tor!

So the camera was set up on the tripod, I connected my phone app to the camera, and set off the 50m or so to the tor itself. This was testing the range of the remote control to its limits. Would the connection hold? With the light quickly fading, I had to nail it fast. I scrambled up to the top of the tor, holding my phone aloft in the hope that the connection would remain. I took position and tried for the shot and - it worked!

Down I came again and back up to my camera. By now, the sun had nearly disappeared below the horizon. But there was one more shot I wanted to fit in before it finally went. This time it was shooting the tor from the north and featuring its reflection in one of the summit ponds. So, take two: camera in place, connection with phone made, quick scramble to the top - only to discover the connection had gone! Back down again, quick as I could, reconnection, back up and - boom, got it! By now the streaky clouds in the sky had taken on a great colour, underlit by the sun.

Having got those shots, I relaxed and watched the ever deepening twilight sky take over, while I enjoyed a quick sandwich and drink, resting back against the tor, sheltering from the wind. A quick scoot back down before it got finally dark, and the job was done.

Much as I love getting into the true heart of the Mournes in the High Mournes to the east, the western Mournes are stunning in and of themselves. And just perfect for that quick dash up at this time of year after work. And especially so when, as with Hen, you are rewarded with such wonderful interest on the summit!