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Interested in Hiking? Join Madelyn as she takes on the Mountains

Meet American PhD student Madelyn Nowak-Roddy and read about her passion for hiking, photography and the 'Beans Challenge'. Intrigued? You should be!

Slieve Doan

Hiya everyone! My name is Madelyn Nowak-Roddy. I’m 26 years old, from the United States, and have lived in Northern Ireland for the past 6 years whilst undertaking undergraduate, masters, and now post-graduate studies within the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast.

Throughout my time in Northern Ireland, I have experienced so many wonderful opportunities that have truly helped me grow far beyond what I could have imagined 6 years ago. Having moved back to the states for a few months prior to starting my PhD, I realised that although I had gained quite a few experiences throughout my undergraduate and masters level studies, I had not ventured through as much of the natural beauty that Ireland has as I had hoped.

As such, since returning to Northern Ireland I have made it my mission to explore as many places in this beautiful country as I can. I bought my first camera in November of 2020 and have since been documenting my adventures on Instagram, particularly my own personal challenge (called the “beans challenge”) in completing as many peaks in the Mourne Mountains as I can.

I hope through these pictures, and those to come, I can inspire others to start venturing out in the natural beauty Northern Ireland has as I promise that each peak and/or place you visit will undoubtedly prove rewarding in both the sights seen and experiences gained. 

Slieve Bearnagh, Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland

Madelyn on Slieve Bearnagh
Location- Slieve Bearnagh, Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland

Standing at 739 metres, Slieve Bearnagh is the fourth highest peak in the Mourne Mountains. Unlike the other peaks I’ve climbed, Bearnagh has an incredibly high incline on one side of the mountain, which I of course did not know about and ended up climbing up this way to the top of the mountain.

Coupled with the cold weather, this made for one of the hardest climbs I’ve done to date. However, this was also one of my favourite peaks I’ve climbed because at the top there’s a collection of stones (picture below) that (when covered in snow) remind me of a scene from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back!  

Slieve Bearnagh mountain
Location: Slieve Bearnagh, Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland

The rocks on Slieve Bearnagh that, when covered in snow, make me feel like I’m a snowtrooper in a scene from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. This picture was also reposted on one of my favourite Instagram pages for the Northern Ireland hiking community, Trek NI.

Slieve Binnian, Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland

Madelyn on Slieve Binnian
Location: Slieve Binnian, Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland

Standing at 747 metres, Slieve Binnian is the third highest peak in the Mournes and definitely a thigh burning hike. However, the beautiful views at the top of this peak coupled with the famous “surfboard” rock make for an extra cinematic picture once you’ve succeeded in your hike.

Slieve Doan, Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland

Madelyn on Slieve Doan
Location: Slieve Doan, Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland

Although Slieve Doan is a relatively small hike at 562 metres, reaching its peak provides for one of the most stunning views in the Mournes. Providing sights of nearly every major peak, Slieve Doan is often referred to as the heart of the Mournes and I couldn’t agree more.

This picture means the absolute world to me as one of my goals since starting my hiking/photography journey was to be featured on the official Instagram page for Tourism Ireland. Well, this dream is about to come true as this image will soon be shared on their channel!

Benone Strand, Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland

Madelyn on Benone strand with a surf board
Location- Benone Strand, Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland

Although this picture was also taken on my iPhone 8 prior to the purchase of my camera, I believe this experience was also truly influential to me starting my hiking/photography journey as it showed me I could tackle a new type of outdoor adventure and have fun whilst doing it!

Coming from Illinois I had never surfed before, let alone surfed in the chilly waters of the North Atlantic! Despite being cold and having absolutely no idea what I was doing, this experience was so refreshing and inspiring- I even managed to ride a few waves! I’ll definitely be back once the waters warm up a wee bit in the summer.

Glenariff Forest Park, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Madelyn in Glenariff Forest Park
Location- Glenariff Forest Park, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Shaped during the ice age by glaciers, Glenariff forest park is a valley in Country Antrim and notably one of nine Antrim glens in Northern Ireland. As an international student, I love visiting this forest park as not only does it have this stunning view of the valley, but it also has beautiful forest paths that one can walk through and find numerous waterfalls along the way.

Slieve League cliffs in County Donegal, Ireland

Madelyn on Slieve League
Location- Slieve League (Sliabh Liag) cliffs in County Donegal, Ireland

Standing at 601 meters at its highest point, the cliffs at Slieve League in County Donegal, Ireland are amongst the highest cliffs in Europe. Although this picture was taken on my iPhone 8 prior to the purchase of my camera, I believe visiting this location was truly where my hiking adventures and photography journey started.

Despite weather forecasts stating it was to rain on this day, when we arrived the skies were clear, the temperature was just right, and the wind was breezy, yet calm enough to prove cinematic without being overbearing. As such you could see the lush landscape (and multiple free roaming sheep) for miles to provide for a truly awe-inspiring experience.

This one isn't technically in Northern Ireland but it's not far away and really worth the trip!

Slieve Corragh, Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland

Madelyn on Slieve Corragh
Location- Slieve Corragh (Sliabh Corrach), Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland

The photo that started it all. Having just bought my first camera, I decided to take a solo venture to the Mourne Mountains where I would spend the day listening to music, hiking Slieve Donard, and enjoying my first experience taking photos on a camera (despite knowing near nothing about photography nor how to really work this camera as it was very high tech, especially for a beginner).

It was at the start of this journey that I met Andrew and his 10 year old son Shay. Having set a challenge for themselves to hike 36 mountains in Ulster, they had 4 left to complete, including Slieve Commedagh (765 metres and the second highest peak in the Mournes) and Corragh. Despite planning on climbing the tallest peak, Donard, I decided a bit of company would be nice and set forth on the adventure with this dynamic duo.

At the top of Commedagh they told me that once they had reached the peak of every mountain they had set forth to do, they celebrate by cracking open and heating a tin of Heinz beans. We then hiked further to Slieve Corragh, where we were met with the sun setting over the peaks to provide for the most breathtaking view. Haven taken pictures throughout this little adventure and hearing their story, it inspired me to start my own peak challenge to which I’ve rightfully named the “beans” challenge. To date, I have climbed 7 peaks in the Mournes and I definitely don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Slieve Donard, Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland

Donard
Location- facing Slieve Donard from Slieve Commedagh, Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland

When I look back at this picture, it makes me proud because this was one of the first landscape pictures I took (notably on the same day as I met Andrew and Shay) and edited. Despite being a beginner photographer, this picture was shared by the official French tourism page for Ireland and as such showed me that although I had only just started, my love for both hiking and photography could be combined into something beautiful that others enjoyed seeing.

Cove Cave, Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland

Madelyn in Cove Cave
Location: Cove Cave, Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland

Cove cave was the first cave my friend Will and I searched for in the Mournes due to the fact its nicknamed the “dog cave”. Although it was a bit difficult to find, once we entered it, the views and the cave outline (which notably resembles a dog!) made the hike worthwhile. We had a wee celebration whilst looking out of the cave by making aeropress coffee and eating Happy Hippos.

Ardglass, County Down, Northern Ireland

A windy day in Ardglas for Madlyn
Location: Ardglass, County Down, Northern Ireland

One of my favourite pictures to date due to the fact the weather was stereotypically Irish- rain, rain, and more rain. On this particular walk along the coast, the winds were blustery (so much so that my new beanie almost blew away multiple times!), the waves were ginormous, and the grounds were boggy and covered in sea foam!

With these sort of conditions, I was sure we weren’t going to get any sort of usable photography footage as the majority of the time my face (and my lens) was covered in sea salt. However, we managed to get a few amazing shots, including this one, which gave Will and I major Ben Howard moody vibes. This shot is also very dear to my heart because it was recently reposted by my all-time favourite hiking brand, Notice the Reckless

If you want to find out more about day trips in Northern Ireland you can read Liang's blog 4 surprisingly easy day trips to take from Belfast or visit the Tourism NI website.

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