Walk of the Week: Silent Valley
The nature trail at Silent Valley in the Mournes explores the site of the old railway line that once linked Annalong with the reservoir high above.
Visitors can stop at the picnic spot close to the Kilkeel River, which is excellent for sightings of wildlife, wild flowers and bird watching. Along the length of the trail you will find signal signs that give you additional information about the area.
This route begins in the main car park, reached through the gates on the Head Road on the south side of the Mournes. The Silent Valley is signposted for drivers travelling south from Newcastle and north from Kilkeel. The Mourne Rambler bus regularly departs from Newcastle bus depot during the summer months.
From the car park you can head down the east bank of the river valley to explore the nature trail, following the boardwalk along the bridge across the Kilkeel River. The trail joins the path leading on to Watertown or Sally Lough.
On the west side of the river, the trail begins to follow the line of the old railway. This was built to carry supplies and materials from Annalong to the workers’ settlement, Watertown, within Silent Valley.
Watertown had a population of 600-700, its own cinema, hospital, and its own policeman called Constable Lawless. The town and the railway line have long since disappeared but the route is now home to a host of plants and animals including ash, scots pine, rowan, bluebells and ravens.
A traditional Mourne drystone wall runs alongside the trail, and there are some large stones scattered around showing marks from the ‘plug and feather’ cutting technique used by stonemasons to split these boulders in the past.
You are now at the river which is crossed by a new wooden bridge. Here you’ll see plenty of insects and birds, and possibly salmon or trout. There are picnic benches in the clearing by the river, but please remember to take your litter home.
Continue across the river and through a narrow wooded corridor where you can see holly, willow and alder. There are also large stands of cotoneaster and rhododendron — non-native species that are gradually being removed.
Heathland and a flatter area will now be opening up to you. This is the floodplain of the Kilkeel River. The area has become overgrown with bracken, which is being controlled by rolling and cutting in the summer.
It is now planted out with Mourne oak grown from acorns collected from Rostrevor ancient oakwood. Existing rowan and impressive mature holly trees are also present. Back at the car park you have the option of travelling back to Sally Lough or going on for a well-deserved rest at the café.
The Silent Valley Nature Trail experience is like the Mourne Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in miniature — a sort of ‘mini-Mourne’.
Silent Valley is home to the Silent Valley Reservoir and Ben Crom Reservoir, which are owned by Northern Ireland Water. It is one of Northern Ireland’s top 10 attractions, with nearly 50,000 visitors arriving annually.
Work on the dam began in 1932 and was finished ten years later. It is of earth and rock construction, and captures the waters of the Kilkeel River valley and the Annalong River valley to the east via a 3.6km tunnel under Slieve Binnian, the rocky, crested mountain to the east (right). The Binnian Tunnel can be viewed along the Ben Crom trail.
The water in the dam provides much of Belfast with water via a 44-mile pipeline.
For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, contact Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland at, tel: 028 9030 3930 or walkni.com.
Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland (formerly CAAN) in association with Belfast Telegraph has provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland and Belfast Telegraph, however, cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions but where such are brought to our attention, the information for future publications will be amended accordingly.
Walk name: Silent Valley.
Area: The Mourne Mountains.
Nearest big town: Kilkeel.
Distance: 1.5 mile nature trail.
Terrain: This trail is level with an all weather surface.
Access Restrictions: Dogs should be kept under control at all times.
Refreshments: Snacks and drinks are available from the coffee shop, which is open all year round. Opening hours: September to June, 10am-4pm (Monday-Sunday). July and August, 10am-5pm (Weekdays), 10am-6pm (Weekends).
Publications: The following leaflets can be obtained from the Silent Valley Information Centre or downloaded from niwater.com: The Silent Valley Walking Trails and Life and Times leaflets. A guided walking podcast can be downloaded from the NI Water website.
Walk Developed By: Northern Ireland Water in partnership with Mourne Heritage Trust, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, LEADER, Northern Ireland Tourist Board, SOAR, Mourne Mountains, Rural Development Programme and The European Agriculture Fund for Rural Development.
Map: Sheet 29 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discovery Series, available from LPSNI Map Shop at lpsni.gov.uk.