Let’s hope you’ve been building up those calf muscles — this cycle trip takes in some gradients, but rewards you with spectacular views of one of Northern Ireland’s most iconic landscapes.
The route, running beneath the High Mournes, affords beautiful views across a countryside of patchwork fields and stone walls to the Irish Sea. It’s described as a moderate cycle with some ascent incorporating some fantastic sites.
The Lower Square is situated in the centre of Kilkeel Town, where there is also a car park. Head east out of the square over the bridge and up the hill onto Newcastle Street.
The ancient ruined church on your right as you enter Newcastle Street gives the town of Kilkeel its name (the Church of the Narrow Place). There are some very interesting gravestones in the surrounding graveyard.
After about half a mile, turn left onto Mill Road and then turn on to the first right, the Aughnahoory Road. Hanna's Close is about 1.25 miles along this road down a lane on the right and is well worth a visit.
Continue north on the Aughnahoory Road until you come to a T-junction with the Leitrim Road and turn right onto the Leitrim Road. Follow this road until you come to a T-junction. Turn right onto the Head Road and continue onto the Silent Valley.
Leaving the Silent Valley, turn left — the road climbs steeply and at the top of this hill, to ‘gather your wind', cross over to the other side of the road and look down over the unique ‘stone wall' landscape so familiar to this area.
Continue along the Head Road with its panoramic views of the mountains, coastal plain and sea. You cross a small bridge on an S-bend over the Forks River — about 100 metres farther on carefully cross the road and view one of the magnificent panoramas of the Mournes.
Continue along the Head Road until you get to a small car park on your left. Turn right onto the Old Town Road and continue downhill to the crossroads. Turn right onto the Longstone Road and after about half a mile you will see the ‘Standing Stone' on your right in the middle of a field.
At the end of this road there is a T-junction — turn left onto the Ballyveaghmore Road and follow this road until you come to another T-junction and turn right onto the Ballyveaghbeg Road. After only about 50 metres turn left onto the Mission Road. Turn left onto the first road on your left, the Brackenagh Quarter Road (just before you come to Brackenagh School).
After about one mile, turn left onto Anthony's Road. This route takes you through gentle rural countryside and after about 1.25 miles, at a T-junction, turn right onto the Council Road, turning left almost immediately at another T-junction onto the Carginagh Road. This will take you back to the outskirts of the town and at the next T-junction turn right onto the Newcastle Road, which will take you back to the Lower Square in the town centre of Kilkeel.
Annalong Cornmill was built in the 1800s and operated until the 1960s — one of the last working watermills in Northern Ireland. It contains a grain drying kiln and three pairs of millstones. The mill is powered by a 15ft water wheel and a 1920s Marshall ‘hot-bulb’ 20hp engine. Restoration began in 1983 after it was acquired by Newry and Mourne District Council, and it reopened in 1985.
Hanna’s Close is one of the last remaining Clachans or medieval-style settlements in Ireland and one of only two in Northern Ireland to hold a statutory listing. The cottages have been beautifully refurbished, retaining many of the old features.
The reservoir at Silent Valley was built in 1933 following 30 years of work started by Belfast City and District Water Commissioners. The Silent Valley and Ben Crom reservoirs supply water to most of Co Down and a large part of Belfast.
For further information on cycling or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) tel: 028 9030 3930 or cycleni.com.
CAAN in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. CAAN 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.
Cycle Name: The Head Road Route.
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty: The Mourne Mountains.
Nearest big town to start point: Kilkeel.
Distance: 16 miles, circular.
Terrain: On public roads.
Access Restrictions: It is a clear route with no obstacles although some of the country roads can be quite busy at times.
Facilities: You can purchase refreshments before leaving in Kilkeel. There are toilets situated in the Square, which is the starting point. There is also a coffee shop at the Silent Valley that is open during high season.
Publications: Cycling in Newry & Mourne leaflet available from Newry Tourist Information Centre (028 3031 3170). Mourne & Slieve Croob Cycle Routes Leaflets also available
Cycle Developed By: Newry & Mourne, Down and Banbridge District Councils, supported by The Mourne Heritage Trust.
Map: Sheet 29 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services Map Shop (lpsni.gov.uk).