Approximately 12 miles (19km), a gentle cycle mainly on the flat.
Begin at Lower Square, Kilkeel Town Centre. Head west out of the Square straight across the traffic lights onto Greencastle Street, you pass the Kilmorey Arms Hotel on your left. Keep to this road, it takes you through the townland of Dunnaval. After about 2 miles note the large house on your left called Eastwood, shortly afterwards the road divides. Take the right fork, proceed to a T-junction and turn right. Note the many sunken fields, which are old sand extractions (high quality building sand), restored to agricultural and recreational use. At the next junction turn left to pass Grange School and Chapel on your left. The road now meanders through the marshy flood plain of the Whitewater River.
Turn left at a staggered crossroads. About a mile straight-ahead is the blue flag beach of Cranfield. However, your route turns immediately right following the directions to Greencastle about 1.7 miles.
The quiet seaside hamlet on Greencastle offers peace, tranquillity and several interesting features:
- A notable Anglo-Norman castle built circa 1260
- The ruins of the old Norman Church
- The old Irish Ferry Pier
- A row of fine coastguard and lighthouse keeper’s houses
- The Irish Lights Base at the north quay which services all the navigation lights in Carlingford Lough and further south (including the picturesque Haulbowline Lighthouse).
The hamlet offers magnificent views of Mill Bay, the Eastern Mournes, Carlingford Lough and across the water, Greenore and Carlingford on the Cooley peninsula.
Retrace your route back to Greencastle crossroads and turn left to cross the old bridge over the Whitewater River (a fine game fish river). The reed marshes on your left are a nature reserve for wild fowl and are known locally as the ‘Bents’.
Further along the route you come to Mill Bay with fine views up Carlingford Lough. This is a migratory wild fowl wintering area of international importance. A little further along your route turns right onto the Corcreighan Road taking you through a typical Mourne rural landscape of drumlins backed by the mountains. Continue along the Corcreighan Road crossing the Whitewater River once again and up Chesney’s Brea to the Ballyardle crossroads. This was originally the main road to Kilkeel to Newry and was also the Mail Coach route. At the crossroads, note the old watering trough in the stable yard wall of ‘Packolet’ Packolet was the home of General Francis Rawdon Chesney, the discoverer and surveyor of the route of the Suez Canal. On your right is the old Trollope post office, now unfortunately closed.
Turn left onto the Ballyardle Road and then after 150 meters, at the fork, turn right onto the Belmont Road. At the end of the Belmont Road turn left onto the Newry Road and then turn right onto the Drumcro Road. Follow the Drumcro Road past Massforth Chapel on your right. The Giant’s Grave is a Neolithic court grave found at the back of the graveyard. The directions to it are found on the Newry road towards Kilkeel at the Parochial House. There is a rath beside the Chapel in the graveyard on the Drumcro Road. At the end of the Drumcro Road there is a junction, turn right onto the Mountain Road (the Burial Banks are on the right) and follow it back to the Lower Square in Kilkeel Town Centre.
Points of interest
Dunnaval (Greencastle Airfield)
Along the road the former World War II airfield remains can be seen. Officially called Greencastle Airfield, it was built in the early part of the war and accommodated American airmen. Parts of the dispersal’s and the remains of the control tower are still visible on the seaward side, while some of the billets are visible on the other side of the road. This airfield was abandoned after the war and the land returned to local farmers. Most of the runways and parking bays were broken up and used to build walls around the fields.
Cranfield is a blue flag beach and also boasts the warmest water temperatures in Northern Ireland. At Cranfield there are several large caravan parks. Apart from the static caravans there are excellent facilities for touring caravans and camping.
On the right hand side of the Greencastle Pier Road located on high ground overlooking Carlingford Bay, you will see Greencastle Castle which dates back to the 13th Century. The castle was one of the main English Fortresses in Ireland and in the 14th Century was assaulted and taken by Edward Bruce, during the conquest of Ulster. The castle also boasts a ghost who was banished to the Red Sea for 520 years. It would spoil the surprise of perhaps meeting it if it was revealed how long ago the banishment took place. Legend has it that the Block House Island which lies in the middle of the Lough is connected by a tunnel to the castle. The castle is open to public at certain times of the year, mainly Easter and the Summer. South of the castle are the ruins of the original Anglo-Norman church. A mound close to the castle can also be seen which was thought to be where the inauguration ceremonies of the ancient chieftains was held. Up to the end of the 19th Century, Greencastle had a famous fair, ‘the Ram Fair’, which began on the 12th August and lasted for several days. There were tents and caravans, pipers, fiddlers, dancing and singing competitions, stalls selling everything from trinkets to churn. Whiskey was three pence a glass and porter two pence a bottle. An old ballad about the fair included:
"The violin’s sweet inspiring tone
Proclaimed that ancient Fair,
The dance with Irish Brilliance shone
In style unknown elsewhere."
At the pier overlooking Carlingford Bay, if you look to your left, you will see Greenore in the Republic of Ireland, and Warrenpoint to your right. Carlingford Lough is designated as an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI).
General Francis Chesney
At Ballyardle crossroads you will see on your left the Chesney family house now in private ownership. The house was built in 1822 and was called ‘Packolet’, named after a river in South Carolina. General Francis Chesney was born at Ballyvea, Kilkeel in 1789 and is best known for his involvement in the discovery, survey and construction of the Suez Canal. Chesney surveyed the isthmus of Suez Canal and concluded that the construction of the Canal linking the Mediterranean with the Red Sea was feasible. In 1859 when the general retired at the age of 75 years, he returned to ‘Paktolet’ with his wife, three sons and two daughters. General Chesney died in 1872 at the age of 83 and is buried in the cemetery at Christ Church, Newry Street, Kilkeel.
The Giant's Grave
The Giant's Grave is located in a field beside the Catholic cemetery at Massforth and is a good example of a ‘Giant’s Grave’ (Kistvaen), although the cover stones are no longer in place. The site, which dates back to pre-Christian time, is freely accessible from the road or the cemetery.
The Burial Banks
The Burial Banks are located on the river bank behind the former Mourne Hospital and are marked by a simple headstone. They are the last reminder of the days of the famine and the former workhouse, which was located on the site of the current DHSS offices. Many paupers from the workhouse are buried here. One of the most notorious was William Hare of the infamous ‘Burke and Hare’ team. They were murders and body snatchers in Edinburgh around 1827. Unfortunately access to the site is currently impossible.