The Head Road Route

This is a spectacular cycle route beneath the High Mournes, with beautiful views across a countryside of patchwork fields and stonewalls to the Irish Sea.

Distance: 16 miles (26 km)

Advice: Moderate, with some ascent

Begin at the lower square in Kilkeel Town centre. 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 its name Kilkeel, (the Church of the Narrow Place). There are some very interesting gravestones in the surrounding graveyard.

After about 0.5 miles turn left onto Mill Road and then turn right onto the first road on the 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. If you wish you can park your bicycle at the security booth at the entrance barrier and walk up into the valley (about 0.5 mile). Refreshments are available.

Leaving the Silent Valley turn left, the road climbs steeply and at the top of the 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 a ‘S’ bend over the Forks River, about 100 metres further on carefully cross the road and view one of the magnificent panoramas of Mourne.

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 0.5 miles 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 and then 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 Schoo).

After about 1 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, almost immediately, at another T-junction, turn left onto the Carrigenagh 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.

Points of interest

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.

Silent Valley is a breathtaking scenic mountain area. The reservoir was built in 1933 following 30 years of work started by Belfast City and District Water Commissioners. It was built to gather water from the Mountain over most of the High Mournes. The Silent valley and Ben Crom reservoirs supply water to most of County Down and a large part of Belfast.

Head Road - after the initial ascent, pass the entrance to the Silent Valley. This road offers superb views of much pf the ancient Kingdom of Mourne from Carlingford Lough to the South extending to Annalong in a northerly direction. On a clear day Howth Head (outside Dublin) to the south, the Isle of Man to the east and the Drumfries and Galloway Hills to the north, can be seen.

Longstone - about 0.5 miles along Longstone Road on the right side, a pre-Christian standing stone is clearly visible in a field. It is from this stone that the Longstone area got its name. Unfortunately the stone is not accessible to the public.