Take the back road.
Big thanks to my chum Brian for finding this route. I've been to Newcastle and Tollymore Forest numerous times over the years and on the odd occasion continued on down the road to one of Northern Ireland's top spots, the Silent Valley Reservoir.
It wasn't until one day Brian and myself were heading mountainbiking in Castlewellan, that he took us 'the fast way' from Belfast and I learned of this epic road trip that will definitely need several visits to truly explore. If you're a keen road cyclist, you'll have known about this route years before the Giro d'Italia and Gran Fondo races showcased it.
From Belfast, take the Westlink to Sprucefield, then head south towards Newry on the A1. After half an hour take the turn off to Rathfriland and follow the B10/Rathfriland Road. You'll pass through Rathfriland, coming out the other side on the Castlewellan Road - look out for the sign for Hilltown and follow that road. From Hilltown, follow the brown signs to Silent Valley.
You'll first arrive at the carpark on the north side of the Dam - get out and have a walk around the shore. Peaceful is an understatement.
Back in the car suffienciently at one with nature now, continue south and keep your eyes peeled for the sharp hair-pin right turn you'll need to take to get to the other nearly-hidden carpark. The views here are even better.
Onwards to Silent Valley.
The road from Spelga to Silent Valley is equally as impressive as the two dams themselves. Go slow, pull over where safe and take it all in. Take the pics and forget about the Instagram filters until later that night when you're on the sofa.
Shortly after arriving at Silent Valley Reservoir we realised we were totally unprepared for a proper long walk. The cafe/shop there was closed, neither of us had water and the sun was getting stronger. I also hadn't eaten in at least an hour so was due another munch soon. In the end we took a shorter walk around the forest area and lay about chilling in the sun.
Hopefully before the year's out I'll have another blog post up to properly showcase the beauty of this area. In the meantime, have a look at Outdoor NI's page on the area - class.