We’re really not great when it comes to hiking, in fact we’re more the opposite, and when planning this outing we were looking for the easiest way possible to walk from Silent Valley to Ben Crom Reservoir. And hoped to just use the shuttle bus that supposedly travels between the two, only it never came. But we found the route to be otherwise simple and not overly tiring, and while the Ben Crom Dam Walk is more than twice the length (10-miles) of the other walking trails (6 in total) it is still labelled as the easiest due to the straight walk and tarmacked terrain. Other than the simple 1.1-mile nature trail in the nearby rivers and woodlands of the Silent Valley.
The Silent Valley Reservoir
Payment is taken at a booth at the entrance lane to Silent Valley before the plenties of free car parks for tourists and visitors. Then there is a bit of interest before reaching the dam including a duck pond, playparks, and picnic tables, as well as the main facilities like toilets, a cafe and a free visitor centre. Then, after climbing the hill to the start of the reservoir, there will be pretty much nothing but mountain and scenic lake views ahead, and the occasional stop for local attractions. Fun fact, the Silent Valley Reservoir provides water to much of Belfast through a 44-mile pipeline using only the power of gravity.
Silent Valley to Ben Crom
Passing the gate next to the big drain hole thing in the reservoir, it is a 3-mile walk from Silent Valley to Ben Crom reservoir. And it is a simple and straight forward walk, where we passed old folk on walking sticks, and parents with baby strollers, as we followed the tarmacked path that runs the full length of Silent Valley Reservoir to Ben Crom. Interests along the way include the Slieve Binnian Tunnel (3.6 km) where water funnels through from the Annalong River, as well as pretty wildflowers, and lots of sheep. The path does indicate distances with every mile passed, as the route continues towards Slieve Nipple (as we called it, because it looks like a nipple) before curving to the right between mountains towards Ben Crom Reservoir.
The Ben Crom Reservoir
There was a bit of dread on first seeing the dam wall of the Ben Crom Reservoir, which towers ahead on the horizon like the Gates of Mordor. “Awk balls”. Because the walk had been so simple until now, and we were more or less guaranteed to have to climb over it to reach Ben Crom Reservoir. Although this would be no different had we arrived by shuttle bus (had it turned up). So this is by far the hardest part of the trek from Silent Valley to Ben Crom reservoir, but it was also easier than expected with steps and a handy wooden bannister zigzagging up to the top of the reservoir wall. I only had to stop once.
A Picnic at Ben Crom?
Our original intention for this visit was to enjoy a nice picnic with views of Ben Crom Reservoir, so the whole time we had been lugging around bags, and fold up chairs, and a picnic hamper. But we found the area surrounding Silent Valley was far from ideal, and Ben Crom was no different, given it is pretty much all sloping and stony inclines with the surrounding mountains. So we ended up setting our picnic out on a lesser-trodden trail found lower down and near to the reservoir, and just hoped that no trekkers needed to pass. And we did get lucky here.
The Wrong Way Home
From the wall of the dam it looked like there was a path on the opposite side from where we had arrived, as well as a small green bridge crossing the river further down the track. So we thought we would risk the trek, and followed the path as far as it would go, before reaching a steeper slope separated by a fence. But it was still simple to sneak through the wire fence (people had obviously done similar before) and from there we were off-the-beaten path until reaching and crossing the bridge that we had spotted from above. We then beat through brambles until we reached the fence, we hopped over the fence, and we’re back to the main path again. It’s then another 3-miles back.
Silent Valley Information?
The Silent Valley, along with its facilities, are managed by NI Water. So don’t expect some flashy international visitor experience. At the same time, it is an ideal local experience without the unnecessary tourist tack and inflated prices. Anyway, there is more than enough for an enjoyable visit including a duck pond (maybe bring an extra quid to feed the ducks), as well as play parks, picnic tables and barbecue facilities, toilets, and a cafe and free visitor centre.
Price and Opening Times?
The Silent Valley Reservoir opens daily from 10:00AM to 18:30PM from April to September and 10:00AM to 16:00PM from October to March.
- Car £4.50
- Motor Cycle £2
- Adults/Cyclists £1.60
- Children/Cyclists £0.60
The Ben Crom Shuttle Bus?
NI Water is said to operate a regular shuttle bus service from Silent Valley to Ben Crom in the summer months (July-August). However, when we visited on a Saturday in late-July, the shuttle bus was not in service, and many other visitors have reported the same issue online. For further enquiries try contacting NI Water (08457440088).