Wild Wicklow
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A Visit to Ireland's Wild Wicklow
 

Wild Wicklow

Written by Rick Archer
November 2013

Marla and I visited the Wicklow Mountain area near Dublin, Ireland, during our Oslo 2010 Cruise.

I suppose it is rather odd to be writing a travelogue on a trip we took three years ago. However, after writing a story about the Loch Ness Monster last week, I thought it would be fun to add another Chapter to the saga of the Oslo 2010 Cruise.

If I had to describe Ireland in one word, that word would be certainly be "Green".  I have never seen a more lush landscape in all my life.  In addition, the yellow gorse was in full bloom during our visit.  The mountains, the forests, and the vast fields full of yellow gorse made for truly spectacular vistas.

   

Wicklow Mountains National Park begins immediately at the southern tip of Dublin, the capital of Ireland.  It extends southward into County Wicklow for about 80 miles.  As one drives down from Dublin, in addition to the mountainous area looming in the distance, the entire countryside is unbelievably lush and inviting.  Wild Wicklow indeed!!

They don't call this place the "Emerald Isle" for nothing. The picture below captures the beauty of the landscape perfectly.

   

The Countryside of Wild Wicklow

Our Cruise stop in Dublin, Ireland, was our third port of call on the Oslo trip.  Previously we had been to Paris and to Normandy, the landing point for D-Day, 1944.

Marla had researched Ireland thoroughly.  She had discovered every tour guide highly recommended an area south of Dublin known as "Wild Wicklow", a mountainous terrain known for its forests, rugged hills, and beautiful countryside. 

Practically from the moment we left Dublin, our mouths dropped open at the spectacular scenery.  For people like me used to the flat and utterly boring terrain between Houston and San Antonio here in Texas, these vast rolling fields of green were breathtaking to say the least.

Unfortunately, the bus never stopped to allow me to take any pictures.  That's a real shame because the fields and valleys are indeed endless, vast, and inspiring.

The picture at right is one I found on the Internet that is representative of the panoramic nature of the area leading up to the Wicklow Mountains.  However, this picture just barely does justice to the scenery.  Someday you have to see it for yourself. 

The main destination of our trip was Glendalough, a retreat hidden deep within the forest in the heart of Wicklow Mountains National Park.

"Glen" is the Gaelic word for "valley" and "Lough" is the Gaelic word for "lake".  If you have read my Loch Ness Monster story, you will recall "loch" is the Scottish word for lake.  Now compare the two words: "lough" and "loch".  They are pronounced the same way, just spelled a bit different.

Loch... Lough... Lake.  Got it. Therefore the name 'Glendalough' is Gaelic for "glen of of the two lakes".  Indeed not far from the settlement are two very lovely mountain lakes.

Glendalough was an early medieval monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St Kevin, a hermit priest.  St. Kevin came to the area in search of solitude and piety. He definitely came to the right place.  Even today, this area is completely removed from mainstream civilization. 

Kevin lived for some years as a recluse.  He wandered the forests and the mountains and used a little cave for shelter.

The cave, now known as "St. Kevin's Bed", is well-known to the locals. It is located in the rock face overhanging the nearby Upper Lake.

After several years of meditation, Kevin felt called to return to the world. He established a monastery and built the first church at Glendalough in a valley half a mile east of the two lakes.  This was an advantageous location as two different streams, one coming from the two lakes, provided ample water supply.

The first church was a simple wooden structure, but it was later rebuilt out of stone which explains why it is known as the 'Church of the Rock'.

The monastery soon expanded and grew famous.  As one of the leading religious centers not just in Ireland, but all of Europe, pilgrims came from far and wide to worship.  

Today the remains of seven churches can be seen as well as a medieval cathedral and the imposing Round Tower.

The drawing on the right gives us an idea what the settlement looked like 15 centuries earlier. That was quite some time ago!

Without question, the most impressive part of the Glendalough monastery is the Round Tower.  Jutting 100 feet into the air, this giant structure can be seen for miles.

In the olden days, during peaceful times the Tower was used to store grain and food supplies.  In times of war, it served as a place of refuge for the women and children during an attack.

Unfortunately, that Tower got plenty of use.  This area was first settled by the Celts, but the Vikings arrived in 795 AD, two hundred years after St. Kevin founded the monastery.  That is when all hell broke loose.  At first all the intruders did was plunder the countryside and leave, but later forays brought a change of heart.  That's when some of the Vikings decided to stay awhile. Today a great deal of Viking blood runs through the veins of the people who reside in the Wicklow area.

The Vikings were not the only problem.  So were the English.  Unfortunately, the settlement was partially destroyed in 1398 by English troops. 

Although much of the stonework is still in disarray, in recent times certain parts of the settlement such as the ancient cathedral known as St. Kevin's Church and the Round Tower have been restored to their former beauty.

The endless rolling fields of Wild Wicklow

The Two Lakes of Glendalough

As the picture indicates, the settlement is built
right into the curve of a nearby stream.

The Round Tower and St. Kevin's Church

 

The Wicklow Way


The Wicklow Way is an 80 mile long-distance trail that crosses the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland.  
Unlike America's rugged Rocky Mountains, much of the Wicklow Mountains are lower and far smoother.  Climbing is unnecessary.  They are fairly easy to walk across.

The trail runs from Marlay Park in the southern suburbs of Dublin and winds throughout County Wicklow.  The trail ends in the village of Clonegal in County Carlow.  (see map above)

Wicklow Way is designated as a National Trail. It is marked by easily-seen posts with a yellow "walking man" symbol and a directional arrow. Typically completed in 57 days, it is one of the busiest of Ireland's National Waymarked Trails

Up to 24,000 people a year cross the most popular sections. The Wicklow Way is also used regularly by a number of mountain running competitions.

The trail follows forest tracks, mountain paths, and narrow, seldom-used country roads known as 'boreens'.  Mountains, upland lakes and steep-sided glacial valleys make up the terrain of the initial northern sections of the Way before giving way to gentler rolling foothills in the latter southern sections.

The Wicklow Way passes straight through Glendalough. In fact, the walk known as "Glendalough to Glenmalure" is considered the most popular stretch of the entire trail.  This picturesque adventure covers a distance of 9 miles.  Walking time typically takes about 4 1/2 hours to complete... a good afternoon effort.

If one prefers to stick around Glendalough, there are many walking trails nearby of varying difficulty. Within the valley itself there are nine color-coded walking trails maintained by Wicklow Mountains National Park.

Each trail begins at an information office located near the Upper Lake (pictured below) where maps are available to purchase.

Those who have the time to spare could easily spend an entire day walking and exploring the Glendalough area as it has much to offer both scenically and historically.

Rick and Marla's Walk Through the Woods

After our amazing bus ride through the scenic Wild Wicklow area, we finally arrived at Glendalough.  I remember there were a dozen of us from the SSQQ Travel group.  We began our tour of the monastery with a walk through the cemetery.

If you look, you can spot St. Kevin's Church in the background.  That is where our guide led us and began a lengthy lecture.

I have to be honest.  While some people in our group were clearly fascinated by the history of the monastery, Marla and I had our eyes focused on that heavily forested hill in the background.

Our guide had let it slip that there was an amazing walking trail that led to two beautiful lakes about a mile away.  His second mistake was pointing in the right direction. 

Marla and I instantly glanced at each other and nodded.  We wanted to take that walk for sure. 

There was only one problem.  Our guide liked to talk... and talk... and talk some more.  We were chomping at the bit.  Time's a wastin'!  If we politely stuck around and continued to listen to this guy, our spare time to see the lake would be diminished. 

So Marla and I quietly drifted to the rear of our group. 

Unfortunately just about the time we were going to disappear behind a wall and make our escape, our movements were spotted by some of the people in our group.  They immediately frowned at us.  What are Rick and Marla up to now?

Seeing their looks of disapproval, Marla and I both froze.  How were we going to ditch the guide without drawing notice from our suspicious companions?

We needed a ruse.  So I began to take a series of pictures of Marla.  As one can see, Marla put on a good show.  Marla's inner ham came out and I dutifully snapped away.

Our trick worked like a charm.  Once our supervisors realized we were simply attempting to take pictures, our movements were no longer interesting.  So our companions returned their attention to the talkative guide.

The moment our friends turned their backs to us, we made our move.  Seconds later we were behind the same wall that we had used as the background for Marla's photograph.

We were now free to begin our walk.  And off we went!!

As this map taken from Google Earth indicates, Glendalough resides in a valley where two streams separated by a mountain finally come together.

We did not have the energy to climb to the top of the large hill to find the Wicklow Trail above. Instead we found a perfectly wonderful walking trail at the base of the hill. We immediately began to walk in the direction of the lake. 

Google Earth has a ruler function. I was surprised to find what I thought was a very long walk was really only 1 1/2 miles.  

Our problem was that we only had 45 minutes for our walk.  Dublin was 30 miles away which meant an hour of driving. 

The driver had made it clear he wanted to get us back with plenty of time to explore the shops of Dublin.

Consequently we were very unsure how far we could walk and still have enough time to get back to the bus at the stated time.

No matter, we did okay. We circled the Lower Lake.  Plus we were able to get far enough to see the Upper Lake in the distance.  At that point we chose to head back rather than risk being late. 

I think we would have made better progress if I hadn't stopped every ten feet to take another picture.  So why did I take so many pictures?  In truth, I wanted to preserve my memory of a truly beautiful area.

Trust me, St. Kevin chose well.  This remote corner of the Earth was indeed the very definition of peace and solitude.  It was also kind of lonely, especially with the gray skies and the looming mountains.

In order to sneak away, we had to pass some of the buildings that form the village which surrounds the monastery ruins.  Glendalough is largely dependent on a thriving tourist industry.

Here is the same building as we put some distance in.  I think it is a hotel.  I can easily imagine people coming here for weddings.  It would a lovely place to get married.

This building is the Information Center for the monastery.   In addition, I have a strong hunch this building is also where one would go to get a map listing the trails of Glendalough.  I am certain one can access the nearby Wicklow Way from this place.

Aha.  Just the sign we wanted to see.

First we had to cross this bridge. 

The first leg of our walk paralleled this stream which connected to the Lower Lake about 400 yards ahead.

As we walked along the path which paralleled the stream, Marla and I gasped.  Good grief, that was our group!  We had been walking for over ten minutes only to find everyone was still stuck in the same spot listening to that guide drone on and on. Maybe it was rude, but we had done our best to leave discretely.  One thing for sure - We didn't feel guilty.  We've learned our lesson.  When you have a limited amount of time, follow your instincts and do what you want to on these trips. 

One time we were in Palermo, Sicily.  The guide saw a painting of fruit and began identifying the name of each fruit.  Marla and I split after one minute.  We walked back to the ship, beating our own group by half an hour and getting great exercise in the process.  That night Marla's poor brother Neil complained he had been forced to stand there listening to the guide name apples and oranges for 10 minutes!  Neil added he already knew what a banana looked like. 

As one can see, we found a terrific walkway.  On our left was the large hill.  On our right was the stream about 10 feet below.

Here is a look at the view to our left.

Take note of those two homes on the other side of the valley.  We passed very close to them on our way back.  There was so much beauty to appreciate.  In every direction I looked, there was something interesting to behold. 

The path continues.  Here we get our first glimpse of the Lower Lake on our right. 

I used the camera zoom feature to get a better picture of the two homes in the distance.  That yellow gorse was so pretty. 

This entire area was postcard perfect.  Marla was falling apart.  Her dream is to have a cottage on a lake.  Seeing her fantasy home in the flesh was more than she could stand.

Looking back, there is the Round Tower behind us.  Those people are from another group.  We had just passed them.

More of the forest covering the hill on our left.  We visited in May 2010.  Note the springtime leaves just coming in.

Our pathway continues.  We are gaining elevation.

The moss-covered vegetation was stunning.  Truth be told, this area was truly idyllic.  I believe Glendalough ranks as Ireland's very own Garden of Eden. 

Moss, lichen, ivy, vines, and leaves!!  Alas, it was all much too pretty for me.  I am huge fan of the forest. 

Thank goodness there was no pathway up the hill or I would have been sorely tempted to take it.

Now we came to something interesting. We caught a glimpse of the edge of the Upper Lake up ahead.

However, before we could reach the lake, something new caught our eye.

The trail dipped down and we lost sight of the Upper Lake which was surely just a few hundred yards up ahead behind those trees.  This turn-off forced us to stop and think things over.  Unfortunately there were no direction signs to help us with our decision.

Should we go straight ahead and see the Upper Lake up close? If so, would we have enough time to retrace our steps and get back in time?   Or should we take this inviting path?  Our big question was whether it would lead us back to the Information Center where our bus was located. 

As the reader can guess, we decided to turn right and take our chances that the path made a complete loop back.  We chose to turn back based on the fact that it had taken us 22 minutes to get this far. That gave us 23 minutes to return to the bus.

Now we crossed a bridge that took us over the same stream which had kept us company during the first leg of the walk.  However, this time the stream was connecting the Upper Lake to the Lower Lake.

The right turn in the trail led us to the other side of the valley.

More gorse of course.

To our relief, the path did lead back to the bus.  We estimated the Round Tower was a mile away, but it was actually closer.

Now that we were down in the valley, we discovered a second stream coming from another direction.

Have you noticed a single thing to ruin these pictures?  No.  Nor did I have to crop anything out.  The view in every direction was stunning.  These settings were completely natural.

These ducks were walking in a field right beside the new stream.  We were crossing through a wetlands area.

As our walk took us to the other side of the valley, we encountered a marsh. 

Consequently we walked for some time on a lovely elevated walkway complete with railing.

Nearby were grazing sheep.  Boy, did they make a lot of noise!

Notice the walkway was elevated by at least four feet.  Obviously this area floods during the rainy season.

From what I gather, the glacier-formed valley of Glendalough is the meeting place for two rivers separated by the mountain on the right. 

Here we are passing the Lower Lake on our way back. Here is a look at the forest covering the side of the large hill we saw from the cemetery.  The walkway we used on the first leg of our walk can be seen about ten feet above the waterline.

Have you ever heard the song "The Rocky Road to Dublin"?  Judging from that sheep enclosure, rocks are plentiful in Ireland.

Everywhere we went, there was another fence made out of rocks.  I would imagine those fences last a long long time.

Wherever we went, we were never in danger of getting lost thanks to the giant Round Tower in the distance.

We passed way too close to another pretty cottage overlooking the lake.  I could see Marla's eyes narrow and her face grow taut as waves of envy swept through her mind.

I never knew there were so many different shades of green until today.

Up ahead we spotted the cemetery where we had first entered the Monastery compound.  We were close to the end.

Up ahead I saw two men running towards us. 

One of the men turned out to be our friend Bill Shaw. He stopped to greet us and explained he had been running to make up for lost time.  He too wanted to see the lakes and the rest of the area with the little remaining time.

Right before the end of our walk, I made a fun discovery.  Here is the meeting point of the two different streams.  

Without question, this was an exquisite walk.  It will always stand as one of our favorite walks that Marla and I have taken during our many cruise adventures.

Now that our journey was over, I took one last look at the giant hill overlooking the monastery.  I strongly suspect the Wicklow Way Trail crosses the top of that hill.  Marla and I agreed Glendalough would be a wonderful spot to live. 

I will never forget this place.  It has a real magic about it.

   

The Bus Ride Home

As we headed back to Dublin on the bus, our friend Wendy Weston screamed in dismay.  Everyone on the bus snapped to attention.  What's wrong?

Wendy was searching frantically for something, but what?   Finally we got Wendy to stop for a moment and explain.  Wendy moaned that she had left her wallet back at the retreat.  

Or did she?   She said she had bought something at the gift shop in the Information Center back at Glendalough.  She must have left her wallet there.  But Wendy also thought she had her wallet with her.  Wendy wasn't sure at all.

At that exact moment, Robert Goins hopped up to help Wendy with the search.  His decisive intervention was critical.

Only half the people on our bus were with the SSQQ group.  I saw the looks on their faces and it wasn't good.  We were 8 minutes from the Information Center.  To turn back now would cost us at least 20-30 minutes - 8 to return, 8 to go look, 8 to make up for lost time. 

Sharon, Wendy, Eileen, Robert

If we went back now, everyone's plans for Dublin would be totally destroyed.  I fully expected the other half would conclude this was Wendy's problem and tough luck

However, to my delight, once they saw Robert react and then saw Sharon and Bill and the rest of us begin looking too, they shrugged and changed their minds.

They all agreed to turn the bus around and head back even though this would delay our trip at least 25 minutes. Good for them!

The entire group got on their hands and knees to see if the wallet had fallen on the floor. Nope. It was nowhere in sight.

Amazingly, just as the bus began to turn around, at that exact moment, something in the way the bus turned revealed to Wendy that her slim wallet was stuck between the seat and the bus wall.  Aha!  We didn't have to turn around after all.  The good deed of agreeing to turn the bus around had magically solved the problem. 

We all cheered!   What amazing luck! 

And with that we were off to the Rocky Road to Dublin.

   

After the celebration died down, I was deep in thought thanks to a strange coincidence... and coincidences always make me think. 

One day earlier I had completely fallen apart.  We had visited Omaha Beach, the site of D-Day. Like today, I had separated from the group to move faster.  In so doing, I ended up at the Visitor's Center by myself.  As I read stories of one hero after another who died at D-Day, I became completely overwhelmed.  Reading how these brave men had fallen while risking their lives was more than I could take.  These men had died so people like me could lead safe and happy lives.  The guilt brought tears to my eyes. 

Out of control, I completely lost track of the time.  Meanwhile, the guide on the bus was ready to leave me.  And with good reason - I was 20 minutes late!  Eileen Kondor stood up and said absolutely not; she would find me!!  And find me she did.  Without Eileen's intervention, the bus would have indeed left. 

Two days in a row, two us - first me, now Wendy - had lost their way.  And two days in a row, someone in our group had stepped up to rescue us.  And that is how it works on these trips - we always look out for one another. 

   

Dublin, Ireland

As promised, our bus dropped us off in the heart of Dublin.  The driver showed us where the shuttle would pick us up.  We had about an hour and a half to explore the town.

Bicycles are a very popular form of transportation here. 

Bill Shaw has a considerable amount of Scottish blood flowing through his veins.  I'm not sure about Sharon, but I am guessing some German blood.  Bill loved this trip more than anyone.  To Bill, it was a visit to his ancestral roots. 

The one thing I know for sure is that Bill researched the pubs of Dublin.  He made a beeline for O'Neills Pub, an award-winning Irish bar conveniently located within easy walking distance of the shuttle area.

O'Neill's had a rich atmosphere to kill for.  The dark woodwork in this place was gorgeous and the array of liquor was impressive.  Marla and I had a wonderful meal complete with Guinness Ale and fish and chips.  This was the perfect end to a perfect day.

Beauty, adventure, exercise, friendship. It doesn't get any better than this.  Of course we were happy.  This had been one of the best days of our lives!!  

   
   
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