Glory of Green
Stories from the Great Outdoors
Out of: Dublin
Intolerant to gluten, I’m sheltered from the beer and whisky Dublin is famous for. Alternatively, there’s respectable Thai street food to be found, and huge Italian chocolate merengues to go with the coffee (hello globalisation…) – which made me feel like taking a hike was the best idea ever. Hence, this is my first commandment: Go for a merengue (or some heavy cake to suit your personal tastes) and let it take you to the outdoors – preferably before or after seeing The Long Room at The Old Library at Trinity College. Dust glittering in warm light over white statues of knowledgeable historical figures of the male sex and European heritage. When you’re done, getting out of Dublin is easy. There are tons of options – long and short. We chose to spend a day in the Wicklow mountains.
Unfortunately, Alma (9) had a fever, but Saint Erla (13) offered to give me and Audun a Valentines gift: She would stay at the lodge with the sick little creature and give us a day to ourselves. She’s 13 – she has her moments, but in my book this gesture redeemed about a year of teenage tantrums.
Luckily, we stayed at Mountain Seaview Lodge outside Dublin. The place felt like a hippie version of an old walled settling – our little multicoloured hut facing a common backyard that we shared with the nice lady who rented it. Gates closed, candy and iPad all yours – and off we went.
We couldn’t have gotten a better present – and no better day to receive it. We had a lovely romantic day in February. It felt like May. Sun flooding through the trees and over the heathland, reflecting in the water and making me expect to hear the last bumblebees humming before extinction.
Saving the forest
Ireland has almost lost all of its forests due to human activities and climate change - it has less forest than any other European country. Wicklow is the most forested part of Ireland, though, and conservation is an important mission for the nature park.
Gleann da Loch means “Valley of the two lakes”, and the white route circles the upper of the two. We started by following “the miner’s road” on the northern edge, giving us a relatively easy ascent at the western edge (380 metres total climb), turning back over the ridge along the southern side of the lake – the route giving us an opportunity to stand on the steep cliffs and look down on where we’d passed earlier in the day.
Kevin the hermit
Apart from the lakes and the mining, the valley (and village with the same name) is known for ancient monastic settlements that made it a centre for Christianity in Ireland, flourishing for over a thousand years. The village of Glendalough was founded in 6th century by Saint Kevin, a hermit, and as word spread of this holy man, others came to follow his way of life.
This is back in the days when withdrawing from social contact and other humanly needs such as food and a good night’s rest was a rather mainstream way to reach eternal heavenly bliss postpartum. According to Wikipedia, Saint Kevin managed to stay on earth for about 120 years though – and if that’s correct, he had to wait a long time to enter Saint Peter’s gate, poor guy. Moral for the modern and secular: a strict diet and sleeping outdoors will give you a long and healthy life – and don’t believe modern medicine. Most people still don’t reach 120.
Legend also tells that animals were Kevin’s companions, and that he felt exceptionally close to nature. Great guy, that Kevin. Some good teachings there – but please let me bring my inflatable sleeping mat, a decent tent, lots of chocolate and a thermos of hot tea. All vegetarian, and I won’t leave anything behind. Still good?
Pilgrimage is possible if that’s your thing, and it seems like you can visit his hideaways if you’ve got time – he slept on the rocks in an artificial cave called Saint Kevin’s bed for over seven years.
Go swimming in Glendalough!
Even if we were there in February, I had no problem imagining how wonderful it must be to dive into the Upper lake at the sandy eastern end on a warm summer’s day. You’re allowed to swim, but not to paddle a kayak or use inflatables.
Opening the lake for swimmers actually made some people simmer with indignation back in the days – evident from a letter to the Independent, dated 2005. Margareth – when you tried to disguise your piety as a concern for children’s safety, portraying the lake as "extremely, even lethally, dangerous" - it didn't work. I bet Kevin took a bath too – in all his holy naked splendour. And if he didn’t – he must have smelled like hell. No change and we’d still be putting up white statues of smelly men at the library – and you’d be embroidering in stead of voicing your opinion online.
Still, preserving the nature is important both for me and Kevin, and we're glad boating is prohibited. Motorized vehicles would be a sure way to kill the vibe.
Rocks and ruins
As one of four mining valleys in Wicklow, lead, zinc and silver were mined in Glendalough since the 1790ies. At the peak of the production, over 2000 people were employed – and you reach the first remains of the mining villages after you’ve passed by the Upper lake.
Traces of mining-history still visible in the landscape is one of the things that makes this hike such a rewarding outing. It’s not a very strenuous hike if you’re reasonably fit, but even if you’re not: You never get to feel tired – the landscape, the nature and the remains of human activity is constantly changing, bombarding you with distractions from the fact that you’re hiking. It’s like aerobics-nature. Or a natural amusement park only an hour’s drive from Dublin.
The route is marked and even facilitated with wooden paths over the marchland. There are more remote feelings to be found in Ireland, but it didn’t feel artificial – it was just a little surreal going from highlight to highlight like that. Nature and culture combined. No wonder we weren’t alone out there this random Friday in February. In fact, there were plenty of people – Kevin and his grave… You know what happens.
The hike that got away
Ascending from the remnants of the mining village and up into the higher and boggy Glenealo valley, we were met by a pretty waterfall, a beautiful lonely tree – and a whole lot of deer. They weren’t too sceptical for me to come over for a photoshoot, and I had to bring back photos to Erla, our personal Valentines Saint of the day. She adores every animal out there. I knew she would regret staying back with Alma when she heard about the deer, but still be glad to have a look at them through my lens. I hope the girls will go back and do this trip together when they’re able to do so on their own – reclaiming the hike that got away.
A hike with a view
The Glendalough Spinc (the ridge on the south side of the lake) offers spectacular views into the valley and over the surrounding area of The Wicklow Mountains National park. Up here we experienced the most remote scenery of the hike. The cliffs are steep – stay on the path unless you know how to fly. This area is also the most exposed in bad weather. We had surprisingly high temperatures and had to shed a lot of clothes on the way, but don’t go up here without proper attire.
It’s possible to reach the ridge by a steep ascent (on wooden stairs) from the eastern side of the Upper lake, but I recommend doing the entire circuit. We could also see lots of people just walking along the northern shore of the lake, turning back by the ruins – but then you would miss the view from the ridge, the beautiful forest and the pretty Poulanass waterfall. Take it all in. It was good for Kevin. It’s good for you.
There’s a bus that runs to and from Dublin – this hike is accessible for everyone. However, we had rented a car as the girls and I were leaving Dublin for the west coast a few days later. Parking was no problem in winter. You could even get a snack on the parking lot – stalls completely in line with the natures-theme-park feeling of the rest of the walk.
Only negative on the whole route was that for long stretches there was no signal on our phones – normally not a big problem, but not entirely ok when you’ve got sick kids at home. Be aware of this issue in case of really bad weather.
Bring food, good shoes and clothes and have a great day out of Dublin. Go during summer and you might dip your mortal body in the (probably) holy and most certainly rejuvenating lake. Go in winter and I guess there are fewer people around. Anyway: Tá turas deas agat!
Questions? Wanting to share? Duke of Edinburgh or plain Jane? Feel free to contact me.