Glendalough Monastic City

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Before and after my walk around the two lakes at Glendalough I took the opportunity to look around the Monastic City, an early Christian monastic settlement founded by the Celtic saint, St. Kevin (Caoimhín in Irish) in the 6th century although mst of the surviving buildings are from the 10th to 12th centuries. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in this part of Ireland being only an hour’s drive from Dunblin. I’d visited the site with my wife 9 years ago, but thought it was worth another look.. 

The view towards the site is dominated by the 33 metre tall Round Tower.


It was built almost 1000 years ago by the monks of St. Kevin’s monastery. Round towers are found all over Ireland and there are various theories about what they were for. However, the Irish name for the towers is “Cloigtheach”, which translates as “bell tower”. It is also thought that the towers were sometimes used as a place of refuge for monks when the monastery was under attack from Vikings and other raiders. They may also have been used as lookout posts and as beacons foe approaching monks and pilgrims. The Glendalough tower is a fine example, many others are partially ruined, although the conical roof had to be replaced in 1876 after it had been struck by lightning.

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St. Kevin’s Church better known as St. Kevin’s Kitchen is a nave-and-chancel church of the 12th century. It is called St Kevin’s kitchen because people believed that the bell tower was a chimney to a kitchen.


The Cathedral is the largest of the seven churches around Glendalough.  It was built in several phases from the 10th through the early 13th century.


Originally, the site was enclosed within a circular wall. Most of this has gone but gateway remains and is Ireland’s only surviving example of a medieval gateway to an early monastic city. The arch is built with Roman style columns and the stones were cut specifically to scale and they held themselves up without the need for mortar.

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North Bull Island


At the end of my weekend in Wicklow I was booked on the afternoon ferry from Dublin to Holyhead. I had to check out ofthe campsite mid morning so had planned to drive over to Dublin, park around either Merrion or Fitzwilliam square and have a mooch and visit one of the galleries in thecity centre. It didn’t quite work out like that, though. Driving in there were signs regarding a half Marathon and when I arrived in the city centre found that both Merrion and Fitzwilliam squares were closed off as the starting and finishing points for the race. So I had to change my plans.

I reckoned that with the half Marathon on it would be busy in the centre and parking might be difficult. I also thought I could get tangled up in traffic and diversions when it was time to drive across the city to the port. So what to do? I decided to drive over the Liffey and then across to North Bull Island, a low lying, dune covered sand spit in Dublin Bay off the coast of the city’s north side which I see every time I sail in and out of the port. It was a sunny day so a good opportunity to visit the island and take a walk on the beach.


The Island was created 200 years ago following the construction of the 1 kilometre-long North Bull Wall was constructed to prevent the port silting up. The surveying of the river prior to the building of the wall was done by a certain Catain Bligh of Bounty fame. Sand gradually accumulated behind the wall forming the island. Today it’s 5km long by 1km wide and it’s still growing. It’s important ecologically and has been designated as a National Bird Sanctuary, a biosphere reserve, a National Nature Reserve, a Special Protection Area under the EU Birds Directive and a Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive. That’s a lot of designations!

The island is easily accessible as it’s connected to the mainland by the Bull Bridge, a one-lane wooden road bridge at the southern (Clontarf/Dollymount) end, and by a causeway, approximately halfway along at Raheny. After cutting acoss the city centre, I drove along the front and then crossed over to the island via the causeway, parked up and wandered past the dunes to the sandy beach known as Dollymount Strand.


The strong wind was in my face as I walked along the beach towards the Bull Wall, but there were plenty of other people out exercising and otherwise enjoying the sunshine. There are views out to sea and over to both Howth Head and the port.


I could see right over Dublin Bay to the Wicklow Mountains. Completely free of cloud today. Typical!

It’s a popular spot for wind surfing and it seemed like a good day for it.


As I walked along the beach I could see the Stena ferry I would be boarding later sailing in. I got some good shots of it as I reached the end of the wall just as it sailed past. Good timing!


Although the sea was quite rough there were a number of bathers who’d taken the plunge. Rather them than me!


I retraced my steps aling the beach and then back to my car. It was time to drive the short distance to the port ready to board the ferry back to Holyhead.

A walk into the cloud

I woke early on the Saturday morning during my stay in the Wicklow Mountains. I’d checked the weather forecast the night before and wasn’t very optimistic as rain was expected. It wasn’t raining when I got up, but after breakfast, when I popped down to the village to pick up some supplies, it arrived. I hung around in my pod for a while but there was no sign of it stopping. However, I had my waterproof coat and I wasn’t going to let a little rain stop me from getting out onto the hills.

I’d plotted myself a walk from the campsite that would take me to the top of Scarr, a mountain 2105 feet high just a few miles north ofthe site. I’d worked out a couple of possible circular routes, but hadn’t any definite plans as to which I would follow, I thought I’d see how it went depending on conditions.

I set out along the Military Road (as the name implies it was built by the British to facilitate the movement of troops to keep the Irish under the imperial heel)


for about half a mile until I reached the point where the Wicklow Way crossed the road.


Turnng right I followed the trail up through a forest,


climbing on to moorland. The rain began to ease off and had more or less stopped by the time I came out of the cover of the trees.

I continued on the Wicklow Way for a while across the moor before turning off on a path that would take me over Paddock Hill towards Scarr. Views were opening up over the Glenmarcnass Pass to the Mullaghcleevaun, Tonelagee and Brockagh mountains, or at least they should have been! Low cloud was was covering the mountain tops.


I carried on over the moor and started the climb up Scarr,


up into the cloud that was covering the mountain.


I stopped to chat with some walkers on their way down. They’d been to the summit but as visibility was poor were making their way back down towards Laragh. I carried on.


It was a gradual climb; nothing too steep but due the cloud I couldn’t see the top. A couple of times I thought I was there but then realised that it was a false summit.


Eventually I made it to the top. I couldn’t see a thing!


I’d planned to carry on to another peak, Kanturk, a little further along the ridge, and then loop back. But given the lack of information on the maps I decided there was a real chance of getting lost so, reluctantly, turned back to retrace my route.

After turning round there was a break in the cloud – I could see the summit!


and some of the nearby countryside


I hung around for a little while to see if it was going to disperse so I could resume my original plan. But it was a false hope, it soon closed back in

I retraced my route back over the moor and then down through the forest


Reaching the Military Road, rather than walk straight down into Laragh, I crossed over and followed the Wicklow way for a while, down through more forest

Crossing over a recently constructed bridge over the turbulent river


rried on along the path I’d have reached the monastic site at Glendalough, but I cut down through a forest track back to the village where I picked up some supplies from the convenience shop.

Despite the conditions it was an enjoyable walk. I’ll have to return one day and repeat it when the weather’s a bit better.

After a shower and something to eat it was soon time to head down to the local pub to watch the match.

A walk around Glendalough


About 9 years ago, during a holiday touring around the south west of Ireland, we visited Glendalough – “the valley of two lakes” – in the Wicklow Mountains. The old monastery at the end of the glacial valley near Laragh is one of the most popular tourist sites in Ireland, as it’s an interesting monument about an hour’s drive from Dublin. We’d looked around the ruins but then went for a walk along the lake, up the valley as far as the old miner’s village which is just past the end of the Upper Lake. At the time I would have liked to follow the trail around the valley, climbing up to the Spinc, the hill that overlooks the valley to the east of the lakes, but didn’t have time that day. But I’d always wanted to go back. So while I was staying in Laragh I was able to fulfil my ambition.

After checking into my pod and unloading the car, I changed into my walking gear and set off from the camp site through Laragh and then joined the “green road” which would take me to the monastic site and the start of the glen; a very pleasant walk of just over a mile.


I diverted for a quick look at the monastic site, which was, not surprisingly, heaving with tourists of various nationalities. But I didn’t stop for long as my main objective was to follow the white route, one of several waymarked paths around the area. To reach the start of the route I followed the boardwalk which had been constructed across the bogs along the side of the Lower Lake.


There was also a continuation of the Green Road along the other shore, but I’d decided that I’d follow that on the return leg.

Glendalough trails

It was interesting to cross the bog and the boardwalk kept my feet dry!

Looking over the Lower Lake from the boardwalk

I emerged at the bottom of the Upper Lake where there’s a car park, a toilet block, some vans selling food and drinks and an information centre. I picked up a trails leaflet and some information on the Wicklow Mountains National Park and then bought myself a brew which I drank sitting on the shore of the Upper Lake, taking in the view up the valley.

The view up the Upper Lake

Refreshed, I set off on the White route. I decided to follow it in a clockwise direction, thinking that I’d rather go up the initial steep climb past the Poulanass waterfall and up through the forest to the top of the Spinc (from the Irish “An Spinc“; meaning “pointed hill”) than come down it at the end. The descent at the top of the lake was much more gradual and so likely to be easier on the knees. I think that was the right decision.


I climbed the steps, passing the waterfall.


A walk along a section of forest road then took me to the start of the trail up through the forest. It was a steep climb, made easier by the steps (600 or so of them), made of old railway sleepers.


The sleepers been used to create a boardwalk, a dry track all along the route on the east side of the lake, up to and along the Spinc. Much of the route is over boggy ground so it saves walkers having to yomp through mud and also protects the ground from erosion.

Large areas of trees had been felled leaving a desolate landscape to the east of the path.


But this did make the climb less claustrophobic and dark than if the trees were all still standing and it opened up the views

Looking back down the hill

Eventually I reached the ridge and as I followed the path there were several viewpoints over the Lake and up and down the valley.

Looking down on the two Lakes from the top of the Spinc

There were other walkers following the route in an anti-clockwise direction, some not really suitably attired, but, luckily, the weather, although cloudy and a little windy, wasn’t too bad. It deteriorated a little as I carried on up the valley, but although it started to rain it didn’t last long.


After climbing to the summit, the route started to descend down towards the Glenealo Valley. I’d noted that quite a few of the sleepers were beginning to deteriorate but I could see that work was taking place to renew them – it had already been done on a long stretch at the south end of the ridge.


As the path descended the wooden boardwalk ended and I found myself on a rocky path heading down to the bridge which crosses the river.


As I descended I spotted a herd of feral goats above me on the hillside. There’s several hundred of them living in the valley so There’s a good chance of encountering them on a walk here. It’s not certain whether they are descended from goats kept by the former miners or whether they were already here when the mine first opened.


After crossing the bridge the route turned north and continued to descend down towards the Upper Lake and the old Miner’s Village.


I spotted a couple of young men who clearly had spotted something and were taking photos. When I reached them I could see what was attracting their attention – a deer standing only a few yards away from them. I managed to take a few photos myself.


As with the goats, there’s a large number of deer roaming around Glendalough, mostly crossbreeds between native Red Deer and Japanese Sika (which had escaped from the Powerscourt estate). They’re used to walkers and, apparently, often get relatively close, as in this case.


Carrying on descending down the rough, stoney path – time to start using my walking poles – I eventuallyreached the ruins of the Mining village. There’s been mining in this area of the Wicklow Mountains since about 1809 and the mine high on the hillside operated between 1825 and 1925, extracting lead ores and some silver. It re-opened briefly between 1948 to 1957 but has been closed permanently since then. Spoil heaps are still clearly visible on the mountainside above the village.


I stopped for a little while to look around the ruins.

Looking back up the valley past the Miner’s Village

I carried on along the path which soon turned into a track along the west side of the Upper Lake,

Looking back up the valley – The rain had come in

so it didn’t take me too long to reach the end of the White Route at the bottom of the lake. I stopped to look up the valley where it was now misty as the rain was falling.

Looking back up along the lake with the Spinc on the left

I took the Green Road path back along the Lower Lake, stopping briefly to take in the views.


Reaching the monastic site just after 6 o’clock I stopped for a while to take a look as the bulk of tourists had gone. The sun popped out of the clouds briefly, lighting up the round tower.


Retracing my steps back along the Green Road through the forest


I reached Laragh around 7 o’clock. I picked up a few supplies from the convenience store and headed back to the campsite. It was time to make myself something to eat.

It had been an excellent walk, which didn’t disappoint. I quite fancied trying some of the other trails but I had different plans for the next day so will have to return some other time. I’m due back in Ireland in September so may get the chance to stay for another weekend – we’ll see!

After eating I sat outside on the decking reading for a while, with a coffee and a bar of chocolate (after a 12 mile walk, I think I deserved a treat). When the night drew in I turned in early and settled down to sleep. I had plans for another walk the next day.

A weekend in the Wicklow Mountains


I missed out on the late May Bank Holiday this year. I needed to schedule a course in Ireland and the only week that worked was the last week in May. So on Sunday 26th I sailed over to Dublin and then drove over to Naas. This time, however, I’d decided to extend my stay and spend some time in the Wicklow Mountains, a range of hills to the south of Dublin in County Wicklow. Ever since we visited the area 9 years ago I’d always fancied getting up on the hills and with the long days of May, this seemed like a good opportunity, so I decided to book a couple of nights in suitable accommodation around the village of Laragh, do some walking and then return home on the Sunday.

What I hadn’t reckoned was that the first Monday in June is a Bank Holiday in Ireland, so I some trouble finding a B and B near Laragh at a reasonable price. However, I found a “glamping” site in Laragh that had availability, and having found staying in a “pod” quite good when I went for a sea Kaying weekend in Anglesey last year, I thought I’d book myself in for a couple of nights. It turned out to be a good call. Glendalough Glamping was a really good site with spacious pods (larger than the one I stayed in in Anglesey) and excellent facilities including a kitchen and dining area with cooking equipment available and even with cutlery and crockery provided. There were walks out in the hills right from the door so once I checked in I didn’t have to use my car until I drove home.

My “pod”

My course finished at midday on the Friday so I drove over to Laragh across the hills over the Wicklow Gap arriving an hour later. Although check in was 3 p.m. I’d arranged in advance to arrive at 1 and as my pod was ready was able to check in, get changed and head out for a walk.

Inside my pod
view from the campsite

Unfortunately the weather forecast for the weekend was mixed, with some rain expected (the story of my life this year!) but I managed a couple of good walks over the weekend. One worry was that I’d miss the European Champions Trophy final. As a lapsed Liverpool fan I was keen to watch the match. But the Irish are generally pretty much football mad and I knew that Liverpool have a big following over there, so it was pretty certain that the local pub would be showing the match. The pub was crowded but I squeezed in amongst the locals, many of them wearing red shirts. So I felt quite at home, especially as the Reds managed to win the match.


Walking in the Wicklow Mountains is a bit of a challenge. I’d got hold of a good map, 1:30,000 scale, for the area. But paths aren’t well documented, so it’s difficult to plot a route just from the map if you’re not familiar with the area. However, I had a good walking guide to the hills and the internet, as usual, is a good resource for routes, so with a little homework I had some ideas on what I could do. The very friendly and helpful campsite owner (very typically Irish) also gave me some information on possible routes.

Dublin & Wicklow: A Walking Guide by [Fairbairn, Helen]

But I had one route in mind ever since my last visit 9 years ago – a walk around the two lakes of Glendalough, where there are a number of well marked trails. So on Friday afternoon I set off down the Green Road from Laragh to the monastic site at the foot of the “valley of two lakes”. (to be continued …….. !!)

McKenzie’s Pyramid

Mckenzie’s soul lies above the ground
In that pyramid near Maryland

McKenzies pyramid

After we’d visited the Hardmans’ house we walked a short distance down Rodney Street to the former church of St Andrews. We wanted to take a look at a monument in the graveyard that features in a well known tale told in Liverpool.

A pyramid stands over the tomb of a certain William McKenzie. He was a “self made man”, born in Nelson, Lancashire, who, after initially working has a weaver, became a civil engineer and became a successful contractor in the canal and railway industries, which developed rapidly in the 19th Century. He eventually moved to Liverpool where he lived in Grove Street, which I know very well as this is where the University of Liverpool Chemistry building is located!

He is supposed to have been an inveterate gambler, who bet and lost his soul in a game of poker with the Devil. The local legend is that he is sat upright in the tomb at a table with a winning hand of cards in his hand, thereby, not being buried, depriving Old Nick of his soul. However, his unusual entombment also prevents him entering heaven, so his ghost is said to prowl Rodney Street at night.

An interesting story but one that cannot be true (even if you believe in heaven and hell). McKenzie died and was buried in 1851 but the pyramid was only erected 16 years later by his brother.

Despite this, the legend persists, and is even mentioned in the first two lines of a song Does this train stop on Merseyside by local band, Amsterdam.

It’s also been recorded by the well known Irish Folk singer, Christy Moore

Which version do you prefer?

The Hardmans’ House


A couple of weeks ago, the last Saturday in May, we drove over to Liverpool. One of the things we wanted to do was to visit a National Trust property in Rodney Street, close to the centre of Liverpool. Rodney Street, a street of mainly Georgian period houses, is often referred to as the “Harley Street of Liverpool” as many of the buildings are occupied by private medical services. Gladstone, the Victorian Liberal Prime MInister was born in the street at No. 62, However, we were visiting the house at No. 59 that used to be the home of  E. Chambré Hardman and his wife Margaret who were both photographers and ran a successful photography studio and business here.


Hardman was quite eccentric and after his wife died in 1979 from cancer he continued to live and work in the house, living as a virtual recluse until he died in 1988. He hardly left the house and was a hoarder, never throwing anything away, including foodstuffs! When he died he left behind an archive of more than 200,000 images. Realising the importance of the collection of photographs, the property was acquired by the National Trust in 2003. As it’s a small property, the Trust run guided tours of the house which, with the contents accumulated by the Hardmans, is a “timecapsule” of life in mid twentieth century Liverpool.

Chambré Hardman was Irish, and had been a regular soldier in India in the 1920’s where he developed an interest in photography. Returning to Britain, he set up in business with a partner, Kenneth Burrell a fellow officer in India. Although Burrell left the business within five years, but the two remained friends and Hardman continued to include his friend’s name in that of the business


Chambré Hardman first met Margaret when she cam to work with him as an assistant. Although she was much younger than him there was a mutual attraction and they eventually married. She was also a talented photographer in her own right and was very much the commercial brain which helped the business to be successful. 

We’d visited some years ago but decided we’d like to take another look, so I rang and booked a tour for the Saturday afternoon. The visit started with a short talk and a video providing some background information about the Hardmans and their business followed by the guided tour of the studio, waiting rooms, darkrooms, other work rooms (the business employed a number of staff who worked here) and the Hardmans’ private living quarters. There were also examples of the Hardmans’ photographs on display.

The bread and butter of the business was taking studio portraits and clients would visit the house to have their photographs taken. The business also specialised in taking photographs of children and pets. Chambré Hardman was also employed by the Liverpool Playhouse theatre to take portraits of actors, including some relatively well known faces such as Ivor Novello and Patricia Routledge (a local girl!). The Hardmans’ passion, though, was landscape photography and they spent weekends and holidays travelling and taking photographs for their own interest. Hardman also took many photographs around and about Liverpool. There’s plenty of examples of their work on the National Trust Website

Unlike the last time we visited, photographs were allowed, but, as is usually the case, only without flash. I took some snaps, but they are generally a little dark.

The majority of the rooms in the house were devoted to the business and the Hardmans’ hobby. Although it’s clear from the outside that it’s a Georgian building, the Hardmans’ modernised and adapted the house for their business, so few original interior features remain. But the interest is in seeing how they lived and worked

This is the studio where the portraits were taken


the Hardmans’ personal dark room


The room where the commercial photographs were finished and packaged and sent to clients. It also acted as an office


And a few pictures from the Hardmans’ living quarters

Their living room


The kitchen


the kitchen store cupboard with items going back to WW2


Old boxes from his time in India in the cellar


Chambré Hardman died in 1988, and so was living here when I was at Liverpool University in the late 1970’s. I must have walked past more than a few times so it was particularly interesting to see what it was like inside.