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.
It was interesting to cross the bog and the boardwalk kept my feet dry!
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.
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
Eventually I reached the ridge and as I followed the path there were several viewpoints over the Lake and up and down the valley.
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.
I carried on along the path which soon turned into a track along the west side of the Upper Lake,
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.
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.
FINALLY! I have been here many years and one less child ago. We came with our Dublin friends (who also only had 2 at the time) and it was just a quick visit and a time for the kids to play in one of the lakes and get out of the city to beautiful areas. I know better the history of Glendalough and would like to visit again and do some of the walks. Thanks for showing me more.
It’s a lovely area with an interesting history. The trails are of varying difficulty with one for every ability. Remember your boots next time!
Interesting to see one of the Irish round towers after we visited one of the two in Scotland a couple of months ago. Ours didn’t have a conical roof though. Looks like a lovely walk.
An excellent walk !
I’ve seen several round towers now in various states of repair. I keep an eye out for them when I’m over there.
We had a lovely visit there, about 5 years ago, my one and only trip to Ireland, for the day, must go back one day 🙂 and for longer.
I’m over there so often and thought it was time I should spend a little time in the mountains. Glendalough is busy but other areas of the National Park are quieter – less of a tourist honeypot.
We need to visit again, maybe take the motorhome, lots to explore 🙂
I really should make the effort and visit Ireland seeing as it’s so close. I guess it’s always been the weather that’s made me think twice but the scenery and walking is stunning as here. Reminds me of the Eastern Cairngorms
The weather in the east of Ireland is not much different from the west of England. It’s the west coast that is wet, but very beautiful