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.

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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.

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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.

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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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A walk around Glendalough

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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I climbed the steps, passing the waterfall.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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,

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Looking back up the valley – The rain had come in
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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.

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Looking back up along the lake with the Spinc on the left
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I took the Green Road path back along the Lower Lake, stopping briefly to take in the views.

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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.

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Retracing my steps back along the Green Road through the forest

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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

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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.

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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.

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Inside my pod
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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.

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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 …….. !!)