Ireland Part 1 – The Wicklow Mountains

by backpackingbongos

Escaping from the ferry terminal in Dublin was much quicker and easier than anticipated and I even managed not to get lost whilst heading for the N11 out of the city!  It took a while to get my head around converting the speed limits from kph into mph as my van only shows the latter.  Traffic lights also took a little getting used to as there is not an amber phase when they turn from red to green.  Usually meant sitting there like a lemon after the lights had turned green!

On researching the trip campsites appeared to be a bit thin on the ground throughout Ireland, so we found and booked one before we left.  It was in the village of Rathdrum on the outskirts of the national park.  I have to admit that my heart sunk when we arrived early evening on the Saturday as it was absolutely packed to the rafters.  We were shown to a small space squeezed between massive caravans where I sat down for a quiet sulk.  I have to admit that I am not a big fan of organised campsites, much preferring to head for the hills and wild camping.  However this was a holiday with my partner who is not a massive fan of camping full stop, so a compromise had to be made.  Whilst I graded it poorly she gave it top marks for the facilities.  Anyway what did I expect arriving at a site an hour outside a capital city, next to a national park on a hot sunny Saturday!  Anyway for me it was with relief that we headed to the hills for a walk the next day.

Tonelagee (Toin le Gaoith) 817 metres

It was a stunning drive up the Glenmacnass valley where we parked above the waterfall.  This was obviously a popular local beauty spot with lots of people milling about taking photos of the falls.  We joined them for a while.

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I wanted to ease my partner into climbing Irish mountains gently, this hill looked like it should fit the bill with a high level start and not too steep slopes.  Almost immediately from the car park the route was pathless and there was an unbridged river crossing, luckily the water levels were very low.  A steep high bank lay in the way of the the main mountain ridge which was pretty tough going with waist high vegetation hiding slimy bogs.  This soon eased and a faint path was found that slowly but easily took us onto the minor summit of the north east ridge, giving the first view of the main summit.

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From the col the onward route looked impossibly steep and was littered with huge boulders.  However a good path wound its way through the rocks and soon brought us to the edge of the plateau.

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A few peat hags had to be crossed before walking across marshy ground to get the the summit trig point.  On a clearer day I would imagine that the views from here would be extensive.  However it was a hot humid summers day and much of the surrounding scenery was lost in the murk.

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We watched a red deer eyeing us nervously from a distance before making the descent towards Stoney top.  A feint path then led us above the rim of the steep corrie containing Lough Ouler before its steep descent.  As the summit had been too windy for lunch we made a beeline for some rocks next to the loch.  We were soon struggling though some deep tough vegetation hiding ankle breaking boulders, I suddenly became less than popular.

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Luckily after lunch we managed to pick up a rough path circling the loch before it descended alongside Lough Brook giving us an easy descent towards the Glenmacnass river.  It then suddenly vanished into a mass of tussocks, why paths disappear just when you really need them?  The mile or so back to the car park seemed endless as we tried to find a dry easy line down the valley, its amazing just how much difficult vegetation can slow you down

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We arrived back at the busy car park tired and rather wet from the knees down!

Glendalough – The Spinc – Mullacor 657 metres – Derrybawn Mountain 474 metres

When we returned to the campsite it had quietened down considerably so we decided to stay a couple of more nights so we could visit Glendalough.  I usually avoid tourist hot spots but seeing that we were tourists we thought that we should go and check it out.  A massive patrolled car park surrounded by burger vans and a large volume of people did not really fit in with the beautiful surroundings.  This was however soon left behind as we took a trail across pastures heading for the Pollanass waterfall.  An old stone cross led the eye towards the upper lake and the mountains.

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Pleasant easy walking took us past the waterfalls and along forestry tracks to the start of the trail leading to the top of the Spinc.  The trail throughout its length is made up of a wooden boardwalk to protect the fragile bogland from the large amount of foot traffic this popular walk gets.  Hundreds of steps lead up endlessly through dark conifers, with no view it is a case of head down and get the climbing out of the way.  Suddenly the trail emerges from the forest to a platform giving views down the valley to the lower lake.

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The view up the valley leads the eye into the Wicklow mountains.

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We were among a steady procession of people as we walked the length of the Spinc gradually gaining height and getting better views of the cliffs that fall directly into the upper lake.  In fact we got a bit carried away and walked straight past the path we had planned to take, climbing the highest part of this trail and beginning to descend before I looked at the map and realised the mistake.  With gritted teeth we turned around and walked against the tide of people.

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Once off of the main trail we were suddenly in a world of solitude as we followed an empty path that contoured above a forest filled valley.  The plan had been to climb to the summit of Mullacor but as we reached its peat hagged col the cloud that had been plaguing us all day descended and covered the summit.  With a fine drizzle falling we could not face a boggy climb with no views so we found a forestry track that contoured around the hill without losing height.  It was one of those really warm humid summer days so we decided to get wet from the rain rather than bake and get soaked inside our waterproofs.  Even out of the hill fog all views had disappeared into a thick grey haze, a bit of a disappointment.

The forestry track brought us to a col beneath Cullentragh mountain and we took a well defined path along a narrow (well for Wicklow) ridge towards Derrybawn mountain.  A superb airy walk where I imagine the views would be stunning in clear weather.

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A very steep path through deep heather brought us eventually back to the valley bottom where we walked to the beach at the head of the upper lake.  We could see why so many tourists are drawn here, not many capital cities can claim scenery like this almost on their doorstep!

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10 Responses to “Ireland Part 1 – The Wicklow Mountains”

  1. Looks good and the word bogs seems the get mentioned a lot ?

  2. A good start. Look forward to reading about the rest of the trip.

  3. This report really opened my eyes to what Ireland has to offer. Thanks for sharing. More please!

  4. Thanks for your comments. The next post will be Connemara which was the highlight of the trip, the word bog will definately continue to be used!

  5. Wild terrain, little trodden hills, unfrequented lochs and some boggy peat hags – looks great!. Pity about the murk and lack of views but an evocative account.

  6. Nice post. I’m heading up Tonelagee tomorrow & hoping for good weather and clear views!

    If you should visit Wicklow and Glendalough again, the other side of the valley taking in Glenealo and Camaderry will offer you more great views and a lot less people.

  7. Hi there Murray! I hope that you had a great day on the hills today and that you got a view! One day I will be back to Wicklow, perhaps to backpack?

  8. I lived in Murroe, outside of Limerick for a couple of months and really wanted to just start walking, especially around Ballina/Killaloe…the urge to keep going was overwhelming. Really nice blog.

    • Thanks Walter, Ireland is a lovely place with some cracking mountains to explore. I will have to make sure that I return one day.

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