While the wild West is undoubtedly where it’s at in Ireland if you are looking for natural beauty, it has to be said that the East coast has its attractions too. For most tourists the Irish capital is the obvious starting point. Dublin is a lively, and sometimes pretty, city, and is certainly worth a visit..though here i’m not going to expand on it as this is supposed to be a back to nature blog..
Dublin is also a perfect jumping off point for a visit to the Wicklow Mountains to the South, and that’s where we were headed after our tour along the West coast. Our destination was Gleann Dá Loch (Glendalough), the glen of the two lakes, about an hour and a half to the South, and another of Ireland’s major tourist attractions.
Gleanndáloch is another early Christian settlement dating from the 6th century, founded by Saint Kevin, and today conserves a good part of the original monastic site. In particular there is a round tower in an excellent state of preservation. This building – together with its surroundings – holds an absolutely iconic status within the imagery of Ireland.
The evening we arrived in Glendalough the rain was pouring down, and though we passed close to the tower we couldn’t see it. Next morning however, the sun was shining splendidly and we were fortunate to be able to visit the monastic ruins just before the first wave of coach-transported international tourists hit. Glendalough’s relative proximity to Dublin means that it’s a popular day-trip from the capital and dozens of tour buses roll into the Visitor Center car-park every morning.
As the body-count began to rocket, we made tracks up the valley towards the lakes and the hills. There were lots of people strolling along the paths under the oaks and walking the trails up the steep sides of the valley. Nevertheless we were soon almost alone. Unfortunately, as we ascended the clouds closed in..and by midday showers of rain began to fall.
Well, that’s how it is in Ireland..it rains frequently! At least it wasn’t continuous rain, just showers, starting and stopping. So we kept on, along the high boardwalk looking down on the glen of the two lakes. This type of boardwalk is a common feature of popular hillwalking areas in the Emerald Isle. It’s designed to prevent deterioration of trails due to heavy traffic.
The boards are studded to give good grip even when wet, so you don’t have to worry about sliding off the trail and down the hillside! Happily the clouds soon parted and the sun threatened once more..and grumbling voices were quieted. We did however decide to return towards the valley rather than heading further up the mountains.
The rest of the afternoon turned out to be quite sunny. Leaving behind the heather, we walked back down to the Upper Lake, thru forests of pine, larch and oak. The European Larch trees, planted in the 19th century, were really impressive, reaching up to 50m. Lower down close to the lakes is the domain of the Sessile Oak.
On the shores of the Upper lake we visited another early Christian site, the ruins of Reefert Church. Touching the weathered stone crosses on which it is still just possible to make out the once intricate carving..meditating that another day, maybe ten centuries ago, another like me..had stood before this same stone..working it with his hammer and chisel..brought to me a deep sensation of connection with the past, with others’ lives deep in the past..
As the sun dropped lower in the sky, we headed back to the International Youth Hostel close to the round tower..after a long day out and about. Despite the rain it had been a memorable day.
If you are visiting Ireland you have to take it for granted that you are going to get rained on and you may even get a little wet, regardless of the time of year. If you don’t, you’re not really getting the spirit of it. I can only recommend it..and, as the title says, the East ain’t so bad either.