Back in the bog we were, for our December walk. Like November’s, only this time we included a glacial valley, two lakes, a ruined mining village and one of Ireland’s most important monastic sites.
After our traditional Christmas eve afternoon tea at the Westin and the general feasting of the 25th, we were ready for a good long walk on St Stephen’s/Boxing Day with some friends. Glendalough, Gleann Dá Loch (valley of the two lakes) is one of our favourite spots to take visitors, both for its natural beauty, the amazing monastic site dating from the 6th century, and — slightly more prosaically — proximity to Dublin. We’ve often walked the Green Road around the Lower Lake, but this time the longer Glenealo Valley and Spinc (‘pointed hill’) route called us.
Because we had no cash for the upper car park, we left our car in the village (right outside a hotel, so after our post-walk hot chocolates we had only a few more steps to take). This meant the monastic city and the Green Road (3 km) were part of the day’s hike, giving us a full Glendalough experience.
The ‘monastic city’ has its origins in the 6th century and includes the 30 metre high round tower, churches, a priest’s house, and crosses, plus a lot of graves.
From the Green Road, we walked along the north side of the lake, up the valley. With mandarins, Christmas ham, cheese, crackers and trail mix, we were well nourished and took frequent stops to re-group or to relish the views. We did not make record time on this hike, but time on a holiday is not to be measured: it is best filled with chats or comfortable silences, especially when enhanced with fresh air and beauty.
Beside the cave across the Upper Lake is a small man-made opening (a black dot in this photo) where St Kevin used to sleep, appropriately called St Kevin’s Bed. Legend says that the Dublin saint, St Laurence O’Toole, also used the bed during Lenten visits to Glendalough, and the Wicklow rebel Michael Dwyer tucked in there while on the run from the British.
Where the lake ends, and before the rocky hairpins start, are the remains of a mine. From the late 1700s to 1957, lead, zinc and silver were mined in the Glenealy Valley. An organisation, Glens of Lead, is currently documenting the history of mining in four Wicklow glens, including conducting an oral history project with miners and their families. Read more about that here.
Of course we had to digress and explore the deserted mining village and do a bit of impromptu rock climbing, before heading up the hill.
There’s been a lot of work put into these trails: I love the way these stone steps look like they’ve been there since before St Kevin, and make the uphill climb that bit easier.
The zigzags took us up along the Glenealo River, that runs into the Upper Lake. In that light so particular to a winter afternoon, we caught glimpses of Red deer on the slopes of the Spinc.
Crossing the river, it was on up along a boardwalk that protects the blanket bog of the Spinc.
The lookout point was worth a stop to see part of where we’d been, and get another perspective of the valley. Looking at the landscape, you see where the weavers found the colours to create Irish tweed.
The boardwalk winds along down from the lookout, ending with 600 steps, then the trail passes by Poulanass Waterfall and back along the Green Road.
Near the round tower, I stopped for one last look up the valley as the winter evening drew in, the light changing the colours again into a new, fragile beauty.
There are a few walks in the area. See the Wicklow Mountains National Park website for more information.
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