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Frederic William Burton - The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, 1864
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The Wicklow Way

wicklow valley

Wicklow Valley - photo by author

by Suzanne Barrett

The walking trail known as The Wicklow Way is short as walking trails go--about 80 miles from its start in the outskirts of Dublin to its end at the little village of Clonegal.

In the late seventies, an All-Ireland Way was conceived. Most European countries already had long distance walks, and the Ulster Way was being set up in Northern Ireland. The Wicklow Way was to be the Republic's first signposted walking route, and rightly so, for it is one of particular beauty.

GlendaloughThe spine of the Wicklow Mountains runs in a line northeast to southwest, south from the outskirts of Dublin. Peaceful wooded valleys can be found in between the spurs thrust out from the main range. Lugnaquilla, at 3,000 feet, is the highest peak in the range. Additional information about this area is available in my feature article The Old Military Road.

The walk itself begins in Marlay Park in the south Dublin suburbs, and climbs two of the eastern spurs of the mountain. It dips between these spurs into Glencullen, the first mountain valley. In a surprisingly short time, you have left the city environs behind and are in fresh mountain air. This is the section of the walk known as the "uplands." Look back, now, and see the city unfold.

A few miles further on, the scene changes to one of farms backing up onto rough upland pasture, of twisting lanes, and ancient stone walls. You now approach the second ridge, then another valley--Glencree. Note the mountain set in its midst. This is Knockree at 344 meters high; small, but fascinating, nonetheless. Here one finds deciduous woods, a nice change from the pattern of fields and pasture.

South from Glencree the terrain is higher and rougher. This begins the "mountain" section. A bit further on one comes to the great amphitheater of Deer Park. Off to the right, the Powerscourt Waterfall tumbles 600 feet down the mountainside and behind it, the breathtakingly beautiful Djouce Mountain.

The stretch between Deer Park and Aghavannagh, twenty-five miles away, is one of ever-changing views and variety, characteristic of Irish mountains which are on a small scale as compared to others in the world. Here the walker should look for the great cliffs of Luggala on the long ridge walk from White Hill to the Barr. This peak towers over Lough Tay, an exceptionally fertile bower. Glendalough has two lovely lakes, and from the high pass south of the monastic settlement, one gets the first close view of Lugnaquilla. Note the deep corrie etched into its shoulder, then the steep-sided glacial valley of Glenmalure.

PowerscourtThe third and last section is the "gentle uplands." South of Aghavannagh, a long line of hills, gently decreasing in height, stretches out toward the Carlow border. Separating these hills are fertile river valleys, all of which eventually join the River Slaney. Either in the valleys, or close to them, are several hamlets and villages in addition to Aghavannagh: Moyne, Tinahely, Kilquiggin, and Clonegal.

You could travel the route by car, but you'd miss the nuances of each village and view. Walking is the only way to take it all in. Since the hills are of modest height in this area, we can walk on or near to the highest ground, affording a wide view on either side. Note the jagged outline of Croaghan Kinsella to the east. Note also, the changing texture of the path--from country lane to riverside path, forest track, side road and green road.

Finally, you approach the village of Clonegal. You've traveled almost a week since you left Dublin. Eighty miles of spectacular scenery and invigorating mountain air. Behind you the Wicklow Mountains recede and before you the Blackstairs Mountains and the South Leinster Way beckon.

Until next time.

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