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Glendalough & Glenealo : An Easy Amble

21 July 2012

Less than 50kms from the centre of Dublin, this valley with it’s enigmatic cultural landscape and sentinel village of Laragh, are worlds away from the prickly complexity of the city. Once it cradled those seeking a simpler life, nursing and dispersing the accumulated knowledge of European civilisation. Today if offers a unique glimpse into our heritage and a gateway to the Wicklow Mountains National Park.

This location provides easy and enjoyable walking for everyone, including families; and this blog entry provides you (below) with simple route instructions to navigate yourselves and companions safely around the valley on easy terrain…. but stout footwear recommended.

View NW toward the lower car-park and National Park Visitor Centre

Your view across the valley toward the Wicklow Mountains National Park Visitor Centre

And if you are new to mountain walking, this little janunt gives you the opportunity to put yourself safely at the heart of the park, to go to the National Park Visitor Centre, and begin to familiarise yourself with the landscape, the flora and fauna that  you will find on your way to the tops.

If you have access to a copy, then Walk 20, (Ancient Knowledge and Secret Places) of Best Walks in Ireland, will guide you along the Miners’s Road, past the old lead workings, to the source of the Glenealo River. Then, perhaps glimpsing heards of red-like deer, past pools in the bog, the man made Turlogh Reservoir (a kind of ESB natural battery) over the summit of Camaderry, and after a somewhat steep descent, back to your staring point. 11 miles and a strenuous day walk.  Or if your facy takes, you can follow the route of the entire Glenealo watershed (Walk 20a).  A bog trotters treat, 13 miles, 8 hours and difficult. But the book also contains around four other alternative suggestions for easier walks or where to find information on such.

Getting there ….

Go to the village of Laragh in Co. Wicklow and park your car in one of the small number of public car-parking spaces at the heart of the village there.

You can click on the Directions link on the Google map on the right to get route instructions from your location.

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The Route …

This first part is on the road, so a little caution is required.  But generally it isn’t busy, and since it forms part of the Wicklow Way, locals, at least, are aware they will encounter ramblers along the hedges.

  • Leave your car and head South on the R755 towards Rathdrum for about 750m metres. Pass various modern B&Bs and other bungalows on your left to reach a bohereen running off to the right.
  • Take the bohereen signposted to The Woollen Mills, toward the gates of Derrybawn House and follow it across the Glendasan River, rushing to join the Avonmore, just a few hundred metres south. (If the river isn’t rushing, it’s because we’ve had a dry-spell, which seems highly unlikely.)
  • Stay right with the tarmac route as it turns into the yard for the Woollen Mills, and keep the Mills buildings  on your right as you pass through a gateway and onto the sometimes metalled trackway that runs parallel to the right (true) bank of the Glendasan River you’ve just crossed; until you reach the boundary of the Wicklow Mountains National Park and the nature reserve; where a plaque explains the process of re-affirmation of the local forestry.

The prominent ruins down toward the river on your right are those of St Saviour’s, a twelfth century priory.  Whilst considerably later than the monastic ruins associated with St Kevin, and surrounding the round tower that you will encounter later in your walk, this early example of Romanesque architecture with rounded arches, though concurrent with the early Norman occupation of Leinster, exhibits some interesting detail in its stone carving; and is worth the detour. Perhaps you could ponder on the circumstances that more than 800 years ago, gave rise to the building of a priory here.   To get there, turn right off the track, through an obvious gate, down along the narrow earthen tread through this recently planted “pioneer” woodland  with its birch, beech and sessile oak, sheltering sheep fescue, willow herb and speedwell; to a second gate which opens into an enclosure.

  • Keep right at a fork and pass beyond a steel park  barrier, until the trackway becomes a broad tarmac footpath.
  • After roughly 1.5 kms from the Mills, arrive at the right turn junction for access to the Lower Lough car-park and Wicklow Mountains National Park, Visitor Centre.  By all means divert here and explore the centre, or the monastic city or both; then return back to this junction; or to this track, by passing through the buildings and grounds of the monastic city to return to this track. Once back at this track turn right to continue following it up the gleann.
  • Continue straight ahead, and quickly arrive at a fork in the pathway, by a spring splurge of herb robert.
  • Take the right fork to follow the boardwalk, that will navigate you safely  and with dry feet, across the valley floor and the Glendasan River

The eventual emergence of purple moor grass and blankets of bog cotton tell you that the valley floor is getting wetter as you pass. While the elder trees in the distance tell you that there are drier slopes on the far side. I would expect to see dragon flies, demoiselles and many other interesting insects here,  in the right conditions and at the right time of year.  As I pass they seem to be pressed low above the vegetation, where the hirondelle, (house martin, sand martin and swallows) are wheeling and carting in throng to feed up on them.  And a couple of heron are secreted amid the reeds, preening and feeding.

  • The boardwalk eventually reaches the far side of the gleann, by some large granite eratics (stones brought here by the actions of glacial ice, 10,000 and more years ago), and seeks to nestle beneath the R757 running (out of view) toward the car-park at the Upper Lough.

There’s plenty to see as you amble along; a stone cross; less common breeds of sheep; devils bit scabeous grasping a tenuous existence in the stone wall on your right. Perhaps you will notice how differently the birch trees and the willow at the water’s edge behave in the breeze. The leaves and branches of the birch fluttering in some organised chaos, whilst the willow sways and eases its way through the oncoming wind.

  • Stay with the boardwalk as it eventually resolves to a tarmac path and at the next obvious junction, fork left, to immediately cross over the Glendasan River and instantly reach a second fork:   The way directly ahead (left fork) takes you straight ahead back across the gleann to turn left at the next junction with the green lane (tarmac) and so steer you back toward the monastic city…..

But unless you are in some kind of hurry, turn right, enjoy the delights of the location.  There are various “visitor facilities”. Cafe, toilets, picnic tables, open spaces, the shores of the Upper Lough and the Visitor Information Centre.  Plenty of flora and fauna, spaces to amble and vistas of the cultural landscape.

  •  When you are ready to return, follow the signs to the Information Centre, resembling a small house. Tarry a while longer here. There is plenty to see and the wardens are always full of interesting and useful information.
  • To continue your route: Face the front door of the centre  and look right.  That’s the direction back along the gleann. Follow the tarmac path (green road) and the signs taking you back toward the monastic city; as you walk, the car-park will be on your left, and the shores of the upper lough, behind you.
  • Keep endway along the path, passing a delightful waterfall on your right and the Glendalough and Laragh Anglers memorial stone on your left, eventually to arrive back at the monastic city, the two path junctions from earlier in your walk, and to recover the track back toward the woollen mills.
  • Finally, retrace your steps from the mills to return along the A755 into Laragh to summer evening scents of honeysuckle and to the safe harbour of the village heart, and your parked car.

That’s it. Of course there is so much more to the natural and cultural landscape of this valley, than this meagre commentary, still I hope you enjoyed the walk, and that your interested has “piqued” enough for you to want to explore further.

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