Short Escapes from Dublin: Glendalough

by isabelxfeeney

If you’ve never explored Ireland’s countryside, I couldn’t recommend it enough, and Glendalough would be an excellent place to start. It’s a bit of a drive from Dublin, but we decided to make the trip on a very warm and sunny day last month. What’s great about this site, apart from how stunning it is, is the variety of walks you can do, which cater to groups of all hiking abilities.

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We decided to dive straight into the hardest trail, the white route, as outlined on the maps you can find in Glendalough’s visitor centre. It was an incredibly rewarding hike, but very strenuous. We certainly weren’t used to hiking 14.5km in one go, and on varied and sometimes difficult terrain. There were times when we thought about calling it a day, notably half way through as we came across the path to an easier hike that would take us back to base. But a group of friendly locals cheered us on, promising the hard part was over and the views on the other side of the lough were beautiful. Whilst the first part was a bit of a lie, the right hand side of the lough’s white trail is made up of uneven and somewhat treacherous rocks, which took us ages to navigate, but this part of the walk was most rewarding in terms of views.

We started by walking to the ancient monastery ruins near the visitor centre. The special thing about Glendalough is definitely the combination of natural beauty and the palpable feeling of history that envelops the site. The ruins alone are worth the visit.

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We then made our way around the lower lough, on the boardwalk, which I would really recommend if you’re looking for something a little bit more relaxing, and this route alone would probably take half an hour to an hour at a stroll.

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However, the next section of the hike, that brought us up to a waterfall, is where it got a bit intense. I will warn you that this section of the hike is mostly steps, and by steps I also mean those annoying half steps that really make you work that bit harder if you’re taller or have longer legs. But as with the rest of the hike around Glendalough, the harder we had to work at it, the more we were rewarded, and the view of the waterfall was glorious.

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From here, the next notable stop is the top of the hill, about a 400m incline, that brought us out onto a breathtaking vista of both the upper and lower loughs. (Here’s a picture of me at the top, looking slightly windswept…)

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We then made the descent around to the other side of the upper lough, which turned out not to be the end of the difficult section of the hike. The path here was mostly rocks, some a bit unstable, which meant we had to be particularly careful with our footing.

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As we reached the bottom, and began the walk around the upper lough, we also got to learn so much more about the history of the area, and the lead mining that was carried out right next to the upper lough, just a few centuries ago. The ruins of the old workshops stuck out of the natural landscape, and were quite eery, not least because they held a rather sad history of the harsh and dangerous industry of lead mining. But on this stretch of the walk, the mythical and spiritual atmosphere of Glendalough was fully realised. The same monastery near the visitor centre was founded by monks following the teachings of St Kevin, a monk who lived apparently lived in solitude in a cave on the shores of the upper Lough. We found it somewhat difficult to make out the exact cave, but I think we found it.

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So whether you want to visit Glendalough for the natural beauty, its history, or some serious exercise, it’s a must visit place in my opinion and is a real highlight of Ireland and Irish culture.

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