The Wicklow Mountains Tour

Ireland_GlencreeValley_Flowers

Nate roused me out of a deep sleep at 8AM. After slowly rubbing the dreams out of my eyes I headed to the shower…still half asleep I walked into the men’s shower room and came face to face with a girl putting on her makeup. Momentarily confused, I double-checked to make sure I’d found the right shower room, then shrugged and took it in stride.

One of the entertaining things about hostels is that they tend to be a bit of a free for all. Sometimes it’s segregated bathrooms and showers, other times it’s mixed, yet others it’s a hybrid of the two. As we quickly chatted, I learned she was from New York and just beginning a tour around Europe. To her apparent surprise, as we chatted I stripped down to my boxers, before hopping into one of the three curtained off showers, stripping off the rest of the way and washing off.

Refreshed I geared up for the day, then headed down for a quick breakfast before connecting with the Danes at 8:55. We struck out on a brisque walk across the river and down to O’Connell Street where, after a few moments of confusion, we located the bus and hoped on board.

Our tour guide was a peculiar Irish gentleman in his 50s and full of wisdom, stories, history and softhearted compliments. At times I thought he was ready to propose to several of the women on the trip. We spent a good 30 minutes winding through Dublin learning about various famous buildings, passing by embassies, and taking in the city’s wide variety of architecture before heading south up into the Wicklow mountains. They are an incredible range of gently rolling mountains mostly devoid of trees at the higher elevations, all covered in a hearty layer of ferns and heather.

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Our first stop was at a beautiful overlook on a small country lane. It offered a lovely view of the hills to the south and the green patchwork quilt of rolling hills to the south all dotted with small, picturesque farms and small herds of sheep. Through a periodic light misting we were able to pause and enjoy a wide range of blooming foliage. The most notable of which were large saucer/bell-like blossoms that were a rich pinkish/red color.

After pausing to snap a few quick photos we continued on to what had been an old military barracks, and had later been converted into a reform school for children. The compound currently serves as a peace center which has been instrumental in helping calm the unrest between the IRA and other separatist/nationalist groups in Ireland. While the others sipped on their coffee, I split off and explored a beautiful, lush stream which flowed through ferns, blackberry bushes and low hanging trees, all decorated by beautiful red and yellow blossoms.

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As we left the Glencree Valley we wound up above tree line into a region covered in lush peat. The heather is just starting to bloom dusting the hillsides in a deep pink/purple. All the while the yellow and white blossoms from several other, smaller flowers decorated the countryside. As we wound up through the Sally Gap and Lough Tay we paused repeatedly to photograph small waterfalls, sweeping green vistas, amazing tundra/peat, and glacial lakes. Before long we’d reached the top of the mountain and began a steep descent along sheer cliff faces offering incredible views of fog-cloaked mountaintops and misty hills.

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The region is the same region where they filmed Braveheart…so if you recall the footage of the “highlands” that’s actually where I was…and it was filmed in Ireland.

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From there we wound down to Glendalough – a small valley with several small lakes, an ancient monastery and group of peculiar ruins. In a hearty rain, we made our way through an ancient graveyard with old tombstones and celtic crosses littering the ground. We paused at two of the older ruins…a small stone church and the freestanding walls of what had once been a larger abbey. All of which surrounds a large spire that’s more than 33 meters tall. The spire, a circular creation that juts into the air, was actually developed as a security measure to protect the inhabitants against Viking raids. Built of solid stone, the spire actually has an internal stairwell with several small defensive windows at various levels.

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As the others opted to avoid the rain and catch the bus up to the upper lakes, four of us decided to brave the path. Thoroughly drenched, we figured we didn’t have anything to lose and crossed an incredible bridge over a small stream, surrounded by gorgeous greenery and blooming flowers, before winding through moss and fern covered forest towards the 2nd lake. The highlight of the stroll was an incredible 15 foot waterfall that, framed by damp foliage, ferns, and blossoming flowers was breathtaking. Despite the pouring rain, the whole experience was delightful and incredibly refreshing. Eventually, splashing through puddles we found the rest of the group, piled back onto the bus and made our way north for lunch.

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We paused in the small town in the Vale of Avoca where Nate and I found a small fish and chips joint and split a hamburger, order of “chips”, and tasty pieces of fried cod. As we sat in the light mist, perched on the side of an ancient stone bridge, with the river rushing below us, we exchanged stories and reveled in the fact that we were finally traveling together, exploring the world, and undertaking shared adventures! As we paused, contentedly eating, an Irish gentleman stopped to exchange stories, discuss politics, and have a rather engaging and animated conversation. Nate and I only understood about 2/3 of what he said but we were content. So far, the Irish have been incredibly friendly and warm – albeit nearly impossible to understand.

The last brief stop of the day was just outside the village at the Meeting of the Waters, a spot made famous by Thomas Moore.

It was 5:30 by the time we got back into Dublin. We made our way back to the hostel to dry out and collapse into a much needed nap, before crawling out of bed. After getting over my shock that it was almost 9 – we headed down, set to the task of making new friends, and played a rather peculiar set of Danish drinking games. One – Kaste Gris – was a bit like playing dice, but used two small rubber pigs instead. With a jubilant “Caste Gris!” the player tosses the two small pigs, then is allotted X points based on how they land. Which was followed by another Danish song and dance, which got the group down on our knees at one point, slapping the floor, and then had us all up spinning in circles and jumping around with arms locked arm in arm. As you might imagine. The whole adventure was a hoot!

Shortly there after, we headed back to the Porter House for more live music and then made our way to the Czech Inn – a late bar located just down the street, where we danced and generally raised hell until 2AM, when the bar shut down. Still full of life, we headed back to the Hostel where we picked up two guitars and spent an hour or two singing along and playing various songs from around the world.