The Wicked Way of the East!

In Con's Corner, Ireland by Con JagerLeave a Comment

The Wicklow Way is wicked alright! Wicked fun and wicked challenging, as my old Boston friends would say. On Ireland’s East side, with a trailhead in Dublin, this first of Ireland’s National Trails is roughly 130km or 80 miles and while awesome, quite demanding too. One description said it’s the hardest National Trail in the country. Silly me, the red cloth on a bull effect kicked in: I couldn’t let that go untested and hiked it last year April. My test result: it’s a serious toughie – and I’ve done some in my time – but worth it!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I flew overnight from the US and landed 10am. Connected to the free Dublin Airport WiFi to download GPS maps to my iPhone’s MotionX app, great for hiking. Used it in Scotland too. Next: hit the ATM to top off my cash but: maybe someone else hit it for real: out of order! This is why I recommend getting some euros in advance: never rely on a single supply source that may be down. Hopped in a cab – the Airport taxi rank is very well organized – and most but not all cabs take cards; mine however did not – and had it drop me at the trailhead in south Dublin at the lovely Marlay Park. Let the games begin…

And begin they did, with a bang! Or rather, thunder clap. The Way winds from Marley through pretty south-suburban Dublin straight into and up the Wicklow Mountains. Up as in, several thousand feet. The highest in Co. Wicklow is Lugnaquilla, south of Glendalough, at 3,035 feet one of only 13 Irish “Munros” (Scots terms for mountains over 3k ft.) and for you Munro Baggers, no, I did not bag it. The weather gods did not exactly smile at me: instead, they went straight for the maniacal bwahaha evil laugh, throwing wind, rain, sleet and hail at me. At the higher elevations, even snow! Phew! That will get you over the jet lag! Of course, changing weather is to be expected in Ireland anytime and I was all kitted out, dressed in layers, with full raingear, hat, backpack cover and all that. Even a double laptop sleeve, in case the backpack got compromised despite all my precautions. Wet clothes will dry, but a functioning laptop is essential!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Some 13 long up and down miles later I staggered into Oaklawn B&B in Knockree, welcomed by the O’Connor’s. When the owner heard my snow and hail story, he cheerfully commented “Well now, that be the first snow of the season!” I don’t think he was kidding and it actually sounded rather wonderful in his charming accent. A nice shower aided my quick recovery and, when I expressed the need to refuel and rehydrate, the understanding owners dropped me at a pub for dinner a few miles away. Much appreciated, as I had zero desire to walk any further today! After replenishing my energy stores, the pub called their transfer service to shuttle me back. Had a nice chat with the driver about my crazy snow day right after getting off the plane to start the Way. Lovely breakfast in the morning, great food, and I got talking with 3 other guests, Germans. They told me they too were out the evening before and caught a transfer back – with a driver who told them about some wacko who flew in overnight and immediately hiked half a marathon straight up into the Wicklow Mountains. With a big backpack. I agreed with them that’s just asking for serious trouble and potential rescue risk, SO irresponsible…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My second night was in Roundwood, where I enjoyed the Ashlawn B&B on the Sally Gap Road. In the morning, kind landlady Catherine Jenkinson even dropped me back at the point where I had ended the day before! And her excellent breakfast is the featured picture at the top of this post! Hiking on, the following days illustrated perfectly what a trail of contrasts the Wicklow Way is. Gorgeous hills, forests, lakes, streams, meadows with the inevitable sheep. Stroll through charming villages with a pub or two for a spot of lunch or dinner. Walk along old ruins and memorials, enjoy sunny spells, grimace at more sleet, rain and hail, hoof it along well-maintained trails, struggle up long stretches with a much less appealing gravel and pebbles covering. There were very few other hikers and most were going south to north, but boy, talk about rewarding views after conquering those hills!

My favorite parts of the Wicklow Way are right in the middle. And the winner has to be fascinating and gorgeous Glendalough. Been there before but hadn’t stayed overnight on a through-hike. The Riversdale House B&B was about a 15 minute walk out of town. Follow a pretty path along the river and then jump the river flagstones to get across, awesome. In the evening, I walked back to town for dinner and a substantial amount of excellent local craft pints at the Glendalough Hotel. Rehydrating after hiking is serious business! I often book the Glendalough Hotel for clients interested in history and hiking because of their perfect location. The hotel sits right in between the famous Round Tower, St. Kevin’s Church, the cemetery with its Celtic crosses and the excellent Visitor Centre with information and helpful staff. A very nice base for short to medium day hikes. Glendalough has flat and paved trails towards the beautiful Lower and Upper Lakes, unpaved trails off to the side and the Wicklow Way going right through it all, up into the hills by the Poulanass waterfall.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

OK, time to ‘fess up here. Remember the aforementioned substantial backpack, with laptop and other gear to keep working while hiking, as I do? After 3 days, it just became too much, too heavy, affecting my fun and mood. So, with the help of wonderful B&B owner Zell Conway, I called a baggage transfer service to literally do the heavy lifting for me over the next days. I left my bag with lodging schedule and cash payment in an envelope (remember my financial cash advice at the beginning of this story) and happily hiked on, only carrying supplies for the day! The Wicklow Way website has information about baggage transfer services and much more. Here’s my bit of free advice: fork over the fee and forget about funny-feeling feet!

At this juncture, we’re about to leave the Wicklow Mountains National Park and head for somewhat more merciful terrain. This is why many through-hikers start in the south, to get their legs on before hitting the hills. Some splendid hiking to be found in this area, which is exactly halfway on the Wicklow Way. The Glenmalure Lodge made for a great overnight. In fact, I might just go and stay there for a few nights next time and enjoy the many day hikes in the area. The Lodge has a welcoming bar and a cozy restaurant with a roaring fire, very pleasant on this chilly evening, while I devoured an excellent locally sourced meal. There’s even a guest reading room – with WiFi! Modern life doesn’t have to stop if you don’t want it to.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next segment led to Moyne, where overnighting at Kyle Farmhouse was a treat. It’s not often one gets to stay in a B&B and be pampered by a trained Chef! Margaret Coogan not only welcomes you with fresh-baked scones with cream and jam (told ya this is becoming a theme in my blog posts) but she serves a fabulous dinner too if you want it, offering several menu choices, even a vegetarian, and that in a B&B with just a few rooms. Nice ensuite rooms, by the way. Of course, her breakfast the next day was perfect too, plenty fuel to hit the trail again.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Next I strolled into Shillelagh (locals say “Shil-LAY-lee”), nice little town and home of the famous Shillelagh Walking Sticks, traditionally made out of Irish Blackthorn wood. Alas, the Olde Shillalagh store was closed by now and I had to leave early the next day, before it opened again! Oh well, maybe next time. And when I do return, I’ll stay at the Stoops Guesthouse again, purpose-built in a large and nicely landscaped setting. Lovely craftsmanship – and lovely Viking ship! I met Bill, the family Patriarch who’s building this Viking ship that’s going upside-down in the huge back garden as a patio cover over their future bar. Hey Bill, as the House Specialty drink, maybe develop the “Viking FAB”: a Flaming Arrow Brandy, served burning in a mini Viking burial ship with an arrow sticking into it or else a skull or something, a perfect pre-prandial for your Bar and planned restaurant! If fire regulations allow of course, with all the wood used here… The Guesthouse is large and offers several rooming options. The oversized lounge room is more comfortable than most to hang out in – yes, with free Wifi – and they served yet another splendid breakfast. And once again, lovely owners who dropped me in town for dinner and drinks. In the pub, I ran in to the same 3 German hikers I met on the first night; small world. Here too, they had a guy available for shuttling visitors back to their lodgings afterwards.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I do have to say, the end in Clonegal was anticlimactic. Not sure why they chose this spot for the Finish but, I didn’t find much to like here. I arrived early afternoon on a regular working day, hungry and thirsty, but the two pubs and one restaurant were closed. There were no buses or taxis to be found. I tried to find someone for a short yet well-paid transfer to my next B&B in Bunclody (none exist in Clonegal, crikey, go figure) but staff in shops were uncharacteristically unhelpful, not the usual warm Irish welcome, not interested at all. I don’t know, maybe they were in a bad mood for some reason, their hurling team lost or something. At least it was not raining, so, reluctantly, I set off on yet another 3 miles walk while eating yet another boring Powerbar. Should have pre-booked a cab you say but, if you don’t know your arrival time, that’s hard to plan.

Bunclody made up for it though, a very pleasant town. I had a lovely stay at the Meadowside B&B, strolling distance from the centre, where owner Phil Kinsella was fantastic, so nice! She recommended several pubs and restaurants, advice I gladly followed. And, she alerted me to a bus strike the next day which would have messed up my return to Dublin big time! With her help I found an alternative Express Bus and booked that over the phone. Travel plan saved. Oh, and her breakfast was to die for!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Riding the bus back to Dublin after my almost 100 miles hike, the clouds rolled back in again and the rain started coming down hard. But this time, high and dry in my luxurious bus, I sent an evil laugh right back at those weather gods! The Wicked Way of the East is mine, I didn’t melt, and no little dogs were harmed. But I think my bwahaha may have scared the other passengers…..

 

DISCLAIMER: My travel blog “Con’s Corner” takes a sometimes irreverent look at 4+ decades of travel in the British Isles. My opinions and views are not necessarily shared by the company. In fact, they may be shaking their heads. The photography is mine too except where credited as noted, as are all typos, grammatical errors, and odd expressions. It’s a blog, people, not literature! I also accept full responsibility for any puns, varying on a scale from hilarious to ouch….Be all that as it may, I intend to keep at it until I get it right. Con Jager, Santa Rosa, USA.

 

Leave a Comment