It was a spontaneous plan. On a Wednesday , we decided it’s high time we take a break away from the monotonous pattern our life had fallen into lately. It had been four months since we had shifted to Ireland and inspite of both of us being such avid travellers , we had until now, hardly ever ventured out of the house for sight-seeing due to the ongoing stingy winter. Weather forecast showed reasonably good weather over the weekend (partially sunny, no rain, no freezing wind..as good as it gets most of the times) and we decided to take a chance and just go for it.
Next task was choosing the destination based on our preferances -A quiet village with good public transport, lots of scenery and preferably a water body (this is our standard order for an ideal vacation) It was time for tripadvisor! After a day of intense research and tips from helpful tripadvisor experts, we hit bulls eyes and finally found our dream destination- Glendalough it was going to be!
The official website stated that this ‘valley of two lakes’ boasted of spectacular landscape, rich history, abundant wildlife and dramatic views by the water. So, there was a lot to appeal my photography loving husband and myself, an aspiring writer. Google threw stunning enticing pictures at us and it was good enough to send us packing in a jiffy.
Chilly Saturday morning saw us at St Stephen Green bus-stop near Dublin city center, sipping our coffees and waiting for the st kevin bus service to arrive. Trust me, It is the most decent connectivity to reach glendalough. The morning timings suited us perfectly and the bus would take merely an hour and a half to get us there. Promptly at 11:30 am, we were on our way and as the rural scenery outside our windows kept getting more and more dramatic, we could hardly sit still to contain our bursting excitement. The ride seemed to pass in a wink amid the chitter-chatter of the fellow travelers and before long our bus was pulling in a narrow entrance lane of the glendalough visitor center.
We had chosen to book a hotel called “Lynhams of the Laragh’ and it was a walk of atleast 1 mile from the visitor center with us dragging our three pieces of luggage. Mind u, there is an equivalent to non-existant taxi service in glendalough and unless you have a personal vehicle, getting from a place to another around this area can be a bit of stretch.
We had chosen this particular hotel primarily because of the history factor. It boasted of having a traditional irish pub dating back to as far as the year 1776 and both of us being history enthusiasts, never miss a chance to travel back in time. So, lynhams it was and this place played a huge role in making out trip as wonderful as it ended up being. Our room, the staff, the decor and everything about this place is downright excellent. The overall ambience, the restaurant with its toasty fireplace as well as the antique artifacts/showpieces adorning the walls, it’s all simply delightful. I regret not noting down the name of the lovely front desk lady who went an extra mile to help us plan our sightseeing in the nearby areas. She brought to us specially a map that would assist us on our treks during our visit and also granted us a late checkout the following afternoon as the room wasn’t booked for until later that day. It was a splendid stay throughout!
Glendalough co Wicklow is home to one of the most important medieval Christian monastic sites in ireland. Founded by St Kevin in the 6th century and set in the stunning surroundings of the glacier valley, this “monastic city” was the recipient to numerous attacks by the vikings after its establishment. Despite that, glendalough thrived as one of Ireland’s great foundations of learning till it was eventually destroyed bit by bit at first by normans and later the English, in the 13th and the 14th centuries. The ruins today include a round tower(around 30 meters high), seven churches, gateway into the settlement with a sanctuary stone, two high crosses, a vast expance of graveyard, a crumbling church, st kevin’s bed and st kevin’s hermitage hut. It was here we decided to head to on our first evening in the village. To be quite honest, I could not feel as connected and awe-inspired by the place as I usually do with all the historical sites. The reason being- since ours was such an impromptu plan, I had not read/researched anything about its background beforehand. Before every trip we take, I love researching about the historical/cultural background of the local attractions so as to enjoy the surreal, mind-blowing feeling you get when you see yourself standing in those exact places. Thus, I could not relate too much to the monastic city at the time of our visit as it was much later that I got a chance to learn more about it. Where seeing the remains that date back to the 6th century was still immensely fascinating sigh! it was just not the same. Also, being in the largest graveyard I had ever seen in my life at the time of dusk frankly gave me the heeby-jeebies. We strolled through the site, read bits of informations provided around the area, took some pictures and returned to our hotel to spend rest of the evening to relax and plan the activities of the following day.
Next morning, we both woke up in the wee hours of the morning and at 8am sharp (when the breakfast service was supposed to kick off), we bounded down the steps of the lobby to make our way towards enjoying a dose of full irish breakfast. The dining area was warm and cozy with the toasty fireplace cheerfully alit and as we were the only early birds in the hotel restaurant by then, we both had an intimate lovely start to the the day.
When we reached the information center near the lake, we had not imagined it to be so secluded. Granted that it was still early but since it is the most popular tourist spot of glendalough, we had expected hoardes of walkers who like us who would prefer making an early start up the hills. It was a nice surprise. The cart owner from whom we bought steaming cappuchinos informed us cheerfully that many scenes from the popular tv series- “The vikings” have been shot on the shores of the lake and the surrounding hills.
Nothing prepared us for our first glimpse of the upper lake! We saw a wooden signpost saying ‘way to the lake’ pointing into a narrow lane and as we turned the corner to enter it- behold! scene of such stunning, breath-taking beauty that it instantly makes one wonder about the momentous magnitude of nature’s perfection in all its glory. We couldn’t believe how beautiful the landscape before us was. This charming, quiet village had been holding out on us, hiding a scene of such sublime natural beauty within the layers of its modest demeanor. It was truly a sight for sore eyes. Moreover, the sky was clear and as the morning progressed, a bright sun ascended up in the sky. We let out a whoop! It was going to be a sunny, sunny day.
There are nine way-marked walking trails in the valley of glendalough. They vary from short half-hour strolls to a four hour long hillwalk. All the trails start near the national park information center near the upper lake and each of them is signposted by color coded arrows. We had chosen the ‘spinc and glanealo valley’ trail also known as the ‘white route’. It is a high level, 9 km walk of trekking 380 mts up the hill with more than 600 rough wooden steps leading you to the panoramic viewpoint overlooking the upperlake. It also cascades via a series of waterfalls into the upperlough. It would take us around 3.5 hours to complete it . Thus, we began our walk, excited to be heading into the wilderness after a long time.
Even though the 600 steps seem daunting, the climb is reasonably level and easy going. Our route took us steeply upward towards heathland and pine plantation to the top of Derrybawn, the start of the ridge. There we started heading leftwords along the cliff, taking in the amazing views of the water and greenery down below. This walk is scary as you are literally at the edge of the hill and one has to be extremely careful to mind their step otherwise a little stumble can easily turn into a fatality. Furtherdown you have an option of continuing onto the big summit and beyond that, eventually to a steep cliff that marks the southern side of the glaciated valley of gledalough. That is the spinc. Then you make your way downwards towards the valley floor.
It took us around three hours to complete the trail and as exhausting as the trek was, we were rewarded with some stunning scenic views. We reached the bottom of the hill by around 1 pm where we sat on the lake shore basking in the sunshine, eating ice-cream, taking pictures and just enjoying those lovely moments before heading back to our hotel.
After having a quick meal at the Wicklow Heather restaurant (the best. food. ever. by the way!) We took the same st kevin’s bus service back to Dublin at 5 in the evening from the visiting center and by 8pm on sunday night, we were already back home!
In merely two days, Glendalough had enthralled us with so much of its charming allure. One is spoiled for choice between a combination of historic memorabilia, fantastic scenery, nature walks in the forests, babbling brooks, boulder strewn mountain rivers, quaint little craft shops, traditional irish pubs serving fabulous food, local ales and a lot more.
If a place of peace as well as enjoyment is what that you seek, Glendalough is definitely the place for you!