Wicklow: the most bucolic and overwhelming Dublin


Reading time 7 minutes

When you are tired of listening to Molly Malone at Temple Bar, posing as a university student at Trinity College or taking Pints ​​of Guiness (if anyone can), we suggest you take the bus or car, start thinking green and Dublin escapes.

But don't go too far either. That a place has been baptized as the "garden of Ireland" on the emerald island, has much merit and has aroused our curiosity. Reality or tourist product? Let's get out of doubt.

A little over an hour (30 km) south of the Irish capital, Wicklow County is the weekend paradise of the dubliners for its green hills covered with gorse and ferns, vast moors where you can not see more that won, a colorful countryside dotted with Palladian gardens and estates and glacial valleys where enigmatic paleochristian deposits appear in the mist .

Paisaje de Wicklow

Wicklow landscape © Getty Images


At O'Connell Street we take the bus to Wicklow. It is early and the clouds do not predict the sunniest of days but John, our driver and guide, is able to lift the mood of a dead man with his jokes about Irish and his harsh voice to sing folk.

From the south we leave the city to travel the road (R-118) that borders the coast. On the left, we can see the Howth peninsula, shaped like a cup, while John starts with a list of irish pub-style music that he says never fails.

12 km from Dublin is Dún Laoghaire, a beautiful port city from where ferries depart for Liverpool and Wales and where walkers travel the East Pier, a long breakwater that goes into the sea.

Puerto de Dún Laoghaire

Port of Dún Laoghaire © Javier Mártinez Mansilla

We make a stop to contemplate the skyline of the port in front of the beach of the “lunatics”, named after John, because every day (whether winter or summer) comes a group of brave people to bathe. They are not lunatics, John, they are Irish. The DART train (€ 2.50) arrives here from Dublin.

The road continues next to the sea-side mansions of the Killiney neighborhood. We imagine what it would be like to live like Enya, Sinead O'Connor or Bono, in a small house on a hill alone for us overlooking the sea. Although that of the U2 vocalist seems more like a sanctuary, at least its gate, decorated with messages from fans and lyrics.

Already in Wicklow County, the landscape becomes (even) friendlier, with elegant haciendas and colorful Italian-style gardens such as Powerscourt Estate (€ 5 entrance), an impressive Palladian palace. In Kilmacanogue we discovered the Avoca Handweavers, the wool textile empire that has dominated the island since 1723.

Restaurante Avoca Handweavers

Avoca Handweavers Restaurant © Javier Martínez Mansilla


The enclosure looks like a giant glass- covered Victorian greenhouse where we find a cafeteria, foodmarket, nursery, florist, a design studio and elegant restaurant. Freshly baked honey and spelled bread? A piece of shepherd's pie (lamb) or chicken and broccoli crumble?

To accompany the tea we will bet on the classic lemon cake, to decorate the house an original Buttoms ceramic vase or a ficus and to try on a linen shirt or anything of wool already thinking of autumn. Here in the middle of this landscaped environment next to centuries-old forests and lonely mountains like the Sugar Loaf everything seems very fresh and very vital. Yes it looks like the garden of Ireland Wicklow.

La cocina de San Kevin entre lápidas y cruces celtas

St. Kevin's kitchen between gravestones and Celtic crosses © Javier Mártinez Mansilla

Valle de Glendalough

Glendalough Valley © Javier Mártinez Mansilla


The idyllic landscape becomes increasingly rough as we go along the Old Military Road (R-115) and a sense of desolation is taking over us and everything that reaches our sight.

We cross an undulating territory of green hills, which they call mountains, but which are hills, since the highest , Lugnaquilla, does not exceed 924 m. The fog comes and goes like a curtain that discovers and hides small villages of just two or three separate houses, with farms surrounded by primitive stone walls where goats devour the spiny gorse (tojo), increasingly widespread in the region.

Lugnaquilla alt=

Lugnaquilla in the background, reigning over the landscape © Getty Images

The Old Military Road was built by the English in the s. XIX to hunt for Irish rebels fleeing through this maze of coniferous forests and valleys dominated by heather and fern over the dark peat land. Without leaving the bus we can feel the humidity of the soil that absorbs the water and the streams that descend from the shale slopes.

We have entered the Wicklow Mountains National Park (200 km2) formed by the moors and bogs of the Glendalough Valley, between mountains and glacial lakes, and by the thick forests of oaks that hide deer, squirrels, badgers, and foxes . This rugged spot has been the scene of films like Excalibur or Braveheart and series like Vikings.

To explore this area in depth, the Wicklow Way is the most popular hiking trail in Ireland of 40 km through these remote moors from Glendalough to Augrhim. Quiet that it is not necessary to cross it all at once.

Old Military Road

Old Military Road © Getty Images

Just before reaching the Glendalough Valley we went to the delicious stew at the Guiness ("Biddy's Guinness Beef Stew") of the Jakes Bar at the Lynhams of Laragh hotel.

Newspaper clippings of rugby and football matches, shields, flags, bull antlers, posters and old photographs decorate the walls. As it is an Irish pub, we tried the Snitwicks beer, the stew is already well loaded with Guiness, and so are we.

The origins of Glendalough (248 inhabitants) revolve around the figure of St. Kevin. In the middle of the 6th century this noble Irishman decided to renounce a life of opulence and lust in court to take the monastic habit and flee to the deepest part of the forest to meditate in full communion with nature.

Lower Lake

Lower Lake © Javier Martínez Mansilla

He took refuge in the hollow of a tree next to an ancient Celtic altar and from there began to preach with the word of God, to work miracles, convert pagans and found a monastery. This mythical place was protected by steep mountains that formed "the valley of the two lakes", in Gaelic: Glendalough.

The monastery (16th century) would soon become an important pilgrimage center that suffered terrible sieges of Vikings (922) and Normans (1176), until the English, in 1398, finally destroyed this symbol of Irish culture.

We cross the walls that lead us to the ruins of Glendalough cornered by a relentless nature that gives it a romantic component while sinister. Normally this is a movie set. The rocky vestiges are interspersed with the Celtic crosses, gravestones and slabs of the cemetery that is still in use, where two perfectly preserved buildings stand out above the valley.

El Upper Lake era un lugar de culto para los celtas

The Upper Lake was a place of worship for the Celts © Javier Mártinez Mansilla

The cylindrical tower (sX), 33 meters high, was used to store food, manuscripts and gold in the face of a Viking attack while their bells rang loudly to alert the monks. At the southern end of the enclosure, the small St. Kevin Kitchen, is a beautiful stone hermitage with a tiny cylindrical bell tower and fireplace reminiscent of that of a home.

From the cross of San Kevin we distinguish the remains of the old cathedral of San Pedro and San Pablo (12th century) and in the background a gravel path that is lost in the thicket of the forest next to Lake Lower. We take the route between ancient oaks dominated by moss and jumping deer until we reach the Upper Lake, at the bottom of the valley, topped by an impressive waterfall surrounded by two cliffs in its southern part.

On the bank of this dark lagoon is the bed of St. Kevin (Teampall na Skellig), the original settlement where the hermit lived for years. A pity that can only be accessed by boat (and no one is seen), so we will settle for contemplating it from the walkway next to the shore.

The sun rises and the whole valley is filled with green, yellow, gray and brown colors that embrace the black waters of the Upper Lake. Celtic legends tell us that in this lake lived a gigantic reptile-shaped monster. Where have we heard that already?

Paseando por los bosques de Wicklow

Walking through the forests of Wicklow © Javier Martínez Mansilla