This is the first article in a series featuring some of our most popular Wicklow hiking itineraries.
The Wicklow mountains lie a short drive south of Dublin, on the east coast of Ireland. These rounded granite hills rise to 940 metres at Lugnaquilla mountain, but are more typically 600 -800 metres high.
The higher ground is primarily covered with heathland, sedges, mosses, bilberries and heather; while the lower slopes are forested with commercial plantations. A few ancient oak and birch woods remain and are now protected.
Glendalough translates as the glen of the two lakes, the Lower Lake is the smaller and nearby is the ancient monastic centre and the National Park visitor centre. The Upper Lake is much the larger of the two, a classic glacier lake around 1.5 km long, and it is here that we begin our hike.
The Glendalough valley is always a great place to start a hike, there is good parking, toilet facilities and plenty of food and drink outlets. Perhaps the one downside is that the waymarked paths get very crowded at holidays and weekends, this hike takes us away from the popular routes and onto a scenic ridge walk, with great views all around.
This hike is graded as hard in our itinerary, and has a total ascent of 700m (2300 ft), and a distance of 16km (10 miles).
Crossing the valley floor on good paths we quickly begin our ascent on a forest track up through oak and birch woodland. The slope here is comfortable, and serves as a good warm up for the steeper ground to come.
Crossing forestry roads we begin the ascent of Derrybawn on a rugged footpath that weaves through pine trees before reaching the open hillside of thick heather and bilberry. The ground here steepens but is never difficult and after 350 metres of climbing we reach the summit of Derrybawn, a lovely small mountain that overlooks the Glendalough valley.
The views here are superb, and after a well deserved rest we head southwest along a heathery and undulating ridge path towards Mullacor, 657 metres high and our second summit of the day.
These slopes are home to a small herd of feral goats, descendants of animals that escaped domestication in neolithic times and now completely wild.
Our ridge now turns north west and broadens as we cross the junction with the National Trail, the Wicklow Way, and head up Mullacor. This is always a good spot for lunch, with wonderful views of the range’s highest mountain, Lugnaquilla, to our left and alternating valleys and broad mountain ridges to our right.
From here path becomes more indistinct and the whaleback ridge rises and falls as we approach Lugduff, only marginally lower than Mullacor, and our third and final summit.
The view to Lugnaquilla mountain
It’s now time to drop down into the valley, here there are no paths and we seek out a pleasant grassy rake to make our descent between boulder fields of steep and difficult ground, and best avoided.
As we reach the valley floor, sometimes boggy after rain, we have a good chance of getting close to the deer that live here, they are a cross between the native red deer and introduced Japanese Sika deer, a small to medium sized animal with red/brown markings and a distinct white patch on their rump.
Away from the waymarked trails and excessive human interference, these deer can be quite approachable and we may get the chance for some close up photography. Mountain hare also live on the slopes here, and we might be lucky and catch a sighting of these elusive creatures.
Upper and Lower Lakes, Glendalough
Reaching the valley floor our adventure continues with a crossing of the small river that flows out of the valley, before turning downstream over pathless open country.
We soon reach a waymarked trail and descend a rocky path via the ‘zig-zags’ to an old lead miners village, where we reach a well maintained track that follows the northern bank of the Upper Lake back to the car park.
Here there is the opportunity to get some refreshments before heading back to Dublin.
Mountaintrails is a guided hiking and mountain skills training business based in Ireland.