Glendalough

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On St. Patrick’s Day earlier this month, a happy band of family and friends headed out to Glendalough, home of another Saint (Kevin), to walk in the fresh air and get the heck out of the party zone that Dublin turns into on the 17th of March.

It turns out most Irish people in the Dublin and Wicklow areas had exactly the same idea; there wasn’t a parking spot to be had in all of the Glendalough Park official car parks or along the road leading to the park. At one point I was afraid we had reached grid lock as we tried to pass from one lot to another. Everyone seemed to think that St. Patrick’s Day morning was a super time to stretch the legs, breath fresh Irish air and take in the fantastic scenery Glendalough offers.

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We managed to finagle a space about a mile up the road eventually. The plan was to hike the full Spinc Trail which runs around the lake, through the old mining village up over the ridge of the valley and back down through the forest on the other side. Eight miles in total.

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The day was foggy and grey as we started out around the lake. The trail was busy (not surprising considering the car park situation), not only with adult hikers but babies, children and dogs of all shapes and sizes. A celebration of the national holiday in one of the most gorgeous locations.

As we started our ascent out of the mining village, the sky began to clear. I ate an apple. We climbed up and up along the rocky, switch-back trail and after about an hour or so found a gorgeous grassy, not-too-windy spot to have our picnic.

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Luckily we’d packed enough food and treats to sustain us for the remaining climb and descent. I’d never walked the Spinc before and the views are incredible. It’s well worth the little burning in the quads to be high up above the Glendalough valley looking down on the lake, the graveyard and the mining village.

As we began our decent through the forest, we were aided by wooden steps. There is an option of walking up the steps and around the path the other way. Many people were coming at us from that direction. I am, however, thrilled that we went up the other way and didn’t have to face climbing all those stairs. The ascent that way would have been much steeper and more punishing. Also, if you go up the way we did, you get the views of the valley facing you as you walk back down. I don’t want to toot our own whistle, but that was clearly the best way.

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Once safely (if exhaustedly) returned to the valley, we had a little gander through the graveyard. The sun was over the lake, and the mist from earlier made the air sparkle a bit. It’s easy to see why Glendalough was considered such a spiritual place. It’s part of the new Ancient East Trail.

We rewarded ourselves with pints of Guinness (or whatever you’re having yourselves) before the mile long walk back to the car. If we’d parked a little closer the day would have been too close to perfection. The distance to the car made us feel very smug about our ten-mile walk.

Glendalough is close to Dublin and there are buses out there every day a few times a day if you don’t have a car. I highly recommend going. There are other trails and loops to follow if you don’t feel like the full eight mile Spinc adventure. Just being there is magic.

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Glendalough

Mountain Biking in Wicklow

View From the First Climb. Wicklow Towards the Sea.
View From the First Climb. Wicklow Towards the Sea.

I love the idea of being a tourist in your own country or city. I think it’s important to try to see the place you live through the eyes of a visitor. I always find that having visitors in Dublin allows me to appreciate the city more. I’ve complained to C more than once about the fact that I sometimes feel like I haven’t seen enough of Ireland, or that we don’t get out of Dublin enough.

Getting out of Dublin is so easy, so that last complaint is easily remedied.

I wonder if it was that desire–to get out of Dublin and to act like a tourist–that C was hoping to fulfill when he bought my wedding present. It must have been. Because I have never had any desire to go mountain biking.

I cycle around town every day. C and I did a really wonderful bike trip from Vienna to Budapest last summer, but Mountain Biking has never been a sport that tickled my fancy.

On the morning of my birthday (over a month ago), C told me he had a day of biking in the Wicklow Mountains lined up. If I didn’t jump for joy it was only because rain was falling horizontally outside our bedroom windows. So we postponed.

Last Friday we finally had a free day and the good weather to make our bike trip a reality. We boarded the Glendalough bus from Dawson Street with a bunch of American and Spanish tourists. After forty minutes, we were let off at the side of the road by a golf club halfway between Kilmacanogue and the Sally Gap. We got a warm up hike of about twenty-five minutes up to the bike rental.

Roundwood Reservoir
Roundwood Reservoir

Forty minutes on a bus and we are in the country; small roads, cottages, farms complete with sheep dog puppies and fields of sheep. No sign–smells, sounds, sights–of a European Capital city a mere twenty miles away. The road smelled of earth, sheep, honeysuckle and grass.

We found Biking.ie and met our guide, Richie. This is where things got a bit worrying for me. In fairness to C, I don’t think he was expecting to get a lesson on hard core mountain biking either.

The bikes are great; strong yet light, large-tired mountain bikes. We had to learn how to stand up on them, keeping our pedals even, and one finger always on both breaks. We had to learn how to let gravity help us over rocks and roots. I was scared. I was nervous. I was not excited.

Richie seemed to think we’d do fine. After only three “practice runs” on a little trail around the rental compound. We had a long twenty minute climb up to the trail head. That part was hard, sure, and my thighs were like, “whaaaaaaaaaat?!”, ┬ábut at least we were on a long, combed road that didn’t have sharp twists and turns, or huge rocks and roots.

We had a short reprieve at the top to take in the view before hitting the single track trail. I was not thrilled about this. I told myself, though, that I would be proud of myself if I could do it. I told myself that if C and I were just newly dating I would want to attack this challenge to prove that I am both athletic and tough. I held onto those emotions–or tried to, I really wanted to cry–as we set off.

The trails were beautiful, and I really wanted to be on foot so I could enjoy them. The actual trail riding is kind of a blur of total fear and frustration. I did it though, and was so happy to come out on the open road that looks out over the Guinness Estate just in the valley before the Sally Gap.

Made It!
Made It!

After some Jelly Babies (for glucose!) and a photo op or two, Richie gave us the choice of either riding some more trails or taking the road down around the Roundwood Reservoir.

“YES! Let’s do that. I just would feel happier.” I chickened out. But this was my birthday present and I wanted to actually enjoy it without breaking down in a mess of tears. I had managed to ride two trails. I was proud of that.

The rest of the ride was really wonderful. The day was gorgeous, I felt confident on the roads and didn’t even mind the few big climbs we had to do. I’d never seen the Roundwood Reservoir, and it is beautiful.

All in all we were on our bikes for about three hours. It was a good, solid ride, sometimes very scary, sometimes absolutely perfect for the early summer day.

The whole day reminded me that getting out of Dublin, of doing something new–even something right on your doorstep! even something that scares you!–is such a good idea.

And now I also know that I don’t want to be a Mountain Biker. So I can tick that off the list!

Me and My Bike. #nailedit
Me and My Bike. #nailedit
Mountain Biking in Wicklow