One of my favourite places in Ireland is Glendalough, a valley carved out by glaciers during the Ice Age. Its two lakes, from which Glendalough gets its name, were formed when the ice eventually melted.
The real gem is the well preserved medieval monastery complex dating back to the 6th century AD. The monastic site was founded by Saint Kevin, a descendant of one of the ruling families in Leinster, who settled in this solitary valley in the Wicklow Mountains with a small group of monks.
I have been here many times and I take the opportunity to come back every time my friends and family come to Ireland to visit me. For me, Glendalough encapsulates the essence of this country. The ancient Irish history represented through the ruins of the monastic site and the numerous Celtic tombstones covered in moss are surrounded by the flourishing nature which Ireland is so famous for.
It is easy to reach Glendalough from Dublin; busses leave every day at 11:30am and 6pm from St Stephen’s Green North. The journey takes approx 1 hour and 20 minutes. Entrance to the monastery site and the Glendalough valley is free and you can easily spend the whole day here!
This valley is also famous for the two beautiful lakes that extend along its length.The biggest one, called the Upper Lake, is 1.4km long and is fed by a small river called the Glenealo. The smaller one, the Lower Lake, is the closest to the monastic site and offers stunning views of the hills and mountains that overlook it. For me, the magic of this lake lies in its dark and still waters that perfectly reflect the mountains above, creating beautiful optical illusions!
If you enjoy walking, this is the perfect place for it! There are many different routes that go around the mountains and along the valley, each of them clearly marked by a coloured arrow. My favourite one is the white route that forms a 9km loop around the valley. It takes approximately 3 or 4 hours to complete the walk.
After visiting the monastic site, I usually start this walk at Wicklow Mountains National Park Information Office (between the Upper Lake and the Lower Lake), and I follow the concrete street that goes along the North side of Upper Lake toward the West.
This route passes through a small pine forest until it reaches the remains of a miners’ village. Lead was mined in the Glendalough valley for over 100 years, from 1850 to 1957. Now, only a few buildings are visible and it is well worth walking around and enjoying the panorama of the valley on the East and the waterfalls on the West.
From the miners’ village the path continues West, ascending toward the waterfalls formed by the Glenealo river, before its waters enter the Upper Lake. Once you reach the top, a wooden bridge crosses over the waterfalls and brings you to the South side of the valley. The path then goes South-East and climbs the mountains overlooking the Upper Lake. If you are lucky, you might see wild deer and goats happily roaming on the grassy slopes.
Once you reach the top, the path goes along the mountain ridge for approx 3km before it starts descending to the valley. The views of the Upper and Lower lake and the mountains surrounding them are truly breathtaking from up here, and stopping to enjoy the panorama at the few viewing points is a must!
The path then starts its descent, passing through a gloomy and thick pine forest where every rock and small tree is covered in bright green moss. I like to fantasize that at any moment I could catch the sight of a leprechaun or a fairy quickly running away to hide behind a tree!
Once you get out from the forest the path follows the main road toward the bottom of the Upper Lake and the Wicklow Mountains National Park Information Office where your journey began.
I hope you will enjoy Glendalough, its ancient history and flourishing nature as much as I do every time I visit this valley.
Emanuela (Administrator, Central School of English)
Simon is the Director of Studies at the Central School of English in Dublin