A WALK IN THE EMERALD ISLE

COUNTY WICKLOW’S ‘THE SPINC’ walk and GLENDALOUGH

After two fairly recent road trips down Ireland’s west coast, there were sights north and south of Dublin as well as in the city itself which were still on my ‘to see’ list so when my husband Chris saw Ryanair offering return flights in November to Dublin at £14 return each, another venture to the Emerald Isle was on. Flying from Glasgow on a Friday afternoon on a jam – packed 35 min flight, we were hardly up in the air but we were down again! Border Control barely looked at our passports, nor at our passenger locator forms – we were swept through in jig time with barely a glance. Welcome to Ireland!

After what felt like a 10 mile hike between Dublin’s Terminal 1 and T2, we finally strode off with the keys to our hired car. Unlike the recent hiring of a car at Nice airport, there was no hard sell on additional insurance which was a relief. This was my first time in Dublin airport and I didn’t realise it was so vast; it makes Glasgow airport look like Toy Town (that said I prefer small airports!)

At 5pm it was now pitch dark but the M50 was signposted right outside the airport so it was super easy to get on the right road for our hour or so drive south to the Roundwood area in County Wicklow. Busy but all moving nicely so that was a relief.

Our first night was in Trooperstown Lodge which sits beautifully on its own just outside Laragh, not far from Glendalough.

I loved it right away…brightly lit, manicured grounds, very traditionally decorated inside with lots of interesting books, a big cosy fire. A lovely woman, Erica, welcomed us warmly. Of the 3 nights we had in different places, this was my favourite.

Inside Trooperstown Lodge

The Lodge runs a free shuttle taxi to nearby Wicklow Heather restaurant where we were booked in for dinner at 7.30pm. So after tea for me and a glass of vino for Chris, off we went, both starving by now.

The restaurant was bedecked with Xmas lights and about a dozen Xmas trees. Actually, it looked amazing, very welcoming and cosy and I loved the interior – all wood and old artefacts etc. Very friendly staff but we didn’t have the best food of the trip here.

Starter of Prawn and Crayfish was drowned in an unpleasant garlic dressing, more like powdered or garlic puree. I use garlic quite a lot in cooking but it never turns out tasting like that.

Mains looked much better.

The rib eye steak was tender (Hereford beef) and my lamb was a nice bit of meat but both were very bland tasting. I think in Scotland we are used to lamb and beef with a stronger flavour. I had garlic potatoes with my lamb – a sort of dauphinoise, but they didn’t taste nice at all. That powdered(?) garlic taste again. I subsequently reviewed the restaurant on TA and received a call from the owner apologising for our poor experience and wondering whether her chef had overdone the seasoning that night; very kindly, she refunded our meal. Very impressive post meal service which came with a wish too that we give the restaurant another chance in future.

The morning dawned sunny with a brisk northerly wind and it was nice now to see the lovely hills of Wicklow all around us. The weather was looking good too for our planned walk up The Spinc above Glendalough. Neither of us has much more for breakfast than gallons of tea so we headed for somewhere I had my eye on  – Glendalough Green café –  which promised good home baking.

Thankfully at 9.30am the café was open and we sat happily outside on the terrace with lattes and excellent carrot cake, admiring the bucolic surroundings of low wooded hills. One advantage of travelling in late autumn/winter is seeing the fantastic colours of the larches and oaks and beeches. Beautiful.

First view of the lough
Upper Lake at Glendalough

We decided we’d park at the Upper Lake and do the hill walk first – a good decision as it turned out. 4 euros to park and at 10am it was busy – it must be rammed in summer.  But off we set, having been given a useful walking map from the Visitor Centre.

A quick stop at the lough which was looking beautiful – a moody dark blue and streaked white with streamers from a wicked wind; a real glacial lake with shapely, tawny coloured hills on each side, dotted with Scots Pines.

Up we went by the Poulanass waterfall, on an excellent track which wound upwards through the woodland. The angle of ascent was good and soon we were at the first viewing point over the lake – a nice one too; it’s always good to look down on water framed by mountains. There was now a long section of boardwalk which made for really nice walking along the flat ridge, albeit we were buffeted a bit by the gusty wind.

Heading higher
On The Spinc walk

Big drops on one side to the glacial lake below and terrific light effects over the hills themselves. Better than a blue sky day I often think, especially for photography.

The Spinc walk

The path climbed one final section up to the highest point of the hill but we kept going , until it suddenly dawned that we were starting to descend to the military road, a longer way back.

The Upper Lake

As most of that side of the lake was in shadow, we decided to retrace our steps – no hardship with the great path and beautiful views.

Above Glendalough with temp walking stick

Big showers were now threatening and coming our way. When we reached the bottom, the hills were shrouded in mist and rain so – good timing!

Showers coming in

A great walk – in fact, it was a highlight of the whole weekend.

We spent a while exploring the atmospheric ruins of Reefert Church but decided against going all the way to St Kevin’s Cell – the old legs were tired enough already plus we had a lot more to fit in today.

Reefert's Church

A few mins drive to the Lower Lake and we were back at the monastic site where we managed to park beside the catering van and a very pretty little river burbling alongside. We spent half an hour or so just wandering through the area, admiring the pencil tower and Kevin’s Kitchen, the stone church with stone tiled roof, named after the saint himself. It was my favourite building on the site.

Kevin's Kitchen as it is called
Glendalough

I was keen to do the drive over the old Military Road and the Sally Gap which would take us eventually to famed Powerscourt Estate. Unfortunately we saw hardly a thing as low mist now cloaked the moorland , reducing visibility completely. We did get a brief view of the Glenmacanas waterfall, plunging over the bare rock face but otherwise the drive felt very long without any views to hold the interest.

I had read of Ireland’s highest waterfall being at Powerscourt – I admit seeing waterfalls is never high on my itinerary as we have so many here but I loved the really enormous ones in Iceland. So when we saw the ‘Eas’ (Gaelic for waterfall) sign, a spur of the moment decision saw us veering off down a narrow, winding road. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally arrived at a barrier where we paid 5.50 euro each to see a natural feature that is never charged for at home, so feel a strange thing to do.

Was the waterfall worth it? Well actually it was.

Ireland's highest waterfall

It was a very impressive sheet of water, like Glenmacanass but bigger, a great cascade plunging down slabby rock. The site was quite busy and very geared up for families, with a café and lots of walking paths and little picnic areas.

Onto Powerscourt and I was desperate now for a cup of tea and cake but there was a queue like an execution for the café and it wasn’t moving at all. Shame because it looked a lovely café with a great outlook over the gardens and famous Sugar Loaf mountain. The rain was on now and Chris took a bit of persuading to explore the garden but we paid our moneys and off we went. What a beautiful place!

Powerscourt Estate

Pristinely kept with statuary and terraces and even though most flowers had long gone, the tree colour was gorgeous; Triton Lake really set everything off against the Sugar Loaf. We headed down to the Japanese Garden, a nice corner. Then up through the walled garden with roses still in bloom and still with gorgeous scents. The rain had stopped pretty much as soon as we’d walked outside, so we had enjoyed the walk in the dry.

The shop looked like my kind of place, as did the food hall where I checked out the sweet selection and bought a box of pricey Butler’s Chocolates.

It was now around 4.30pm, getting dark and we still had the drive up to County Meath to find our accommodation on a Stud Farm near Trim so  – time to go!

One thing I had noticed driving through Wicklow was the succession of beautiful detached homes, all architect designed, usually behind enormous gates giving just a glimpse of pretty expensive looking properties. This continued as we drove down into Enniskerry  – what an incredibly pretty wee place!

Enniskerry village

Just had to stop and get out to explore its single street, all bedecked with fairy lights, even the central clock tower was all lit up. It was gorgeous and the very upmarket shops were really interesting – nice Delis and cafes though most were now closing; pretty gift shops

We soon picked up the M50 again and thankfully, traffic was fine on this damp Sunday afternoon. A quick stop in Navan’s M&S to pick up some cold, quickly prepared food as we decided to eat in, given we had a little self catering place tonight.

Fun and games now began as we tried to hone in on exactly where our apartment was , somewhere between Trim and Bective; the directions were vague! As it was now pitch dark it made it more difficult to work out what we were looking for and no obvious signs appeared. Finally, after a few wrong turns, good old Google directions took us to Bective Stud whose impressive iron-wrought and gold leaf painted gates opened slowly, allowing us to enter .We were now in what is billed as one of Ireland’s top racehorse breeding centres. We couldn’t take in how magnificent it was in the dark but the accommodation itself was certainly extremely smart and top notch. It was ultra quiet as we were now in the middle of a huge estate of 180 acres.

Bective Stud accommodation

I also now realised that we ‘d had nothing to eat since that carrot cake in Glendalough! How had that happened?? Crazy! No wonder I was beginning to feel ‘hangry’ and ready to commit murder – Chris never feels that as he says he has a ‘good hump’ but I just about tore open the first Parma Ham packet with my teeth. Not a good look. However, plenty of well buttered sourdough bread later, tomatoes and cheddar cheese and some BBQ chicken wings and I felt (relatively speaking) sanity return. The Butler’s chocs got demolished too.

I went outside at one point into the icy air and there was a lovely clear night sky, sprinkled with stars, the silence only broken by an occasional whinny from the horses in their stables. A fine end to a day on the Emerald Isle.

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