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Anyone that visits Ireland will know that County Wicklow is one of the most popular destinations for tourists. Over the past 10 years there has been an influx of people wanting to visit the beautiful waterfalls and the heather mounds of the Wicklow Mountains National Park, thanks to Hollywood movies such as P.S I Love You, The Vikings, The Tudors and Braveheart to name but a few.
The Wicklow Mountains National Park is home to some of the country’s most breath-taking scenery, a number of impressive waterfalls, a historical UNESCO world heritage site and some fantastic activities such as trekking, kayaking, canoeing and horse riding. While most tourists navigate their way around Wicklow in a coach, the best way to get off the beaten path and enjoy uncharted Wicklow is to travel with Vagabond Tours Of Ireland. With 14 years of small group tours experience, I was promised a private guided adventure tour of a destination I had been wanting to visit for years.
Picking me up from my hotel in Dublin, Russell (my guide at Vagabond Tours) lead me to my own private Mercedes Mini Van where I could get comfortable before we ventured off to Wicklow. It was roughly an hour’s drive before we began entering Wicklow. I was quite surprised at the sudden dramatic change in scenery from the urban neighborhoods and suburb towns of Dublin to the wild, untamed (and foggy) hills of the National Park.
Before I knew it we were climbing higher, navigating round twisted deserted roads through the peat bogs. Unfortunately for me the weather wasn’t working in my favor. The heavy fog shielded my view of the surrounding mountains, creating a spooky, mystical atmosphere that felt like I was entering some sort of twilight zone. When I stepped out of the van for our first stop the eerie silence hit me. With fog all around me I was unable to see Lough Tay which according to Russell was literally right in front of me.
Lough Tay is one of the most visited lakes in Wicklow and one of the most photographed spots. Used as the setting in the Vikings, the lake also draws tourists to witness its Guinness like shoreline, with its frothing surf imitating that of the top of a pint of Guinness. On a normal day the view would be spectacular, but unfortunately for me I’ll have to wait until I return to Ireland to enjoy the scenery.
So while I couldn’t enjoy the mountains of Wicklow, I found myself happily content on visiting some of the scenic waterfalls in the area. Thanks to the copious amounts of rain the day before many of the small streams and waterfalls that would normally be a trickle, became ferocious powerful (and quite frankly rather loud) cascades of water.
One of the most visited places in Wicklow is the Powerscourt Estate. While I wasn’t too interested in visiting the gardens (and the weather was too poor), I was amazed at the sheer power of the estates nearby waterfall, the Powerscourt Waterfall. Located just a short few miles from Enniskerry (you know the town in P.S I Love You), Powerscourt Waterfall was a pleasant stop. Albeit being a short one, this mighty cascade was worth the visit. Surrounded by beach, oak and pine trees, I could see how beautiful of a spot it would be during the summer months. But in all honesty I quite enjoyed sharing the waterfall only with a handful of people, while during the summer I would imagine this place to be quite busy with coaches and foreign tourists.
There were a myriad of highlight to my tour and visiting the UNESCO World Heritage listed site of Glendalough was one of them . Dating back to the 6th Century, this monastic site was founded by St.Kevin. Fabulously located next to two lakes (where Glendalough takes its name) and some pretty awesome mountains, this small settlement is also a popular tourist site in Wicklow. Again due to the weather I was fortunate enough to experience the peace and tranquility of this picturesque valley site with barely anyone else around. I really was getting a “private tour” of Wicklow.
Here you can explore the monastic remains including a superb round tower, built completely of granite and standing at 30 metres high, with an entrance 3.5 metres from the base. Russell explained that entrances to the tower were built high up to stop intruders from entering the tower. People would retreat to the tower and pull the ladder up so that the invaders couldn’t reach them. However their plan was often foiled since the invaders would set light to the tower, eventually smoking them out or burning them to death.
There are also church ruins and a cemetery that surrounds the tower that is worth walking around. The largest church ruin you will notice is the Cathedral of St Peter & St Paul and the other ruins were once the Priest’s House, St Kieran’s Church and The Reefert Church.
Glendalough was also known as the city of the seven churches, enclosed within a circular wall. This arch which was part of the wall was built with roman style columns, being cut exactly to shape and cleverly held together without the need for mortar. Walking through it was like entering a fairy-tale forest. I kept expected to see mythical creatures pop out from behind the rocks and trees or a little leprechaun run past!
If you are a hiker like me you’ll appreciate an off the beaten path stroll around the large Upper Lake next to the monastic site. Passing through a tunnel of trees adjacent to the lake, you’ll spot the place named St Kevin’s Bed on the opposite side of the lake. It is a man made cut in the rock that legend says is the site where St Kevin lived while living a life of solitude and prayer for seven years. The site can not be accessed but you’ll pass a wooden plaque on the walking route where you can stop and view it across the lake. I can’t imagine many main stream tourists make it to the lake, and it felt great to deviate away from the site and wander off for a little while. I get the feeling that you could do a lot of “wandering” here and never see another soul….
Walking further we stumbled across ruins of a historic mining town. For those that are super adventurous you can follow the track to circle back along the high cliffs to the monastic site. Since the weather was so pants we choose not to take the route, and instead we warmed ourselves in the nearby gastro pub, where I enjoyed the best soup and hamburger I have eaten for a long time!
Wicklow certainly is an area that teams with beauty, even on the most miserable of days. I love destinations where you can walk for hours amongst the peacefulness of nature, and Wicklow certainly is an area where you can do just that. What I loved about Vagabond Tours was the ability to share my interests to Russell and things I wanted to see, and he knew exactly the right places to take me. Tranquil walks, scenic vistas and breath-taking waterfalls is exactly the type of places I wanted to see, and I felt to overwhelmed to finally be walking around and visiting the places I had seen on the television so many times before. I was even lucky enough to see some of Wicklow’s wildlife. While the area isn’t famous for its wildlife, I caught several glimpses of Red Deer, who roam the National Park freely.
This is magical land that has the ability to leave you wanting to visit so much more. I really couldn’t of asked for a better introduction to a place I had been dreaming about for years. Thank you to Vagabond Tours for showing me your “back garden” and for allowing me the pleasure of joining you on a tour of Wicklow National Park.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Vagabond Tours, however all opinions are my own. If you would like to take a private tour of Wicklow, you can find the details of the same Vagabond Tour I took by click this link.