Hiking in Wicklow: Exploring Ireland’s Longest Glacial Valley
About half way through the hiking trail, I came to a clearing and looked down across the valley. On the hill opposite me there was a waterfall – not the kind that cascades over the edge of a cliff, but one that streams down through the cracks of a mountain.
Water zigzagged its way to the valley floor, jumping over rocks and splitting into separate flows to ease its route. If I listened hard enough I could just – only just – hear the waterfall’s rushing, the only sound for miles.
Next to the bottom of the chute there was a white house with a red roof, and I stopped for a while to think about what it would be like to live there, where the waterfall would be both your morning song and nightly lullaby.
I was on a hiking trail around Glenmalure Valley in Wicklow Mountains National Park, just south of Dublin. Most travellers who come hiking in Wicklow venture to nearby Glendalough – which means ‘valley of two lakes’ and is a UNESCO Monastic Site. On the day I visited, Glendalough was packed with passengers from tourist buses, so I chose to hike in Glenmalure Valley – the longest glacial valley in Ireland at around 16km – a much quieter area just a few miles further south.
// Related post: Staying in a Traditional Gypsy Caravan in County Wicklow //
Starting at Glenmalure Lodge in the centre of the village, I followed the road towards Laragh and took the walking path to the left of the hump-backed bridge, into the woods – the trail is well-marked from here. A sea of conifer trees towered above me on either side as I huffed and puffed, battling the walk uphill that lasts for about 20 minutes at the start of the trail. Perseverance paid off when my path started to level out and continue in a straight line along the side of the hills. The land rose upwards to my right and downhill to my left, and views across the valley opened up from here.
I felt energised by the earthy forest smell and silence that surrounded me – I passed only five hikers during the 9km route. The sun was out but interrupted every few minutes by cloud, ideal weather for hiking; not too hot, not too cold. Just before I approached the largest clearing, I peered over the trees to my left and could see the tops of the hills on the other side of the valley. Their summits were green and brown, shades that changed colour as the clouds moved overhead, shifting from bright to dark every few minutes.
This was the point when I got to the waterfall. I stopped for around 15 minutes to take it in, feeling blessed to have stumbled on a viewpoint so high up. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a waterfall from this angle before: at the same level as the water that streams down from the top, or higher even. It was like I had my own private box in a theatre – the best seats in the house.
I pulled myself away from the view and walked on. The path starts to meander downhill from this point, turning back on itself to makes its way down into the valley. As I got lower, forest reappeared and I was once more walking among giant trees, feeling grateful for their shade as I came into the last few kilometres.
The path merges with the tarmac road towards the end of the trail, heading back toward Glenmalure Lodge. I was at the same level as the bottom of the waterfall at this point, and walked past that white house with a red roof. The sound of the waterfall was of course much louder down here, but as serene as I imagined it from up high in the hills, 30 minutes beforehand.
Approaching Glenmalure village two hours after I had set out, I felt accomplished and my legs ached in that satisfying post-hike way. In the last section, when I thought I had seen the best the trail had to offer, I saw a deer and her fawn just five metres away from me, stretching their necks down into a stream to drink. It took them just seconds to notice my presence and dart away into the trees, but those seconds before they knew were a fitting end to my walk in Wicklow, away from the tourist trail and deep into nature.
Have you visited Wicklow in Ireland?
Where else in the world have you been that looks like this?