We slept in Wicklow County, only 10 minutes away from the large national forest of Glendalough. We wanted to stop in and see the ruins of the old monastic city that was there – and also go for a hike in the forest.
We arrived by about 9am and I stopped in the visitor’s center – I had to pay a euro for a trail map and pamphlet, which I thought rather strange, but soon we were off. This beautiful natural area is situated around two giant lakes (hence the name, Glendalough, meaning the valley of the two lakes). It is most well known for its miles and miles of hiking trails including the Wicklow Way which stretches from Dublin, through Wicklow, and on southward for more than 80 miles. It is also a famous destination for rock climbers of all skill levels, with over 100 routes to climb and a large boulder field as well. Finally, located right behind the visitor’s center are the remnants of an early medieval monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin. Legend has it that Kevin came and lived in the hollow of a tree and wrestled with monsters (real or mental, we do not know) for several years. Apparently, the tree stuff wasn’t that comfortable because, beyond the babbling brook is an impressive array of buildings, the remnants of the monastic city he founded. He lived to be 120 years old, or so they say, and the community carried on after his death. The entire thing is surrounded by stone walls. You can see André and Zander standing within the gateway to the settlement. These double arched doors lead into the city – and are of great importance since they are the only monastic gates still standing in Ireland. According to Wikipedia, it used to be two stories and had a wooden roof in between the arches as well.
Once you enter, the first thing you notice is an enormous round tower. These are almost unique to Ireland (only 4 exist in other locations), which makes me wonder if the story of Rapunzel originated here – since there is no easy access to round towers. There are 4 openings near the apex, one for each cardinal compass point and another located about 12 feet from the ground. That’s right, no doors! Most theorize these were bell towers and were also used to help travelers locate the communities. It turns out that the entire community would barricade themselves in these towers during times of attack. They could burn the stairs to make it hard for enemies to enter. The reason for the 12-foot high entrance is purportedly that putting a door at ground level would weaken the structure. Despite the shallow 2-foot sub-soil foundations, hundreds of these structures have remained standing. We then walked through the surrounding cemetery. There were hundreds of gravestones all around – most of them seemed to be from the 1800’s and everything was just falling into ruins. Usually we try to get the kids to not walk on the dead bodies, but here, the overgrown paths, overlapping tombstones, and encroaching shrubs, left no path – you can see André and Zander about to scramble over this one in order to reach the church building. In these days, they made the roofs of their buildings out of cantilevered stones – these things last forever!
Then it was off for our hike. We were wandering through the Wicklow mountains which was the site of the only Irish Gold Rush. Turns out these happened not just in California but also in Ireland, Australia, Brazil and Canada-- who knew? This area also has the highest waterfall in all of Ireland. You know we are total waterfall addicts, but time did not permit for that hike. It didn’t matter though. The kids were thrilled to finally have a chance to get out of the car and run freely. The weather, which had been a bit rainy the day before, was gorgeous and we spent a couple of hours wandering through the woods, seeing the beauty of the Lower lake (it seems these lakes are just named upper and lower) and enjoying the beautiful fall foliage. Here are a bunch of shots of our walk. The Irish forest in this area is very very very wet and boggy – there is running water and little streams all over the place. The ground is heavy with moss, particularly hairy cat tail moss that was 6 to 8 inches high. The trees, however weren’t particularly mossy, which is funny since, in Besancon, the trees are covered in moss where the climate is not as wet. We did a loop around the lower lake – one side is wooded right up to the edge and the other has a large swampy area – we walked on a boardwalk covered with chicken wire to avoid sinking in up to our knees. I had made a last minute stop at Emmaus on a hunch the day before we left and scored great hiking boots for the whole family (except André, who didn’t want any). I was very glad we had because my feet would have been soaked and I would have been very uncomfortable. André kept his feet dry, somehow! Zander ended up with construction boots (why they make these in the size of an 8 year old, I have no idea) but he loves his new look! I love this shot of the three of them walking over the bog… I love to watch the way they work as a team. They encourage each other to be daring and brave – Callie particularly likes to ‘take care’ of Griffin – which he sometimes likes and other times this annoys him. I have similar mixed feelings about it. She is annoying when she is so bossy and sometimes she treats him like a baby, which he definitely is not. But other times, she waits for him so he doesn’t get left behind and helps him when he falls and is there to catch him as he leaps off rocks.
Naturally, we spent far too long exploring and were behind schedule, but how could we pass up a real labyrinth when one is nearby? I realize that, normally walking a labyrinth is a time for quiet, peace and meditation – but with 3 little kids and a schedule to keep – running it was better than nothing… Many years ago, when I was pregnant with Callie, I went on a women’s retreat and we spent many long hours creating a 16 course Chartres labyrinth on the land with stone. It was an amazing experience and it took over an hour to walk when we finally completed it. Running (OK – I don’t really run – more like jogging) this little one still took me about 5 minutes to reach the center. I was curious about the labyrinth and did a bit of research. At this site http://www.labyrinthireland.com/hollywood.html I learned that a stone with a labyrinth on it was found along the path the pilgrims took to get to the monastery – and when they were recreating the walking paths around the ruins, they tried to match the paths the pilgrims walked as closely as possible. So, we were actually walking St. Kevin’s way – in the footsteps of people from hundreds of years ago. They put the labyrinth on the grounds to remember this history and I am glad we experienced it, if only for a short time since it was time to hit the road for Dublin. The good weather continued and we passed this interesting barren mountain of sand along the way.
We had originally planned to see Dublin before picking up the camper but decided, since time was short, to pick it up first. It wasn’t ready for us early so we ended up grocery shopping nearby and eating lunch. Groceries here are way, way more expensive than in France but we were happy to see we could buy some porridge for the week and some extra to bring back home to France! We then headed over to pick up the van. Driving over there was challenging since it is in the middle of nowhere and the roads were very small and winding.
We made it, though and picked up the camper – it took us over an hour to learn all we needed to know about the van and then load all our stuff into it. I was pleased to see that all my anal planning to make things compact paid off in the end. Here are the kids in their back seat.
We decided to just drive through Dublin, and maybe make one stop before heading out of the city towards the Rock of Cashel. Everyone we talked to about our Ireland visit told us to skip Dublin. “It’s hard to drive there.” “The roads are terrible.” “It’s just not worth it.” “All the best stuff is out of the city.” “It’s not even a very nice city…” etc… etc… That morning, when I picked up my Glendalough map from the visitor center I mentioned we were heading to Dublin and the entire staff started trying to dissuade me. It seems even the Irish hate Dublin! But, both André and I were curious and just at least wanted to drive through and see something interesting. By this time, it was dark and raining and André was trying to learn how to drive the new camper van. Now, added to the fact that we are driving on the wrong side of the road, we are also trying to navigate with a gigantic vehicle and working the stick with his left hand. Well, he handled it masterfully and we survived the adventure but, I have to say, all the nay sayers were right – Dublin was impossible to navigate, had terrible roads and didn’t seem all that interesting. We did pass the original St. Patrick’s cathedral and also lots of Guinness advertisements. I even saw the river at one point. All the pictures came out terrible due to a combination of dark, rain, moving vehicle and the constant fear of an accident while maneuvering giant van through tiny streets. We really should have listened to all that advice – because it just ate up our time and we couldn’t find what we were trying to see since we got so lost.
After getting lost again about 23 times attempting to leave the city, we finally made it heading towards the Rock of Cashel. We drove about an hour and then, exhausted, found a small place to pull over and fall asleep…..