Upper Lake at Glendalough


Glendalough is a place I’d heard many travellers rave about in all my years in Ireland, so naturally I was quite looking forward to seeing just how it measured up. Upon arrival, I was not disappointed

We took the St Kevin’s bus, (a private bus service) to Glendalough, in the heart of the Wicklow Gap, which runs all year round and leaves from outside the College of Surgeons on the western side of St Stephens Green in Dublin. There is no public bus or train service to Glendalough. You can only get as far as Rathdrum, so Saint Kevin’s Bus is the best option.

Just at the start of the village is the Glendalough Visitor Centre, where the bus will drop you off.

The name comes from the Irish Gleann Dá Locha, which means “The valley of the two lakes”, and it really is a place to rave about. The lakes are nestled in the beautiful valley of the Wicklow Gap, which even in the middle of winter holds a majestic beauty. The surrounding mountains and their array of colours are perfectly reflected in the still water of the larger lake. I was happy to be here, and even happier to be staying at the Glendalough International Hostel.

This hostel is huge. Normally I wouldn’t even consider staying in a large international hostel, but unfortunately in Glendalough there isn’t much choice. It’s the only hostel there. Outside of this there is the Glendalough hotel, and a couple of nice-looking B&Bs. Most of the accommodation is in the nearby village of Laragh, three kilometres east of Glendalough.

Despite the persistent rain, we spent two days here taking walks around the lake. First we walked along the north shore of the upper lake, the larger of the two lakes, which ends at the zinc mine. Then we ventured out along a trail leading into the southern part of the lake, with the intention of making our way up to Spink Mountain. But somehow we ended up wandering into the vast forest that lies behind the mountain. A trail led into this forest and circled around until returning to roughly where we’d entered. Here we spotted a set of wooden steps leading up into the mountain. It was late, but I was curious.

It must be said here that this hike up the mountain really should be done at the beginning rather than the end of a walk. Take note, when you enter the trail from the lake turn left and not right, or else you will get here the long way, just like us.

I must admit putting steps here was a great idea, especially in the wet. It certainly makes the steep climb that little bit easier – meaning that although the climb is hard, you won’t slip in the mud and therefore have to repeat half of the climb again. The stairs wound consistently upwards through the forest until finally emerging into the open where I was astounded by how high we were, and equally astounded by the breathtaking view before me.

We were walking on the edge of the mountain staring down at the beauty of the lake and surrounding area. There was no fencing at the edge of what was a sheer drop into the lake. A wooden walkway had been built for hikers to walk the rim of the mountain. We walked part of the way and then turned back. You can walk the entire length and come back down the mountain the other side, which then takes you back around the lake along the northern side and back to the hostel.

Glendalough lies on the Wicklow Way walking trail, part of a huge network of waymarked walking trails across Ireland.

Besides the stunning landscape, another must see here is the early Christian monastic site that was founded by St Kevin in the 6th century. The most prominent feature is the 33-metre tall round tower; part of the monastic ruins containing the remains of seven churches and a graveyard. Down a small hill is the most interesting structure of all, St Kevin’s Kitchen, a stone oratory with a small round tower protruding from its roof. The sloping roof is built completely of stone. At the visitor centre there is a fascinating exhibition of Saint Kevin’s life. There is also an interesting pilgrimage trail known as St. Kevin’s Way.

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