Viewing Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains for the first time was magical. Translucent clouds hovered over the rounded peaks and the surrounding landscape was carpeted in hues of green, gold, auburn and purple intensified by a little Irish rain. I literally gasped seeing this picturesque scenery as it didn’t seem real but indeed, it’s very much real.
I’ve visited Dublin three times prior to this October trip but never had the chance to venture out of the city. Determined to take at least one day trip from Dublin, I hopped on a Wild Wicklow Tour motor coach to venture out of the city and discover other story-filled places of the Emerald Isle. Final destination was Glendalough, one of Ireland’s most historic and beautiful destinations with stops along the way at other sweet little towns and the mystical Wicklow Mountains.
Rain or Shine Hop on the Wild Wicklow Tour Bus
Skies were gray, air was heavy with mist and I was a bit skeptical about spending a day on a bus trying to find mountains hiding behind thick clouds. Common sense kicked in and put the situation in perspective – I was in freakin Ireland. Rain or not, it was going to be an awesome day. And you know what? Even though it was a little damp, there were pockets of sunshine including beams of light in the form of entertaining tales by Denis O’Reilly, guide and managing director of Wild Wicklow Tours.
Denis navigated through Dublin’s city center with ease, obviously a Dublin public transport veteran, and never lost a beat in sharing historical facts and tales about the city as we headed south along the coast to Dun Laoghaire with a stop in Sandycove. In addition to being home of the James Joyce Tower & Museum where the author was inspired to write Ulysses, it’s home to a group of hearty of seniors who seem to find rejuvenation in the briskly cold waters of Dun Laoghaire Harbor. Apparently this vibrant group, with at least one member in her mid-80s, dips in the harbor year-round. Hmm, is this the real-life Cocoon?
Next was a drive through the lush, quiet Dublin suburbs of Dalkey and Killiney, home to celebrities as U2?s Bono, the Edge, and Enya. Nope, no Bono sightings this go around, another reason to plan a return trip to Ireland.
Tea and a pastry seem to be a mid-morning necessity in Ireland and the Sugar Tree Cafe at Avoca Kilmacanogue satisfied that sweet spot. They offer a lovely selection of scones (I didn’t realize all the possible flavors) along with other bites as muffins, cakes and sweet breads. The cafe is elegantly shabby chic with an assortment of mismatched plates adorning one wall, sturdy wood tables to dine and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a garden, rolling hills and ancient trees of the old Jameson estate (yes, as in once the grounds of the whiskey family).
Tip: If taking this tour, while it’s nice to leisurely enjoy your pastry and tea (or coffee) while enjoying the gorgeous view, take time to view the rolling rounds, ancient trees and peruse the gift shop.
The Mystical Wild Wicklow Mountains
“There’s a saying about the Wicklow Mountains,” Denis said. “If you can see the mountains it will rain. If you can’t see the mountains then it’s raining.”
Guess you can say I witnessed both during my Wicklow Mountains visit because first they weren’t there then they were. In fact, the clouds parted exposing glorious sunlight on the valley. If you’ve seen the movies P.S. I Love You and Braveheart this part of Ireland will be familiar to you because significant scenes were filmed here. (No, I have not seen the former but have the latter.)
Covering the foothills and valleys of the Wicklow Mountains is blanket bog which began forming about 4,000 years ago when it rained more in Ireland. Peat formed from partially decomposed dead plant material because water couldn’t be absorbed into the ground and there was a lack of oxygen preventing full decomposition. (Yes, this is the earth science geek in me coming out.) Being autumn, peat was covered with green, gold and auburn hued grasses. (Source: Wicklow Mountains National Park, “Blanket Bog,” Oct. 11, 2013)
Beginning in the 17th century turf cutting by the locals was common for this area. They hand-cut the peat and dried it as a fuel source for their homes. One peat brick can burn for an hour. Over recent centuries, bogs have been exploited as they are not a renewable resource and while some locals may still harvest peat, it’s part of their family heritage, modern day Irish law prohibits harvesting peat in more than 50 bogs.
St. Kevin, the Seven-Year Hermit in Glendalough
Glendalough is a tranquil 6th century Monastic Site about 51 km ( 31 miles) south of Dublin. I could easily see why this is one of Ireland’s most visited areas. Denis led the group through the cemetery, explained the significance of the round tour (the door was high enough for a ladder so the occupants could secure themselves inside, pull up the ladder and avoid the Vikings at least for a little while) and walked through what remains of the abbey.
I must be a bad Catholic (okay, I know I’m a bad Catholic) because I had never heard of St. Kevin, the patron saint of the Kilnamanagh parish. The saint had an interesting beginning…
Soon after being ordained in the 6th century, St. Kevin was reportedly led by an angel to a man-made cave in the Glendalough mountainside where he lived as a hermit and avoided the company of his followers. For seven years he wore animal skins, slept on stones, went barefoot and spent his time praying. Word spread about this holy man and disciples came to him seeking guidance and assistance. Glendalough grew as a seminary and St. Kevin founded the ‘Monastic City’. It’s believed he lived to the seasoned age of 120 years old. (Source: Catholic Online, “St. Kevin,” Oct. 11, 2013)
The abbey’s cemetery contains St. Kevin’s Cross which is a Celtic cross carved from a single piece of granite. During my brief visit to Ireland I saw hundreds of these types of crosses which combines a cross with a circle representing a sun. St. Patrick introduced this as a way to acclimate Ireland’s pagan people, who worshiped the sun and moon, to Christianity. When visiting be sure to make a wish and attempt to wrap your arms around the width of the cross and touch your fingertips. Local legend states wishes will be granted if this can be done.
“Sláinte!” That’s Celtic for “health” but also the phrase used in Ireland as a drinking toast. The Wild Wicklow Tour concluded with a leisurely walk along a paved trail through the woods to Upper Lake where Denis had a surprise – a bottle of Jameson Whiskey in which everyone – except him – enjoyed an invigorating shot. The perfect way to end a perfect day.
Nuts & Bolts About the Wild Wicklow Tour
There are so many things I love about the Wild Wicklow Tour but Denis definitely made the full-day excursion shine with his genuine interest in all the passengers and his fun sense of humor. I haven’t looked up every bit of information he shared but he kept the entire busload of us entertained with historical nuggets and tales.
The tour includes a lunch stop and if your tour stops at Jake’s Bar at Lynhams Hotel be sure to order Biddy’s Guinness Beef Stew and wash it down with a pint of Guinness. This beef stew is pretty hearty and is topped with mashed potatoes so no need to grab a roll. The pub has a quaint atmosphere and if you’re lucky, a fire will be burning in the stove and you’ll be able to smell the peat briquets which burns unlike wood and has a sweet, earthy odor.
Meals are not included in the tour but the shot of Jameson along with excellent commentary and scenery, although scenery is dependent upon the weather, are included.
Wild Wicklow Tours
Tel: + 353.1.28.01899
This tour is a full-day and private tours are available. Wild Wicklow Tours offer various pickup points throughout Dublin and if you’re looking to get out of the city for the day, take this tour. Plus, if you’re like me and not comfortable driving Ireland’s quaint streets, this is a terrific option.
Disclosure: As a conference attendee of the TBEX conference (Travel Blog Exchange) I participated in this trip as a of Wild Wicklow Tours and this post reflects my honest opinions about the tour. This post contains affiliate links in order to support my traveling habit and support this blog.