Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

Sampling Wicklow’s hill country

22nd February 2009

As promised, here is the fuller account of last weekend’s walk on the fringes of the Wicklow Mountains. Casting my mind back to over a year ago, I remember getting around to thinking about investigations of the hill country within reach of Dublin. At the time, I was trying out Trail Master digital mapping from the OSi and began to construct possibilities in my mind as I went. Then, the possibilities that I was surveying centred around Marley Park, the northern end of the Wicklow Way, and the Dublin Mountains.

When I did get my chance for a few hours among those hills, it was further south that I ended up going. The area about Enniskerry and Powerscourt looked promising but I plumped for Kilmacanoge and the Great Sugarloaf given the time that I had for an early morning outing. Since it was also my first outing to the area, it was best not to get too adventurous and limit my exertions to getting a feel for somewhere where I hadn’t been before and going up a relatively accessible and low-sized hill on paper seemed to serve the purpose with its location garnering it panoramic views west into the main block of Wicklow hill country and east over Little Sugarloaf (342 metres above sea level) and Killiney Bay.

I was to discover that those vistas were very much there to be enjoyed, but my opportunity allotted me a grey day for my dander. In fact, my early start ensured that I was made very much aware of the dark greyness with my camera meter indicating that long exposures were the order of the day. Not having visited the place before meant that my escape onto the slopes wasn’t going to be a tidy affair and no signposting was in place to correct any aberrant wandering off course; it’s best not to expect too much of the walking infrastructure in Ireland. Even with more road walking than was really needed, there was plenty of time left for off-road wandering. In fact, the road bashing gave something of a feel for my surroundings before I met the track that I was to use to start my way uphill in earnest.

Once past a van that next to blocked access, I continued up a clear vehicle track. On the way, I met the van’s owner coming downhill against me; my guess is that he was checking on sheep that I later saw in a field. I left the track for some more freestyle uphill ambling that took me past and around patches of snow that still remained even though the day was a mild one with a feeling of spring in the air. Westward views over such snow-covered “humps” as Djouce, War Hill, Maulin and the Tonduffs were pleasing and a spot of sun would have made them magical. Powerscourt and Enniskerry were out of view, possibly hiding in a groove beneath Long Hill into which I was unable to see. Looking north took my gaze towards the Dublin Mountains with the transmitters of Three Rock or Kippure, the highest point in the county of Dublin, poking upward into the sky.

On the way up, I crossed pasture to reach ground hosting much rougher vegetation. It was at this point that better defined paths were reached and I continued upwards in a south-easterly direction. Doubts were creeping into my mind whether I would go to the top of the hill or not. While it can look very appealing when its pointier aspect is seen from afar, I saw a rougher and less attractive side at the top of the hill. However, rather than contenting myself with going around it, I ended up making my way towards the top in a step-by-step manner. That was to take me onto to rockier slopes and I chose what appeared to all the world to be a path manicured by some human intervention. Ultimately, that took me up a steep slope with loose material underfoot that persuaded me that this wasn’t going to be a good way down. Even though I could leave the loose material underfoot for solid rock, the idea of downhill skidding on something approaching the consistency of scree didn’t appeal to me one bit. Nevertheless, I did reach the summit and shared both it and a few words with some other walkers that were there.

To get down after taking in the copious views and the very definite spirit of spring that was in the air, I chose the route that they were using for ascent and descent. Well-stepped rock, a characteristic of the Great Sugarloaf, allowed me to descend with confidence to reach a well-defined path on much flatter ground so long as I watched my footfall; though not so high at 501 m, it’s not a hill for lapses for concentration. For my return to Kilmacanoge, I chose to head north along this to drop down to a track, part of which was the one that got me from the road to the hillside. Rather than checking this out for the sake of complete certainty, I headed east to cut out most of the road walking that I had done earlier. The track was clear for a while but became less distinct as I rounded Glencap Commons North. Nevertheless, I stayed with it and my faith was repaid after my conquering doubts that were bubbling up in my mind with the ups and downs along with the twists and turns that it was putting my way. I eventually ended up on tarmac again and, knowing where I was, turned left at two junctions to reach the R755 near Kilmacanoge’s church. The bus stop was only a short hop away and I popped into a shop for a few things before returning to Bray to take the train to Dublin’s Connolly Station.

This stretch of exploration may only have lasted a few short hours but it gave me a nice feel for Irish hillwalking. It’s best not to expect niceties like waymarking or pitched paths (the place is perfect for those who despise such innovations) and I found none of these on my walk. Interestingly though, you may find conveniently located car parks in places. Access is another thorny issue so it’s best to be careful and do your homework before you; guidebooks (try Joss Lynam’s Best Irish Walks for a few ideas), magazines (I can recommend the perhaps oddly titled Walking World Ireland) and the like usually will usher you away from the possibility of confrontation because the enlightened tolerance that was so typical of Scotland, even before their wonderful access legislation, does not hold universal sway in Ireland. Saying that, there are sufficient pockets to ensure that there remains plenty to sample. The day that I had might not have shown things at their best, but the countryside remained inviting, and the atmosphere was invigorating with its dash of mildness and there being birdsong in the air. The experience has left me wondering about a return for a longer visit to those hills.

View west from Great Sugarloaf, Kilmacanogue, Co.Wicklow, Éire

Travel Arrangements:

Ireland was reached by a return train journey to Holyhead followed by a return ferry crossing to Dublin. Dublin Bus service 53B then got me between the port and Dublin city centre. Getting to the start of the walk involved a return trip to Bray on the DART rail system and a return bus journey on Dublin Bus service 145 to Kilmacanoge.

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