Connecting the dots _ St. Kevin’s Trail revisited

Yesterday was my eldest daughter Bunny’s 18th birthday. After a drizzly morning watching the sun rise (sort of) on the beach at Brittas Bay at her request we spent most of the rest of the morning and early afternoon lazing at home, watching the weather get progressively worse. By one thirty in the afternoon we needed to get out and clear our heads and so decided (well, I suggested for want of a better alternative) that we drive up to the old mining village below the Wicklow Gap and attempt to find the second half of the trail that I had somehow missed on our St. Kevin’s Way walk on New Year’s Eve. I had spent some time poring over OS maps trying to find both the path we took (not marked) and the path we missed (clearly marked) and I was confident we would piece the two halves together if we approached the route from the east and walked it backwards. The key as always would be finding the right starting point from the main path.

Bunny, Ingi and I parked the car at the site of the old mining settlement perched at the top of the valley on the Glendasan river about halfway up the road on the way to the Wicklow Gap from the east (Laragh). The wind was whipping the drizzle around our ears as soon as we left the car and Bunny was wondering – semi-audibly – whether this was how she wanted to spend even a minute of her birthday.

We set off anyway, picking our way over the stones and boulders up to the first and largest of the ruins and onto the main path, whilst I maximised the screen setting on my garmin looking for the entry point to the mountain trail. If you are not specifically looking for it, you would never know that it was there: there is no signage, just a rabbit-hole sized break in the side of the path. The only clue that this might be the entrance is the glimpse of a well-cut path leading up to the left amidst the heather and foliage from there. It looked promising enough, so we dove in and were immediately rewarded with a perfect hill trail leading steeply away from the path and up the valley.

This trail continued for approximately one kilometre, climbing all the while, well-marked and unmissable until it reached a plateau at a small river, which is easily crossed to pick up the trail on the other side. Further up to the left at the far side of the swampy flat lies a large deposit of what looks like white gravel, mined from a pit there presumably.

The trail disappeared at this point and we we followed our noses and “maybe paths” where the heather had been flattened, keeping on a straight line west for about 100 m. The ground here is wet, muddy, and the path easily lost. The OS map marks this as the end of the official path, but having approached it on a very walkable trail from the other side only four days previously, I knew that there was a connection and that it was very close by.

Within about 100m we came across a second small river bed, which I recognised as being the same river at which we had lost the path and spent a few minutes trying to locate the point at which we had deviated from the trail. The connection point was marked by one large and one flater rock, almost touching, which create a little passageway between them. On the west (or far side from our perspective) of these rocks, the path on the far side was just visible, and became clearer as we entered and pursued it.

From there it was a sludgy but uncomplicated walk downhill, with the line of the path quite clear as it worked its way down the flank of the hill in a more or less straight line, ending at the river bed with its strange “Danger Sudden Water Surge May Occur” sign. Then across the river bed, up the grass ramp to the right and we were back on the reservoir trail we had left on our previous walk, after approximately 2,5kms.

The rest of the route back to the mining village was simple and well-marked, albeit still muddy from the last two days’ rain. Once past the St. Kevin’s Way marker the official and unofficial ways merge and the walk becomes an easy jaunt on broad paths, rocky until the river and thereafter on a brand new manicured path that allows walkers to avoid having to brave the traffic on the main road for approx. 1,5km.

Then over the bridge at the ruined church and the last 500m to the carpark.

By the end of the trail, the rain had stopped and the sun was beginning to show itself. Our cobwebs had been well and truly dissipated after the 4,7km circuit, I had sated my curiosity and need to complete the trail and we had enjoyed a fun expedition together. What more could we ask?

For anyone interested, I will be uploading the Garmin file with the track and a few waypoints marking the critical passages especially at the top onto the Peregrinations site. Happy walking.

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