Two days walking, 63 km of distance covered with a mere 2.500m of ascent roughly equally divided between the two days, but the experiences could not have been further apart.
Britta had been planning from the start to join me for a day’s walking on the final section through the Wicklow Mountains and had chosen the stage that ended at her favourite spot in our new home county, the magical valley of Glendalough, home to Irelands most ancient monuments, the Church of St. Kevin and the small group of buildings established in the 6th C. and still pretty well preserved. The route was to take us via forest tracks and fell ways through two valleys with steep ascents and descents, some dramatic views before ending at the Upper Lake of Glendalough. The final section of the walk that would bring us to the Heritage Centre just before the village of Laragh was a walk along the lake shore. In the few months that we have been settled (if that is the right word) in Ireland, I had not yet had the chance of visiting this famous spot of natural beauty although I had passed very close on my cycling tours. Britta, as I mentioned, loved it there and had been for day trips on numerous occasions alone and with guests. Perhaps you can imagine that after almost a month of walking, predominantly alone, I was thrilled at the thought of spending the day in the company of my wife and hoped for a good weather that day.
It couldn’t have been worse.
From the moment Matt dropped us off at Iron Bridge, the rain started. Light drizzle to begin with but turning up the volume by degrees, until after an hour of stiff walking up the first long pull up the side of our first hill, it was coming down in an unrelenting torrent of water. There are, as anyone brought up in England or Ireland, especially the North of the Kingdom, will know, many many facets of what is generically called rain. The most insidious and the type most likely to drench you completely is light almost dust-like in its consistency, but ubiquitous. It is as if the air has been replaced with water, tiny micro-droplets that never seem to fall but envelope everything in an inescapable blanket of water, soaking every pore of every garment and working its way past every protective barrier completely to occupy and own whatever finds itself in its demesne. The clouds had descended to valley level and added to the vapour like quality of the rain, brought the visibility down to about 50 yards. It wouldn’t really have mattered that much if the visibility had been better, as we were unable to raise our heads to look up anyway, so intent were we on preventing the rain from filling the hoods on our waterproofs. It was relentless. All day, without even a second of respite, the rain kept coming. Britta reckoned that, by the end of the day, we had experienced 5 different level of pissy weather, from mild to OMG, with most of the day spent at the upper end of the scale.
After two hours of stomping up and slipping and sliding through quagmires of mud on the descent, we arrived, looking as if we had just completed an assault course, in the Valley of Glenmalure, some 12 kms from our starting point. We had the chance of stopping at the Glenmalure Lodge, one of the few inns that are passed on the trail at all and though we were severely tempted to drop in, dry off and warm ourselves with a hot soup and tea, we collectively decided to press on up the next steep ascent immediately, fearing – probably correctly – that, once ensconced in the warmth of the Lodge, we would not have had the strength to complete our journey.
We arrived in Glendalough after 7 hours walking, drenched, mud-caked and shivering. Every single item of clothing we had on was dripping wet and I feared that most of the kit in my backpack would have been similarly maltreated, despite the protective shell. The view was non-existent, but even so, the magic of the place was undeniable, with the steam rising off the Lake, the dramatic tree-covered slopes looking jungular and impenetrable, plunging into the water. It was without doubt the worst weather I had experienced on the entire trip and disappointed as I was that we should have chosen precisely that day for our walk together, there is nobody I would rather have had with me to share what would otherwise have been a thoroughly miserable day on the trail. We did have our moments though:
– The extraordinary massive semi-natural formation of rocks and stones hacked into the steep mountainside as we approached the final mountain before descending into Glendalough, reminded us of nothing so much as a giant’s staircase. I half-expected to hear the mighty boom of fee fi fo fum as we scrambled up it.
– The young french girl’s golden labrador, with its own saddlebag (www.ruffwear.com). Brilliant piece of kit, that had “I want” written all over it.
– The sight of a young man coming out of the mist towards us at the top of the last hill with the most enormous backpack on his shoulders, looking for all the world like a snail carrying its house and displaying roughly the same proportions. We stood and watched in amazement as he wandered, stickless, up towards us, we both asking ourselves the same question: how on earth can anyone manage to walk a yard, let alone miles, with that monstrosity on their back and how can anybody go trail-hiking with such a badly packed pack?
Britta left me at around 1700 in the carpark at the Heritage Centre, this time with Stella. We had taken the decision to send her back for the day, as I was worried that the last few days and todays weather had taken their toll on her and was keen to give her the opportunity to rest. Also – I was concerned that with the next day’s walk over fells and open hillside, through sheep country, I would have to have her on her leash for most of the time, something that neither of us really enjoy. I spent the evening alone attempting to dry as much of my kit as could physically be draped over every last inch of the available heating in the bathroom and bedroom of my little B&B, an attempt that by next morning had proven only partially successful. A surprisingly good dinner at the Wicklow Heather Restaurant in Laragh finished what was surely the most exhausting and certainly the wettest of all the days I have walked so far. I fell asleep praying that tomorrow would not be quite as relentless.
Unfortunately my phone gotwet during our walk on Friday – as soon as I get it working again, I will loud up some pictures and impressions from our day.