The second day of the Wicklow Way is definitely the toughest, as well as the most rewarding. In one day you get to cross a couple of rivers, go deep into the Wicklow mountains and watch over Ireland’s highest waterfall. The total length according to Helen Fairbairn’s book, our most reliable source of information for this hike, was of 22 km. However it took us 8 hours without any long stops and at a brisk pace so I’d be more tempted to say it is somewhat close to 30 km.
DAY 2: Knockree to Roundwood (22 km)
After having a full Irish breakfast courtesy of John and Kay at Oaklawn B&B we started our second day. Once back on the official Wicklow Way, we descended through a dense plantation towards the Glencree river. I had noticed from our previous day that the water in the mountains was a Guinness-like colour, which made me think that it was dirty. However once we reached the river, upon closer inspection, I realized it wasn’t dirty at all. It was just brown water, something I hadn’t seen before and that apparently is common in Wicklow.
We walked along the river for about a kilometer. It was a crispy morning and a huge bright rainbow had just made an appearance above the dense green mountains. We were yet to pass another person and we had already been walking for an hour. The water running along the river added to an already relaxing atmosphere. We really couldn’t have asked for a better way to start our day!
We next headed towards Crone Wood. There is a car park right at the entrance, which makes it an easy starting point for day trips around the Wicklow mountains. We began our ascent and didn’t stop until we reached the point at which we had our first sighting of the Powerscourt Waterfall. This waterfall may not look extraordinary, but it is the highest waterfall in Ireland at 121 meters. We took our first break of the day and sat down to enjoy the views.
When moving on, we were still able to enjoy the odd glimpse of the waterfall to our left, until we reached a stone wall marking the end of the path. At this point we started a steep descend towards the Dargle River, which we crossed only to begin ascending again as we began the climb up Djoice Mountain.
We were on our own again as we reached the top of the initial steep climb and began walking around what seemed like a Christmas tree plantation. Such was my happiness that I started singing (FYI, I never sing, and with good reason). Next thing you know, a small deer jumps among the trees right beside me and runs around before hiding himself. We both stopped dead right where we were. We just stood there watching the deer while the deer watched us. Out of all the moments to start singing… This was the closest we had ever been to a wild big animal, and the fact that there was absolutely nobody else around, just us and Bambi, made it an awesome experience.
Even though it was an overcast day, the views from this point were spectacular, extending all the way north to the Howth peninsula. I can only imagine how beautiful it must look on a clear day! When eventually we reached the top of the ridge we stopped to take in the 360° views, but not for long since the wind was trying its best to blow us over.
There was not a defined path any longer and walking sticks would have been welcomed across this stretch of the hike. We entertained ourselves looking at all the different types of sheep, most of which completely ignored our presence and went about their business. The only ones that seemed to notice us were coincidently the ones with big horns, but even they just stared as if making sure we would stay on our path.
Once we left Djouice Mountain behind, the path turned into a boardwalk on its way to White Hill (630 m). The boardwalk was recently created as a means to protect the fragile moorland of this area, which apparently was starting to suffer the increasing popularity of this hiking route. There are signs along the way urging you to not leave the boardwalk, which was fine by us as it allowed us to advance at a quicker pace and saved us having to look at the map or watch out for signs to avoid getting lost.
After about a kilometer and before the path starting descending we found a spot to sit down and take a moment to absorb the imposing beauty and stillness of it all. After having walked more than 30 kilometres to enjoy these views I wanted to make the most of them.
As we continued on it started drizzling. Unfortunately it didn’t look like it was just going to stay as a drizzle, so we tried to speed up our pace. And then, all of a sudden we were looking over Lough Tay. Because of the easy-to-follow boardwalk, I hadn’t taken a look at the book or the map in a while and had no idea that the lake was there, so it took us completely by surprise. Just when I thought I had seen the best views of the day! At this point there is also a memorial to J.B. Malone, who we have to thank as the founder of the Wicklow Way. This was his favorite view, and I’m not surprised.
When we reached the end of the mountain path at the car park the rain started to pour. We had 1.5 km to walk on the side of a main road and the rain was falling down so hard that it was hard to see ahead and hear the cars coming.
I hate the rain. Despite so many years of living in Ireland, I avoid going outside if I can at the most insignificant sign of rain, which I think is a rather normal behavior. People don’t generally like to get wet. Except the Irish of course. They can’t afford to have that attitude, since it rains 90% of the time. I’m sure there is some sort of rain-tolerance gene that has developed within the Irish population. And of course having been in Ireland for so long, I have always felt like I was the weird one… How can you not just love getting soaked and wet and cold any chance you get? Jeez, what kind of planet do you come from !!??
I was genuinely struggling. I wanted it to stop and I was sure Airam did too. I considered hitchhiking. There were so many cars driving past, it was really tempting… But I was determined to finish the hike on my two feet so we somehow found the strength to keep walking.
When we finally reached the forest standing between us and Roundwood, we were extremely happy to be able to leave the road behind. Although it was still raining, it wasn’t pouring any more. We were wet, tired and cold but knew we were close to the end so we happily continued walking across the forested area. When we came out of the forest we could see Roundwood right ahead of us. It was a welcome sight, and Airam wanted to make a quick stop before continuing on. He argued we still had an hour left, and it would only take us about 15 minutes to descend towards Roundwood. I was reluctant because of the rain, but gave in and took a seat on a fallen trunk.
And that’s when I had a realization. To this day I still don’t know what happened – rather unexpectedly, the rain wasn’t a problem any more. I felt extremely relaxed and peaceful and not bothered at all. I would even go as far as saying it was enjoyable. I remember thinking: ‘OMG, this is how Irish people must feel about the rain all the time!! No wonder they think I’m weird!’ And that is how I made peace with the rain. To this day, I’m happy to report my feelings haven’t changed.
However our Wicklow adventure was nowhere near to an end just yet. We continued on, and were surprised when we found a sign marking the Wicklow Way deviating further away from what seemed like a direct descent towards Roundwood. We hesitated but decided to follow the signed way. We started ascending again, which didn’t seem right at all. We were then suddenly been directed down through an area covered by plants with spikes. There was a lane cutting across them but it was barely big enough to fit me, and I would consider myself a rather slim person. Again, it didn’t seem right but we went ahead and descended while being constantly scratched and stung by the plants. Definitely not a fun experience!
Once at the end we found ourselves overlooking Lake Dan. When we looked at the map we realized we had considerably deviated south past Roundwood and started getting a little nervous wondering whether we’d make it to Roundwood in time for the bus. We descended onto a field that another Wicklow Way sign was asking us to cross. We did, only to realize when we reached the end that there were no more signs. We tried looking at the map, but like I said before, the OSi maps are rather useless when it comes to anything that is not a road, so we couldn’t figure out where we were. The only way out was through the next field. Once we started getting across though, we realized that the next field was populated by cows.
This definitely wasn’t the right way and I was not comfortable with the idea of invading their field. But what other choice did we have? We had a quick look out for bulls, and we couldn’t see any. However it was a big field, it was still raining and there wasn’t great visibility. We were not convinced but decided to go ahead. We walked as fast as we could and I did what I always do when I’m scared (because let’s face it, I was petrified) – I started playing the worst case scenarios in my head and planning scape routes for each of them. Luckily we got to the end of the field without having to put any of the scape routes into action. We now found ourselves on the back of a farmhouse, which definitely felt like a private property. What the hell!? The way to Roundwood seemed so easy from the forest, how had we managed to get it so wrong?
We reached the main road, not having a clue where we were. We knew Roundwood was North, so we headed that way. We were about to knock on someone’s door to ask when we found a sign saying the magical words: Roundwood 1.5 km. We only had 20 minutes to get to the bus so we ran from this point on.
You might be glad to hear that we did make it on time. Definitely one of the most memorable adventures I have ever had in Ireland, and one that will be hard to beat!
Have you ever managed to go hiking in Ireland for more than one day without getting rained on? Have you done any hikes around the Wicklow mountains? I’d love to hear about it!
You can find Day 1 of this hike here: Discovering Wicklow on foot: Wicklow Way Day 1
You can find Day 3 of this here: Deep in the Wicklow Mountains: Wicklow Way Day 3
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