After our great experience hiking around Howth, I was all for finding other hiking routes around Dublin that we could explore. And that’s how I found Helen Fairbairn’s book on Dublin and Wicklow walks and discovered the Wicklow Way. I was extremely surprised to be hearing about this walk for the first time and I am even more surprised now that I have done it that it is not more popular.
The Wicklow Way is a 127 km long hiking trail that starts in the southern suburbs of Dublin, crosses all of county Wicklow and ends in the village of Clonegal, in county Carlow. The whole hike takes about 7 days to complete and most of the main sections are well signposted. The beauty of this hike is that you can either do it all in one go, or you can divide it up in different single or two-day hikes. Since I couldn’t take time off work to do it all in one go, we decided that we would split the hike into two different weekends. We put together an itinerary, made the corresponding bookings, and we set off on our first ever long hike.
DAY 1: Marlay Park to Knockree (22 km)
We got up early, packed our bag and got on a bus headed for Marlay Park. We got off at the wrong stop and it actually took us more than half an hour to find the start of the hike. This is not to say that it was hard to find it, but more that we were rather useless at it. If the rest of the hike was anything like the start we were in for a treat!
Marlay Park in itself is already an attraction worthy of a couple of hours stop. It is a 121 hectares park in the Dublin suburbs encompassing some small forests, ponds, different small walks and even a fairy tree. There is also a small market on Saturday and Sundays. Unfortunately, since we had 22 km ahead of us and we had already gotten delayed before even starting, we didn’t have time to explore the park or check out the market.
The official Wicklow Way starts in the car park and cuts across the woodland area of the park. The minute you start walking you already feel like you are immersing yourself in nature.
Unfortunately the feeling doesn’t last long, since once you get to the end of the park you have to get across the motorway, which is a huge anticlimax. On a more positive note, there is a path underneath so it is not a difficult crossing. Once you get across, the way becomes a steep ascend past big country houses for about 1 km until you reach the entrance to Kilmashogue Forest. This is the point at which I really felt like we bid farewell to civilisation.
We continued with our ascend up the Dublin mountains for about an hour before deciding to take a lunch break in which we took the opportunity to take in the views and do some people-watching. I was surprised by the amount of locals roaming the mountains! There were loads of people walking their dogs, doing group walks, running or even cycling. There are actually loads of different walking routes around these mountains that make for a great weekend activity and a visit to nature without leaving Dublin.
After our brief lunch break, we continued our ascend. We hadn’t even walked for more than 20 minutes when we realised we were completely and utterly lost. We had brought Ordnance Survey of Ireland (OSi) 1:50,000 maps which turned out to be pretty useless. They are good for navigating around towns and paved roads, but 90% of the Wicklow Way is through mountain lanes that are not marked on the maps, so you can imagine just how useful they were. Since most of the way was marked by yellow arrows we figured we’d be ok. The problem came when we couldn’t find any more yellow arrows and we literally didn’t know where we were any more. We tried asking some of the locals but none of them were familiar with the Wicklow Way… Eventually we found a nice couple of hikers who had a much better map and were able to point to us where we were and where had we gone wrong. Turns out the Wicklow Way unexpectedly deviated from the main lane into a rocky uphill path that we completely missed. At this point we left the trees behind and swapped them for open moorland. After nearly an hour wasted, we reached the top of the mountain.
The next stage was the descent into Glencullen Valley, which was rather enjoyable and uneventful. We also had only ourselves for company which was nice for a change. Once in the valley, the Wicklow Way continues along the side of the road for 1.5 km. This was my least favorite part of the whole walk. When I say the side of the road I’m being generous… there is not really any side space so you are actually pretty much walking on the road, and not just any road but the main road. This means we were constantly on edge watching out for incoming cars. I was very relieved once we were able to get off and continue our path further into the valley.
Glencullen Valley was our first point of contact with the country side. There are only a couple of sparse houses, most of which are farms, among the extensive green fields. It was also our first encounter with sheep in the hike, and even though we didn’t know it then, they would later become our most loyal walking companions.
At this point, if you choose to make this a day-trip, you can take a 2 km detour towards the famous Johnny Fox’s pub, from which you can take a bus back to Dublin. If like us, your final destination for the day is Knockree, the next step is hiking up Prince William’s Seat (555 m).
Prince William’s Seat
The hike up Prince William’s Seat is very similar to the one up Kilmashogue Mountain, in that you are first surrounded by trees that eventually lead you onto open moorland closer to the top. There were two key differences however: one, we did not meet a single other person until we reached the top; two, even though it is the exact same ascend, we found it a lot harder. We were starting to feel the tiredness taking over, our feet were getting sore and our bag started to feel heavier. Nonetheless we forgot about all of that once we reached the top and got a hold of the extraordinary views. We were surrounded by an infinite number of patches of all kind of shades of green, crowned with the imposing Sugar Loaf Mountain in the background. And we had all of these views all to ourselves.
We descended at a slow pace, trying to enjoy the views for as long as we could. We were however looking forward to reaching our B&B and taking off our shoes. The Glencree road, which marked the end of the descent was a welcome sight. Now that we were in Knockree, we though we only had approximately one kilometre left, but it felt more like ten. After walking along the road for about 200 metres, we deviated onto a secondary lane that went around the Knockree hill, which even though it has barely any ascent it felt like we were hiking up a whole other mountain. We were still surrounded by beautiful landscapes and a rewarding silence, but we were definitely ready to finish up for the day.
There are two options for accomodation in Knockree: either the Knockree Youth Hostel or Oaklawn B&B. The hostel was half the price of the B&B, which was overpriced at 80 euro a night, but I opted for the B&B since I thought that after walking 22 km, we could do with some personal space and quietness. On top of that, Airam had never stayed in a B&B in Ireland, and I felt it was something that he should definitely experience at least once.
With that said, as we came out of Knockree hill, we found ourselves right beside the hostel, and I immediately regretted my decision. I didn’t care about quietness or space or anything at all really, as long as we could just stop walking! I thought the B&B was beside the hostel, but as it turns out, it was 1.5 km further. It was the longest 1.5 km I have ever walked…
Eventually, we made it to the B&B. Kay and John, the owners, were extremely nice and welcoming, and offered to drive us into Enniskerry to grab dinner. We were so exhausted we didn’t really want to walk another step so we declined. The following morning they prepared a wonderful Irish breakfast, which included the best cup of tea I had had all year. As much as I regretted having to walk the extra 1.5 km at the time, it was definitely worth it in the end.
Did you enjoy reading Day1? You can find Day 2 here: Making peace with the rain: Wicklow Way Day 2
You can find Day 3 here: Deep in the Wicklow Mountains: Wicklow Way Day 3
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