Glendalough Monastic Settlement
As we’ve said before, in previous posts, we really love Ireland and we’re very lucky to have such beauty on our doorstep. No matter where you live in this country, you can enjoy gorgeous scenery, perhaps on a canal-side towpath, challenging mountain hikes and coastal cliff walks or woodland trails and you’re never too far from a stone-age burial tomb, a medieval castle or an ancient monastic settlement! From Dublin, there are brilliant day trips you can do and we’ve been capturing places, stories and images so we can create a comprehensive guide for folks who would like to explore a little further. Dublin is relatively small, compared to other European capitals and, if you have a few days, you can definitely add one or two of these trips to your itinerary. So far, we’ve posted about Clara, Newgrange and Loughcrew Cairns and we’ve loads more to share, so stay tuned!
How to get to Glendalough
There are a couple of ways to get to Glendalough. Our favourite route is through the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains which takes a little longer than taking the Motorway. If you have a car and a relaxed schedule, head to the mountains through the Sally Gap - it’s glorious. Short for time? Hit the M50 southbound to the N11 and take the exit for Roundwood. Either way, there are signposts to guide you and plenty of friendly locals who will help you out if you take a wrong turn. Don't worry if you don't have a car, you can still get there by public transport. St. Kevin's Bus Service and the Glendalough Shuttle Bus run every day from the centre of the city.
Monks and Vikings
This sixth-century ‘university city’, founded by St. Kevin, is situated beside two beautiful lakes (Glendalough means valley of the two lakes) near the village of Laragh. The site itself and the lakes are free and accessible anytime, all year round. The car parks and the visitor centre, however, do have a charge and opening hours. The visitors' centre is an excellent introduction and it’s well worth your time and money. At €5 per adult or €13 for a family ticket, you’ll learn the history, way of life and secrets of this fantastic place. You’ll also get great advice from the staff on the hikes and trails you can do from here. It’s a pleasant five-minute walk to the site from the centre and the first thing you’ll see is the round tower. It’s one of Ireland’s best-preserved round towers and it commands pride of place among the old stone headstones and ruined churches. Used by the monks as a defensive building against invading Vikings, it has stood for a thousand years and it’s mighty impressive. If you’re into photography you’ll love the colours, the lines and the light for some creative compositions, especially with the abundance of celtic crosses dotted around the graveyard.
The lakes, of course, are the essence of tranquillity and birdsong fills the air all year round. You can take the boardwalk through the tall grasses and marshes between the lakes or walk beside the forest to the upper lake. Both ways are beautiful and present you with a spectacular reveal of the lake at the end. It’s difficult to describe it. It’s one of my favourite lakes in the whole world. There’s really something magical about the atmosphere.
After a leisurely stroll on the shore, you can check out some fantastic walking trails from here. They’re well marked and the information board provides helpful details on what to expect. If you have time, definitely do the 9km Spinc trail. It takes you all along the lower lake, passed the abandoned mine at the end of the valley, where there are still some old machines left to rust among the grey rocks and gravel. After that it’s a slow, steady, climb all the way to the top of the ridge that looms over the whole valley. The views are simply stunning and you’ll most likely spot some deer along the way. The day we took on the challenge, the weather was glorious and we had our picnic at the halfway point. It’s a little wooden bridge over the river that feeds into the lakes and it provides a fantastic viewpoint back to the site and the round tower standing tall amongst the trees. On the way back, the trail cuts through a lovely oak forest and a lot of steps take you passed the gorgeous cascades of Poulanass Waterfall and back down to the start of the trail. You can choose to do it in reverse and get those steps out of the way but we much prefer descending stairs rather than climbing!
Be sure to stick around for the sunset if you have time. It sets right at the end of the valley and bathes the lake in glorious colours, which Neil has captured here so beautifully.
Accommodation and Food
If you want to linger and stay the night like we did, we recommend the International Youth Hostel, as it’s perfectly situated right beside the settlement. It’s a great little hostel and we managed to score a double room for the night for only €40 using Booking.com (it was cheap but it was off-season, it’ll be more expensive during the summer months). The alternatives are well-placed, pricey hotels or you might find a charming farmhouse or B&B in the area. It’s worth it though because staying the night just gives you more time to explore and join the locals in one of the pubs to wind down the day. We chose to cook that evening in the hostel but we have eaten in Lynam’s in Laragh before on a previous day trip and can highly recommend it if you can’t be bothered cooking! After a one or two (or three or more!) drinks you can take a wander into the site and if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a gorgeous starlit sky above the round tower (unfortunately it was clouded over the night we braved the graveyard). Neil has plans to go back and capture a star trail photograph above the tower so keep an eye out for that post! We went to Glenmalure the next day with sore heads! Stay tuned for more spectacular pictures and our adventure to Ireland and Britain’s longest glacial valley.
Even if you're not into hiking it's well worth climbing the few steps to view Poulanass Waterfall. It doesn't take long and it's really beautiful. The trail to the miner's village is a bit longer but there are no steps or hills and it's a lovely walk along the lakeside.