For years you’ve been hearing the same ‘oul’ cliches about Ireland. “It’s a sea of green everywhere you look,” one person tells you. “There’s not a day in Ireland where the touch of rain isn’t felt by the ground,” another says. You inwardly roll your eyes and wonder whether these people have actually visited the country or if they are drawing from the hundreds of stereotypes broadcasted throughout tourist literature. Based on this source of information, you wouldn’t be surprised if someone claimed they saw a leprechaun enjoying a Guinness in Temple Bar, Dublin.
So, you smugly decide to prove these ‘eejits’ wrong. When you go there you’ll have more to report than the emerald colour of the fields and the precipitation percentage for the month. You’ll return with fresh information, something different to add to people’s seemingly well painted picture of the country.
After doing some research in the Dublin Tourist Information Centre, you decide to walk the Wicklow Way, a 127 kilometre walk that snakes throughout County Wicklow. There are bound to be cliches ripe throughout the Way, but you’re determined to see past them. The marathon stroll starts at Marlay Park in the North of Dublin and concludes in Clonegal, County Carlow.
The first day of the walk will lead to Knockree, an easy 17 kilometres from Marlay Park. The start of the Wicklow Way is a flat, muscle-relaxing stroll up a hill to a stunning view of the city of Dublin spread out before you. The higher you climb, the more the city reveals itself. It appears from behind the heather like a diamond sparkling in the after-effects of a recent shower.
Soon the city view disappears, the sky opens again and a faint layer of rain dampens the strands of your hair. The sky has shifted from a grey-blue to a violent black and you are shoving your arms into the raincoat that you bought from the all-too-helpful sales assistant as soon as you arrived in the country. He had a toothy smile as he instructed you to buy a jacket from the much cheaper shop up the road. As the rain becomes more than a drizzle, a thrill sparks in your stomach. You notice that erratic weather suits this part of the world. The Wicklow countryside is a combination of heather, native wildflowers and earthy browns, becoming more alive as the rain settles on the landscape.
Knockree is a slice of County Wicklow made up of green fields, and sporadic houses that dot the scenery. You arrive at your hostel, situated in the middle of pure clean-aired countryside and try not to let that earlier felt thrill transform into a hurricane of enthusiasm when you notice the picturesque view of County Wicklow surrounding you. It is a twenty minute walk to the local pub in the neighbouring village of Enniskerry. After enjoying a Guinness or two in this quaint village, you catch a taxi back to the hostel and find yourself caught in an informative gossip session with the taxi driver. He has a melodic voice that dips and soars in just the right places. You wouldn’t much mind if he were reading from a book on the history of world sewer systems.
“Ah yer see now,” He says, “Those O’kinnery’s of Enniskerry have the luck of Riley. Did y’know they’ve been messing with their money like it’s no one’s business. And the eldest O’Kinnery, he was involved with the daughter of the local policemen, absolutely loaded they are too.”
At this point of conversation you begin to wonder when you will discover something new about the place. So far everything seems to be as those others said it would be. There is an endless stream of tranquil paddocks, no shortage of fluffy grey-white sheep and friendly locals who gossip shamelessly about the members of their local community.
The next day, after an uninterrupted sleep, it’s on toward Roundwood. There’s no denying that the terrain is exquisite. There are scenic waterfalls plunging from the midst of a green forest, cliff-dropping views of lakes and deer springing out and disappearing before you have the chance to blink. You spend half an hour trying to tiptoe through the darkest part of the forest to get another glimpse of them. The rain is tumbling down in a thick sheet, creating a curtain of mist over all that you see. At this moment you forget to notice anything other than the magic that is happening in front of you.
You enjoy a picnic lunch on a rock in the middle of a rapid running lake. The rain is bucketing down in a dense tumble but you relish in the wildness of it all. Around you is a 360° view of green hills, interrupted by stone walls. There is every shade of green. Your cheeks are now stained bright pink but all that matters is the glowing warmth that the beauty of this scenery creates.
But nothing is more rousing than the memorial of J B Malone, an Irish walking fanatic and the man who created this magnificent walk. You feel momentarily trapped in an all-encompassing sensory overload. Your ears are overwhelmed by the whisper of the Irish wind, you can taste the moistness of the ground below you, your eyes are gripped by the vivid earthy colours, you can smell the freshness of the lake below and if you reach out you can almost touch it. You stare at the scene before you and silently thank this Irish bloke for chiseling out the highlights of this county so you might experience it.
After spending a night in the small Irish village of Roundwood at a tranquil bed and breakfast called The Skylark’s Rest, you surge onwards. You had a dreamy sleep, thanks to Sinéad, the owner, who flaunted you with the famous Irish hospitality. The ground is flat, and the surrounding landscape is dotted with sheep and cows, grazing restlessly and barely batting an eyelid at your raincoat-clad figure passing directly by. You try not to whimper too much when forced to walk past a particularly menacing looking cow that is definitely considering you for its next meal. You climb over high fences and land ankle deep in muddy potholes. The sky is a threatening dark grey, withholding its wrath for only moments to let you take refuge under a small shelter. You watch as the rain violently attacks the distant fields. It sends electric shocks down your spine and again fills you with that thrill. You almost want to run out in the midst of it, throwing your arms out wide.
It is only another six kilometres to the historical village of Glendalough. The weather is unpredictable and you spend periods of time crouching underneath trees to avoid the worst of the downpour. The clouds here are intimidating, and you slowly become accustomed to reading the weather based on the colour of the sky. You start to notice that the landscape is much more than shades of green. It paints a picture of raw nature, with browns, greys, greens and blacks. You are overwhelmed by the site of the historical Glendalough ruins rising next to the lake in the distance. Glendalough is known for its medieval monastic settlement that was founded in the 6th century.
You spiral down the great valley to the village of Glendalough, past the tacky vending carts selling everything from hot chips to gimmicky souvenirs. For the first time in days, you are aware of tourists. There are buses galore, and a string of raincoats following like obedient ducklings behind their tour guides. You pass through the shards of a broken stone archway and are greeted by the haunting site of the ancient ruins. The gravestones are slanted and flowers have climbed them like ivy. It feels like you are standing on a historical set, surrounded by the lush Irish landscape and the crisp blue-grey lake. You find yourself reading the words on the gravestones, wondering about the people who spent their lives in this magnificent Wicklow County. The past two days have been the equivalent of two weeks in a spa resort – the fresh air filling your lungs and the constant bursts of rain making you feel alive.
The next day is spent exploring the ruins and continuing on toward Moyne. You have decided to make this the last leg of the walk after hearing from well informed locals that the rest of the way has been flooded due to the heavy rainfall. The walk is intense, up hills and through muddy forests. There is no one else to be seen and the backs of your calves ache with the steepness. You find yourself lost on a few occasions but there is something tranquil about being immersed in a forest. Your shoes are muddy and your heart is light from the exhilaration of the past three days. Still, there is not a soul to be seen. It is just you, your thoughts and the heart of the Wicklow Way.
This leg of the walk concludes through a field of high heather, and along a flat concrete road. You use a stick to take the pressure off your calves and reflect about the last three days. You’ve seen more than you expected. The rain even proved to be much more than you initially thought it would be. It is a welcome addition to the landscape here as it allows everything around you to shimmer under the dim Irish sunlight. That night you drift into a welcome sleep, dreaming of a sea of green fields and brown heathers and listening to echoes of the friendly, melodic Irish accent.
When people ask me my opinion of Ireland, I try to give them a broad answer, an answer that encapsulates the landscape, the people and the feeling of the rain against my raincoat; everything I experienced while walking the Wicklow Way. But, instead, with a faraway look, I usually tell them the same kinds of things. You know, that there’s a sea of green everywhere you look and hardly a day where the touch of rain isn’t felt by the ground.