The Wicklow Mountains; An Overview
"Tell everybody I'm going away for ten years, I'm going to wander Among the Wicklow hills"
Christy Moore - Among the Wicklow Hills
The Wicklow Hills sprawl! They are Ireland's largest area of continuous upland and cover over 50,000 acres, it flows over into Dublin, Wexford and Carlow.
- Wicklow Mountains National Park (WMNP) was established in 1988, then officially opened in 1991 and is by far the largest of Ireland's six National Parks
- The highest Point in Wicklow is Lugnaquilla (925m), also the highest point in Ireland outside of Co. Kerry. In Scotland it would be considered a Munro (mountain over 3000ft)
Woodlands: native oak, riparian (river bank), wetland woods, mixed woods and conifer plantations
Mountain: blanket bog, peat hags, heath, rock, scree and cliff
Water: Fast flowing streams become major rivers such as the Liffey and Vartry which are both dammed to form reservoirs. The Glenmacneas river forms on the slopes of Mullaghcleevan and is fed by Lough Brook before it cascades spectacularly 80 metres into the Glenmacneas Valley towards Laragh
High altitude corrie and ribbon lakes can also be found in the Wicklow mountains, Lough Bray being one of the best examples
Geology: scree and steep sided glaciated valleys. Schist and granite meet at quartzite bands.
Ancient discoveries and old texts give evidence of prehistoric mining in Ireland as long ago as the second century. More recently, Lead ore has been produced along with limited amounts of copper and silver. 45,000 tonnes of lead, 60% of the total Irish output, was produced in the Glendalough district between 1826 and 1900. There was an Avoca gold rush of 1796 and who knows, the abrasive action of the rivers may yet uncover more minerals!
Three broad parallel valleys run northwest-southeast through the Wicklow Mountains - Glenmalure, Glendalough and Glendasan. Mining took place in all of these valleys. Maximum depth of workings below ground is approximately 400m and over 40km of levels and shafts were driven into the hills.
The Glenmalure Valley is a deep 20km-long glacial valley, one of the longest in the country. There are a number of hanging valleys along each side of Glenmalure (e.g. Fraughan Rock, Baravore Glen), which were formed by feeder glaciers during the last Ice Age. When hiking along these valleys you will witness a wealth of mining heritage that remains, including buildings, waterwheel pits, leats (sort of aquaduct) and dressing floors.
Peatland is the most established habitat in Ireland, with Ireland containing 8% of the world's blanket bog. Covering the “Mountain Blanket Bog'' in Wicklow is a heathery surface which differs from the wispy purple moore grass more typical of bog covering the Atlantic coast.
Mid to late summer is when the fraughan berry ripens.
Reek Sunday or Garland Sunday is when fraughens are traditionally collected. In Celtic times this date marked the end of food scarcity and the approach of the harvest season in early August - known as Lughnasa. Modern day Reek Sunday tradition requires a team of over 300 mountain rescue volunteers, safety staff and emergency personnel to stand by as masses of pilgrims descend on Ireland's holy mountain, Croagh Patrick. The mountains reverence pre-dates Christianity. If you visit a certain neolithic site near Croagh Patrick at a certain time of the year, at sunset the sun appears to roll down the side of the mountain before setting.
Back to Wicklow...
ForestryIreland has the poorest representation in Europe at 10.8%, however forest cover is estimated to be at its highest level in over 350 years. Co. Wicklow accounts for 17.9% of this.
When hiking it’s good to know Coillte has an open forest policy that allows free public access to its 440,000 ha estate. The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) provide access to national parks and nature reserves, and arboreta managed by the Office of Public Works are open to the public. For the private forest estate the decision to allow public access rests with the forest owner, and is provided on a goodwill basis.
It’s also worth noting The Irish government recently (in 2019) allocated €13.6 million to fund over 300km of new mountain bike trails across the island. These are mostly located in conifer woodlands, this means in certain areas that may appear as a hiking trail (even on your map), this may no longer be the case. It’s always worth checking if the area is used for mountain biking or in less visited woods, it’s a good idea to check for tyre tracks. The establish MTB trails in the Dublin/Wicklow Mountains are Ticknock & Ballinastoe.
The Wicklow Round
There is a crazy breed that can sometimes be found in the Wicklow Hills called the ultra trail runner. Mostly found on the mountain trails appearing to carry nothing but a map, compass and a small vest for holding a small few personal items. A grail for some of these non compos mentis is The Wicklow Round.
Founded by Irish Ultra Runner Joe Lalor and first completed by Moire O’Sullivan in 2009, a circular route mostly around the Wicklow Mountains National Park takes in 26 key summits in an anticlockwise direction in under 24 hours (phew..). It’s 100km and totals over 6000 metres ascent! Fastest known time at time of writing this is 15h 04m 30s by Gavin Byrne.
The Wicklow Way
For something with a lesser height gain Ireland's first waymarked trail runs from Marley Park in County Dublin to Clonegal in County Carlow, crossing the Wicklow Mountains covering a distance of 131 kilometres (approx 3,320 m). This is a blog onto itself.
St Kevins' Way
We couldn’t blog about the Wicklow Mountains without mentioning one of its most famous inhabitants. St Kevin is credited with establishing his monastery in the “Valley of Two Lakes”. He had a huge following and some great stories written at a time when words were first finding their way on to paper in Ireland - The Golden Age of Saints and Scholars. One story tells how a bird lays an egg on Kevins hand, which was outstretched in prayer. Kevin, who was very in touch with nature remained in position until the little blackbird hatched! Interpreted by Seamus Heaney in his poem -‘St Kevin and the Blackbird’
View over the Miners Village and Glendalough
People often ask about camping. At the time of writing, camping in the Wicklow Mountains does not require a permit. Camping is not permitted in the Glendalough Valley and you must walk for three hours beyond the valley in order to camp, this is strictly enforced. Campfires are also currently not permitted in the Wicklow Mountains National Park. Always use the principals of 'Leave No Trace'.
Wicklow Legends, The people of the hills
Wicklow has historical characters that come in many forms; saints, scholars, rebels, warriors, lost tribes... The following two have one main commonality, the pastime of climbing hills and mountains.
A journey I travelled many times during my childhood was over the Wicklow mountains via Roundwood and the Sally Gap, (as it was the only route west from our house before Irelands road infrastructure was massively upgraded). There is now a modest car park along this stretch of road called after a man named J.B. Malone. Born to Irish parents in Leeds, he began hiking in Ireland at 18 when he climbed Mountpelier hill to visit the ruins of the Hellfire Club. He went on to walk the length and breadth of the Wicklow Mountains and popularised hillwalking with his show ‘By Meadow and Mountain’ first broadcast by RTÉ and presented by John James Bernard Malone in 1962, see an episode below:
https://www.rte.ie/archives/2017/0816/897847-the-vale-of-avoca/ From 1938 -1975,
J.B. Malone wrote almost 1,000 articles on rambling, walking, cycling or driving to and in the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains inspiring others to take up the pursuit. Whilst working for the National Sports Council he realised his ambition of forming the Wicklow Way, he first proposed a waymarked route through the Wicklow Mountains in 1966. The Wicklow Way was the first waymarked way to be opened in the Republic of Ireland.
Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed was a mountaineer, born in 1860 in Dublin and grew up in Killincarrig, Co. Wicklow. Abandoning the conventions of the time “Lizzie”, as she was known to her friends, left her humble town to move to Switzerland. From here she racked up an amazing catalogue of mountaineering achievements. Finding herself in Chamonix, she climbed two thirds of the way to the top of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps in quote
"high-heeled buttoned boots and shady hats". The following summer she summited, twice!
She went on to summit numerous Swiss peaks later setting her sights on Norway where she put up over 100 ascents, one in every five of these had never been climbed before.
Elizabeth would bring a cumbersome camera on most of her climbs, capturing mountain landscapes up close, making her one of the first female filmmakers and the first mountain film maker ever.
She helped to set up and became the first president of the Ladies Alpine Club in 1907 encouraging women to partake in alpine activities, closing the gender gap and continuing to defy conventions throughout her life. Although she was not the only female alpine pioneer at the time, Lucy Walker (the second president of the female Alpine Club), Fanny Bullock Workman (a high altitude climber), Marie Paradis (first woman to summit Mont Blanc in 1808) to name but a few, Elizabeth was accomplished with an impressive collection of literary work. No doubt her spirit of adventure inspired a generation in what was a male weighted sport and will continue to inspire irregardless of gender or ability. For more on Lizzie follow this link..
“There is no question of beating any one else, as in a race or a game, or of killing an animal or a bird as in hunting or shooting. A mountaineer sets his skill and his strength against the difficulty of getting to the top of a steep peak. Either he conquers the mountain, or it conquers him”
-True Tales of Mountain Adventures By Aubrey Le Blond (Printed 1903)
Walk with us in Wicklow - all of our scheduled Wicklow hikes take you into the National Park.Click here to view our Co. Wicklow hikes
- https://www.wicklow.ie/Portals/0/Documents/Arts Heritage & Archives/Heritage/Natural Heritage/Landscape Geology/County Geological
- Heritage Sites/Wicklow_main_report_and_appendices.pdf