Bray People - - INTERVIEW -

WICK­LOW is part of the re­gion be­ing pro­moted to tourists un­der the brand ‘Ire­land’s An­cient East’, with an ex­ten­sive cam­paign to bring vis­i­tors to lo­ca­tions scat­tered across Le­in­ster and parts of Mun­ster, from Dun­dalk to Dun­gar­van.

Hill­top Treks tour guide Terry Lambert laughs at the no­tion that he should adopt the an­cient and don a horned Vik­ing hel­met dur­ing his work­ing hours, or maybe dress up in a druid’s cloak. Though he steers clear of such gim­micks, he fully agrees with the mar­ket­ing gu­rus that a feel­ing for the past is valu­able when it comes to bring­ing the coun­try­side to life.

Terry is a man who knows his me­galithic from his ne­olithic, and he is ca­pa­ble of lac­ing his com­men­taries with nuggets of knowl­edge about me­di­ae­val church build­ing or the re­bel­lion of 1798 or Victorian in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment. And the easy-go­ing Dubliner also shares the con­vic­tion of the Fáilte Ire­land ex­ec­u­tives be­hind the An­cient East con­cept that Dublin should be not the be-all-and-end-all for tourists ar­riv­ing in Le­in­ster.

The re­al­ity is that though a very im­pres­sive 22 per cent of for­eign tourists come to the re­gion now be­ing sold as An­cient East, they only do 11 per cent of their spend­ing there. For too many of them, the Wick­low stop is lit­tle more than a cof­fee break on the way to a more sub­stan­tial stop else­where. Brand­ing or no brand­ing, Hill­top Treks has al­ready been do­ing its best to shift the bal­ance by per­suad­ing those who come to Dublin that they need to take a closer look at the moun­tains loom­ing over the city. Terry’s love of Wick­low’s up­lands was first nur­tured by hikes in the hills as a boy scout while he grew up in Dublin, a na­tive of Rath­farn­ham and a mem­ber of the 55th Rath­mines troop. In early adult­hood he ram­bled through some higher ground, ex­plor­ing the Hi­malayas, and work­ing as a moun­tain leader with groups in the South­ern Hemi­sphere. It was in New Zealand par­tic­u­larly that he en­coun­tered the type of treks on which he mod­elled his cur­rent en­ter­prise back home in Ire­land. ‘Most tours take peo­ple to sit in the bus,’ he says – but any­one who signs up with him does not ex­pect to remain passive for too long. ‘We spend as lit­tle time in the bus as pos­si­ble – rain or shine.’

His cus­tomers are more in­de­pen­dently minded trav­ellers, prob­a­bly stay­ing in hos­tels, rather than those who are im­mers­ing them­selves in five star lux­ury ho­tels. They are peo­ple like the Fin­nish cou­ple Jaan Pi­iro­nen and Jukka Ben­na­nen who en­joyed look­ing around the Guin­ness brew­ery well enough but much pre­ferred be­ing out in the hills.

They are among a bus­load brought out from the me­trop­o­lis to En­niskerry, where the rest of the day trip­pers opted to pull on their jodh­purs and go horse rid­ing at Kil­le­gar sta­bles. The Finns pre­ferred to move about un­der their own steam rather than jump into the saddle.

‘This is so green,’ Jukka en­thused as the

se­lect walk­ing party set off into the woods head­ing for Kahy Gal­lagher peak. ‘In Fin­land it is all the one sort of green and it is not such a lovely green.’

The other big point of com­par­i­son be­tween Ire­land and their Scan­di­na­vian home­land they noted with a laugh is that here there are no bears to worry about along the county bor­der be­tween Wick­low and Dublin around the Scalp. Though the forestry and wildlife ser­vice thought­fully pro­vided a pic­ture of a squir­rel on a no­tice­board, the only sig­nif­i­cant sight­ing of fauna amidst the abun­dant flora was a mag­nif­i­cent hov­er­ing raven sil­hou­et­ted black against the not so blue Ir­ish sky.

Terry donned his An­cient Ire­land (if 19th cen­tury qual­i­fies as an­cient) hat to ex­plain the work­ing of the Lead Mines as the land­mark chim­ney of the old smelter was an ob­vi­ous talk­ing point. But he had to be pre­pared to run with what­ever other con­ver­sa­tion points hap­pened to pop up dur­ing the stroll along for­est trails. Top­ics cov­ered in­cluded the links of the Fin­nish lan­guage with Hun­gar­ian and the way that tame ver­sions of so many wild Ir­ish plants such as fox­gloves are to be found in gar­dens around Helsinki.

‘I was do­ing IT and work­ing in an of­fice,’ re­called 47-year-old Terry of his past life be­fore Hill­top. ‘I said I don’t fancy do­ing this un­til I am 60 and that is why I set up the busi­ness.’

It be­gan with just him­self and one minibus but now there are five ve­hi­cles in the fleet and he spends much of his time field­ing calls from cus­tomers and tourists of­fice per­son­nel. Des­ti­na­tions men­tioned around County Wick­low in­clude Pow­er­scourt and Lough Tay, with Glen­dalough ever the top at­trac­tion.

The An­cient Ire­land mes­sage is strong on sto­ry­telling, so his cast of half a dozen guides have to be able to en­ter­tain, with one an ac­tress and an­other a for­mer cir­cus per­former.

‘More peo­ple are walk­ing than ever be­fore,’ Terry en­thuses, ‘and Wick­low is made for walk­ing. The Dutch love it, and the Ger­mans and the Cana­di­ans. They all love to get out of the city. Wick­low is an easy sell. It has so much scenery-wise.’

AT FÁILTE IRE­LAND, Ire­land’s An­cient East di­rec­tor Jenny de Saulles is keen to mine the 5,000 years of his­tory which is such a rich part of Le­in­ster’s her­itage. But she is also mind­ful that vis­i­tors are not look­ing for any aca­demic lec­tures. They are on hol­i­days and their at­ti­tude may be summed up by the tourist who told her re­searchers: ‘Don’t bother me with dates.’

In­stead, they want sto­ries. They want gossip. They want hu­mour. They want to head back home to Ber­lin, Birm­ing­ham, Beijing or wher­ever with some lit­tle nuggets from Ire­land’s past. Terry Lambert is a good man for the nuggets, ready to point his cus­tomers to stone cir­cles be­tween En­niskerry and Round­wood or in­tro­duce them to the Ger­man ceme­tery in Glen­cree.

Wick­low boasts two very sig­nif­i­cant tourist at­trac­tions. Glen­dalough up in the hills has long been a des­ti­na­tion for just about ev­ery vis­i­tor car­ry­ing coach in the coun­try for many years.

In more re­cent times it has been joined on the tour op­er­a­tors’ sched­ule by the Pow­er­scourt house and demesne with their mag­nif­i­cent wa­ter­fall, all on the edge of the greater Dublin ur­ban area.

The idea of the Ire­land’s An­cient East pro­mot­ers is that the big cen­tres can bring busi­ness to the lesser lights. Large signs, each two and a half me­tres high have been erected re­fer­ring peo­ple on from one cen­tre to oth­ers in the re­gion – not only Pow­er­scourt and Glen­dalough but also Kil­rud­dery, the Na­tional Botanic Gar­den at Kil­macur­ragh, Wick­low Gaol, Mount Usher Gar­dens and Russ­bor­ough House.

Terry is happy to hit the well-known des­ti­na­tions but is also likely to pop up any­where along the Wick­low Way, or on the moun­tain­sides east of Hol­ly­wood at a the Piper’s Stones up in the hills.

To­day, he was out with two Finns and an Ir­ish jour­nal­ist out ad­mir­ing the views north across Dublin and then turn­ing to the south east: ‘Bray is where they make the films in Ire­land,’ he pointed to the town, list­ing off some of the movies that have passed through Ard­more, ‘PS I Love You’, ‘Brave­heart’ et cetera.

On this oc­ca­sion, his charges seemed not so much in­ter­ested in mat­ters cin­e­matic as in the yel­low flow­er­ing gorse, which is un­known in Fin­land, and the fraughan ber­ries, which are very com­mon.

‘Walk­ing groups are pop­ping up all over the place – there are three or four in En­niskerry alone,’ mused Terry, aware that the moun­tains are not just for the for­eign tourists.

‘You al­ways meet other peo­ple in the hill walk­ing.’

He sug­gested that all the ac­tiv­ity has to be good for the lo­cal econ­omy and that there is scope for more trails to be pro­moted, such as the 30 kilo­me­tre trek from Glen­dalough to Hol­ly­wood, which is much un­der-used.

Our con­ver­sa­tion came to a halt as the phone rang: ‘Seventy-one Amer­i­can stu­dents? Pick up at O’Con­nell Street or Suf­folk Street? Have you got any walk­ers?’

LEFT: Jukka Pen­na­nen and Jaana Pi­iro­nen with Terry Lambert. RIGHT: David Medcalf with Char­lie. BOT­TOM LEFT: Terry Lambert.

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