IRELAND: Cycling in Wicklow’s wilderness
heart of Wicklow. You leave the forested lanes round Enniskerry to ascend into the rounded Wicklow hills where stone fenced paddocks are dotted with sheep.
Set in a valley between two lakes, Glendalough was founded here in the 6th century and grew to become a Christian monastic city. There are extensive walking trails to the historic remains and round the lakes which is a good opportunity to park the bike and walk.
The Round Tower is eye-catching at 30 metres high, built to last of slate interspersed with granite. You can wander through the ancient Gateway whose walls would have enclosed the sanctuary, on the original flag stone pathways. The largest of the monuments is the Cathedral much of which dates from the 12th and 13th centuries.
Leaving Glendalough, you bike amongst wild mountain scenery on the ancient Military Road, built to allow British troops to access the rebellious tribes of these formerly heavily forested valleys. This road runs north to south through the heart of the Wicklow Mountains for 58 kms and reaches within 20 km of Dublin. It’s amazing how close such desolate, empty wilderness is to Dublin’s doorstep.
Descend from the mountains to roll into a scenic valley for an overnight stop at the pretty village of Aughrim. Its wealth as a granite quarrying and stone-cutting centre shows through Its attractive houses and buildings.
Not far from Aughrim is the village of Avoca which for many years was the setting for the BBC series Ballykissangel. It also has another claim to fame for its local craft of hand-weaving.
Turn east and the route has spectacular views over the rolling farm land out to sea. The ride north along the coast passes beautiful Brittas Bay, where, if you’re brave enough, you can take a dip at this Blue Flag beach.
Wicklow Town is a great place for the last night before returning to Dublin. Although a very friendly town it does have an ominous gaol where you can experience the torture, the cruelty, the cries of the rebels imprisoned there in the uprising of 1798, the hunger and overcrowding and finally the deportation to Van Dieman’s Land. See it all through the eyes of the inmates in a recently developed multimedia journey. You’ll feel like a pint after this one and Wicklow Town has a few visitor-friendly pubs with Irish music.
Guesthouses along the way are warm and welcoming. The Irish treat you like one of the family. The ubiquitous Irish cooked breakfast with home-baked soda bread sets you up for the day. It’s what keeps the starch in your knees and a fullness in your stomach to tackle any terrain.
At the end of a day’s cycling there’s always music and a sing-a-long and visitors are drawn in like old friends. The call it ‘craic’, the Irish word for having a good time.
Above: Biking on a smooth road.