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Trip Report Part 1: County Wicklow (14-18 September, 2009)

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Trip Report Part 1: County Wicklow (14-18 September, 2009)

On my previous trip to Ireland, I fell in love with the Glendalough area. On that trip I stayed in Laragh at the Glendalough Hermitage for 2 nights in February, 2009 and had 1 full day to explore Glendalough…in the snow!

Transcendent!

But more than a little rough as far as the hiking…

This part of my trip was about returning to Glendalough, but also exploring more of County Wicklow. See the first 5 replies below for a day by day breakdown.

Keith

Trip Report Part 2: Dublin Part 1 (18-21 September, 2009) is in the Dublin Forum.

Trip Report Part 3: Cork (21-23 September, 2009) is in the Cork Forum.

Trip Report Part 4: Dublin Part 2 (23-29 September, 2009) is in the Dublin Forum.

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1. Re: Trip Report Part 1: County Wicklow (14-18 September, 2009)

Monday, 14 September

POWERSCOURT, KILRUDDERY and NATIONAL GARDEN EXHIBITION

My flight to Dublin from Chicago on Aer Lingus arrived quite early. While we were scheduled to arrive at 8:30am, I was actually standing in the arrivals hall by 8am. It helped that I had no checked baggage. (I was surprised to find out that my bag, which dimension wise was in bounds for carry on, was also quite close as far as weight…13.3 pounds…just 3 tenths of a pound over…the Aer Lingus attendant at check in said I was close enough and let me carry on…I plan to pack just a bit lighter and wear just a bit more…my coat was in my bag…in the future to make sure I can always carry on with Aer Lingus!)

First stop was the ATM. I had contacted my bank alerting them that I would be using my ATM/debit card in Ireland and also to increase my daily limit. That way my bank wouldn’t “help” by cancelling my card due to unexpected use AND I could decrease the number of times my bank would slap on an “other bank’s atm” fee. (I also had alerted my credit card company, but I ended up using it fairly seldom.)

Loaded up with Euros, I met up with my friend, Rick, who lives in Maynooth and was joining me for the first day. He had taken the train and then bus to meet me at the airport despite my suggestion that I pick him up at his house in Maynooth. Picked up my rental car at Hertz (pre-booked through Journey through Ireland) and we were on the road to Powerscourt by 9am.

POWERSCOURT HOUSE AND GARDENS: I had decided to visit Powerscourt first since I had read that the ball room and the garden rooms were only open on Sundays and Monday mornings. Well, they were a non-event. Rick and I spent 5 minutes there…at most. I suppose if you’re already there when they’re open, you should walk through them, but I wouldn’t make a special effort to go on those days to see them. The interior of the House really lacks interest. Just shops and cafés (although those might have interest in their own right). The Gardens on the other hand? Spectacular. I particularly enjoyed the Triton Fountain, the Japanese Gardens, the Tower and the Walled Gardens. Also fantastic were the views OF the house, especially from near the Triton Fountain. We ended our time at the Terrace Restaurant. I had a scone (excellent), tea and an orange drink for €8.40. Overall, while I’d say that Powerscourt is really worth seeing, I wouldn’t call it a “must see”. Visiting the Gardens cost €8 each. http://www.powerscourt.ie/gardens/

We left Powerscourt about noon and headed towards Kilruddery House and Gardens just south of Bray. Since the opening time wasn’t until 1pm, Rick directed me to a place where I could see GREYSTONES from above and then we headed to BRAY to check out the walk by the sea. Bray struck me as a little bit tired, run down and somewhat tacky. Maybe it feels different in the summertime.

KILRUDDERY HOUSE AND GARDENS: We got there a bit before 1pm and paid for the Garden and House Tour (€10 each). The Gardens had a couple interesting parallel ponds, some nice, but not extensive, formal gardens, some diagonal hedges forming a maze like area that wasn’t actually a maze and a secret garden within some massive hedges that were 20 feet tall or more. After taking some tea (again), we went on the House Tour at 2pm. Somewhat interesting, nice objects, but short. All in all I found Kilruddery to be okay to visit but somewhat underwhelming. (It WAS interesting to see the medieval camp being built on the far end of the property for shooting of some scenes in “The Tudors”.) http://www.killruddery.com/

Around 2:30pm, following the short tour, we headed further south to Kilquade, less than 10 miles away to get to the…

NATIONAL GARDEN EXHIBITION CENTRE: Here there are 24 show gardens created by different individuals and landscaping companies. I couldn’t help but think after awhile that there was a level of sameness: throw together a water feature, statues, seating, rocks, plants, gravel and bam! Show garden! (I know, I know, good design is more than that.) I could see where this place is a really good idea source for people putting together their own garden, but I felt a little duped paying out €5 to see what amounted to advertising…pretty advertising, but still... http://www.gardenexhibition.ie/

By this time, around 4pm, I started to feel jet lag creeping up on me. I had hoped to get to Mount Usher Gardens today, but that would have to wait until another time since I really had only 1 more “safe drive” in me. So we drove the 45 minutes or so back to Maynooth to Rick’s house where I was staying the night with him and his family. Forced myself to stay up for awhile. Jacki’s fantastic homemade pot pie dinner certainly made it easy. Got on the phone and confirmed my arrival on Tuesday at Glendalough Hermitage. Got online and booked my train tickets to Cork for the next week and paid my €3 M50 toll. Went to bed exhausted at 8:45pm.

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2. Re: Trip Report Part 1: County Wicklow (14-18 September, 2009)

Tuesday, 15 September

EXPLORING WICKLOW

10 hours later at 6:45am, I woke up ready to go. What jet lag?!

After a nice relaxed start in the morning and a great chat with Rick and Jacki, I got off about 9:45am and headed towards Laragh. I took a nice drive going the “back way” over Wicklow Gap. I gotta say people drive crazy fast on these narrow roads with no room to maneuver! So I did a lot of slowing down and pulling over. Not a problem, though.

WICKLOW GAP: Stopped at the Gap to take some pics. Turned my camera on…ERROR! I admit that I panicked. Here I am, only on day 2, and it looks like my camera is toast! Fortunately, it turns out that it was just having problems if I turned it on while it was set in manual mode. So throughout my 2 weeks, I just turned my camera on in automatic and then switched to manual…no more problems. So I got my pics and headed on to Laragh.

Arriving at 11:30am and hungry, I went to the WICKLOW HEATHER where they serve breakfast until noon. Had the Full Irish and tea for €10.95 plus tip. Quite good. thewicklowheather.com/html/the_restaurant.ht…

FIGURE EIGHT WICKLOW DRIVE: After breakfast/lunch at 12:15pm, I began an extended drive through Wicklow, one that I had wanted to do back in February, but the snow prevented it. I had worked out a sort of “figure-eight” way to drive that would let me see some of the beautiful places in the Wicklow mountains. This is where good maps come in. I didn’t just have the excellent Ordnance Survey Complete Road Atlas of Ireland. I needed/wanted more detail. The scale of the Road Atlas is 1:210,000 BUT the maps in the Ordnance Survey Discovery Series are on a scale of 1:50,000. I had with me maps #50, #56 and #62 which covered most of Counties Dublin and Wicklow. Yeah! No GPS for me!

From Laragh, I got on a third class road that ran roughly parallel to and west of the R755 towards Roundwood. Driving on this and other third class roads was great in that I met almost no traffic. But I had hoped that these roads, higher up in elevation, would give great views. Not to be. Hedges, stone walls and trees obscured most of the views of the landscape. Next time I’d probably just stick to the R755. Still it was fun and feels like you’re driving a lot faster than you are!

While driving on this first of the third class roads, I tried to see Lough Dan, but I couldn’t find any public access. So I moved on northward to the R759 and headed west (middle part of the “figure-eight”). What a spectacular drive. The best was the views of Lough Tay along the way. I stopped several times at the scenic overlooks and available parking to walk and get closer views (and pics). This is where I began to think of Ireland as having a “soft beauty”. Colors are muted. It’s often cloudy or raining. The hills and mountains are rounded as opposed to jagged. I found this idea of “soft beauty” to stay true as I continued on my drive through Sally Gap, north on Military Road (R115) and then east on a third class road above Glencree Valley on the south side. The fields of heather and the bogs and the views of the valley were all this “soft beauty”.

The third class road on the south side of the Glencree Valley turned out great; although I don’t know what I would have done if I’d met any traffic. It ended right at the entrance to POWERSCOURT WATERFALL, my next destination on the drive. I paid the €5 at the entrance and drove in. The waterfall is really quite a stunner if overpriced. It would be a great place for a picnic, though, as several people were doing. I was fortunate to have time at the base of the waterfall essentially alone. (One of the nice things about this place is that you can get right up next to the waterfall.)

Continuing on my drive, it was time to head back south…again on a third class road parallel to and west of the R755. Same issues as before as far as views, so again, the R755 would have been a better choice. Got to the R759, this time from the north side, headed west again to Sally Gap (what a great road to “have” to drive twice). This time I turned left and headed south on the R115 looking for GLENMACNASS WATERFALL. When I got to the parking area, I was very disappointed. The “waterfall” seemed to be little more than some minor rapids with rocks in a creek. It was lovely and I walked around for a bit but then decided to move on and continue driving.

And then…wow! The land fell away to the right and suddenly there were great views of a magnificent waterfall on my right. Another stunner. The creek just had to meander a bit farther to get to the elevation fall. Unfortunately, the parking is not next to the waterfall. The best views are on the narrow road descending to the valley below where the waterfall was, well, falling. There are some places on the road with room for a single car to pull to the side so as to grab some better views. At one of them, there is a purpose built gate in the fence where you can step through and grab some fantastic pictures of the waterfall. (There is also a sign with a disclaimer that the property owner would accept no liability!) Really glad I saw this waterfall, although the views coming from the south would have been better.

GLENMALURE VALLEY: I got back to Laragh about 3:30pm. Since I wasn’t expected at the Glendalough Hermitage until 5pm or so, I drove on to nearby Glenmalure Valley. I noted the Glenmalure Lodge on my way into the valley and planned to have tea there on my way back. Nice drive down to the end of the valley and I quite enjoyed the view of the Carrawaystick Brook and Waterfall along the way. I ended up taking a walk on a trail that started at the brook and went on a zig zag path well up the hillside and then began moving further into the valley away from the brook and waterfall. Great views of the valley from on high. Alas, I didn’t have time to make it to the top since I needed to check in back in Laragh, but this trail comes highly recommended. Tea also had to wait as I drove back to Laragh.

I checked into the GLENDALOUGH HERMITAGE (for the next 3 nights) a bit after 5pm, washed up and returned to the WICKLOW HEATHER for a meal around 5:40pm. Turns out that the lunch menu is used until 6pm, which was nice for saving a bit of money. I had the batter fried haddock, chips, salad and tea for €16.25 plus tip. Really, really good. I bought some groceries at McCoy’s across the street for breakfast and snacks (the hermitages at Glendalough Hermitage are self-catering) and then settled in for the night at the hermitage. www.hermitage.dublindiocese.ie/home.html

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3. Re: Trip Report Part 1: County Wicklow (14-18 September, 2009)

Wednesday, 16 September

MOUNT USHER, KILMACURRAGH and GLENDALOUGH

Another full night’s sleep, waking up fairly late (after 9am). After getting ready for the day and having some breakfast, I hit the road at 10am for Mount Usher Gardens.

MOUNT USHER GARDENS: I arrived right at 10:30am when they opened. One of the best gardens I have ever seen with extensive plant diversity from all over the world, especially the trees. I’m sure I enjoyed the gardens more by NOT seeing them on my jet lag day on Monday. My pictures could not capture the beauty here for this one is a “surrounding beauty”. I’d call this a County Wicklow “must see” and enjoyed it far more than Powerscourt. I ended up spending about 1½ hours strolling through the gardens and could have spent more time. The gardens cost €7.50. After the gardens, I went to the airy Garden Café for tea and a duo of Rhubarb-Cream and Blueberry-Apple Crumbles. Fantastic, although the tea was a bit stingy (less than two cups in the pot). Cost €8.65 plus tip. http://www.mountushergardens.ie/

As I was leaving, I’m glad that I asked how to get to Kilmacurragh Arboretum. Even though my maps were good, the arboretum didn’t appear on them. I just knew that the address was in Kilbride. Well, the arboretum is not actually IN Kilbride so these directions were essential. The helpful ticket lady showed me on a map where the arboretum actually was and told me how to know 1) when I was almost at the turn off from the N11, 2) when I was at the turn off and 3) when I’d gone too far.

I went too far.

But thankfully I had my handy map #62. I now knew exactly where I was, headed a bit back up the N11 and then took some back roads to the Arboretum. Quite a lovely drive, actually.

KILMACURRAGH ARBORETUM: The Arboretum is free and I spent a leisurely 45 minutes walking around. I especially enjoyed the Yew Walks and the Double Borders. However, this is a place that is in process. When the newer plantings come in, this will be quite the destination. Not quite yet, though. www.botanicgardens.ie/kilmac/kilmhome.htm

Took the back roads to Rathdrum (using my great map!) and then headed on the R755 towards Laragh. This drive is particularly beautiful and worth taking in its own right. Just before Laragh, I turned right for Clara and then (using my great map!) worked my way around Trooperstown Hill including some gravel roads. The drive was quite worth it with some fabulous views. The one lane bridge at Clara is quite picturesque. On reaching Laragh I went on through to Glendalough.

GLENDALOUGH: I first went to the Visitor’s Centre. This is a Heritage Ireland site run by OPW. I still had my Heritage Ireland card from my visit to Ireland earlier in the year, so I saved the €3 entrance fee for the Visitor’s Centre. I had tried to visit in February, but the snow had shut it down while I was in the area. There’s a nice video on early monasticism and other sites in Ireland. I spent about 45 minutes here before moving on to the Monastic City, which is free. Spending another 45 minutes there, I was struck, again, with how evocative a place is Glendalough. It was nice to see the ruins in good weather, but nothing will touch the opportunity to see it snow covered this past February. heritageireland.ie/en/…

I left the Monastic City in time to get to the WICKLOW HEATHER for “lunch”…got there at 5:45pm. Bangers and Mash. LOVE IT. First time I’d had it. 3 pork based sausages over mashed potatoes with herbs and an onion sauce. Perfect. Had tea as well and THEIR pot serves nearly 3 cups. €13.25 plus tip.

After dinner, again in for the night at the hermitage.

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4. Re: Trip Report Part 1: County Wicklow (14-18 September, 2009)

Thursday, 17 September

GLENDALOUGH

I believe the phrase is that I had a bit of a lie in. Didn’t get out of bed until after 10am. Nice. I wandered up from the hermitage to St Kevin’s Church and walked the lovely meditation gardens and the labyrinth they have there. Just before noon I went to the parish office hoping to catch Margaret (the person I had been in e-mail correspondence with), which I did. We had a lovely chat. We discovered that we both had spent some time in Tanzania. Sister Kathleen popped in and said hello. I booked and paid for my NEXT stay at the hermitage for February, 2010. (All those Euros from the ATM had to go somewhere!)

About 12:30pm I drove over to ROUNDWOOD for a light lunch. I went to the ROUNDWOOD INN and had a very good cream of seafood soup, brown bread and tea. (Tea may have just been two cups in the pot, but they were very big cups!). Nice place with a fire going in the hearth. €7.75 plus tip.

GLENDALOUGH: After lunch I drove back to Glendalough and headed for the parking by the upper lake. Paid €4. (It’s free to park by the Visitor’s Centre and the Monastic City.) Walked over to the edge of the stunning upper lake. The reflections of the surrounding hills/mountains in the water can take your breath away. But not in the way of what was to follow…

After the lake, I stopped by the Information house and bought a copy of “The Walking Trails of Glendalough” for a very cheap 50 cents. Then, to the trails! I first headed up the pink trail to Poulanass Waterfall. Quite lovely. At the top of this trail, there are options for a variety of trails. I chose the blue Spinc trail. I wanted to get a view of the whole valley and this was the way.

And then it began. Easily 6,000,000 steps up to the top. There was me moaning about how overweight and out of shape I am. There was the 150 school kids on an outing coming down from the top and “forcing” me to take a break while they passed. There were the short videos I took on my Flip with no sound but deeply labored breathing.

And then, all of a sudden, there was the top.

And the view. The upper lake. The lower lake. The monastic city. The entire valley. My breath was simply doubly taken away. So completely worth it for this overweight, out of shape man.

At the top I met a woman from Dublin and her visiting friend from London. We each used each other’s cameras to take the requisite pictures. I took theirs. They took mine. Mine is rather…um…er…sweaty.

After getting my breath back, I walked back down what seemed like 100 or so steps to the bottom of the blue trail. After starting back on the pink trail, I then veered off on the brown Poulanass and St Kevin’s Cell trail. Great “soft beauty” views of the upper lake through the trees and the intriguing Reefert Church near the end of the trail.

When I was truly at the bottom, I returned to the Information house. Because I had a question.

Turns out that it’s a bit over 600 steps to the top.

After my 2+ hours of hiking (I know…not really long), I decided to take tea at the GLENMALURE LODGE. Drove to Glenmalure and had a Toasted Special with chips (toasted ham, cheese, tomato and onion sandwich, a few chips and small salad) and tea. Place has a lot of atmosphere and plenty of places to eat/drink outside if you want. €8.50 plus tip. http://www.theglenmalurelodge.com/

Back to Laragh and in early for the night at the hermitage.

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5. Re: Trip Report Part 1: County Wicklow (14-18 September, 2009)

Friday, 18 September

RUSSBOROUGH and CASTLETOWN

Checked out (i.e. left my key) of Glendalough Hermitage and hit the road for Russborough House about 8:30am. I drove over the Wicklow Gap and arrived about 9am. Since the house itself doesn’t open for tours until 10am, I walked the demesne, which is essentially just a walk around a sheep pasture. Took about 30 minutes but not much to it. I think it was Suzy_flag who posted a link to an article about the sad shape of the demesne. It really IS in sad shape. However…

RUSSBOROUGH HOUSE: The house itself is awesome. I paid €10 and at first I was the only one on the first tour of day. We were shortly joined by two more. This was a GREAT tour. We saw 7 rooms on the ground floor of this Palladian mansion as well as the grand staircase. On the first floor we saw the landing plus one of the double bedrooms with its outer room, changing room and bathroom. The house is full of great paintings, furniture, collectibles, etc. mostly from Lord Alfred Beit and his wife (he died in 1994 and she in 2005). However, most of the best paintings are in the National Gallery in the Beit wing. The best part of the house was the ceilings and the phenomenal plaster/stucco decorative work by the Lafranchini brothers. Every room was different and quite elaborate. They really are amazing. http://www.russborough.ie/

Then began my worst drive. Next up was Castletown House (which is in County Kildare so technically not part of my County Wicklow adventure…ah…close enough). Given my weeklong success driving the back roads of County Wicklow, I decided to take the back roads from Russborough to Castletown. Big mistake. The route went off the edge of my map #56 before returning on to map #50. But no problem. I thought that’d be okay since I did have the excellent atlas of all Ireland. I’d just use it to navigate that portion of the 19 miles to Castletown.

1½ hours later.

I’d driven bumper to bumper through Naas…twice. I’d found Castletown in Celbridge only to discover that I was on the “wrong side” with no parking. I’d gotten to the “correct side” by crossing the M4 and actually going through Leixlip. I really could have used maps #49 and #55.

But at least 1½ hours later I was parking the car and walking up to the house.

CASTLETOWN HOUSE: Another Palladian mansion, but this one is a Heritage Ireland site operated by OPW. I signed up for the 1pm tour using my Heritage Card (saved €4.50). While waiting for the tour to start, I went to the café for tea and a scone with jam and cream. €4.15 plus tip. At 1pm I showed up for the tour and discovered that, again, I was the only one. Stayed that way this time. I was disappointed to find out that due to the concerts occurring over the weekend by Camerata Ireland, the tour had been shortened. The first floor would not be included which also eliminated the Long Gallery, a supposed highlight of Castletown. The Long Gallery was being used both for rehearsals and concerts. I thought I’d still go on the tour, though, since who knows when I’d ever get back to Castletown.

The tour? It was excellent. Even though I was the only one, my guide didn’t stint on presentation. She showed me the basement and most of the ground floor…and then, even though she wasn’t supposed to, she went ahead and walked us on up to the first floor. I suppose it’s easier to sneak when there’re just two of us instead of a whole group. She showed me Lady Beit’s boudoir and the bedroom (which is being fixed/redone). Then the best part. During this tour, a string quartet that’s part of Camerata Ireland was playing in the courtyard. That meant that the Long Gallery was not being used at the moment. SO my tour guide snuck us in and she was definitely NOT supposed to do that. The Long Gallery really is the highlight of the house and I’m so glad I got to see it. Castletown also has ceiling work by the Lafranchini brothers, just not as extensive as Russborough. Besides the Long Gallery, I particularly enjoyed the Wood Room (Lord Beit’s study), the map room and the unique print room. The cantilevered staircase was also impressive. heritageireland.ie/en/…

On my way out, I heard the string quartet playing. Turns out it was “Moon River” and I decided it was time to move on. I drove back to my friend Rick’s house in Maynooth.

And thus ends part 1, the County Wicklow portion of my Ireland trip.

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6. Re: Trip Report Part 1: County Wicklow (14-18 September, 2009)

Most enjoyable. I want to go back to Wicklow now!

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7. Re: Trip Report Part 1: County Wicklow (14-18 September, 2009)

A very detailed and helpful report, Keith. I've linked it into the Top Questions about Wicklow section on the County Wicklow Forum so other visitors can access it easily.

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8. Re: Trip Report Part 1: County Wicklow (14-18 September, 2009)

Hi Keith! Thank you very much for your very interesting and detailed trip report. Really enjoyed reading the various sections.

I agree with your comments about Powerscourt House. The house is a bit of a let-down unless you want to do some shopping but the gardens are just glorious.

It's a while since I was in Mount Usher but I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there. The trees are just wonderful.

Russborough House is a jewel and should be on every visitor's must-see list for Co. Wicklow.

Your comments on your climb in Glendalough made me smile but I'm glad that it did take your breath away...

After all that reading I was wondering why you hadn't been to Castletown in Celbridge (after all, it's only about a 10 minute drive from Maynooth...) and YES, there was your post about your visit to this beautiful and historically important house. It's a pity that you had such a meandering route there but it did take you through Leixlip where I live. I am sooo glad that you enjoyed Castletown because 10 years ago I had some modest input into the restoration work there. There were four of us on scaffolding repainting the ceiling in the Long Gallery (that took two weeks alone) and then I was working on other projects in all of the rooms you mention and others that you didn't get to see. I varnished and polished every single panel in the "Wood Room" myself! Your tour guide is to be commended for sneaking you up onto the first floor, a visit to Castletown would not be complete without seeing the Long Gallery. And, of course, Castletown House should also be a must-see for any visitor in the area. There are no formal or even informal gardens but the walk along the Liffey and through the fields is just lovely. My dogs love to run around there.

Now I will have to check out your other threads, I'm sure they'll be just as interesting as the ones so far.

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9. Re: Trip Report Part 1: County Wicklow (14-18 September, 2009)

Hey Clauds! Great to hear about your part at Castletown. Nice work on the "Wood Room" and ceiling in the Long Room!

And I couldn't agree with you more...Russborough and Castletown are both "must see" places in my book. I'm so glad I got the chance to visit both of them...even with the unscheduled detour!

Keith

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10. Re: Trip Report Part 1: County Wicklow (14-18 September, 2009)

Wow tapl, I'm honored...and welcome back!

Keith