My alarm went off bright and early on Monday at 5 AM. By 6:15 I was on the Dart and on my way to Bray where I caught the 185 bus to just past Enniskerry at a place called Shop River (no shop or river that I could see). My map of the Wicklow Mountains indicated that I should have been able to catch a couple of old roads over to the Wicklow Way trail and I soon discovered that the roads where indeed old. So old that an amazing amount of vegetation had grown up - much of it the pointy, sticky, and itchy variety. I decided that I'd better backtrack and head down the road where I would join up with the W.W. at a later junction.
As if my sticky incident didn't get my hike off on a bad foot, my backpack (or packpack as Ashlyn is inclined to call it) began to put stress and strain on my upper back and shoulders. I soon decided to discard an old pair of shoes I'd brought in case my cheap hiking boots (more on that later) were to get seriously wet. I left the shoes at the gate of some fancy estate and hoped that the owners might wear a size 13 and could use them while they worked on their garden. It wasn't long before I realized that I might as well put some of my other belongings into a trash bag and stash them in the woods where I could pick them up again on the way back. I recently read a travel article that stated you should always only bring half of what you think you need and as I trekked along in the morning sun, I realized that I had failed to heed this advice and needed to take a load off. I hoped that no one would see me stash my gear, but just as I emerged from the woods a Mercedes drove up and two female hikers from some other European country were dropped off to begin their day in the mountains and glens. Feeling a bit sheepish about leaving my gear in the woods (there was a sign stating that dumping could incur fines up to 1800 Euro) I quickly resumed my way up the trail before they could notice what I had done.
Now that my pack was at a more manageable weight and knowing that I was several hundred meters ahead of the Euro chicks, I began to take in the dramatic landscapes of rugged mountains and sweeping glens. I've always found energy in nature and I love to spend time in conversation with God while I walk through his creation. The W.W. provided me with just the setting and solitude I had been desiring over the past few weeks, so my God and I walked through the hills together.
After crossing the Glencree River and passing through the Crone Woods up past the Powerscourt Waterfall, I hit the exposed moorland of the Heather Deserts. I sat and enjoyed my lunch of almonds, bananas, apples, and raisins while overlooking Dublin Bay to my north, the Irish Sea to my east, and the rolling pastureland of County Wicklow to my south. To the west sat Djouce Mountain (pronounced juice) at 733 meters (or 2,400 feet). The peak of Djouce is technically off the W.W. trail, but as they've said about Everest, since it's there it's meant to be climbed. At the top I ran into another couple of Europeans (I'm guessing Dutch or German based on their accents). We took photos of each other (well, for each other) and about 5 minutes after hitting the top, I was on my way back down to the trail.
I passed over White Hill before descending into the Luggala Valley. The view of Lough Tay which sits at the bottom of the glen is one of the most dramatic I've seen in all of Ireland. The lake gets its name from the Gaelic word for hot. Trust me, there's nothing hot about this lough, but the name refers to the fact that the water never freezes in the winter due to all of the eroded peat floating throughout.
After hitting the R759 for about a kilometer, I entered into another wooded area that sits above the Luggala Valley. At this point I really began to feel the strain of the days journey. I had bought a cheap pair of hiking boots almost a year ago, but had only once worn them on a long hike. That day my feet were killing me by the end of it, so what possessed me to wear them on the W.W.? I'm not sure. But I was regretting that decision at about 1:00 yesterday afternoon. By 2:30 I had lumbered into the village of Roundwood and began my search for my B&B. My feet were absolutely throbbing from my 18 and 1/2 mile hike and I was beginning to wonder how I was going to do another several miles over the next two days.
I finally found my B&B on the south side of the village (you wouldn't have thought that it would be that hard in a village the size of Roundwood), but just my luck, the owners were not at home. So I hid my pack next to their tool shed and went back into the village to find some refreshment. While I sat sipping my drink at one of the local establishments, an older gentleman sat down next to me and asked me about my t-shirt. He had noticed the Bible verse on the back (1 John 2:24). We introduced ourselves to each other and Tom told me about how he had married and Irishwoman and moved to Roundwood from Liverpool, England. He explained how he's been involved with a spiritual renewal movement and he was interested in my faith. After telling him about our work in Ireland, I let him know about my W.W. explorations and that I was meant to be staying at a B&B on the south side of town. "Oh, that would be John and Ann's place", Tom responded. "I'll give 'em a ring for you, they're also involved in this spiritual renewal movement."
After finishing my drink and my conversation with Tom I walked back up to John and Ann's place and this time they were there to greet me at the door. I spent a long time chatting with John about genetics, D.N.A., and ancestry. John had started this conversation by telling me how all of the Bradys and Connallys in the area had been marrying each other over the past century or so. He figured it was because of a shared spark, a sort of connection passed on through their D.N.A. I quietly figured it was simply down to a reduced dating, and thereby a reduced gene pool. That same thing seems to happen in Arkansas and we Texans call it what it is, inbreeding.
I later mentioned to John that Tom had told me a little bit about the spiritual renewal movement happening in Roundwood. John explained how a few people in the village had really began to take faith seriously and were committed to re-evangelizing the area. I let him know about the work we're involved in Dublin. We wished each other well in our respective areas and I went upstairs to take a much needed shower. After chatting on the phone with Juli, I stumbled (literally) back into the village for a meal at the Roundwood Inn. The place was quaint, the staff were friendly, and my baked chicken and chips was most delicious.
After hobbling back to the room around 8:30, I began to think about how I might change my route to make the next two days more realistic. With sore feet, a sore knee, and the same old cheap hiking boots my planned 35 miles over the next two days weren't going to happen. By the time I was in bed I had decided on hiking into Laragh on Tuesday and then catching the bus back to Dublin on Wednesday. As my feet and knees continued to throb through the night, I edited that plan and decided to catch the bus to Dublin from Roundwood on Tuesday. I love to hike, but I prefer to do it when I can enjoy it and not just get through it.
So this morning I woke up, enjoyed my full Irish breakfast with John and Ann, and then caught the St. Kevin's bus back to Bray where I jumped on the Dart and before too long was back in Raheny. My tennis shoes might still be at the entrance to the estate near Shop River and my bag of belongings is somewhere out in the woods near Knockcree Hill. I don't think I'll make a special trip to retrieve either one, but the next time I'm in the area, I may see if my stuff is still there. Unless you beat me to it. - Shay