In the valley of the River Ow
GREAT DRIVES:THINK SCENIC WICKLOW and chances are that the places that come to mind are Glendalough, Sally Gap, Laragh, Luggala and Pollaphuca. But there’s another, different Wicklow, in the south of the county, full of tree-clad valleys, lush fields, high mountains and fast-flowing rocky streams.
It’s a Wicklow away from the tourist routes but no less lovely and our drive today takes us through the heart of some of its most beautiful landscapes.
Aughrim – Irish name Eachdbroim meaning Horse Ridge – nestles where two small rivers, the Ow and the Derry, come together to form the Aughrim River. It’s a pretty place, well cared for by its inhabitants as evidenced by its multiple successes in the Tidy Towns competition. In the town is a striking monument to the men of 1798, who fought a bitter engagement here with the king’s forces, a reminder of this area’s close links with this doomed rising.
We began our journey by leaving the town on the road to the left of the 1798 monument that winds its way to the west of Cushbawn Mountain (400m) and over Macreddin Bridge where it crosses Ballycreen Brook. Almost 3km further along the road turns left at a crossroads leading up the lower slopes of Ballinacor Mountain (531m). Soon the road crosses the upper reaches of the Ballycreen Brook and heads south-west rising all the time to near the summit of Ceolgarrow Mountain (398m). All the way along this portion of the road there are magnificent vistas towards Arklow and the sea in the distance.
Now the road winds north, then west, then north again and finally south-west crossing the Ballinagappoge and Mucklagh Brooks with the peaks of Croaghanmoira (664m) and Ballinacor Mountains to the north-east.
This latter part of this road is heavily wooded but that does not in any way spoil the views, rather, it enhances them. Before long the road descends to run beside the River Ow at the bottom of this delightful valley.
Shortly afterwards we reach a T-junction with the famous Military Road. Turning left an old military barracks comes into view. They were built and manned after the 1798 rebellion in an effort to suppress the many quasi-military groups who were still active in the area.
Shortly after crossing Aghavannagh bridge, turn left onto the road signposted for Aughrim. We’re now heading back towards our starting point at Aughrim but on the other side of the valley of the River Ow.
About 2km along this road we took the right-hand fork. This road does not look promising at first but soon improves and offers very attractive views across the valley and towards the mountains in the background, while the western side of the road is dominated by Coolballintaggart, some 536m high.
Along this road is the tiny hamlet of Ballymanus, birthplace of one of the heroes of the 1798 rebellion, Billy Byrne. I understand that at the farmhouse where he was born he is commemorated by a memorial plaque.
The final part of the road back to Aughrim is through the lower reaches of this very attractive wooded valley. All too soon we reach the end of our exploration.
This is a wonderful area to explore. The roads are excellent, the towns – Aughrim, Woodenbridge and Avoca – are very pretty, and there is little tourist traffic. For once in this wet summer, the sun shone as we drove showing off this most beautiful part of Wicklow at its best. We left promising ourselves to return soon to explore further.