Go Walk: Monastic tour of Glendalough, Wicklow Mountains, Co Wicklow

Glendalough’s valley and hills provide a scenic feast, writes Michael Fewer

Glendalough, Wicklow Mountains

Start and finish: The visitors’ centre car park, Glendalough, Co Wicklow.
Map: OS Discovery 56.
Length: 9km.
Accumulated ascent: 380m.
Terrain: Railway-sleeper paths, rough stoney paths and forestry roads. It can be quite wet in places.

his loop walk goes from the monastic site of Glendalough up into the heights of the Wicklow Mountains for one of the most scenic walks in Ireland. In places the route comes close to high cliffs and so is not suitable for young children.

The walk starts at the Glendalough visitors’ centre. Cross the river by a wooden bridge to the south of the valley and follow a woodland path west. The picturesque, reed-girded Lower Lake and Park Rangers’ house is passed on the right before the route goes left and up a rustic staircase.

The Lugduff Brook comes roaring down on the left in a series of waterfalls, the biggest of which is Poulanass. There used to be only one lake in the valley of Glendalough, but after the last Ice Age, debris brought down by the Lugduff, which was a river at that time, piled up and divided the lake. The oak trees on the mountainside here are the remnants of a great forest that once covered much of Wicklow.

At the top of the rustic stairs follow a forestry road as it bends right and then left, then leave it to go right on to a steep stair of railway sleepers. It’s a good climb, zig-zagging up to the Spink, a rocky promontory.


From here the views are stupendous, back along the valley and its glinting lakes to where ancient churches and a round tower nestle in trees. The mountain opposite is called Camaderry, meaning the curve of the oakwood.

The route continues west with a stupendous drop to the right to the Upper Lake. Just west of the lake is a dramatic geological interface on the steep flanks of Camaderry. Trees and greenery come to an abrupt end where the underlying schist bedrock meets granite.

At the granite end of the valley, great expanses of scree skirt the base of the cliffs, remnants of higher cliffs that used to tower over the valley. The white streaks down the scree are waste material from 19th century lead mines.

The route now climbs a further 150m on to the flanks of Lugduff, before descending intod the Glenealo river valley. Large herds of deer graze these slopes, which are also inhabited by badgers and hares.

The route descends into the valley past mine ruins and crosses the river by a timber bridge before beginning the return journey. The path, rough in places, descends eastwards past beautiful cascades and pools. Look out in wet areas for two insectivorous plants: the sundew and the common butterwort.

A rocky zig-zag mule track leads down to the lower valley where, skirting great boulders, the ruins of the miner’s village and workings are reached. Galena-bearing quartz was discovered in the valley in the early 1800s. Operations to mine and crush it to extract the galena, which contains lead, were carried out, on and off, until the 1920s.

Beyond the mine, the route follows a gravel road to the northern side of the Upper Lake, skirted by a sandy beach, and enters a wood of Scots pine that rings with the songs of the chaffinch and wren. Past the upper car park, where there are refreshments, a boardwalk takes the route past the Lower Lake and back to the starting point.