The great Irish long weekend: the east
Wicklow might seem too close to Dublin to be really “away” but less than a hour’s drive from the capital will place you deep in the Garden of Ireland.
Powerscourt Gardens. Photograph: The Irish Times
Brittas Bay. Photograph: The Irish Times
Brittas Bay. Photograph: The Irish Times
Wicklow might seem too close to Dublin to be really “away” but less than a hour’s drive from the capital will place you deep in the Garden of Ireland. Base yourself in the county capital, Wicklow town, and you’ll have all the friendliness of the countryside while surrounded by God’s own playground, the Wicklow Mountains National Park, the gardens of Powerscourt, Kilruddery and Mount Usher, and then all those long stretches of golden, sandy beach.
What to do
Wicklow town itself has great coastal walks, including one leading up to its historic lighthouse, much of the coast around which will be familiar to viewers of TV’s Vikings, shot in part at nearby Ashford Studios. Alternatively, stride out along the Murrough, a 15km wetlands walk and wildlife haven that extends north to Greystones.
Just south of town is Brittas Bay, which heaves all summer long with Dublin families, but which is terrific for walking in all seasons and all weathers (once you bring the right gear). Book a surf or stand-up paddle board lesson, all equipment provided (eastcoastsurfschool.ie and brittasbaysurfschool.com).
On your way there you’ll pass Three Mile Water, home of Lazy Days (lazydays.ie), a classic VW camper van holiday rental company, if you fancy spending your long weekend behind the wheel of something a more interesting than your car. It’s certainly an interesting way to explore the county’s other Hollywood connections, including the Michael Collins Drive, a 72km stretch named for Neil Jordan’s historical movie starring Liam Neeson and Julia Roberts. It takes in the village of Rathdrum, whose heritage square was the scene of the mass rallies in the movie – as well as a video by The Spice Girls. Head out into the countryside to discover Greenane, a farm museum that happens to have a decent maze to get lost in. There’s also a teashop here but for excellent cakes and coffee head to the original Avoca mill in the village of Avoca, where you can also see old style weaving in action.
For aerial adventures check out Gravity (gcforestpark.ie), a high-wire centre 20 minutes down the road in Courtown. For aerial adventures of another kind, continue along the same road to Birdwatch Ireland’s East Coast Nature Reserve (birdwatchireland.ie), in Newcastle village. With fen habitats, water birds and hides in which to get up close and personal with our feathered friends, it’s also a great way to spend a few hours with your own chicks.
Make the most of the Garden of Ireland’s forests too. Hike up the magnificent waterfall at Powerscourt from Djouce Woods, or pit yourself against the orienteering course at Avondale Forest Park in Rathdrum, maps for which are downloadable from the Coillte website (coillte.ie).
If you’re bringing the bikes, take on the mountain bike trail at Ballinastoe Woods. Take a guided walk through the county’s upland highlights with Walkabout Wicklow (walkaboutwicklow.com) or, if you prefer four legs to two, go horse riding Killegar Stables (killegarstables.com) near Enniskerry or at Bonagrew Stables (bonagrewstables.com) near Brittas Bay, perfect for coffee and cakes afterwards at the Bay Cafe (facebook.com/TheBayCafeBrittas).
Make the most of good weather with a boat trip along the coast from Wicklow Boat Hire (wicklowboathire.ie) to see the wonderful seal and seabird colonies.
Or, if the weather’s prodding you indoors, check out Wicklow’s Historic Gaol (wicklowshistoricgaol.com) reputedly one of Ireland’s most haunted buildings, with in-character staff to guide you and creepy adult-only night tours on the last Friday of every month.
WHERE TO STAY The Grand Hotel has free wifi and B&B rates from €40pp. It’s also where almost every community meeting or social event in the town takes place, so you’re pretty much guaranteed a buzzing atmosphere. grandhotel.ie. Book the newly – and beautifully – renovated Bridge Tavern, overlooking the Leitrim River. It has a coffee shop and a book shop. B&B rates from €80 for a double. The food is good and the pub lively. bridgetavern.ie. If you’re on a budget check out Captain Halpin’s Bunkhouse just across the road. The award-winning hostel has en-suite family rooms sleeping four from €68 a night on bank holidays. wicklowtownhostel.ie
WHERE TO EAT For old world charm you won’t beat afternoon tea in the garden at Hunter’s Hotel in Rathnew. Or wander up the road to the Avoca Garden Cafe at Mount Usher for lunch. For dinner, try Penang Garden, a Chinese and Thai restaurant overlooking the river, or book at Bates in nearby Rathdrum for excellent bistro food.
WHERE TO DRINK Phil Healy’s. Friendly pub, good Guinness.
DON’T MISS Sammy the Seal. Forget Fungi, this guy has formed a terrific double act with The Fish Man, a fishmonger on the quays.
DON’T SAY “Wickla.”