Circuits of Glendalough and Glenmacnass

I had two days free in Ireland to do whatever I wanted. So, of course, I went running in the Wicklow Mountains. What with having no car of my own, I took the 11.30am St. Kevin’s bus to Glendalough from Dublin’s Dawson Street. I plonked my bags into the nearest bed and breakfast, grabbed my mountain shoes, and sprinted out the front door.

Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains - courtesy of Donal Hunt

My plan was to run around the two valleys that merge around the town of Laragh. Day 1, I wanted to navigate my way around Glendalough and visit my old summit haunts. Day 2, I planned to retrace my steps around the valley of Glenmacnass, the infamous Lenister League racing path.

The weather was perfect – blue skies, a hint of warmth, making Ireland look its very best. The weather in turn attracted tourists galore. They swarmed around the Glendalough paths as I quickly made a beeline for Camaderry. But as soon as I hit the slopes, the tourists disappeared, and I had the whole mountain to myself.

The ridge up Camaderry. Courtesy of Wicklow Walks.

The last time I went up Camaderry was during the Wicklow Round back in 2009. I scaled it at 1 O’clock in the morning by the light of a single headlamp. It was hard not to reminisce as I went up its slopes again. And all I could think was, God I must have been really fit back then, as I struggled to catch my breath. I’ve been doing far too much running on flat sandy paths in Cambodia it seems.

From Camaderry North, I cut off the path and headed southwest, down to the Glenealo River. It was fun to be back once more on boggy, marshy, grassy, uneven ground which Ireland is so famous for. I took the bridge and headed up the boardwalk towards the Spink. But instead of returning to Glendalough, I continued my circuit from Prezen Rock, to Mullacor and Derrybawn before finding my way back to Laragh via forest shortcuts.

Day 2 was a 21 odd kilometre tour of Glenmacnass. The last time I’d been up Brockagh was a fine summer’s evenings two years ago whilst marking an IMRA mountain race. It was good to be back again.

Tonlagee from Brockagh summit.

I continued on, up the steep climb of Tonlagee, before taking a bearing off the top to send me whizzing down the slopes to Glenmacnass waterfall. Boggy, bouncy runs don’t come better than this. Crossing the main road, I headed up Scarr. It was difficult to recognise it what with its burnt heather and multiple sheep paths everywhere. And then the long, lovely run down towards Paddock Hill where I ran into 50 odd French students hiking the Wicklow Way (who then proceeded to shout “Allez, Allez, Allez” after me).

Glenmacnass Waterfall - Courtesy of geography.ie

It began to rain. But I had my mountain running fix, so called into the local shop for some shelter and a drink. Just as I came out, Grainne, a fellow mountain runner who I hadn’t seen in years, appeared out of nowhere on her road bike. The world is far too small a place! After catching up on all her news, I disappeared back to Dublin and back to Phnom Penh the next day.

After visiting over 40 countries around the world, and having run up and down many mountains, there’s still something about mountain running in Ireland that tugs tightly at my heart strings. I was happy to have my two days of mountain running, but still hold out for many more.

Want to read more about the Wicklow Round, a long distance endurance challenge around the Wicklow Mountains? Check out my book, “Mud, Sweat and Tears”.

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