Jaunt around Wicklow’s Glacial Lakes

The temptation to run up and down summits befalls most mountain runners. So when a race route suggests running to mountain lakes as opposed to mountain peaks, it’s always work checking out.

The romantically shaped Lough Ouler, the first lake to visit on the Glacial Lakes route.

This year, IMRA released its Glacial Lakes route, a 40 odd kilometer jaunt around 7 of Wicklow’s Lakes. Starting from Glendalough Hotel, it requires runners to reach Lough Ouler, Lough Firrib, Three Lakes, Art’s Lough, Kelly’s Lough, and then the Upper and Lower lakes in Glendalough before checking back in at the hotel.

What makes it more interesting is that it is divided into 4 legs, with teams of 1 to 4 people competing. The race uses chasing starts, with the first team to finish being the winners. Time bonuses depend on the team’s composition. Women get a bonus of 10 minutes for each leg they run. Persons aged over 50 get a bonus of 5 minutes. Persons aged over 60 get a bonus of 10 minutes. Persons aged over 70 get a bonus of 20 minutes. This year, a team of 4 women narrowly edged out Adrian Tucker, a M50 solo runner. He ran faster than them, to complete in 5 hours 52 seconds, but lost out what with all their female bonuses.

Adrian Tucker – recorder of the fastest overall time of 5 hours 52 seconds.

The Glacial Lakes lived up to their name last week when I went for a wander on the race route. Though blue skies graced the day, it made for icy windy weather. The trip to Lough Ouler started out fun, up along the well-trodden St. Kevin’s way. I wonder though how much of the tarmac you should run on before cutting up towards the base of Tonlagee, as the terrain up from the road is really crap all the way.

The rule is that you must touch the water at each designated lake. There must however be a trick to dipping your foot in more efficiently. In most cases I nearly fell over and came close to landing knee deep in the water. Not that it mattered, as the bogs were so wet around the course that my legs were pretty wet throughout the day.

Zoran Skrba negotiating the marshes, heather, and grass that’s abundant on the Glacial Lakes route.

From Lough Ouler, contouring and dropping into the Wicklow Gap is the way to go, with grassy good running all the way. From the Gap, it’s Leg 2 – up to the reservoir via the tarmac (cutting a corners off if you know where), and then a compass job to Lough Firrib. The bogs looked shoe-suckingly deep through this part, making shimmies to the right and left a must. Another compass bearing to Three Lakes through more bogs, and then a manky marsh before following a stream down to Table Track.

Lough Firrib with some shoe sucking bog encircling it.

Leg 3 was when the worst of the weather showed its might. The wind blew bitterly off Lugnacoille as I climbed out of Fraughan Glen towards Art’s Lough. Then the hail started, slanted subtly sideways to slam against my face. The terrain is steep and marshy, with the area around Art’s Lough being totally churned up – perfect for breaking ankles and losing legs. Another quick foot dip, and then it was up the ramp towards Clohernagh, then a contour around 600 metres towards Kelly’s Lough. From there, it was back on to nice grassy running with the odd bit of burnt heather to negotiate.

After Kelly’s Lough, it’s easy enough to scoot along sheep tracks alongside Carrawaystick Brook. Then down the zig zags to the road, and back up the 700 metres to Ballinafurshoge car park.

Glendalough’s Upper Lake – on a lovely picturesque day.

After 30km on soft bog and steep slopes, Leg 4 is a nasty touch. It’s on to fire track using the Wicklow Way most of the way, up and over Mullacor’s shoulder towards Glendalough. For a fresh new relay runner, a lovely leg to run. But for a solo runner, it’s a slog of a 10k. I did a dainty foot dip in both the Upper and Lower lakes before running through the Monastic City and back to the Glendalough hotel. It took me a somewhat respectable 6 hours 43 minutes to complete this ingenious route, clocking in 42.7km with 1,816 metres of climb (my route can be viewed here). Hopefully I’ll be around in Ireland next year to do the proper race and get my 40 minutes worth of bonus points.

As well as being the founder of this excellent race route, all photos are also courtesy of Gerry Brady.

Want to hear more running tales from Ireland? Check out my book, “Mud, Sweat and Tears” with stories from the Mournes and Wicklow Mountains.

5 thoughts on “Jaunt around Wicklow’s Glacial Lakes

  1. Very enjoyable read Moire, got Mud Sweat and Tears for my 50th birthday, and I then started mountain running! ( I blame you) love that book read it twice and still use it for reference

  2. Sounds like a cracking run. Just had a run out to Art’s Cross the other day via Lough Firrib – first time up there at that lake – stunning location. Will take a run up to Lough Ouler next i think.

    1. Its a great route alright. You get to go to Arts Cross on the Art O’Neill challenge, and I visited it on the wicklow round to get a bearing to go to Table Mountain. Great views up there, although terrible terrain!

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