Way Out Wicklow
In preparation for the Sahara hike in November, I decided to do an Irish hike in July. Coming with me was my friend Mick (he calls me Mick, I call him Mick – and we know where we are), who is one of those lunatics who actually enjoy this sort of thing!
Mick’s sister kindly drove us to Clonegal in Carlow and we got out of the car, turned around and started walking back. We had decided to go along “The Wicklow Way” back to Dublin. The Way itself is an actual specific route that is well sign-posted throughout to guide you on your way – or rather it’s an actual specific route that is SUPPOSED to be well sign-posted throughout to guide you on your way. On two occasions the fact that we had a map is why I am here now and able to write this and not playing “Soo-Wee!” with the boys from Deliverance-on-tour.
So we started on Saturday afternoon with high hopes of reaching Tinahely by evening. According to the guide book, Tinahely is the stop-off point on day two – but that’s if you’re hiking for seven days and we had planned on five. This seemed perfectly possible when after only a few hours we reached the road to Shillellagh, which is where you’re supposed to stop on day one. We carried on although we were a bit wary of the fact that so far along the route we had not come across any B&Bs or hostels or pubs (wary and panic-stricken) – or anything remotely resembling civilisation of any kind.
A look at the map showed that we were due to come across a school and a church up ahead. We duly did – a big impressive church; a big impressive school, and a big impressive gap where we had been hoping to see a big impressive village. There was not a sign of life anywhere – but there had been people here once, the big impressive graveyard confirmed this.
We trudged along wearily wary until finally, we saw a house. There was someone sitting on the wall and we approached him for guidance. We explained what we were doing and said we needed a B&B but right now we’d like a pub where we could get some food (honestly, food!). He informed us that the pub marked on our map which was actually on “The Wicklow Way” was a long, long way off and that the only other pub in the other direction was also in fact a long, long way off. We decided to go for it and head for the one on the map and hope they had accommodation there.
This was our first experience of perceptions of distances in Wicklow – “a long, long way off” could be covered in half an hour and I rounded a corner and saw to my delight and surprise – the pub. So surprised was my delight and delighted my surprised that I let out a joyful roar of “Jesus, it’s the pub!” The five people sitting in the beer garden out front burst out laughing at this. And so we have friends for life – the pub didn’t do food (apparently it had only recently started doing toilets) so two of the four – Gerry and Anne – offered to drive us to the nearest town which happens to be where they’re from and which is, of course, Tinaheley. Anne got us set up in a B&B – which has a bar. Wicklow people really are the salt of the earth. Gerry and Anne proved themselves the pepper too when they promised to pick us up in the morning and drop us back to the pub (called “The Dying Cow”, would you believe) so we could carry on from where we stopped!
We checked into the B&B and headed off to get something suitably foul to eat – and succeeded admirably. Mick being both very tired, and one of those strange non-drinking type people decided to go to bed. I decided to go to the bar for one quick pint – always optimistic that one day I will actually do that. Gerry and Anne turned up with a bunch of friends and joined me. Three things happened: the shouting got even louder; I had an absolute ball; and Mick, trying to sleep directly above us, failed.
In the morning we called at the local shop to stock up with sandwiches for the day ahead. The shop didn’t do any but the shopkeeper left his shop; took us to the other end of the street, knocked on the door of the (closed) local restaurant and asked the owner there if she could help us out. I was, by this stage, developing a real fondness for Tinaheley. The restaurant owner apologised to us and said she’s sorry, she wasn’t due to open for another couple of hours and she was just preparing for mass. The best she could do for us is make up some sandwiches. I decided to move to Tinaheley in the new year.
Such an idea got another boost when Gerry turned up as promised, picked us up and dropped us back on the Wicklow Way. It is 11am we had a long walk ahead of us – if we had actually known how long, we would have gotten back in the car with Gerry and home to Tinaheley.
Time being of the essence, not to mention the importance of covering as much distance as possible as quickly as possible, the first thing we did – was get lost.
This was actually easily done. The route is supposed to be mapped out with a series of small wooden posts every 500m, but many are overgrown by weeds, some are almost worn away and some are just downright missing! Not in this case, however. Completely pre-occupied with a massive invasion of flies we missed a turn, then walked on for about a mile until we realised we had lost the road and gained a field. It being unlikely that the Wicklow Way ran through a field of corn, we came to a stop.
It took about an hour to get back on track (or even to find the damn track) and we carried on hastily to our next planned stop, Glenmalure – site of the only other pub on The Wicklow Way. We made fairly good progress during the day despite the increasingly sporadic nature of the W.W. markers. As the day got on and we…didn’t, we began to see that Glenmalure was a faint hope. We had resolved to stop at around eight each day to make sure we’re not completely shot the next and so Aughrim seemed to be our best place to stay that night. Unfortunately, Aughrim is not actually on the route but the Way does go across the Aughrim road at one point. Of course, the Aughrim road stretches a long, long way – indeed, parts of it are covered by Qantas – and this meeting point could be anywhere on it. Luckily we came across another hiker coming in the opposite direction (more popularly known as the right one) and he gives us the number of a taxi in Aughrim.
Meanwhile, Mick was suffering. A dedicated squash player, the years had taken their toll on his knees, something he only discovered by setting off an eighty mile cross-country hike through the Wicklow mountains. The steep uphills were bad enough but the immediately following steep downhills were an absolute killer and he groaned repeatedly all the way (although that could have had more to do with my running down them, arms outstretched and going “WHEE!”).
When we reached the Aughrim road he collapsed on the ground, I drank the last of our water, took out my phone and dialed the taxi number. THAT is when we remembered or rather were forcibly reminded that mobiles don’t work at the bottom of mountains. We were now, officially, f***ed.
It was 8pm, the road was deserted and we had no idea of how far to Aughrim and the map showed no signs of houses for several miles along the way. We stumbled on, both very fed up by this stage. It was getting late, the walking we were now doing didn’t count as part of the route – because it wasn’t on it – and this was just some bloody road that may or may not eventually lead to a town.
At 8:30 the latter looks increasingly likely. We were moving slowly because of Mick’s knees and my back which was now suffering the effects of yesterday’s not wearing the rucksack properly. It was getting dark and there was nothing to be seen ahead except a long empty road flanked by big empty fields.
By 9:00, the road not being sufficiently bleak at this point, someone had seen fit to plant trees all along either side of it and so the darkness was added to immeasurably by a line of black shadows. We were not in Kansas anymore. Incredibly, a house popped up out of the blackness and we rushed for it. Mick asked the lady of the house if we were on the right road to Aughrim and how far it was. She assured us it was just a couple of miles down the way and we decided to carry on rather than ask her for the use of a phone to call the taxi.
10:00 – the length of a piece of string had obviously been a long source of controversy in these parts.
10:30 – rounding a corner we found that some local farmer had taken to growing triffids. I was not in the least surprised by this stage but I took a photograph anyway for use in the documentary they would make about finding our footage a year after we disappeared. And then there was the sudden approach of a low rumbling noise that got louder as it came toward us, two giant beams of light grew ever bigger and then suddenly it stopped right beside us. I was stunned, amazed and thrown until I recognised it as one of those horseless carriage things I used to see about the place.
“Want a lift into town lads?”
“Yes please!” we shouted from the back seat.
Nice man (we couldn’t be arsed with names by this stage) drove us to the centre of Aughrim (which was a long, long to the power of long way from where he picked us up) and to the main pub which had a B&B attached. Unfortunately it didn’t have any room but they did direct us to another B&B which was of course – how could we have possibly even dreamed of thinking otherwise – “a couple of miles down the road”.
We took the precaution of ringing this B&B to make sure it had room but neglected to tell the man we were walking – and very, very slowly at that. As we made our painful way there, we began to worry that he might give the room to someone else. It turned out all right, though. Admittedly the owner of the B&B had gone to bed by the time we arrived but he was awfully nice and happily agreed to drive us to Glendalough in the morning to get a bus the hell aWay from Wicklow.
However, the last laugh came right at the end when we arrived at 11:30pm at this B&B. Just outside was a signpost pointing in the direction of Tinahely, where we had started from 12 and a half hours earlier, and telling us it was only 6 miles away.
About the Author
Michael Jordan was born in Dublin in 1967. From an early age he developed a passion for writing and through years of determination and dedication managed inevitably to bring himself to a career in Computer Programming. He has, however, over the years managed to have a few articles published. In fact, ten years after he completed it the fees for his night course in Journalism are now half-way to being made back through his writings.
In 1997 he was on the writing team of the RTE (Irish television) sit-com “Upwardly Mobile” and wrote one of the episodes broadcast, something that he feels should impress all those who have never heard of “Upwardly Mobile”.