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Hiking in Glendalough and the Wicklow Mountains

Known as the 'Garden of Ireland', County Wicklow lies just to the south of Dublin and provides all the wilderness, woodland and waterfalls the city's residents could desire. Its beautiful beaches, heather-clad mountains and dense forests are popular for hiking, mountain biking and wildlife spotting with herds of deer, and falcons, kestrels and hawks regularly seen here. Deep glacial valleys wind between the hillsides offering extraordinary views, none better than at Glendalough where the impressive ruins of an early Christian monastery are set against the backdrop of a tranquil lake and rugged hills.

Exploring this historic setting with a knowledgeable local guide, who also acts as your driver, enhances the experience greatly, and this private full-day tour offers a chance to learn about Glendalough's past as well as discover the landscape on foot. As well as being able to tell you more about the area, your guide knows how to navigate the paths.

The tour begins at your Dublin hotel where you're picked up by your driver-guide. Following the coastal route out of the city you'll stop off at the Martello Tower at Sandycove, which featured in the opening section of James Joyce's Ulysses. The British built about 50 Martello towers around the Irish coast in the early 19th century to defend against a threatened Napoleonic invasion, but Sandycove's is by far the most famous.

Today, it’s a museum dedicated to the life of James Joyce and contains some of his letters, photographs and possessions, as well as some rare editions of his work. The museum is staffed by enthusiastic volunteers who are passionate about Joyce and his works and can answer almost any question you may have. From the roof of the tower you get sweeping view over Dublin Bay and the Wicklow Mountains and you may well spot hardy swimmers in the chilly Irish Sea at the Forty Foot promontory nearby.

From Sandycove continue on to Glendalough, the Valley of the Two Lakes. It was here that Saint Kevin founded a monastery in the 6th century and sheltered Christian manuscripts from the various Viking invasions. Glendalough was an important seat of learning until it was destroyed by the English in 1398. Although efforts were made to rebuild the monastery, it never regained its former prestige and it was finally abandoned in the 17th century.

Surrounded by the wild and rugged Wicklow Mountains and located between two lakes at either end of the valley, the setting is spectacular. At its height thousands of students studied here and along with the monastic buildings there were guesthouses, workshops, farm buildings and housing for up to 1,000 lay workers.

Most of what remains today dates from the 10th to 12th centuries with several impressive churches with detailed carvings, a sizeable cathedral and, most impressive of all, the 30 m (100 ft) high round tower. The structure would originally have served as a bell tower, storehouse and a place of refuge when under attack. It was reconstructed in 1876 and is one of the most enduring images of County Wicklow.

From here you can walk to the Upper Lake, the original site of Saint Kevin's settlement where there are the remains of a further church, a cave used as a prehistoric dwelling, the ruins of a beehive hut and a stone fort. The walk along the lakeside and through dense woodland dripping with moss is a beautiful one, passing the tumbling cascade of Poulanass Waterfall en route and may possibly see deer, foxes, badgers, hares or red squirrels.

Once you've explored the site you'll return back to Dublin to your hotel. The full-day tour allows plenty of time to stop for lunch (not included), at a place of your choosing or recommended by your guide.

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Audley specialist Brittany

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