“This is the place that sustains me. This is where I have planted myself. It is a refuge where I restore myself.”
– Oscar-Winner Daniel Day-Lewis on his home in Wicklow
This is so long overdue it’s incredible but I feel as if much has been accomplished today so I can allow myself a wee bit of time for musing and writing, right?
It’s high time I introduced (or re-introduced) you all to the wonders that are encompassed in Ireland’s Wicklow National Park, also known as my 2nd…3rd? 4th… OK one of my MANY homes (there’s no limit on this).
Nestled comfortably between bustling, semi-overcrowded Dublin and the pleasant-if-difficult-to-comprehend South of this most beautiful country is a huge National Park worth getting lost in. If you don’t believe me, ask the author behind PS I Love You – her whole story is based on a chance meeting in this magical place after, understandably, her protagonist has got herself hopelessly and breathtakingly lost.
If this post in any way inspires in you a burning desire to visit this place check out the movie as a preview – well worth it just for the scenery (but make sure you have a box of Kleenex yes that includes you boys).
Now, I’m not saying that my dearest Canada does not have some more-than-worthwhile parks to explore. This fact should go without saying, and if you live here and you haven’t been to one – what HAVE you been doing with all your time? That being said…There’s something about Wicklow that calls to me. There’s a magic there – blame it on the fairies the air itself – it’s undeniable and irresistible It beckons you with gentle whispers to explore its many hills, valleys and lakes and, in return for its incredible gift of natural beauty, it forever holds a piece of its your heart. Once you have stepped foot inside Ireland’s Garden you will never truly be free of its enchantment.
OK, enough teasing. So what is this place ACTUALLY like? At the risk of writing this piece like a food blogger might (they are the BIGGEST teases are they not?) here goes my attempt to convey Wicklow’s bewitching splendour in the only two ways I know how.
I have only ever entered Wicklow Park from the North but I’m sure it’s just as beautiful from any direction. If you try any others out, let me know! You know the minute you enter the park because the emerald greens of, well, the Emerald Isle, suddenly become all the more vivid, as if you’ve stumbled into the sequel of The Wizard of Oz (now in SUPERtechnicolour!)
The colours are so bright and so captivating that you almost wonder for a moment if what you’re seeing is real. And it’s not only green — although that dominates the palate. Gorse grows everywhere in lovely, warm honey-coloured hues dotted with wild flowers in an impressive array of shades. Ancient stone walls, and maybe a few cow mafias (oh, they are a thing. Trust me.) are the only barriers between you and the majestic fields and rolling hills that surround whatever vehicle you have chosen for your journey. The spectacular landscape is often jarred a little by the appearance of a small farm or cottage but even these are just so idealistic that you can’t help but smile (and, if you’re like me, slip into a daydream of what it would be like to spend a little while in one of those romantic little cottages writing, reading and walking the days away).
All of this is, of course, incredible but as you get closer to the ever-popular tourist destination of Glendalough I dare you not to catch your breath (that is if it hasn’t been sufficiently caught already). Scientifically speaking, Glendalough is a glacial valley (Glendalough = Glen of two lakes) but aesthetically, instinctually, mysteriously… it is so much more than that. When you first enter the main tourist area, where the 6th century monastic settlement presides in its eternal state, you are greeted with a car park (of course) and a cute little cafe and restaurant. Bypass these, please, though maybe park your car before you do — driving is not encouraged in the best areas of the park.
Right in front of the “gates” to the settlement, a little market is set up in the warmer months. This is worth checking out, even if just for a little, as it sells local craftsmanship and, if you recall my dream of cheerfully whiling away the days in a little cottage in the middle of the park, you’ll understand why these people are so renowned for their handiwork: they do it because they love it, it’s a part of who they are and their connection to the area and its natural splendour. And trust me, what they produce is absolutely unique. (Although, yes, there are lots of kitchy touristy items too.. unavoidable I suppose!)
The gateway to the settlement itself is unequalled within Ireland and you can immediately see why. The imposing granite arches, which would have at one time held up a timber roof, usher you into the sanctuary with a cold sort of insistence. And a sanctuary it is, literally. There’s a carving in the stone after you enter which denotes it as such and therefore (in true Hunchback of Notre Dame Style, thank you Disney) you could feasibly pass under the cool stone and once-upon-a-time fragrant wood and declare yourself under the protection of sanctuary. I doubt this still applies but just for a second think about the hundreds of people who did just this in their time – I bet you their tales are worth telling.
As you enter the overgrown graveyard on the other side of the archway (some of you might know about my love of graveyards and the calm which they inspire. I won’t admit how many photos I have of this particular one – you can’t make me) your now over-stimulated eyes are greeted with the sight of a towering structure – the monastery’s round tower (coolest things ever) which could have served as a refuge for the inhabitants in the case of a Viking attack — more likely than not and terrifyingly regular occurrences To the Vikings’ credit, they did also found some awesome pubs back in Dublin – one of which is still standing and EVEN BETTER still serving alcohol. For real.
More buildings (with STONE ROOFS) await you around the corner if you can tear yourself away from the awe-inspiring and thoroughly confusing architectural feat that is the Round Tower. Better than these, in my opinion, is the giant stone Celtic cross. These were supposed to showcase a melding of two not dissimilar religions, that of the Ancient Celts and that of the invading Christians. The cross is,
of course, Christian but the circle was a sacred symbol for the Celts and was therefore preserved at the head of the cross – arguable it’s most important part. Some even had carvings of the main New Testament stories in which the Romans were dressed as Vikings and Jesus and his crew as Celts… But that’s a story for another time. Suffice it to say that, while beautiful, Celtic crosses were basically a super early form of propaganda. And boy did they work.
Let’s get past the man-made accoutrements of the park though, shall we? The best is yet to come… In a further post because this one is already inordinately long. I’ll do my best not to wait too long before the next one, promise! (If anyone even reads this business).
As always, thanks for reading and please remember (with or without an image of Wicklow in your mind when you do)
Life is beautiful.