It’s 1948 and the travel writer John Wood starts his walking and climbing tour around Ireland. He sets off leaving Dublin and heading to Wicklow. While in Wicklow, he encounters Irish wet weather and hospitality in equal measure!
After a threepenny ride, I alighted from a bus at the suburb of Rathfarnham, whence I had decided to start my grand tour, and an elderly priest inquired genially whither I was bound. The priest’s question gave me a chance to brag that I was just beginning a walk right round Ireland and to my first destination Glendalough. A row of single-storeyed, thatched cottages quickly brought a glimpse of rural Ireland that is fast vanishing… Soon I was ascending by steep lanes the foothills of Cualan, on the border of Dublin and Wicklow.
No house was in sight, but people were numerous, for besides roadmenders there were many busy diggers of turf, and nearly everyone I passed greeted me with a request for the time. It was not much after three o’clock when I was first hailed with ‘Good evening,’ and startled I looked at my watch, but in the next week, I found that evening is any time after three in the afternoon.
Near the mass of Kippure, I visited a cottage which was a tea place. From this and later experience, I learnt that a plain tea in Ireland really is plain. No buns or cakes are served, nor did I ever see cress. Generally, there are two kinds of bread, baker’s and home-made, sometimes called soda bread though I have not heard the term used by anyone Irish.
The housewife here asked for an entry in the visitors’ book, possibly to convince the food office that she was entitled to all the tea, sugar and butter that she claimed, but as two recent callers had signed themselves Dorothy and Lilian Gish of Hollywood I am not sure of the book’s value as evidence.
Woods visits Glendalough and the next day decides to climb Lughnaquillia.
...it seemed to resent my hardwon conquest of 3,039 feet…
Lugnaquillia’s own plateau had been in sight, too, but as I approached scurrying clouds concealed it, and when I attained the summit cairn nothing was to be seen beyond a radius of a few yards. Worse still, the time was 6.30, and I had no food except one sandwich saved from my lunch. my decision then should have been to make my way along the ridge of Carrawaystick and descend thence to the Glenmalure road at Drumgoff bridge… but it is easy to be wise after the event.
I sat beside the granite cairn for a few minutes and ate my sandwich, then took a compass bearing as the rain started again in deadly earnest. It was necessary to keep the compass in my hand and keep consulting it, but water became trapped in it and the needle began to stick. As a result, I went down the north-west spur to Glen Imail, instead of going northward…
My oilskin cape became useless and every few minutes the lege of my shorts had to be wrung out. Hidden reserves of energy must have come into play… my only sustenance was a small tube of malted milk tablets…
The time was now ten o’clock, and dusk was fading into night.
After stumbling and slipping along until it was quite dark without reaching the steep descent that I hoped would be Glendalough I had to confess myself lost. The next couple of hours gave me my worst experience for many years, dangerous rocks, deep bog, darkness, and my wetness and exhaustion… Lurching forward on to my face, sliding on to my seat, saving myself from other falls by clutching bushes that proved to be gorse, I felt the temptation to sit on a rock and let weariness get the better of me. Ever it rained, but I could get no wetter.
Woods eventually makes his way down onto a path leading to Glenmalure.
My lingering hope that I might be in Glendalough expired, and I staggered along like an automaton, waiting to find confirmation that it was Glenmalure. This was provided after a mile by the crazy bridge, now dimly seen, that I had used eight hours before and I knew that I might have saved two hours and grave dangers and discomforts had I kept to the rudimentary track down from Table Mountain – always provided that Avonbeg had been fordable when reached.
Dragging one foot after another, and still a prey to many miseries, I covered another two miles and then saw a light in a cottage not far from a crossroads. Reaching it I knocked and inquired of the man who came to the door what was the distance to Laragh. Six and a half miles, was the reply, by the military road over the mountain – an impossible walk at dead of night in my then condition. But I did not have to ask for shelter, for I was invited in, and found another man, a woman and a girl of about 15 still sitting up, though the time was 1.30 am. A bed was soon made up for me in the parlour, and when I removed my saturated clothing clouds of vapour rose from my body, for by doggedly keeping on the move I had kept myself warm. A shirt and pyjama trousers were lent to me, and then a pot of tea and rasher sandwiches were brought. I slept for seven hours and rose and walked back to Laragh to the great relief of Mrs Twomey from the B&B, who was thinking of calling the civic guards. Somebody must have been praying for me, she declared when I told my story. I thought it unlikely in the extreme but did not contradict her.
Any Wicklow people, hikers or cyclists familiar with the area out there?
Can you help us find the cottage location? Do you know where the ‘crazy bridge’ is?
I’m not sure if that refers to a windy bridge or perhaps a rickety old wooden bridge. I wonder does the cottage or ruins of it still exist, somewhere on a crossroads in Glenmalure, County Wicklow.
Wood, John, Rucksack round Ireland (Paul Elek, 1950)
Turf cutters: http://www.pcl-eu.de/virt_ex/detail.php?entry=05
Lough Dan – Ebay postcard: https://www.ebay.ie/usr/andrewrichmond?_trksid=p2047675.l2559
Bacon image: By Davidwnoble – w:en:File:Baconbutty.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Glendalough – Ebay postcard: https://www.ebay.ie/usr/24jcab?_trksid=p2047675.l2559