“We are now approaching Dublin Port”
I felt like I’d only just closed my eyes when I heard the tannoy blare out above our heads. After a frosty four hour power nap we were up and ready, kind of, for the first big day ahead of us.
Dropped off in Dublin city centre we searched around for a source of nourishment. Something that would be open at 6am, that would help give us energy for the mountains that laid ahead and keep the hunger at bay. Of course the only thing open at this time in the morning was McDonalds. Ok not quite what we needed but it would have to do. With our bellies full and my heart warmed with a cup of tea, we set off in the direction of Marley Park. This was the official starting point of the Wicklow Way. Our start was just under 6 miles away. Just 6 miles.
With the excitement of what lay ahead of us, we had a spring in our step as we followed our guide book. We were so pleased with ourselves when we found the next part of the route that was noted down. The day was overcast but surprisingly warm and it wasn’t long before we had shed our coats and long sleeved tops.
After about an hour we found a little park that had some toilet facilities that we could freshen up in. As we approached we parted ways. Myself into the side marked ‘Fir’ and Nick walked into the side marked ‘Mna’. It wasn’t until I saw (well I actually smelt them first) the urinals, that I realised why a passing woman had looked at us with such a bemused expression. Note: Fir and Mna isn’t as easy as male and female. Something we duely noted for the rest of our trip.
Before entering Marley Park, we stocked up at the local Lidl with extra bottles of water and a few cheeky snacks to pack into our pockets so we could pick at them along the way. This was it, around 10:00am and we were starting the Wicklow Way. 100 miles were stretched out ahead of us and we were ready to rock. Small snag…longitude festival was setting up, so the first mile of the trek was slightly detoured around the edge of the park rather than going through it. We hoped this wasn’t a sign of things to come. We had been following a path with a gradual incline since we left Dublin centre but the gradient got visibley steeper. The people and busy roads fell away behind us.
After another couple of hours we paused for a quick, but the first of many, nutrigrain bar breaks and to admire how far we had already come. It was weird thinking that only that morning we had stared at this mountain, slightly worried that it would take us forever to get up there. But here we were, looking down at our starting point, way in the distance. We beamed, proud of ourselves, even though our lack of experience hiking was apparent with our sweat sodden clothes and glistening faces. Many older walkers past us, beaming smiles and bone dry hiking ensembles. It was because we were carrying large heavy bags, that is what I kept telling myself anyway.
Steeper and steeper this first Wicklow Way mountain grew. The giant stone steps protruding from the hillside seemed to be never ending. It felt like its summit was unreachable. But before we knew it, the ground levelled out and we had made it to Fairy Castle. I knew we had higher mountains to climb over the next week, even that day, and I started to doubt my abilities to complete this massive task I’d taken on. Luckily, for the first time that day, we had the joyous task of heading down hill. Now I was able to appreciate the views more, rather than looking down and willing my legs to keep going. As the route levelled out and our path lead us down a mountain hugging road, we watched as cars whizzed past us in a blur. The breathtaking scenery did not. It slowly met us, allowing us to admire it and take it all in. The colours, the smells, so fresh compared to every day London living. City living where even a bike ride is consumed with chaos, pollution and the need for speed.
The peak we had conquered before was just the beginning. We reach the start of Prince William’s Seat…a 550 metre up hill battle. Unlike our first climb, we didn’t have the same Dublin views. This winding path was thinner and lined with thick fir trees. Our only view was the sandy gravel as we bowed our heads and pushed through the thick heat. Now because we were in a forest area and we probably didn’t smell the best at that moment in time, we were being tormented and followed by hundreds of flies. It was like something out of a cartoon. Me and Nick continued to smile and chatted about the day so far. This also helped distract us from the dull ache in our legs and the buzzing in our ears.
We heard a rustling coming from the path up ahead of us. As we looked up we were faced with the beautiful sight of two large deers staring at us. They were as surprised to see us as we were them and they quickly carried on across the path and darted out of sight. As fleeting as our encounter was, it definitely made the day.
At the peak of this mountain I decided that a night of wild camping just wasn’t going to make tomorrow a good day for either of us. A fellow hiker we met informed us of a hostel in the tiny village of Knockree. This hostel was right on the Wicklow Way path and was a well known stop for hikers. This sounded perfect.
After 20 long miles we came across the Knockree Hostel, a “5 star” converted farmhouse overlooking the Glencree mountains. It had 5 star prices for sure but I wouldn’t say this was exactly 5 star accommodation. However the bunk beds and showers were a very welcome sight after our long day. We were also lucky that nobody else was booked in or turned up to share the room with us. We had our pick of the beds.
After a gourmet meal of a self catered rice dinner and packets of crisps for dessert we curled our achey legs into bed and I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. I was still slightly worried about whether we would actually manage the next 80 miles but I was sure proud of our achievements for that first day. The day of forests, flies and up hill climbs.
To Be Continued…