Dublin to Carlow, Ireland
Start: Marlay Park, Dublin
End: Clonegal, Carlow
Distance: 80 miles (129km)
Time: 8-10 days
Surface: Forest Trails, Narrow Country Lanes, Moorland
Opened in 1980 and Ireland’s first waymarked trail, the Wicklow Way combines accessibility with wilderness. It begins in the suburbs of Dublin (thus guaranteeing its status as one of the country’s most popular walks) and in no time brings you to the east-west ridges and valleys of the Wicklow Mountains, the largest granite surface field in Ireland, before eventually leading you into their tranquil foothills as you near the trait’s end at the village of Clonegal in CountyCarlow.
Now the most westerly section of the E8 footpath that spans most of Europe, the Wicklow Way takes you by mountain lakes, past the extensive remains of monastic communities in the Glendalough valley, and through conifer-covered hillsides. Shortly after leaving Dublin, you are in a world of granite hills, heather-clad meadows, and streams that are the color of peat. Just don’t be lulled into thinking the trail is easy. You need to be fit for this one. There are days spent on isolated stretches where a six- or seven-hour hike of 12 miles (19 km) is the only way to get to your next set of cotton sheets, and much of the wayinvolves long and demanding ascents, despite the highest elevation being a reasonable 2,067 feet (630 m). Climbing out of the Glenmalure valley provides scenery that will take your breath away, and the Ow valley below Lugnaquilla (3,035 feet/925 m) is a highlight worthy of the world’s best hikes. Be sure to linger in the seventeenth-century village of Shillelagh, and at Tinahely’s historic market building.
If you have the reserves for it, a nice side spur is the 12-mile (19-km) return walk to Powerscourt Estate, an eighteenth-centuryPalladian mansion with gardens that are considered to be the finest in Ireland.