‘I was Dublin born,’ said Conny O’Connell as we struck out from Crone car park, ‘but I hated the city from the first. I was always out as a kid, cycling, fishing, walking, trespassing, getting chased by the farmers – anything to get out, you know!’
You wouldn’t pick Conny as a townie now. The mountain guide and Wicklow Hills rescue man who’d turned out early on a cold, cloudless day at the behest of Footfalls Walking Holidays to accompany me up Maulin Mountain looks every inch the countryman. Trim, fit and weather-beaten, it’s only his blink-and-you’ve-missed-it brand of humour, and also the torrent of talk that pours unstoppably out of him, that betrays the Dubliner born and bred.
Lordy-Lord, what a beautiful day it was. The blue sky stretched wall to wall, the wind hissed and roared sleepily in the treetops, and the conical top of Great Sugar Loaf stood like a dove-grey cut-out along the ridge from the cheeky tilted quiff of its little brother. The trees of Crone Woods pressed close around the zigzag path – Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, skeletal larch and the occasional tattered but noble Scots pine.
‘I take city kids out exploring in the countryside,’ remarked Conny, ‘and I remember one walking with his head turned up to the sky. He said he’d never dreamed of so many trees, and I guessed that most of the trees he’d occasionally see on his housing estate would be vandalised and broken. This was like some kind of heaven for him.’ Conny grinned. ‘Kids seem to have forgotten how to get dirty. I’ll lead them through a bog, just to show them it’s all right to get mud on your Nikes!’
We rounded a bend, the trees fell back, and a hidden valley opened at our feet. It was Lord Powerscourt who had the forest path cut out by hand during the 19th century, so that his guests could enjoy the wonderful prospect from on high. Cradled in the green bowl tumbled the Powerscourt Waterfall – more of a waterslide, in fact – bouncing in long slippery steps down a glistening chute of rock. The 725 m peak of Djouce Mountain, an elegant pyramid of rose pink and smoky blue, filled the notch in the hills behind, the ridge wrapping the whole scene round.
We turned aside from the red route of the Looped Walk, and followed the Wicklow Way up and across a hillside of felled trees. Here the long distance path plunged downhill, and we turned up along the spine of Maulin Mountain, the summit in our sights at the crest of a long rubbly trail of sparkling quartzite pebbles.
At the top of Maulin, sitting out of the wind in the lee of the summit cairn, Conny picked out the sights in a stunning 360o panorama – Kippure hulking to the west, Mullaghcleevaun far down in the south-west, and off in the east the soft shimmer of the sea in St George’s Channel beyond the crumpled ridge of the Sugarloaves. In the haze Dublin itself still looked a city of human scale, with church spires and towers to draw the eye rather than euro-tastic tower blocks.
It was a view that could have held us for any length of time. In the end it was the cold wind that blasted us off the peak, down the steep breast of Maulin, and on through the dark, silent ways of Crone Woods once more.
WAY TO GO
MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 56; downloadable map/instructions (strongly recommended) at www.discoverireland.ie/walking.
Road: M11, R117 to Enniskerry; minor road via Onagh Bridge to Coillte car park at Crone (OS ref O (letter ‘O’!) 193142)
WALK DIRECTIONS (follow red and white arrow waymarks):
From Crone car park follow red arrow route (RA) and Wicklow Way ‘walking man’ signs (WW). In about 1¼ miles, round sharp right bend with Powerscourt Waterfall ahead. Pass bench on right. In 30m, RA forks right past trail map, but keep ahead here along WW. At top of climb, pass WW post; bear right across felled slope (WWs). Through fence gap by lone tree, WW goes left, downhill; but turn left (no waymark), following wall uphill to green ‘Keep to Path’ sign. Bear left here to climb to Maulin summit. From cairn, take path aiming NW for distant, large white building of Glencree Peace and Reconciliation Centre. Cross stone wall, then steeply downhill to cross stile by gate into forest. Turn right downhill on zigzag forest road (RA waymarks on trees – hard to spot!). Near bottom of slope, descend wooden steps to track. Ignore RA pointing right; cross and descend narrow path through trees to car park.
LENGTH: 4 ½ miles: allow 2 ½ – 3 hours
CONDITIONS: rubbly paths on Maulin Mountain – wear hillwalking gear. 360 m of climb involved. Steep descent off Maulin. Waymarks in Crone Wood on tree trunks are hard to spot – keep your eyes open!
DON’T MISS …!
• View from Ride Rock over Powerscourt Waterfall
• Red squirrels, red/sika deer, many bird species of Crone Woods – don’t forget binoculars!
• panorama from Maulin Mountain summit
REFRESHMENTS: Take a picnic
ACCOMMODATION: Glenview Hotel, Glen of the Downs, Wicklow (01-287-3399; www.glenviewhotel.com) – traditional, comfortable old hotel.
OPERATORS/COMPANIES: Footfalls Walking Holidays, Trooperstown, Co. Wicklow (0404-45152; www.walkinghikingireland.com)
INFORMATION: walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s ‘National Loop Walk’s, and walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.discoverireland.i.e/walking and www.coillteoutdoors.ie
Bray Tourist Office: 01-286-7128
Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville
6 June 2009