Hill Walking

HILL WALKING IN THE GLEN OF IMAAL


Lugnaquilla Mountain taken from Fauna Road, Glen of Imaal, Co. Wicklow.

County Wicklow is known as the "Garden of Ireland" and part of this garden are the many mountains and hills that are used for hill walking.  The Glen of Imaal on the West Side of Wicklow is surrounded by these natural features and is the base for many hillwalker’s day and sometimes night expeditions on the hills.  One of the most famous being Lugnaquilla Mountain (3093’) has always held a special place in the hearts of regular hill walkers.  With a personality of its own, Lug, as she is commonly known, displays a different mood every time she’s visited.   This ever changing and diverse character offers a wide variety of experiences so that the tug to return again and again is infinite.  Lasting relationships often require gently beginnings. The Glen of Imaal is the ideal place to start.  This fine Glen provides a choice of at least three routes to the mountain summit, all of which conveniently commence near a friendly and popular rest place, Fentons Pub.

Youth Hostels situated on three sides of the mountain at Ballinclea, Aughavanagh and Glenmalure have no doubt influenced this particular relationship over time.   This article describes some of the many alternative walking routes from each of these locations.  Surprisingly the wide number of variations offers the hill walker an initial introduction to a complex and often un-communicative character.  Some are well known while the more familiar use others.
1. Camara Hill Route
2. Ow Valley Route
3. Carawastick Ridge Route


  1. The Camara Hill route is the traditional way up Lug and was used by an Oige for many tears for its annual sponsored climb.  From Fentons it follows the Banana Road, which form its name implies that this poorly neglected roadway twists and winds until the bottom of the hill proper is reached.  In recent years this was the scene of a jealous confrontation between walkers and the military (who incidentally operate a firing range in the area) when closure of this right of way was threatened.  Age and maturity has healed some of the differences in the intervening years.

    The breathlessness of the climb to the top of Camara Hill sometimes has the faint hearted, but from here the well trodden track beings the walker gradually to the summit base at the bottom of a rocky slope.  The views from this section of the North Prison and its circular coombe are inspiring and motivate the novice onwards.  The top is reached shortly after the ‘top of the rocks’ and the flat section called Percy’s Table is crossed.  On a clear day from the large summit cairn the climber is rewarded with breath taking views of South Leinster, Wicklow and even Wales.

    From the Glen of Imaal two other well used routes offer a longer walk in and provide an opportunity to establish a better rapport with the mountain.  These are the
    (a) Ballinclae/Slevemann Ridge route
    (b) Table Track, Camenabologue, Cannow Mt. Route
    This latter walk forms the last stage of the infamous ‘ Lug Walk’ a 33-mile long distance marathon across the Wicklow Hills from Stone Cross, Bohernabreena just outside Tallaght.  It crosses the Cannow Mountain Ridge that looks down on the glaciated valley below the rocky North Prison Cliffs.  This scene resembles a miniature version of the famous Ben Nevis cliffs, particularly when they’re covered in snow.  The remains of a light aircraft bear testimony to hazardous weather conditions.  Nonetheless, the most exciting and exhilarating experience on Lug must be hound in snowy conditions, particularly when you see your won footmarks imprinted on a bed of virgin white snow.  This is the world of silence and intimacy that brings you closest in communication with the mountain.  Unlike the bitter winter winds that can whip and lash the exposed parts of the body, the internal feeling of stimulation makes the journey forever worthwhile.  Even though snow has been seen here as late as June has, suchlike conditions are unfortunately all too rare, while the inherent dangers only entice experienced walkers outdoors.

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  2. Relationships begin to develop when the focus of attentions is transferred form oneself to another.  The Aughavanagh area provides an opportunity for this new dimension.  The long trudge up the Ow Valley from the hostel on the forestry track can be wearisome unless of course you are fortunate enough to have good company.  But at the head of the Valley, nature can captivate and draw attention away from breathlessness and blisters.  The microcosm explodes into beauty. Peregrine Falcons nesting in the South Prisons shriek overhead as they watch herds of deer cross the Carrawaystick Ridge towards Kelly’s Lough.  April sees the migrations of thousands of frogs down through the wild orchards towards the riverbed.  Wild hares, herons, dippers and foxes are not uncommon.

    From here it is onwards and upwards but the choice is varied.  The normal route climbs the South flank of Lug with the edge of the South Prison Cliffs on the walker’s right hand side.  An alternative is to follow the fence that winds its way along the base of the cliffs to a steep green grassy slope called Green Street.  This brings the walker onto the summit ridge.

    The centre gully on the South Prisons is an occasion to use hands as well as feet. "The Gully" enters the heart of the mountain and is therefore only for the experienced.  The cliffs which envelop the scrambler as a wet rocky ledge is negotiated, the purpose of which is to surmount without getting sodden.

    Glenmalure is a valley steeped in history where war, destruction and famine were seen.  The relics and memories of times past remain in this classical ‘U’ shaped valley.  Glenmalure hostel presents an ever-disappearing impelling experience.  It brings you close to nature and frequently provides an independently bright atmosphere that relies upon the visitors to create for themselves.  The lack of electricity, running waters and flush toilets only add to the drama.

    A timeliness and maturity emanate from the Glenmalure Valley. It’s a place that attracts the experienced and reflects a long standing and respectful affinity towards the highest mountain in Leinster.  The variety of routes mirrors this image because of their difficulty and relative ruggedness.

    The popular ‘Zig Zag’ route that begins through a farmyard gradually climbs back and forth above the valley floor until it commands a view over the cold looking corrie of Arts Lough.   From Clogherrnagh a broad-backed ridge is followed to the Summit Carin that can be seen from some distance on this approach.  Arts Lough offers another variation for the more adventurous and thrill seeking.   By climbing above the lough on its right hand side the walker clings to the long grass for balance and the fearful remembered words of long forgotten prayers.

    Directly South of the Youth Hostel, positioned between the steep slopes to Arts Lough and the high imposing Barrabore Cliffs, lies one of the most beautiful valleys in Wicklow - The Frocken Rock Glen.  The walker here is advised to carefully regard access into this area. This is a paradise for the geographical student.  The route winds its way southwards climbing through a series of magnificent hanging valleys.  The senses come alive at the sight and sound of a fast flowing turbulent stream that accompanies the rambler into a circular coombe.  It’s decides on time here.  Both straight and left are steep and direct, and join up with the broad Cloghernagh Ridge.   Indeed this route is even more spectacular to descend especially in early spring when a mantle of snow can often be found on the valley rim.

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  3. Finally a last route worthy of mention is the Carawastick Ridge.  This is for leisurely days when time is of no consequence.  Seconds, minutes, hours should be idly spent on the shores of Kellys Lough.  Silence is comfortable, communication is relaxed and the relationship is now mature.  Unhappily, however, age has taken its toll, which is evidenced near at hand by the forestry’s desecration of the environment and inhumanity to the landscape.  This conflict of understanding threatens the peaceful and idyllic mood as anger swells in the soul.

    When such a passionate relationship is threatened, it behaves those that follow in these footsteps to protect and defend their own.  This mantle of attention and responsibility must be passed from person and from generation.  The Tug of Lug is infinite and worthy of boundless care.

    Based on the “Tug of Lug” by Paddy Leavy

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    For more information on hill walking in Wicklow visit the mountaineering website www.mountaineering.ie

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