This week, our Hillwalk Stories series features the adventures of Brook Rajnowski, a young student from Colorado, who brought her family to the Wicklow Way on a hiking trip when they visited her in 2018 during her time studying as an overseas student in Ireland.
During my study abroad experience in 2018, my family came to visit Ireland. Being from Colorado, the only logical way to spend our time was hiking, so we signed up for a Hillwalk Tours trip on the Wicklow Way. I approached the hike expecting green hillsides and moderate hiking, but what I got out of it was so much more. I learned many lessons on the trail, but there are three that I still carry with me and try to instil in my middle schoolers: grow your comfort zone, remember to breathe, and live in the moment. Come along on my adventure with me and discover how a 21-year-old Coloradoan learned how to let go and truly appreciate the world to its fullest.
It was a tough first day, but we made it through, and it was definitely worth the effort! We spent the day hiking in the mountains of Wicklow. We started just outside of Enniskerry at the recreation park, and we hiked a total of around 12 miles to Roundwood. On the trail, we passed the highest waterfall in Ireland, farms, forests, rivers, and valleys. We walked along and climbed over ancient rock walls with trees and mosses growing over them. Seeing how the Earth can absorb ancient ruins of human existence is somehow comforting. The resilience of this landscape is a peaceful example of the strength of the Irish landscape and in effect, its people. This is where I learned one lesson: living in the moment. As I was walking among the trees, climbing above the Powerscourt Waterfall, and navigating the ancient walls, I couldn’t think of anything other than what was right in front of me. There is something powerful in accepting your own lack of control and instead living completely in the present. This feeling of calm is one I try to return to as frequently as possible.
About halfway through the hike, there was an alternate route that took us to the summit of Djouce Mountain (725m elevation). Knowing us, of course we took it! The trail went straight uphill with no switchbacks whatsoever – one feature of Colorado trails we do not appreciate enough. It was a lot of work and slightly painful, but the views at the top were definitely worth the extra effort. The wind at the top was strong, and I have always been the first to complain about wind anytime I encounter it. This wind was different. It felt as though this wind was not just passing by as an attempt to aggravate me but rather was blowing into me and taking with it any tension I was carrying. This is where lesson two comes in: remember to breathe. Somehow, in the midst of strong winds standing atop a mountain, I was able to breathe deeper than I had in a long while. Living in a busy city and being in college, life gets too chaotic and we often forget to do the bare minimum of self-care. Standing on Djouce Mountain gave me the clarity and rest needed to take in my surroundings and truly breathe.
After eating lunch at the top, we began the second half of our day, taking us across to White Hill, overlooking a gorgeous lake and the Guinness Estate, and a large forest before heading down into Roundwood. This section of the trail was distinctly different than the first, with wide endless views, marshlands, and more steep sections. Over the course of the day, we hiked the equivalent of 173 floors. It was hard on the thighs, but we were able to see the ocean as well as many different aspects of the Irish landscape from that height. On our way into the town of Roundwood, we walked on roads for about 5km which was not very enjoyable for our feet, but we found some very adorable miniature horses, so that made it a little more tolerable.
After arriving in Roundwood, we were picked up and taken to our B&B for the next two nights, Bramble Rock in Laragh. This B&B was incredible: very nice quality, even nicer people, and all-around amazing accommodations. They even have dogs that come greet you at your window every day.
For our second day of hiking, we were driven back to Roundwood and hiked a total of 15 miles from there to Glendalough. It was a very long day, but we saw a different side of the mountains and it was a beautiful hike. We started off hiking through similar terrain as yesterday with pine forests and grassy fields. The section was very gradual, so it was a good warm-up. After a short bit of hiking through the forest, the trail opened up into large fields with hay bales on one side and animals on the other. It was a gorgeous view, and it led us to an actual kissing gate which was pretty cool! After walking through a couple of fields, we crossed a fence and spent the next few kilometres walking on the road.
Despite having a very detailed description of our trail and a map, we still had no idea where we were or what we were looking for. Which brings us to lesson three: grow your comfort zone. I don’t like the idea of getting outside of your comfort zone, because it implies the idea that you are no longer comfortable and that eventually, you will retreat back. This adventure grew my comfort zone by forcing me to accept not knowing every detail. I was forced to accept the adventure for what it was rather than focus on the destination. We walked along winding roads covered in beautiful trees and old stone walls. I started out tense and anxious about not knowing the path and not being sure of our way. Slowly, my comfort zone expanded and I learned to enjoy the journey.
After leaving the road and getting back onto a trail, we stopped for a quick lunch, watched the cows in the field, and continued up a mountain. The rest of our hike was unlike anything we had hiked through previously on this trail. The foliage transformed into more pacific northwestern ferns, tall trees, and massive greenery everywhere. We crossed a small stream on a wooden bridge, traveled along a wide path across a hill, and down into the valley below. It was a very interesting and beautiful way to conclude our hiking experience in Wicklow. The trail left us in Glendalough, which is a beautiful town with a deep history. By the time we arrived, we were absolutely exhausted, so we took a snack break and looked around the monastic site for a short while. The monastery was quite packed with tourists from all over, but we still enjoyed viewing such an important cultural site. We walked around the lakes in Glendalough, then followed a trail back down the valley to Laragh.
On the trail was the Woolen Mills, so we stopped there as well to look at the sweaters and other various wool items. The smell of wool reminded me of my grandfather’s barn- sort of musty and earthy. We finished off our day with dinner at the local pub. They made the most incredible beef stew made with Guinness beer, and it was the most amazing stew ever! This is still a regular order for my family now when we are missing Ireland.
Almost two years later, and I still look back at this trip quite fondly. I miss the land dearly, and it will always have a place in my heart. My journey on the Wicklow Way was my first experience in Ireland, and it has left a deep impression that will never fade. I am forever in debt to Ireland and the Wicklow Way.
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