Updated: Sep 16, 2020
Monday 27th July
There is something fascinating about transcending from the heart of a city into the open wilderness. You begin being flanked by towering buildings, cars soaring by and of course the city’s own denizens who march by you staring rigidly ahead or with gazes affixed on the pavement below. With every step you take this beating heart of commute dwindles. You start with having ample choice of trade to be supplemented with nothing. However, despite its constant dynamic soul which moves with no regard for others lest you ride with it, the city is not something repugnant. It is after all, a simmering achievement to commerce parented by man’s own need for survival. A sanctuary of stability that has grown from its infant stages of a few sparse huts, weaned from man’s mud, sweat and tears, to a fierce modern protector against its true enemy- the wilderness.
As I walked towards Marlay Park, Dublin itself receded behind me and as I caught my first sight of the Wicklow mountains in the distance, I could feel it, the city, calling me back like a protective entity. Beckoning me to stay. Marching towards Wicklow, I could see dark grey cloud crowning the distant summits and tumbling down her sides like wild untamed hair. Its wild, barren body shielded by a coat of woodland. Like all mountains she bewitched all who longed for her. Like a siren to a sailor she called out to the explorers. Yet, despite her alluring landscape, she was cruel and unforgiving as the worst of them. Tread upon her recklessly and she will dispose of you without mercy. Treat her with respect , then, with good fortune, she will let you pass but not without sacrifice. She will take something from the sweats of your hardship. Something that you will keep searching for but to no avail. For this is the endless pursuit of fulfilment and it has been driving explorers mad since the dawn of time. The mountains that loomed ahead of me- the challenges and trials that I would face- seemed somewhat minor to those of other famed explorers. But I knew still that I could not underestimate her, for anything could happen upon her slopes. She was a mountain.
By midday I reached her gateway that was Marlay Park. I was still clad in waterproofs for it had rained most of that morning. Sitting on a park bench outside the Wicklow Way noticeboard that marked the beginning of the trail- my journey was about to begin. I dug out my guide from my rucksack- 22k to go before camp at the Glencree River. Had I chosen to get the bus to the park this morning, perhaps I could have afforded to stay longer, but it was already midday and the clock was ticking. Hoisting my rucksack on my back I set off.
The first day of the Way, should you choose to camp at Glencree river for your first night, is simple yet challenging. Simple because the terrain is largely path, roadside for some of it, with some ascent and descent over hills. Challenging because it is your first day. But mostly it is about leaving the reaches of civilisation into Wicklow territory. After leaving Marlay I walked along roadside before going up a hilly estate marked by some opulent houses. Atop this hill there was a sharp bend left which led me into Kilmashogue Wood. As I graced the top of this hill an older, yet weary, traveller emerged. He paused to search about him and for a moment I could feel his tired eyes upon me. On his back he carried what seemed to be a smaller bag in contrast to my own. I walked on and did not spare him much thought. I was charged for my ignorance however for I was soon to find that he was heading towards Marlay after finishing the Way in reverse. This man was near finished and he had been searching for his final mark. The experience he could have lent me would have been of interest.
From Kilmashogue Wood and across the open plains of Two Rock I continued. Then it was a bushy, but small, descent to the R116. By this stage it was approaching 4 o’clock and the rain and Dublin were a good way behind me. Sunlight had penetrated the dense overhead cloud and strengthened it’s hold so that it would run into the rest of the day. Shortly after crossing Glencullen River I encountered another traveller along the Way.
“I am only out for two nights. Once I reach Glendalough that will do me. There's not much to see after that,” he said through mouthfuls of sandwich. Since we were both headed to Glencree we shared each other’s company through Glencullen Forest and up Raven’s Rock. Grateful for the conversation after spending time in solace, we exchanged our mountaineering tales. Rob was a devout Christian and African missionary. Approaching his forties, and in an attempt to lose weight while at the same time casting off the oppressing blanket of lockdown, he had decided to camp this week. That was not to say that he was not a veteran despite the meagre distance he was covering this week. He himself was an experienced climber who had been to the Alps in France. He had, in his lifetime, encountered the danger of high altitude that I would one day seek.
“That’s crazy,” I had said, “It seems like an entirely different level to what this here his.”
“Perhaps, but what you are doing also this week is something else as well. To do this alone. That is what I couldn’t imagine.”
Before reaching Barnamire, a small hamlet before Knockree forest we parted ways. For I had been pushing myself and had not paused to rest in a while. Meanwhile Rob had stores left of stamina left.
“You should go to Knockree hostel. There you will get water. Maybe even get yourself a bed for the night to.” I considered the proposal for I was running short on water and needed a refill. As I walked I considered the temptation of a soft warm bed and hot shower. This idea sprouted into determination and it drove me through Knockree forest. Exhausted, I was relived to at last approach the hostel but distraught to find the gates closed. I was too late for a bed, but at least it was some console to avail of their outdoor water tap. From here I crossed the remainder of the forest and emerged into a beautiful valley adored with ferns. At the bottom of which rested the Glencree River. It was here I made my first camp. With hot cooked beans and sausages in my belly and in the comfort of my new tent. I slept soundlessly.