Glendalough: The Spinc and Glenealo Valley Walk

Glendalough: The Spinc and Glenealo Valley Walk

Glendalough has to be one of the most beautiful places in Ireland; if not the whole world. The glaciated valley has spectacular natural beauty with waterfalls, massive cliff faces, scenic ribbon lakes and calming woodlands. In addition, Glendalough offers an amazing glimpse of man’s history in the area. The Spinc and Glenealo Valley looped walk is definitely the best way to immerse yourself in all of this beauty and history. The below article details some important information on what you need to know to complete the Spinc and Glenealo Valley looped walk. Plus a peak of what the experience of completing this amazing hike looks like.

What is Glendalough?

As alluded to above, in addition to the natural beauty of the valley, Glendalough is also known as the home of a monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century.

Today, a Visitor Centre is located beside what remains of this ancient outpost. Tourists can see many ancient monuments in this area – the largest and most impressive being the Glendalough Round Tower standing at c. 30m tall.

In addition, some of the more famous Glendalough historic sites are;

  • St. Kevin’s Cell
  • Reefert Church
  • St. Kevin’s Bed
  • Miner’s Village 

Glendalough comes from the Irish “Gleann Dá Loch” which literally translates to the “Valley of the Two Lakes”. It certainly does what it says on the tin with the picturesque valley containing two lakes (the Lower Lake closest to the Visitor Centre and the Round Tower with the Upper Lake further along the valley). 

Walks Available in Glendalough  

Glendalough hosts 9 way marked trails which are all accessible from the visitor centre:

  • Poulanass and St. Kevin’s Cell (bronze route), 1km

Starting from the upper lake, this woodland option includes Poulanass Waterfall, St.Kevin’s Cell and Reefert Church.

  • Poulanass (pink route), 1.6km

A short looped walk that takes you up the steep climb to the top of Poulanass Waterfall before crossing the river and coming down the other side.

  • Green Road Walk (green route), 3km

A gentle flat walk which essentially circles around the lower lake. 

  • Woodland Road (silver route), 4km

Follows St. Kevin’s Way for a while along the Glendasan River, then uphill through the woods and back to Glendalough

  • Miner’s Road Walk (purple route), 5km

An out and back route that takes you along the north side of the Upper Lake until you reach the abandoned Miner’s Village.

  • Spinc Short Route (blue route), 5.5km

The trails rises up quickly via the Poulanass Waterfall. The route then rises further again to reach the Spinc Ridge which overlooks the Upper Lake. This shorter Spinc route follows the boardwalk on the Spinc Ridge for nearly 2km before turning left and away from the lake and back to the starting point.

  • Derrybawn Woodland Trail (orange route), 8km

The trail again takes in Poulanass Waterfall before crossing the river and moving along the shoulder of Derrybawn Mountain.

  • Spinc and Glenealo Valley (white route), 9.5km

Arguably the best trail in Glendalough and the subject of this blog post. The trail brings you up via Poulanass Waterfall, along the Spinc boardwalk before descending back into the valley. The loop then takes in the Miner’s village and returns to Glendalough via the northern lakeshore of the Upper Lake.

  • Spinc and The Wicklow Way (red route), 11.5km

The longest Spinc Route is very similar to the blue route but takes a longer loop after turning left on the Spinc and away from the lakes. This trail takes in sections of the Wicklow Way which is a fantastic multi-day way marked trail – for more information on the Wicklow Way, please click here.

More on the Spinc and Glenealo Valley Route (white markers)

I completed the Spinc and Glenealo Valley trail on a fresh dry morning. The route is easy to follow and clearly marked throughout the course of the 9.5km. You can find a detailed map on the Spinc and Glenealo Valley walk on alltrails.com.

Getting to Glendalough

Glendalough is just over an hours drive from Dublin. As such, it is very doable to drive and complete the Spinc and Glenealo Valley walk in one day. If you don’t have a car, glendaloughbus.ie operate a daily service from the capital to the visitor centre car park.

Where to park for the Spinc and Glenealo Valley Walk 

I chose to use the Visitor Centre Car Park. While the Spinc and Glenealo Valley walk starts from beside the Upper Lake Car Park, the benefit of parking beside the Visitor Centre is that the walk to the starting point passes by St. Kevin’s Monastic City and the Lower Lake. Both are pretty spectacular and well worth the extra kilometre or so walk. Plus you can obviously go to the visitor centre (€5 entrance fee) if you want. The Centre provides further detail about the history of Glendalough if you are looking for more information about the area.

Both of the above mentioned car parks are paid parking with a cost of €4 (for the full day). Laragh Car Park – beside the Woolen Mills – offers a free alternative but does entail an even longer walk to get the Spinc and Glenealo Valley Walk starting point.

Just a quick word of warning to note that these car parks get extremely busy at the weekends. So best try to get there early if you’re traveling during peak times. 

Starting The Spinc and Glenealo Valley Walk

After walking 1km from the Visitor Centre, the Spinc and Glenealo Valley Walk officially starts from the shore of the Upper Lake.

I found it relatively simple to get to the start point after parking up my car. Upon leaving the Visitor Centre Car Park, I crossed the bridge over the Glendasan River and turned to the right. The bridge offers a beautiful vista of the Round Tower and is well worth stopping to take a picture.

The path then took me past the Monastic City where the Round Tower is located. I would highly recommend a detour into the Monastic City which comprises stone churches, decorated crosses and other ancient ruins. The sense of history around the place is amazing.

After the Monastic City I walked along the tree lined shore of the Lower Lake before coming to the Upper Lake and the start of the Spinc and Glenealo Valley Walk. 

At this point, you will start to see the White Way Marked trail markers which denote the route to take. If in doubt, just remember to take the left turn when you see the Lugduff Brook on your left (with the upper lake being to your right).

After crossing the river, you are immediately hit with a view of the Poulanass Waterfall. With the river/waterfall on my left, I made the steep climb up the steps of the trail. 

Given the number of the different routes that take in the Poulanass Waterfall, this stretch of the Spinc and Glenealo Valley Walk is probably the busiest. However, it is well worth a stop to take in the beauty of your surroundings.

Heading for the Spinc

The path opens out to 3 different options after just under a kilometre of climbing. I noticed the bridge over the Lugduff Brook to my left with the Spinc and Glenealo Valley Walk white markers directing me to a hard right and continue my upwards trajectory.

I continued on the wide path for another 100m or so before spotting my next turn. This time turning to my left and along a narrower path through the trees. I moved up some stone steps before exiting the tree line. The next section of the Spinc and Glenealo Valley walk is probably the least attractive. Extensive tree felling has occurred which scarred the landscape as I zigzagged up the steep pathway.

The fact that I was moving steeply upwards was a good thing though as the end of tree felling section provided amazing views back over the Glendalough valley.

The Spinc Ridge

These beautiful views at the 2km mark of my walk marked the start of the Spinc Ridge. The name Spinc comes from the Irish language and can be translated as pointed hill. The Spinc ridge forms a really spectacular section of the Spinc and Glenealo Valley walk. I followed the trail along the wooden walkways along the ridge for about 3km.

The highest point of the Spinc Ridge is about 500m in altitude and this whole section of the route offers some amazing views of Glendalough Valley and the Upper Lake. I found myself stopping to look at the fantastic vistas every couple of minutes. The views looking back towards the Round Tower were particularly impressive.

The high point comes around 4km into the trail. If you just want to complete the shorter Spinc Loop there is a turn off to the left on the ascent – look for the blue arrows.

Moving Downhill

The descent from the Spinc is again along a wooden walkway. The walkway cuts through marshy terrain so I found it a great help to have this solid footing.

The trail meanders down towards the Glenealo river and and the abandoned lead mine situated at the foot of the valley. The boardwalk stopped and instead was replaced by a stone pathway as I moved downhill. Luckily for me, I came across a small group of deer grazing close to the path. I stopped for a while to admire these majestic creatures.

The Lead Mine 

The abandoned lead mine dates back as far as 1867. Nicknamed the Van Diemen’s Land Mine due to the remoteness of its location – stone ruins remain of some of the mine buildings. 

Heading Towards The Miner’s Village

The next section of the Spinc and Glenealo Valley walk is really nice. The trail bridges the Glenealo river at around the 5.5km mark. For the next 500m or so the route follows the path of the Glenealo river closely and I found it lovely to walk beside the gurgling water.

For the first time, I was looking towards Glendalough as I walked along the trail. This meant less stopping to look back and enjoy the views.

The Miner’s village is located as the Glenealo river approaches the upper lake. While known as the Miner’s Village, the group of buildings was actually where the lead ore was processed after being transported from the mines. 

As well as taking in the ruins of the old buildings, the Miner’s Village offered me a good opportunity to take in the scale of the cliffs on the Spinc side of the valley. The sheerness and size of the cliffs are spectacular. I felt really really tiny looking up at them. It amazed me that I had been on top of those cliffs just a short while ago.

Home Along the Miner’s Road Walk

The Miner’s Village marked 7km completed on the Spinc and Glenealo Valley trail. The remainder of the journey follows the Miner’s Road Walk (purple route). The path is nice and flat as it runs parallel to the shore of the Upper Lake.

As I came back to the car park side of the lake, I had a lovely opportunity to take in the view of the route I had just completed. The Spinc towered to my left with the Miner’s Road path obscured by lovely green trees on my right.

From this point, I completed the loop and headed back to the car park beside the visitor centre. Altogether the trail comes in at 9.5km. My day’s walking was actually around 11.5km as I also did the 1km out and back to the visitor centre. As mentioned above, I always think it is worth the extra couple of kilometres to get the views of the round tower and lower lake.

The Spinc and Glenealo Valley trail is regarded as one of the most beautiful walks in the whole of Ireland. And I wholeheartedly agree. This is one you definitely need to add to your bucket list.

One final note – If I were to do it again, I would probably do the route in a counterclockwise direction. I think the views from the Spinc are nicer looking towards the round tower end. So it would be great to have those in front of you as you walk.