So far when talking about Wicklow on this blog, it’s been mostly along dedicated walking trails like the Wicklow Way. This post is a bit different as I explore the off the beaten track route that is the Wicklow Round.
What is the Wicklow Round?
The Wicklow Round is a mountain running course covering 26 peaks over approximately 100km. This annual Wicklow Round Race involves competitors running the whole distance in just one day! The record for completing this mammoth task is an incredible 15 hours and 4 minutes. This article covers the first 8 peaks of the Wicklow Round route which I trekked in April 2021.
My thoughts on completing the first section of c.33km in 8 hours is that walking this part of the course in itself is an extremely difficult and arduous task. I am simply amazed that people are able to add on another 70km of mountain running on top of this. And to do it all in one day! It’s awe inspiring.
Preparation for the Wicklow Round (Part 1)
The majority of this first section of the Wicklow Round is off road with little or no discernible tracks to follow. It is recommended you bring maps and a compass. Eastwest mapping provides 1:25,000 scale maps for the Wicklow Mountains. I also pre-downloaded the Wicklow Round route on to my Viewranger App. This was a good tool to have as it provided reassurance at times that I was going in the right direction. You will also need to pack plenty of food and water (at least 2 litres), raingear, hat and gloves etc. It’s a long day out on the mountains so best to be fully prepared.
The Start of the Wicklow Round (Part 1)
The Wicklow Round starts on the old Military Road at the Dublin Wicklow border (click here for google maps link). I was lucky that my wife offered to drive me to this location. We planned to summit the first mountain of Kippure together. I would then continue along the Wicklow Round alone. My wife would return back to the car on the Military Road. She also kindly offered to collect me at an agreed pick up point after mountain number 8 much later in the day.
We met 6 or 7 cars already at the start point on arrival at the Old Military Road. Despite this, we were able to park up on the side of the road easily enough. Then it was just a matter of starting the climb to the first mountain – Kippure.
Kippure is the highest mountain in Dublin at 757m and the 56th highest peak in Ireland. The top of the mountain holds a large television mast that makes Kippure quite distinguishable from a long distance. The first 2.4km of the trek to Kippure are along an easily navigable gravel pathway. The views to the right give a nice glimpse of Bohernabreena Waterworks and Reservoir.
One interesting thing we noticed on the climb up was a couple of guys hand cutting turf with a slane. After the gravel path ends it’s on to bog and gorseland.
While the general route is quite clearly laid out in front of you, care is needed as the boggy ground is very wet in places (this was to be a theme for the day!). It was fun to pick out our steps and jump across little streams on the way up.
As we approached the summit the gorse disappeared for a while and it was all bog land around us.
We moved at a steady pace and summited Kippure after about an hour and a half. At the top we admired the lovely views before saying our goodbyes.
I was on my own now as I made my way down the well maintained tarmac road on the other side of the mountain that allows access to the TV mast.
I could see my next mountain, Carrigvore in the distance. It is possible to head straight for Carrigvore from Kippure over rough mountain terrain. I decided however that following the roadway option was a bit more sensible.
The access road winds down Kippure for 3.25km before coming out at a different spot on the Old Military Road. I turned right and walked along this road for another 4km to the Sally Gap. I kept a good pace and reached the Sally Gap about an hour after leaving the summit of Kippure. The only stop I made was to take a moment at the bridge over the River Liffey. I marvelled at the small stillness of the river compared with the powerful presence this waterway holds in the city centre.
As I approached Carrigvore I could make out the appearance of a rough track up to the top. I met a couple of cyclists stopped for a rest at the Sally Gap. These were to be the last humans I would see for a long while. They may have thought my antics after saying hello to them a bit strange. After I turned right at the Sally Gap, I walked along the road for a couple of hundred metres and then jumped over the drain to my left and started through thick gorse up the mountain.
It turns out the pathway I had seen from the roadway only commences about 50m up. As such, it was a bit of a battle for the first stage of Carrigvore. To be honest, even when you make it to the trackway. It’s not really a trackway as such but more of a break in the gorse that it makes it easier to navigate the climb.
The higher you go on Carrigvore the easier the terrain becomes. The top of the mountain is marked by some large boulders and some great views!
From the top of Carrigvore, it’s southwest to the next mountain, Gravale. The route to Gravale is easy to make out. There is a bog drain running for most of the way and it’s a case of following this murky waterway to the base of Gravale.
Be careful of your footing as you follow the drain as obviously this is a walk through bogland. It is very wet in places. Gravale is 718m and pretty much a straight walk up to the top. There is a stone cairn to greet you when you make it.
Like all of the Wicklow Round, it’s always fairly obvious where the next part of the journey is. You just look for the biggest mountain in the surrounding area and make for that one. At the top of Gravale, Duff Hill looks imposing.
Duff Hill is tall at 722m. However, as you gaze to the south west (from Gravale) the biggest impression about Duff Hill is that it is steep. Very steep. To make matters worse, the descent from Gravale is tricky. It’s very uneven underfoot, overgrown in many places, and generally just difficult to walk through.
One good thing about the journey down Gravale was the fact that I came across a couple of red grouse. To be honest, they frightened the absolute life out of me as they shot out the thick gorse only a few yards away. Once I recovered from the shock I was able to get only a quick look at the pair of sturdy birds as they moved away rapidly. Their distinctive call echoing through the valley.
It’s difficult to see the steep angle of Duff Hill in photographs. The angle on the ascent had to be almost 60 degrees though. It definitely called for both hands and feet to scramble upwards at times.
The climb is tough going. I needed to take a break every 10 steps or so to catch my breath. Eventually though I made it to the cairn at the top.
Mullaghcleevaun East Top
Looking southwestwards from the top of Duff Hill, you can see the the next three peaks on the Wicklow Round route. First up it is Mullaghcleevaun East Top which sits on the shoulder of the larger Mullaghcleevaun. In the distance is the penultimate mountain of the day, Moanbane.
The descent from Duff Hill is thankfully not as steep. The walk to East Top is nearly all through bogland though. As such it is tough going on tired limbs. The reward for reaching the summit of East Top are lovely views of Lough Dan to the south-east. The lake is overlooked by Knocknacloghoge on one side and Kanturk on the other.
From East Top it is onwards and upwards again to the peak of Mullaghcleevaun itself. East top stands at 790m with Mullaghcleevaun 849m (the highest mountain of the day). As such it is not a huge climb to reach this next peak. However there are large areas of exposed peat along the route.
It’s best to try skirt around these if possible. The summit of Mullaghcleevaun is marked by a trig point. You will also get great views out over the Blessington lakes to the west.
The descent from Mullaghcleevaun is very sharp. There is somewhat of a track down this steep descent although it can be difficult to find from the top. If you don’t find it, take care coming down over the long ragged grass.
For me, the hike to Moanbane was probably the most difficult of the day. After completing about 21km to get to the bottom of Mullaghcleevaun I was really feeling the effects of the preceding 6 mountain climbs. Added to this is the fact that once again the 3km walk to Moanbane is a mixture of heavy bogland and uneven gorse and heather.
In all honesty it felt a bit never-ending at times. However, as is usually the case after arduous climbs, I was rewarded with lovely views out over Blessington lakes on reaching the summit. As an added bonus, the summit itself is marked with a nice little pond.
From Moanbane it’s roughly 1km to the next peak of Silsean with views over the Blessington lakes to your right. The summit of Silsean is marked by a nice beehive shaped cairn.
The Closing stages of the Wicklow Round (part 1)
My tired legs brought me down the south slope of Silsean towards Garryknock Woods. As I moved downhill I could see a herd of deer in the distance making their way up the slope of Moanbane. I started thinking of my day in the mountains. It was a tough and difficult undertaking. At the same time, I was just so happy to be finally able to get out into the open countryside (beyond my 5km) after all these months of Covid lockdown. Overall I was feeling great about the whole day.
There was still some hardship ahead however. From my research into the closing stages of this planned walk, I knew there was a gravel track about 100m into the forest at Garryknock. I also knew I needed to locate this track to lead me back to the roadway and my pickup point.
Unfortunately, all of the reviews of this part of the trail were only up how people walked up Silsean. I knew that there was a rough route somewhere from the gravel path to the edge of the forest. I hoped that either a) this route would be easy to find walking down from Silsean or b) it would be easy to walk through the forest itself until I reached the gravel roadway.
The Edge of the Woods
Unfortunately, neither of the above turned out to be the case. I reached the perimeter of the forest. It was marked by a medium sized fence. I could see beyond the fence that the woods were actually quite thick and overgrown. I traced the perimeter for a good 10 or 15 minutes looking for any possible access point. Again, this proved fruitless.
So I made the decision to climb over the fence and force my way through the woods. Not an easy task. After slow progress I finally caught sight of the gravel roadway up ahead. However, disaster struck again. As I made my way slowly forward I began to see a problem. A sheer 10-12 foot drop from the forest where I stood down to the actual roadway. This was the case for as far as I could see either side of me.
I had walked about 30km at this stage. The thoughts of slogging back up through the overgrown forest again to look for a better route did not appeal to me.
Decision made. I dangled myself over the edge of the earthen embankment as best I could. From there, it wasn’t too much more of a drop. So drop I did. Ending up in a slump along the edge of the roadway.
Luckily, there was nothing bruised apart from my pride. So I dusted myself off and started walking along the roadway. The route eventually leads on to a minor public road. If you turn right when you reach this road you come to a T-Junction after about 1km. Then it’s a left turn and another 1.5km to a junction with the R756. This was my pick-up point.
All in all it was great to sit down in a nice warm car after my 33km walk over 8 mountain summits. I felt a sense of accomplishment tinged with a nagging feeling of needing to figure out the best way of getting through Garryknock Woods. One for the to-do list.