Wicklow Way

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The Wicklow Way at Barr Rock, with the J B Malone memorial overlooking Lough Tay

The Wicklow Way is an 81-mile long-distance trail that crosses the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland. It runs from Marlay Park in the southern suburbs of Dublin through County Wicklow and ends in the village of Clonegal in County Carlow. It is known in Irish as Slí Cualann Nua, meaning "New Cuala Way".[1]

The way is designated as a National Waymarked Trail by the Irish Sports Council and is waymarked by posts with a yellow "walking man" symbol and a directional arrow. Typically completed in 5–7 days, it is one of the busiest of Ireland's National Waymarked Trails, with up to 24,000 people a year walking the most popular sections. The Way is also used regularly by a number of mountain running competitions.

The highest point on the trail is on White Hill, at 2,067 feet above sea level.


The trail follows forest tracks, mountain paths, boreens and quiet country roads. Mountains, upland lakes and steep-sided glacial valleys make up the terrain of the initial northern sections of the Wicklow Way before giving way to gentler rolling foothills in the latter southern sections. Much of the route follows the contact point between the igneous granite of the western side of Wicklow and the metamorphic schists and slates of the eastern side.

The principal habitat of the upland sections is a mixture of broadleaf and coniferous woodland, heath and blanket bog while in the lowland sections the hedgerows marking the boundaries between fields support a variety of wildlife. The Way also passes the Monastic City at Glendalough, founded in the 6th century by Saint Kevin.

The provision of and access to the routes through the countryside used by the Wicklow Way is dependent on agreement with local authorities and landowners. Accordingly the route has been criticised for excessive use of routes through forestry plantations and roads. Proposals to address these issues were put forward in a review of the National Waymarked Trails published in 2010.


Marlay Park

The concept of a long-distance trail through County Wicklow was first published by J. B. Malone (1914–1989) in a series of newspaper articles in the Evening Herald in 1966, where he had a regular column on walking in Wicklow: he had published two books on the subject (The Open Road ,1950 and Walking in Wicklow ,1964) and contributed to the RTÉ television series Mountain and Meadow (1962).[2] He proposed a circular route, dubbed "The Twelve Days of Wicklow", which he considered to be "a journey comparable to that along the celebrated "Pennine Way" but I would say more varied than its north British counterpart".[3] The route would have consisted of twelve stages, beginning at Bohernabreena, near Tallaght in County Dublin and ending at Stepaside in County Dublin, by way of West Wicklow over the Wicklow Mountains,[4] including the Lugnaquilla summit;[5] and with a rest day at Aghavannagh.[6]

In 1977, Malone was appointed to a committee which evolved into the Long Distance Walking Routes Committee of the National Sports Council, in which position Malone set about developing a scheme for a "Wicklow Way" along the lines of what he had proposed twelve years earlier.[7] The Irish Government's decision to develop a series of walking routes was prompted in response to the development of the Ulster Way in Northern Ireland.[8] The circular route concept was dropped in favour of the linear path between Marlay Park and Clonegal that exists today, mainly because the Government wanted the Wicklow Way to form part of national network of trails to cover Ireland.[9] Issues regarding access were another reason.[2] In developing the route, the committee made use of many existing paths, tracks and forest roads but, having no compulsory powers to include any of these, the provision of and access to such routes was, and continues to be, achieved by agreement with local authorities and landowners.[10]

"Walking man" waymarker

The first section of the Way – from Marlay Park to Luggala – was opened on 15 August 1980,[11] the second section – from Luggala to Moyne on 27 September 1981[12] and the final stretch as far as Clonegal was completed in 1982.[1]

The Irish name of the Wicklow Way – Slí Cualann Nua – is not a literal translation but means "New Cuala Way", a reference to the Slí Cualann, one of five ancient routes that radiated from the Hill of Tara that ran through the land of Cuala (modern-day Wicklow).[13]

The route of the Wicklow Way has been altered on a number of occasions since opening in 1980, generally as a result of problems with erosion or difficulties with rights of way.[14] For instance, concerns about erosion led to the Way being diverted away from Fairy Castle, the summit of Two Rock mountain.[15] Similarly, the Way was also diverted away from the summit of Mullacor,[16] which at 2,156 feet was the highest point on the Way before the trail was rerouted.[17] In 1999, the Way was diverted away from the village of Laragh on foot of an objection by a local landowner, to the chagrin of businesses in the village dependent on the custom of walking tourists.[18] A number of information boards and stone landmarks were erected in 2006 to mark the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Way.[1] The state-owned forestry company Coillte has in recent years worked with a number of tourism and voluntary bodies to upgrade sections of the Way that run through its lands.[19] Today, the Wicklow Way is managed by the Wicklow Outdoor Recreation Committee.[20]

The Wicklow Way was the first such waymarked way to be opened in the Republic of Ireland.[21] The Long Distance Walking Routes Committee went on to develop many more long distance walking routes, the intention at the time being to develop a walking route around Ireland.[10] There are now more than forty National Waymarked Trails,[22] which together add up to over 2,500 miles.[23]


Forest path on the Wicklow Way

On account of being the first to be developed in Ireland and also on account of its proximity to Dublin, the Wicklow Way is one of the most popular of Ireland's National Waymarked Trails.[14]

Since access to lands along the Way is on a permissive basis, much of the walk (25 miles) is on tarred country roads; another 35 miles is on land owned by Coillte and 10 miles is on land owned by the Wicklow Mountains National Park. A relatively small amount crosses private land (8 miles).[24] Most of the road walking is confined to the southernmost section of the Way, between Tinahely and Clonegal, where some 63% of the route is on roads.[25] Research by the Wicklow Uplands Council showed that while up to 24,000 people a year walk along the busiest sections, this number falls to under 2,500 a year on the stretches south of Glenmalure.[8]

The extensive use of forest roads through conifer plantations has been a source of criticism: the authors of the Lonely Planet guidebook, Walking in Ireland, found, "The Way's one shortcoming is the character of the walking […] you'll become all too familiar with forest tracks and roads through conifer plantations […] where they're surrounded by tall, dense forest they're not particularly interesting".[26] Similarly, Paul Gosling, who walked the Way for The Independent, found that, "While the long distance path is, on occasion, very attractive, it is not so much hazardous as unadventurous. […] Over the next four and a half days, we lost our enthusiasm for conifers […] The views were restricted and there was little sign of wildlife".[27] In The Irish Times John G. O'Dwyer described them as "gloomy trails through invading armies of monoculture […] as memorable as a motorway median".[28]


The Wicklow Way is typically completed in five to seven days.[29]

The route is waymarked in both directions and can be started at Marlay Park or Clonegal. The trail is marked with square black posts with an image, in yellow, of a walking man and a directional arrow.[9] This image, copied from the symbol used for waymarking the Ulster Way,[30] has become the traditional waymarking symbol for all of the National Waymarked Trails in Ireland.[23] Brown fingerposts are used on sections that follow roads.[31]

Marlay Park to Knockree

The Wicklow Way at Curtlestown, entering the Glencree valley

If travelling in a North-South direction, the Wicklow Way begins in Marlay Park, a historic demesne on the outskirts of Dublin's suburbs laid out in the late 18th century by the La Touches, a family of Huguenot merchants and bankers, and later developed as a public park.[32] The trailhead comprises a map board, beside which is a low wall with a stone stile through which walkers pass in order to make their first step on the trail.[31] The Way traverses the park, following a wooded shelterbelt along the Little Dargle River, before emerging on the southern side of the park onto College Road.[33] Passing under the M50 motorway, it ascends Kilmashogue Lane and enters the forest recreation area on Kilmashogue mountain.[34] This is the first of many forest plantations, owned by Coillte, through which the Wicklow Way passes[35]

Much of this initial section of the Way is underlain by granite.[36] The trail circles the mountain, emerging onto open moorland near Fairy Castle.[37] This upland heath and bog habitat is dominated by heather, purple moor grass and bog cotton and supports many bird species, including red grouse, meadow pipit and skylark.[38] The Way crosses a saddle between Two Rock mountain and Kilmashogue before descending from a broad ridge between Two Rock and Tibradden Mountain into the valley of Glencullen where it follows the R116 road to the hamlet of Boranaraltry.[39] The road is flanked by hedgerow-bordered farmland.[40]

Ascending from Boranaraltry, the trail crests the shoulder of Prince William’s Seat, at which point the Way leaves County Dublin and enters County Wicklow.[37]

The habitat here alternates between blanket bog and upland heath.[41] The trail descends to the floor of the Glencree valley by way of Curtlestown Wood where it then enters Lackan Wood and crosses the shoulder of Knockree Hill.[42]

Knockree to Oldbridge

Powerscourt Deerpark and Waterfall

From Knockree on to Clonegal, much of the Way follows the contact point between the granite of the western part of the Wicklow Mountains and the schists and slates of the east.[43] The trail follows the Glencree River through Seskin Wood, a semi-natural oak and hazel woodland and a habitat for jays.[44] Crossing the river at a footbridge, the trail then passes into Crone Woods and ascends to Ride Rock, which overlooks Powerscourt Deerpark and the Powerscourt Waterfall, the tallest in Ireland at 397 feet.[45] Deer – hybrids of imported Japanese Sika and native Red deer[46] – are common in the forests and mountains along the Wicklow Way and all deer in the Wicklow Mountains originated with the Powerscourt herd.[47]

The next valley to be crossed is Glensoulan which, although uninhabited today, before the Great Famine of the 1840s was home to a small population of cottiers and faint traces of their farms can still be seen in the wintertime when the bracken is low.[48] Crossing the River Dargle, the trail ascends the eastern shoulder of Djouce mountain (or White Hill).[49] Here, the heathland gives way to wetter blanket bog.[50] Bogland shares a number of plant and animal species with heathland but is also a habitat for species of bog cotton as well as bog asphodel, sedges (which contribute to the formation of peat) and Sphagnum|bog moss.[51] The wet bogland is also a habitat for frogs, pondskaters and diving beetles.[50] Near the summit of Djouce, the Way joins a wooden tóchar or bog bridge, constructed to protect the bog from erosion,[52] which crosses White Hill, the highest point on the Way at 2,067 feet.[53]

The trail descends White Hill towards Luggala along a ridge, known as the Barr, where a memorial stone to J. B. Malone, carved by sculptor Billy Gannon and erected in 1990, may be found overlooking Lough Tay.[54] From Luggala, the trail passes through a coniferous plantation of spruce and pine on the eastern flanks of Sleamaine and Ballinafunshoge Hills to reach Oldbridge, which crosses the River Avonmore near Lough Dan.[55]

Oldbridge to Glendalough

The Wicklow Way at Glendalough

Leaving Oldbridge, the Way follows the road for approximately 2 miles (4 kilometres) before turning onto a boreen.[56] To the left of the boreen is Wart Stone Field, so called on account of a bullaun stone that lies in the field, water from which is said to cure warts.[57] The boreen ends at Brusher Gap, reputed to be a place where locals left food and supplies for Michael Dwyer and his followers when they went on the run after the 1798 Rebellion.[58] The Way enters Drummin forest, a sitka spruce plantation,[59] where it passes an Adirondack shelter, constructed by a volunteer group.

The trail climbs Paddock Hill before descending into a plantation of larch trees.[60] The forest floor here is a habitat for spurges, heath bedstraw and fly agaric toadstools.[60] The trail crosses the Military Road, near Laragh, and then a wooden footbridge across the Glenmacnass River.[61] A dense spread of granite boulders litters the riverbed, glacial erratics deposited by melting glaciers at the end of the last ice age.[62] This stretch of the trail follows an old mass path through a woodland of many native Irish tree species, including oak, rowan, silver birch and willow, carpeted with a forest floor of bilberry, |bluebell and hard fern.[63] The Way continues along forest tracks over the shoulder of Brockagh Mountain.[64] At the highest point there is a vista over the Vale of Glendalough with the two lakes nestled in the shelter of Camaderry and Derrybawn Mountains.[61]

Levaing the forest, the Way reaches the R756 road and the Glendalough visitor centre.[65] Crossing the Glendasan River, it passes the remains of the Monastic City,[66] founded in the 6th century by Saint Kevin.[67]

Glendalough to Iron Bridge

Lugnaquilla seen from the Wicklow Way

Fro Gleendalough to Iron Bridge, most of the trail is on forest roads.[68] From the Monastic City at Glendalough, the Way follows the Green Road towards the Upper Lake.[69] It passes through an area of native woodland made up of oak, holly, birch, and rowan.[61] Ascending from the Upper Lake, the trail reaches Poulanass Waterfall which, over millennia, has cut a narrow gorge through the slate rock and borne millions of tonnes of rock, sand and mud into Glendalough, dividing what was originally one lake into the two seen today.[70] The trail continues its ascent through forest before emerging onto the saddle between Mullacor and Lugduff mountains at Borenacrow.[71]

The Borenacrow route between Glendalough and Glenmalure dates back to ancient times and there is a local tradition that Saint Kevin travelled this way to celebrate Mass in Glenmalure.[72] The view ahead looks across the Glenmalure valley at Fraughan Rock Glen and Lugnaquilla, the highest mountain in County Wicklow and in all the Wicklow Mountains at 3,035 feet.

Having passed the highest mountain in the county, the Wicklow Way then begins a long descent into Glenmalure, the longest glacial valley in the British Isles.[73] Along the way the trail passes another Adirondack shelter, builkt in 2006. Reaching the floor of the valley, the Way joins the Military Road to reach Drumgoff Crossroads.[74]

Crossing the River Avonbeg, the route passes the remains of an old military barracks, built around 1800, and enters Drumgoff Wood.[75] At the forest entrance is a granite pillar marking the official halfway point of the Wicklow Way.[76]

The trail then follows a forest road along the flanks of Slieve Maan before briefly re-joining the Military Road and then following a forest road around Carrickashane Mountain before reaching the road at Iron Bridge where the Way crosses the Ow River.[77] Another Adirondack shelter can be found at Mucklagh, on the slopes of Carrickashane Mountain.

Iron Bridge to Derry River

The Wicklow Way near Moyne

After Iron Bridge, the character of the Way changes with the steeper hills of the earlier sections giving way to a gentler gradient that meanders between low hills.[35] These latter sections also contain a great deal of road walking as the Way crosses farmland via minor roads and boreens.[78]

Hedgerows of hawthorn and blackthorn, which form the boundaries between the fields, are the principal habitat in these cultivated areas.[79] They support many species of wild flowers, insects and birds, including dog rose, purple foxglove and wild violet as well as wrens, blackbirds and song thrushes.[79]

The Way ascends through a gap between Ballygobban and Shielstown Hills, yielding views stretching from Lugnaquilla to Keadeen Mountain and beyond to Eagle Hill and the Castlecomer Plateau.[80] The hills ahead mark the edge of the granite backbone of the Wicklow Mountains; in the distance they gradually merge with the Blackstairs Mountains, which can be seen on the skyline.[80]

The trail follows the road passing close to the village of Moyne before joining a boreen.[81] Along this boreen are the remains of a holy well dedicated to Saint Columba. The trail contours around Ballycumber Hill and then continues along the eastern slopes of Garryhoe Hill, passing the remains of a ringfort, approximately 50 feet in diameter.[82] Further along is a memorial to a Dr James McNamara who was killed in a shooting accident in 1916.[83] Passing through a series of gates along the way, the trail follows Coolafunshoge Lane, an old droving path with extensive views of south Wicklow.[84]

The lane emerges onto the road, crossing a bridge over the River Derry to reach the R747 road close to Tinahely.[85]

Derry River to Clonegal

The "Dying Cow" at Stranakelly Crossroads

The trail follows an ancient cattle droving path around Muskeagh Hill before joining a series of country roads.[86] 63% of this final stretch is on roads.[87] These pass through the village of Mullinacuff whose neo-Gothic church and cottages are built from local granite.[88]

At Stranakelly Crossroads, the Way passes Tallon's pub, better known as the "Dying Cow" from a story that, when visited by police late one night, the landlady argued that she wasn't serving drink after hours but providing refreshments to neighbours who helped her with a dying cow.[89] Circling Cronlea Hill, which is topped with a windfarm,[90] and passing near the village of Kilquiggan, the Way crosses the R725 road near Shillelagh.[89] The trail enters forestry at Raheenakit before joining an old drovers' road, once used to herd sheep to market in Shillelagh.[91]

The Blackstairs Mountains, whose main peak, Mount Leinster, is distinguished by the television mast on its summit, begin to dominate the horizon.[92] The trail meanders along forestry tracks around Moylisha and Urelands Hills.[93] Urelands Hill is littered with hornblende-rich schist, a legacy of a chain of long-extinct volcanic islands that existed 450–500 million years ago when this part of Ireland lay under the primeval Iapetus Ocean.[94] Joining the road for the final stretch into Clonegal, the Way leaves County Wicklow and enters County Carlow at Wicklow Bridge, about two miles from the end.[95]

The Wicklow Way, having crosses into Carlow, ends in the village green of Clonegal where a stone bench and a map board, displaying the entire route from Marlay Park, may be found.

Intersecting and connecting paths

The halfway point of the Wicklow Way at the entrance to Drumgoff Forest, Glenmalure

The Wicklow Way has been designated as forming part of a 'European walking route', the E8, which nominally runs from Dursey Island in County Cork across Britain and Europe to the Bosphorus. The Irish section incorporates the Wicklow Way, the South Leinster Way, the East Munster Way, the Blackwater Way and parts of the Kerry Way and the Beara Way. There is an unmarked link route from Dublin Port (where the E8 connects to Liverpool by ferry) which follows the River Dodder to Rathfarnham and on to the Wicklow Way trailhead at Marlay Park by way of Saint Enda's Park. Similarly, an unmarked road walk connects Clonegal with the trailhead of the South Leinster Way in Kildavin, County Carlow.[96]

The Wicklow Way also shares part of its route with the Dublin Mountains Way along a section of the ridge between Two Rock and Tibradden.[97] The Saint Kevin's Way Pilgrim Path starts at either Hollywood or Valleymount, County Wicklow and ends at Glendalough where it connects with the Wicklow Way.[98]

Sections of the Wicklow Way are also used by several National Looped Walks: the Maulin Mountain Loop[99] and the Ballycumber,[100] Kyle,[101] and Mangan's[102] Loops near Tinahely.

Sporting events

Mullacor Hut in Glenmalure

A number of mountain running events are held along the route of the Way. The Wicklow Way Relay is a 79-mile event run between Kilmashogue and Shillelagh for teams of 2 to 8 runners.[103] The Wicklow Way Ultra is a 32-mile individual event run between Glencullen and Ballinastoe Woods.[104] The record for running the entire distance of the Wicklow Way from Marlay Park to Clonegal is held by Eoin Keith who completed the route in a time of 12h25:07 on 25 May 2013.[105]

Public transport links

The trailhead at Marlay Park is served by a number of Dublin Bus routes.[106] There is no public transport available to or from the trailhead in Clonegal: the closest bus routes are those serving the nearby villages of Kildavin and Bunclody.[107]

Some places on or near the route are also served by bus. The St. Kevins (sic) Bus Service stops at Roundwood, Laragh and Glendalough.[108] The Wicklow Way Bus provides services to Laragh, Glendalough, Glenmalure, Iron Bridge and Tinahely.[109]

Outside links


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Long-distance footpaths in the Republic of Ireland

National Waymarked Trails:   Ballyhoura WayBarrow WayBealach na Gaeltachta, Dún na nGallBeara WayBlackwater WayBluestack WayBurren WayCavan WayCroagh Patrick Heritage TrailDingle WayDublin Mountains WayEast Clare WayEast Munster WayGrand Canal WayHymany WayKerry WayLough Derg WayMid Clare WayMiners Way and Historical TrailMonaghan WayMulteen WayNore Valley WayNorth Kerry WayOffaly WayRoyal Canal WaySheep's Head WaySlieve Bloom WaySlieve Felim WaySligo WaySouth Leinster WaySuck Valley WayTáin WayTipperary Heritage WayWestern WayWestmeath WayWicklow Way

Greenways:   Boyne GreenwayDublin-Galway GreenwayGreat Southern TrailGreat Western Greenway

Others:   Bangor TrailMalin to Mizen