A Hidden gem in Ireland
County Wicklow may not immediately spring to mind as an ‘overseas’ holiday destination but if exploring the Wicklow Mountains National Park, visiting ancient ruins or soaking up the scenery appeal then this could be the place for you.
Exciting and unexpected discoveries are the highlights of any touring adventure – and there were plenty in store for us during our stay at Hidden Valley resort.
County Wicklow may not immediately spring to mind as a destination for an ‘overseas’ holiday but if days out exploring in the 20,000-hectare Wicklow Mountains National Park appeal, not to mention the chance to see ancient ruins or simply soak up scenic grandeur, this could be the place for you.
Our base was Rathdrum, which sits high on the western side of the Avonmore Valley and is only 50 miles south of Dublin, and is ideal for your discovering this beautiful region. The village has a buzzing centre, decent shops, a well-stocked supermarket and several highly recommended eating establishments. We stopped for an excellent lunch at The Coffin Shed – despite its macabre name we enjoyed service with a smile and a jovial atmosphere.
The Hidden Valley site is tucked away with wooded surroundings and skirted by the River Avonmore. It features a dedicated area around a lake for caravans and motorhomes while attractions on site (for an additional fee) include the Splash Valley Aqua Park – a floating adventure playground filled with inflatable obstacles – as well as fishing and boating, while the kids’ outdoor adventure park is free for residents to enjoy. Also look out for the Lakeside Restaurant, with its ice cream parlour, and cinema nights (from Easter, at weekends throughout the high season).
Despite the many fun things to do on site (or even the temptation to do little more than sit back and enjoy the surroundings), I would urge you to get out and explore. Nearby Glendalough, meaning ‘valley of two lakes’, is home to the remains of a monastic settlement founded by St Kevin in the 6th century. Spending time here is an atmospheric experience as you marvel at buildings dating from the medieval period and later, including the 30m-high Round Tower, Priests’ House and cathedral. Keen walkers can pick up a map of the various walking trails in the area.
Powerscourt Estate, about 16 miles south of Dublin and set against the backdrop of the Great Sugar Loaf mountain, boasts stunning gardens that include ornamental lakes, an Italian Garden, Japanese Garden and wooded valley where you will find the Pepperpot Tower – a fascinating cannon- topped structure modelled on a pepperpot from Lord Powerscourt’s dining table. You should also take in the beautiful, 121m-high Powerscourt Waterfall, about four miles from the main estate.
All the while vying for attention in these parts is Great Sugar Loaf. Sitting apart from the peaks of the Wicklow Mountains, its distinctive conical shape makes it one of Ireland’s most iconic landmarks – a climb to its modest summit rewards the energetic with views taking in Dublin city and even as far away as Snowdonia in Wales.
On your return journey to the site you could take a detour to join the Old Military Road (R115) that runs along the spine of the mountains. It was constructed during the early 1800s to open up the region to the British Army following the 1798 rebellion and is one of the most scenic drives in the country. Highlights include the Sally Gap, where an extraordinary explosion of colour will have you stopping and reaching for the camera. From here you can take the R759 and stop to admire views of ‘The Guinness Lake’ – otherwise known as Lough Tay. The shape of this body of water, its dark colour and the white sand on its northern shore lend it its nickname!
At Shekina Sculpture Garden – another of the many beautiful gardens in County Wicklow - works of art in different mediums by Irish artists are strategically placed among the plants and flowers, stirring the senses and causing you to ponder. Yet another unexpected – and wonderfully enlightening discovery – on our County Wicklow adventure.