Exploring the Garden of Ireland

County Wicklow is often overlooked by those visiting Ireland in favour of more celebrated tourist destinations. Rosemary Boyce discovers the region has plenty going for it, from breathtaking glacial valleys to towering mountains which combined with the famous Irish hospitality make for a truly memorable holiday.

By Rosemary Boyce | 24 May 2019

The stunning scenery of County Wicklow

County Wicklow may not instantly spring to mind for those planning a break in Ireland. That is slightly surprising considering that it boasts incredible mountain scenery, glacial valleys, spectacular walking trails and quaint villages – earning the area the nickname ‘Garden of Ireland’.

We began our trip in Redcross a pretty village nestled amid gently-sloping hills that stretch far into the distance. The main street is the hub of the community, and here you’ll find the award-winning River Valley Affiliated Site - a family-run caravan park, founded by Robert and Violet Williams and now managed by the younger members of the Williams family. When you stroll around this vast site you can see almost every type of modern-day holiday accommodation, a dedicated family camping area, and a ‘Secret Garden’ for caravanners and motorhomers that offers tranquillity and perfect views.

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 The award winning River Valley Holiday Park

Many of Wicklow’s top attractions are easily reached from Redcross. It was only about a four-mile drive to Avoca, a village famed as the location for the TV series Ballykissangel, for example. Fans of the show should visit Fitzgerald’s pub, the church and Garda station, while you can find a list of other filming locations at visitwicklow.ie/item/ballykissangel

For many people, though, the main draw here is Avoca Mill, the oldest working weaving mill in Ireland, operating since 1723 (Avoca is also Ireland’s oldest surviving business). It still produces colourful tweeds, throws, rugs and scarves, all on sale at the mill shop. Admission to the visitors’ centre is free and you are welcome to watch the weaving taking place during a tour of the mill.

After lunch at the mill’s popular café we made the short trip to another famous tourist spot. The spot where rivers Avonmore and Avonbeg converge to form the Avoca River spot inspired poet and songwriter Thomas Moore – known as The Bard of Erin – to pen his famous Irish melody The Meeting of the Waters. A bust created in his honour overlooks the confluence, with the words of the song engraved on a wall.

Glendalough offers some truly breathtaking views

Wide, open spaces beckoned, so taking leave of this romantic setting we headed north-west in the direction of beautiful Glendalough, on the edge of the Wicklow Mountains National Park. The Irish ‘Gleann Dá Loch’ translates into English as ‘Valley of Two Lakes’, and the area is renowned for being the location of an early medieval monastic settlement that was established by St Kevin in the 6th century (you can see the remains of some buildings that date from between the 10th and 12th centuries). 

The National Park was established in 1991 to conserve the flora, fauna and outstanding scenery – the latter, especially around Glendalough, is said to attract well over one million visitors per year. There are various scenic drives and walks available that allow you to explore the spectacular landscape – nine of the walking routes are way-marked and maintained by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and the ones around the Upper and Lower lakes seem to have the greatest appeal. 

If gardens are more your thing, you should take the R755 to Powerscourt House and Gardens. Set against the backdrop of the Great Sugar Loaf mountain – also known more simply as ‘Sugar Loaf’ – the 47-acre estate grounds were named number three in National Geographic’s list of the world’s top 10 gardens in 2010, the publisher drawing attention to waterfalls, pavilions and tree-lined arbours that recall the great estates and gardens of France and Germany. 

Waterfalls at Powerscourt House and Gardens

As our trip came to an end, we made mental notes to see more of the surrounding towns and villages during our next stay at River Valley, not least the 5km-long beach at Brittas Bay, said to be the finest on the east coast of Ireland. Perhaps it’s a region you’ll consider for a future holiday, too...

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