The first time I saw Glendalough, it was in a YouTube video. At the time, I had no idea what I was looking at or where it was located; all I saw were two European travel bloggers pointing cameras at old stone buildings. But when I finally caught the bus to Glendalough in November, those old buildings—and the gorgeous valley in which they are located—felt like they had jumped out of a fairy tale into real life.
It shouldn’t have taken me as long as it did to visit Glendalough. The quaintly named “Valley of the Two Lakes” is only an hour and a half away from University College Dublin campus on the 181 bus, so a visit there is a very manageable day trip. Unfortunately (and somewhat embarrassingly for someone who already had lived at UCD for almost three months at the time), the first weekend I intended to visit Glendalough, I ended up missing the bus. To be clear, I left my dorm room with plenty of time to get to the bus stop but….I second guessed myself on which bus stop that was. As I ran between stops, frantically retyping my route into Google Maps while doing so, I looked up to see not one but two 181 buses whizz past on their way to Glendalough.
Now, I’m half convinced an extra week of anticipation made my Glendalough experience even better. There are several wonderful hikes at Glendalough, but the white route is, for good reason, the most popular. Climbing onto a ridge overlooking the Upper Lake gives spectacular views of the valley—ones which are earned from a steep ascent by the Poulanass Waterfall. After three separate visits to Glendalough, I still haven’t figured out the right attire for the hike – I always end up shedding layers as I scale the sunny, southeastern face of the ridge, then quickly redonning them as I get up onto the crest and feel the wind in its full force. As someone who has lived over 6000 feet above sea level for most of my life, I can’t bring myself to call Glendalough mountainous—but all the same, the gusts of wind do sometimes remind me of hikes I’ve done back in New Mexico.
One thing I don’t have back home is a 1000-year-old monastery built by a monk named Kevin. Many of the structures at Glendalough are named after said monk, such as St. Kevin’s Kitchen, the ruins of a small church with a chimney-shaped bell tower, and St. Kevin’s Bed, a rocky ledge where (as I recently learned) the saint purportedly rebuffed the advances of a woman by throwing her into the lake below.
If I had to recommend one place in Ireland to visit, it would almost certainly be Glendalough, with its unique combination of history, mysticism, natural beauty, and (possibly?) leprechauns. If you need evidence of the last one, all I can say is I’ve seen a rainbow every time I’ve gone to Glendalough.