We set out on what was supposed to be a 4 day journey to Dublin from Clonegal on the Wicklow Way, but it was ended all too soon.

Losing people before we hit the trail

Our plan was originally to set out with 4 of us to make the charge from Clonegal to Dublin. With the drama of Coronavirus lingering over Europe, I could sense between us that there was a desire to delay or cancel the hike, but nobody was saying anything.

One of our hike group, Pete, had travelled to Italy about 8 days previous while Northern Italy was starting into what would become the epicentre of the European coronavirus crisis. Thankfully he was in the Southern Part of Italy so there wasn’t a huge amount of concern.

Four hikers becomes two

But, just as we were all packing our bags, Pete dropped out. I could sense the agony from him, but, being the selfless person he is, he made the right decision to play it safe and to self-quarantine for another 7 days (though he wasn’t strictly required to!). With that, another hiker, Dara, also pulled out. The whole coronavirus situation was just a bit overwhelming and he thought it was best to be home.

Eoin and I were left alone, but despite some tilting on whether to do it, we quickly realised that we couldn’t let the virus stop us from living our lives.

We decided to set out.

Day 1 – Clonegal to Tinahely

The full contents of my backpack for the Wicklow Way.

What was 4 was now 2, but we lacked none of the determination. We arrived in Clonegal for about 10:30 and with delay for nothing but a photo or two and a quick goodbye to my pregnant fiancé Eimer we set off on the trail.

With maps in hand, and the trail downloaded (on Hiiker of course!) we set off excited for the road ahead. Little did what was actually ahead; split open hips, bloody socks, sprained ankles, and the shutdown of the entire country!

Strong pace and good hiking

Typical charming part of the Wicklow Way

For the first day, things went essentially to plan. It didn’t rain that much, we set off at a barnstorming pace, and for the most part we were uninjured. The trail was a mix of roads and forest paths, with some moderately tough uphill climbs and tougher steep downhills on roads. Overall, there is a little too much road. Light footwear would probably have suited better than heavy hiking boots up to that point. We would have wrapped up the day easily expect for the lure of Tallons, the dying cow (one of the best pubs on the Wicklow Way).

The Dying Cow on the Wicklow Way
Some snacks and pints from the nice seating area in the Dying Cow (while keeping our social distance).

Our hard earned pints went down well. We chatted and laughed for the best part of an hour and got that great feeling of getting away from it all. We lingered for a while longer, and decided we better hit the road as we still had 6km to go to our final collection point for the day.

In retrospect, we lingered a little too long. We left ourselves with a duo of problems; We didn’t have trail legs yet and our legs had gone very stiff, and it was starting to get dark. Regardless, we set off, loosened up, and started making ground.

Walking through muck

The trail quickly turned extremely mucky, and it was very deep. We struggled through (and I was thankful that I had hiking poles), and finally made it to our end point where Madeline (our incredibly friendly and helpful host) from Madeline’s B&B in Tinahely collected us.

It wasn’t until we reached the B&B that we realised how sore our legs were. We repaired, and had a quick nap, and met up again to grab some food before falling into a deep sleep for the night.

Day 2 – Tinahely to Glenmalure

A quick picture outside Madeline’s B&B in Tinahely

Prepared for Coronavirus

As much as we tried to avoid it, the tidal wave of Coronavirus continued to cast a dark shadow over our trek. Schools were closed, but pubs, restaurants, and of course accommodation were all still open around the country. Despite that, every moment we would look at the news, it would put doubt on whether we should continue our trek.

Social Distancing

We were doing our utmost to stick to social distancing while we were on the trail. We tried to stay 2 meters apart all the times. We used hand sanitiser at every gate (to the point our hands started to rash). We didn’t share anything. We obviously both didn’t feel in anyway unwell (not that that necessarily makes a difference with COVID-19).

Even with all of that hanging over us, the trail didn’t take long to free our minds. We ascended Coolafunshogue Hill for a while wrapping around it, and we were glad to be off the road. The only problem we had now was the condition of our feet, hips, and Eoin’s ankle. Our pace, though starting fast, slowed as compared to the first day. We needed more breaks, but none of that dented our spirits.

Lack of trail legs taking its toll

It wasn’t until about the 13th km of the day (about 45km since we started) that our bashed and unprepared bodies really started to take their toll on us. Our pace slowed further. We set the aim to reach the Iron Bridge in Aghavannagh, where we could take a break. Though I didn’t say it to Eoin, I knew my feet weren’t in a good condition. Still, I didn’t expect what I saw when I took my sock off.

My stained sock on the Wicklow Way with my injured foot in the background.

While the above picture might look bad, in reality, it was manageable. With some tape around my foot I felt comfortable to walk again shortly. A quick snack and some time to laugh and take in the beautiful surroundings of the banks of the River Ow with the imposing Lugnaquilla in the background, we set off to complete the final 13km of the day.

We climbed up towards the top of Carrickashane mountain, stopping on several occasions to take in the enchanting evening that was forming around us with 16-second meditation sessions to let all the beauty seep into us.

Holding the Hiiker flag near the top of Carrickashane Mountain on the Wicklow Way

Despite the hurt we continued rapidly on the Way towards Glenmalure, arriving at the rustling pub at last light. As soon as we arrived we could see the pale look on the staffs face that suggested something was awry.

Things with COVID-19 had escalated.

The staff informed us that they would be closing at midnight that night and not opening again for at least several weeks. For a brief period the realisation set in that we might not have somewhere to stay for the night, until the owner thankfully clarified that the accommodation wouldn’t be closing until the morning. We decided that we would need to reassess things in the AM, but for the moment, it was just some good food and well deserved beers and a deep deep sleep.

Day 3 – Glenmalure to …..

Glenmalure Lodge looking down Glenmalure valley on the Wicklow Way

We woke to a hearty breakfast, prepped our gear, and hit the road. Our bodies were still in a bad state from the toll of the first 64km, but we felt able to continue on. We had a tough climb ahead, from 150m up to 550m over about 6km. The fresh mountain air, the colour of spring flowers, and the scent of pine trees was the boost we needed in the morning.

Despite starting slow, we picked up pace as our legs and bodies loosened up, and made it to the Lugduff gap crossing into Glendalough.

The ancient valley of Glendalough: The beginning of the end

Glendalough Valley on the Wicklow Way

As soon as we passed into Glendalough valley, and we got phone reception back, it became clear the impact the closed pubs would have on us. On an initial call to our accomodation they informed us they would be closed and that we could not stay. Subsequently, they called again and stated if we were stuck they wouldn’t leave us abandoned, but that we might struggle to get food as all the pubs were closed in Roundwood. We could sense the reluctance on their part to take us in, and we could also feel our own doubt on the whole journey.

Meanwhile we were also getting phone calls from home talking about the seriousness of the issue. We arrived in Glendalough, and decided we had to face the reality that we desperately didn’t want to face.

Our hike on the Wicklow Way was over.

The look of dejection on our faces, realising that our trip was over.

The journey home

We were bashed and bruised, and deflated that we didn’t make it all the way. We chatted in the car and even considered turning back to keep going. We quickly realised that it wasn’t just about what we wanted, it was also about the potential danger that we represented to others.

As vectors passing from one village to another in Wicklow, it just wasn’t fair to the people of Wicklow. Knowing that we could come back and finish our adventure at anytime affirmed to ourselves that we made the right decision.

A journey not finished

If almost as a celebration for earth as a planet defeating the Coronavirus in the coming months, we plan to come back and finish the trail, and get the picture that we will then deserve at the finish line in Marlay Park.