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Head for the hills on the cosmopolitan Wicklow Way

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Ciara, Aine and Aoife McCann on the Wicklow Way

Ciara, Aine and Aoife McCann on the Wicklow Way

Dermot Butler and Pat Curran on the Wicklow Way

Dermot Butler and Pat Curran on the Wicklow Way

German students Nicholas, Sebastian and Michael on the Wicklow Way

German students Nicholas, Sebastian and Michael on the Wicklow Way

Mary and Colin Crossley on the Wicklow Way

Mary and Colin Crossley on the Wicklow Way

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Ciara, Aine and Aoife McCann on the Wicklow Way

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It may not have quite the widespread appeal of the famous Camino pilgrim paths of France and Spain but the Wicklow Way is a considerable tourist attraction all the same.

Most of those who follow the Way seriously take at least three days to complete the trek from one end of County Wicklow to the other but your reporter spent just an afternoon taking a brief sample. On a summer's day midweek, he found that a majority of the people he met were from abroad, which suggests that the walk is indeed valuable in bringing people from all over the world to this rugged part of Ireland.

The starting point for the afternoon was Glenmalure, right in the heart of the hills, far removed in spirit from the bustle of Glendalough, just a day's walk away to the north with its coaches and multitudes of day trippers.

The sign which proclaimed 'Wilderness Lodge' underlined that Glenmalure, near the head of the Glen of Imaal, thinks of itself as a remote destination. This is Coillte country, where the trees will always outnumber the people and the gouging of long since melted glaciers has created a landscape of steep drops and often eye-popping beauty.

It is also hiking territory, where the road signs are as likely to be intended for those who are on foot as for motorists while the warning about army artillery practice should be taken seriously by both.

Striding out from Glenmalure past the roadside message reading 'Leave No Trace', the Way led upwards and into the forestry, following the course marked by the yellow arrows carved on to wooden poles.

Upwards and upwards, into Funshogue Wood. Upwards and upwards, through conifers and gorse, with foxgloves in bloom providing a splash of pinky-purple.

First hikers to hove into sight were Colin and Mary Crossley, an English couple in good form as they neared the end of their day's exercise after hiking from Glendalough.

'It's been fantastic, with lovely weather,' they agreed, having spent three days on the march. Mary was impressed that the whole trip could be undertaken without consulting the maps which remained largely redundant in their rucksacks.

'You could do it just following the little yellow men,' she reckoned, full of praise for those who keep the Wicklow Way so well maintained. She and her husband especially loved the parts of the route which brought them out on to the open mountainside where the vistas seem to stretch forever. 'This is the boring bit, 'she confided, referring to the enclosed tracks through the stands of commercial pines.

The Crossleys found that they were certainly not alone on their travels having met and talked to quite a few Germans and a few French that day. The Irish walkers they encountered were generally of the older generation and very friendly, though they stressed that no one of any nationality had given them the cold shoulder.

The open air breeds a spirit of camaraderie which also extends to the B&Bs that provide overnight shelter, along with the drying facilities which are vital on wet days. They were delighted to have spotted a red squirrel as well as numerous deer and maybe, just maybe, a pine martin, though the notoriously shy creature did not allow them close enough to be absolutely certain.

Next encountered were two gentlemen who had driven high up into the woods, a pair of forestry sub-contractors - Pat Curran and Dermot Butler, both native to the Glen of Imaal. As they set about thinning the trees with an ingenious contraption called a 'Skyliner', they find that their working day is enlivened by the passing tourists.

'We get lots of Americans,' noted Pat, who is resident these days in Rathvilly, 'and every country in the world. They have as much right to be here as we have,' They are fascinated by the 'Skyliner' which is capable of hauling a felled conifer more than 500 metres from where it was chopped down up to pathway.

Three young men, all German students, came into sight around the next bend, proud to have walked from Dublin and now close to completing the fourth stage of their epic journey. They were called Nicholas, Sebastian and Michael, all hailing from the Leipzig area where the landscape tends to be flat. The lads really enjoyed the hilly contrast with home, despite having lost their way somewhere around Glendalough where signs for so many different routes and attractions all vie for attention.

They carried full loads, though the nice weather meant they had no need to pull out the gear they brought in expectation of being rained on by sodden Irish clouds. On a limited budget, they brought their own light-weight tents and were ready to pitch them in the woods for free or in an official campsite, as happened in Roundwood.

'In Roundwood, we went to a lovely pub with music and a story teller,' said Nicholas, as he recalled an evening which will be long remembered back in Leipzig. The trio could have stayed in Germany where there are plenty of walks in the Black Forest or Alps, or they could have headed for warmer climates around the Mediterranean.

It was Michael who claimed the credit for picking Ireland as their destination. 'It was my idea,' he confirmed. 'I have been to Ireland with a tour group in the past but I think that is the wrong way to do it. You have to explore and go into the pubs where the locals are.' The locals were in a minority out on the Wicklow Way itself. They told how they had met many German compatriots and a lot of British people too.

Behind the three students were two Australians beginning to feel the pace as they trudged through the wonderful green scenery of Wicklow. Sisters-in-law Christine and Fiona Wagstaff admitted that they were not regular hikers and they had suffered their share of blisters since embarking on their odyssey in Marley Park.

'We have the Blue Mountains but nothing like this!' exclaimed Christine, who is a resident of Sydney. She and her companion married a couple of brothers called Wagstaff and decided to have an adventure together after Christine's husband died a year-and-a-half ago. They chose Wicklow rather than Kerry because both of them have families with Leinster roots (Christine is a Bailey, originally from Meath, while Fiona's forebears were Moran from Meath).

They spent $300 dollars apiece on wet weather pants and signed up with a company called Mac Adventures which carried their luggage by road to have it waiting for them in the B&Bs which the firm arranged. Theirs was a journey tinged with emotion and they were proud to have shaken off town life to suffer blisters as they clocked up some serious mileage. Progress reports complete with photos were sent back home via Facebook as they made their way southwards. The tiredness they felt as they plodded along the last stretch of their day's walk towards Glenmalure was made worse by the fact that they had taken an unwanted detour after missing one of the yellow man signs.

While most of the traffic in late afternoon ran from north to south, the four McCann sisters from Deansgrange in Dublin were striding purposefully on in the other direction. Aoife, Ciara, Áine and Fina were booked into the Glenmalure Lodge with their three dogs for a sibling get-together. No better way of working up an appetite for dinner than marching along the Wicklow Way for two or three hours.

'I'm not great at reading maps, so this is perfect,' explained Aoife before they accelerated up out into the heather and out of sight.

Back in Glenmalure, the saddest sight was made up by parents Sol and Inga, boys Martynas and Titac, and their schnauzer dog Lexus - a Lithuanian family who live in Dublin.

They set out full of beans from Glendalough more than four hours previously and now sat on a low bank wondering how they were to get back to their car,

They had obviously expected the walk to be a circuit and were now stranded a long way from base, with Lexus the only member of the party apparently keen to keep walking.

Fortunately, a passing motorist took pity on them and offered Sol a lift back to Glendalough via the public highway to collect the car.


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