Anyone who knows me knows that I do not like guided tours. I’m like a cat who does whatever she wants to do and whenever she wants to do it. However, for the first time (or at least first time after school class trips) I opted for a guided bus tour and headed to the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland.
So why did I choose a guided bus tour? First, it’s convenient. Ireland is not very tourist friendly when it comes to public transportation. Buses don’t go to many places and if they do then only very rarely and cost as much as the whole bus tour does. Also, most naturally beautiful places are hard to reach and far apart. If you don’t have a car then it is tricky to travel around Ireland. Second, it’s interesting and educating. I am a complete history buff and a guided tour saves me a lot of time googling all the sites myself. Third, it is relatively cheap and saves a lot of time. There are loads of bus tours in Ireland, but The Wild Wicklow Tour won my heart. The tour was almost 9 hours long, very thorough and cost only 25 euros (!) for a student. Plus our tour guide John is the coolest tour guide ever. Not only was he super knowledgable but he was also very fun to hang out with.
We started our tour stopping on the suburb of Dublin at Sandycove beach. It was amazingly tranquil and serene and there were loads of people swimming in the Irish sea. Even though the sea water is only about 14 degrees in the summer. People swim in the sea whole year round. I kept thinking about these poor Irish people and their horrible weather. Estonian summers seem perfect after spending a summer in Ireland. After stopping at the beach we drove past the coastline – Dalkey and Killiney – home for the rich and famous (E.g Bono and Enya). I mean, Enya has a freaking castle!
After a brief stop at Avoca handweavers shop we were on our way to the Wicklow Mountains. Wicklow Mountains are located south from Dublin, about an hour of a ride from the city. The mountains are actually more like hills since they are not super high (highest point being a bit over 900 meters) but for an Estonian who comes from a land where our only “mountain” is 300 meters, it was definitely mountainous enough. Actually it was absolutely mesmerising. The landscape had so many different shades of green to it that it reminded me of a patchwork blanket. No wonder that lots of producers have decided to film in the area. Viking series is filmed there, also PS. I Love You, Leap Year (I don’t even like romantic comedies but I liked that one) and Braveheart. I know what you’re thinking – Braveheart? Isn’t it supposed to be filmed in Scotland? Nope. It was filmed in Ireland. Apparently the Irish convinced the producers to film it in Ireland – good flight connections with America, tax reductions and a landscape very similar to the one in Northern Scotland.
Next we were on our way to Lough Tay. Even the bits when we were just sitting in the bus and driving to the next location were fun. Tour guide John was chatting to us – telling us about the history of these places and also making loads of jokes. Plus I kept looking out of the window – both for amazing views and for the livestock out there. I saw horses, cows and sheep. At some point there were no fences anymore so some random lone sheep were walking in the middle of the road. Haha, got to love Ireland! Anyways, Lough Tay – it was amaaaazingly beautiful! The water of Lake Tay (lough is lake in Irish) is so dark, almost black, that people say that it is filled with Guinness beer. Yup, Guinness is all around us in Ireland.
By that time we had been travelling for around 4 hours already so it was about time to get some food in our tummies! We stopped at a traditional Irish pub which name I unfortunately can’t remember. I had Irish Guinness stew and a pint of Guinness. I know, I know, it was only lunch time but I am on a holiday and it is Ireland after all. Would be rude not to have Guinness haha. When I received a bowl of black meat soup thingy with a scoop of mashed potatoes I was sceptical, but it was simply delicious. They had cooked beef in Guinness beer and I don’t know what magic they used but it tasted delish. My very traditional Estonian father would love this. After all, it’s meat in beer sauce. Keep in mind that the meal is not included in the tour price. That cost me an additional 18 euros.
Happy and full, we continued our journey and headed to St. Kevin’s monastery and Glendalough lakes. St Kevin’s monastery in Glendalough valley dates back to the 6th century and is until this day relatively well preserved and in use as a burial ground for people in the Wicklow county. Kevin (498 – 3 June 618) lived in Glendalough with an extraordinary closeness to nature. His companions were the animals and birds all around him. He lived as a hermit for seven years in a cave wearing only animal skins, sleeping on stones and eating very sparingly. Disciples were soon attracted to Kevin and by 540 Saint Kevin’s fame as a teacher and holy man had spread far and wide. Many people came to seek his help and guidance. In time Glendalough grew into a renowned seminary of saints and scholars and the parent of several other monasteries. Today it is one of the main pilgrimage locations in Ireland.
Most of the buildings that survive today date from the 10th through 12th centuries. Despite attacks by Vikings over the years, Glendalough thrived as one of Irelands great schools of learning until the Normans destroyed the monastery in 1214. The monastery was then abandoned for 600 years and it was only in the late 19th century when the Irish got a hold of it again and restored it as much as possible.
And the last sight – Glendalough lakes. Simply stunning! We had about an hour to just wander around the area which was nice since I like wandering off on my own. So we had the most calming walk to the lake and then just sat there and absorbed that beauty for a bit. The tour ended with a complimentary shot of Jameson whisky which is a must here in Ireland. Unfortunately I am not a big fan of whisky so I had to overcome myself to actually drink that tiny shot. And drink lots of water after, haha.
We arrived back in Dublin around 6PM. I must say that I am very happy with this tour and highly suggest it to anyone travelling in Dublin. It was of great value, very interesting and very convenient. However, I wish we had some more time to look around scenic stops, our schedule was rather busy, but I understand that in that case the trip would have been even longer than 9 hours and people were already getting tired. As was I. So all in all, I give this trip 9/10 and again great applause to our wonderful tour guide John.
PS. Do bring your umbrella and wear waterproof clothes. We got rain, wind and sunshine mixed all through the day. That’s Ireland for y’all.