Experiencing Ireland’s Sacred Places: Glendalough, Walking the Valley of Two Lakes

Sunset @ Upper Lake, Glendalough, Ireland

Sunset @ Upper Lake, Glendalough, Ireland

They say the scenery of Glendalough is most beautiful on two occasions: when the sun shines, and when the mist falls. I cannot attest to its beauty when the sun is shining, though I’m sure the tree-laden hills and the still lakes are magnificent with the warming rays upon them; but when the mist falls it truly is a place of magic.

It began to rain ever so gently as we started to walk down into the forest valley. November in the Islands off the coast of the European mainland is not a warm time of year, and Ireland is not particularly famous for its sun and sandy beaches. It was early afternoon, but the sun was behind the clouds and the lateness of the year meant that it was already beginning its descent. In two and a half hours the light would fade and any form of walking would prove incredibly difficult.

Walking the valley

Michael Rodgers, my guide on this tour of the valley and Founder/Director of the Tearmann Spirituality Centre, styled the walk to be part meditative and part informative. We came across ruins which were 1000 years old – let me tell you, there is something quite profound about walking through a 1000-year-old archway knowing it has been a path taken by many before you. We saw St. Kevin’s little cave where he lived within the forest and to where many have walked on pilgrimages. We learned about the history and legend of the man himself. What was history and what was legend, nobody is certain. Stories then were not separated upon those boundaries and if you asked Michael what he thought, he would smile and remind you that the distinction isn’t the point. The point, he told me in our conversations, was about the meaning behind the story, about what it was telling you.

Our walk was slow and deliberate. The story of Glendalough (pronounced ‘glen-da-lock’ and meaning ‘valley of two lakes’) and St. Kevin is one which takes time to sift through. It is a story of overcoming fears – the monster of the lake – and partaking on a journey to befriend that fear. It is a story of understanding and acceptance and, ultimately, peace. As we walked, I couldn’t help but marvel at the forest around me. It had recently rained – and in fact was still raining – and small waterfalls were seemingly everywhere, running down the hills to the valley floor. The hills were full of trees and shrubs, with their colours changing due to the coming winter. Some of the trees were bare, some still retained their leaves. The whole area was a mix of green, brown, red, and orange.

The lake was the pinnacle of the spectacle. Trapped within the valleys, it sat still and magnificent. Its water was cold and clear. The whole area, it seemed, was a gift placed upon this world for us to experience.

Tearmann Spirituality Centre

The centre, my home for the night, was a set of small houses against white walls which ran up the hill next to the road. It was unassuming, not standing out in any way save for the small sign at the entrance point.

My hosts, Micheal, Pat, and Breda, who are all responsible for the continuous existence of the centre, were welcoming and kind as we chatted about life and the times over two lovely meals (lunch and dinner).

Curious mix of local and global

As I left the next morning, for I was only there a day, the sun had yet to rise and an awakening chill hung in the early morning air. Glendalough is one of the most visited places in Ireland and it is easy to see why. However, it is also home to many and I couldn’t help but notice during my time there the mixing of local, intimate with the surroundings, and visitor, exploring with eyes wide open. In my conversations with the trio the day before, it is interesting to see this mixing in practice. All three live and work there, but also know of the importance of Glendalough as a place for visitors. It has, after all, been a pilgrimage site since St. Kevin all those years ago.

If you are interested in joining this long tradition of travel to the Valley of Two Lakes, then please consider joining Culture Honey Touring for an Irish Celtic Pilgrimage next September 2019.  There will be more details coming soon. Glendalough is a fascinating and enriching place. But please don’t see it as just another tick off the list, another ‘I’ve done that’ tourist destination. If you are able to visit, with us or on another path, allow yourself to take in the beauty; allow yourself the time to reflect; allow yourself the understanding that no matter how long you are there for, how far you walk, how much you see, there will always be more. The history of Glendalough is one of a journey, one of a path towards understanding and acceptance. You cannot ‘do that’ in a week. In fact, as my conversation with Michael showed me, you cannot do that in a lifetime, in a 1000 years of attempting to understand.

So go, enjoy, reflect, be, and come back knowing you have been part of something much greater than you. Come back with an understanding of the world just a little bit bigger than the one you left with.