Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dublin Mountains Way

The Dublin Mountains Way (DMW) is a waymarked walking trail in the south of County Dublin running from Shankill to Tallaght. It's approximately 43 km in length, not including an optional spur which adds an additional 12 km.

Yesterday I decided to take advantage of the warm, bright weather to walk the DMW. The Way officially opened in October 2010, so this was my first time along it. Regular hillwalkers might already be familiar with parts of the trail, but it's very convenient to have a single well-marked route to follow, linking together many forests and hills which would otherwise be difficult for walkers to reach. In places the DMW overlaps with the older and better-known Wicklow Way, providing additional potential walking routes.

None of the terrain is especially difficult, but in the afternoon sun I found first few kilometers to the Scalp tougher than I'd expected. Fortunately this initial section provides many excellent views out over Dublin, Wicklow, and the Irish Sea.

The Scalp (next photo below) provides a nice scenic point to take a quick break at before heading on to the next major feature, Johnnie Fox's Pub.

For walkers planning to start early in the day, Fox's might be nicely located for lunch or rehydration. It's quite touristy, for better or worse. By the time I reached the pub the fine dry Mediterranean weather had been replaced by rain and humidity. The Irish weather makes it essential to plan for varied conditions, so I put away the sunblock and shades and put on my deeply-unstylish plastic poncho.

As it grew darker and wetter, the rest of the trip was a bit of a slog. I'd started the walk quite late, hoping to avoid the hottest part of the day, so I arrived back at Dublin by about 1 am. Night walking is wonderful, although more enjoyable on a clear moonlit night than in rain. The Dublin Mountains Partnership have mostly done a good job with signage; at crucial points the yellow-walking-man signs were close enough together than my headtorch easily lit up each sign as I reached its predecessor.

There were a few places where I found navigation more challenging. The initial few hundred meters of the walk in Shankill are potentially annoying - the level of scale and detail appropriate for the hills provides insufficient information for the fine work of moving street to street. Finding the starting point and leaving the urban area wasn't physically challenging, of course, but it was mildly frustrating at times. I'd recommend carefully looking out for the yellow signs at each and every divergence in your path.

Featherbed Forest, run by Coillte, also needs a little care. It's currently being harvested so there was a minor diversion along the nearby roads. More problematic was the lack of a clear sign into the forest from my approach from the Shankill end of the Way. Perhaps I missed it in the dark, but careful inspection didn't reveal any obvious marking, just the sign about the diversion - and that was set back from the road in such a way that it wouldn't be obvious unless you were already aware that you'd reached the entrance to the forest. Still, it's good of Coillte to be involved in the Way so I can't complain too much.

Parts of the DMW have wooden boards along the trail, with flattened nails to provide additional grip. These are the same sort of boardwalks used at the Spinc in Glendalough, and definitely make the walk easier. It's this sort of care and attention that makes the DMW a proper trail and not just a marketing concept.

I write a lot about the urban aspects of Dublin's culture. At times it's easy to forget that the county is mostly rural and that there're plenty of outdoor activities available right on our doorsteps. In Ireland I tend to do most of my hillwalking in Wicklow, partly because its trails are better mapped and supported. Thanks to the Dublin Mountains Way I'm now going to do more walking here in County Dublin.


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