Two days in Dublin was plenty for us, so we escaped southward to County Wicklow, a region known as “The Garden of Ireland.” Hopping off the bus in Rathdrum, we were expecting to walk around for a while in search of a suitable tent site, but discovered instead, right there at the bus stop, a holiday park called “Hidden Valley,” which was clearly visible from the road and pointed at by huge signs.
Hidden Valley was absolutely packed, probably because school had just let out for summer holiday the day before. Across the expanse of Probably Visible From Miles Around Valley sprawled a flock of colorful camping tents, watched over by lanes of white caravans. There was an adventure park for kids, and a real river for fishing and floating. There was a fake lake with kayaks to rent, and a snack bar. It wasn’t the camping we’d pictured, but it was fun and there were also showers and a row of electric stoves to cook on. Guess what! It doesn’t get dark till 11 at night here, so even though we went to bed well after ten, the sky was still bright, kids were running around, birds were chirping, cars were revving. It was almost surreal, but when you realize the oppressive darkness that envelopes these northern countries during the winter, it makes perfect sense that each child, bird, and automobile would celebrate every precious minute of summer daylight and live life to its absolute fullest, right up until Most Likely Heard By All Neighboring Counties Valley quiet hours at 11.
I woke up in the middle of the night, sometime after midnight when the sun was finally down and replaced by the yellow safety lights of the campground, and in the dim yellow glow I saw the shadow of a giant slug that was oozing its way up the outside of our tent. By pressing at the tent’s fabric, I was able to steer the slug in different directions and eventually coaxed it into the following repertoire of impressive shapes: lower case l, the number 1, sans-serif capital I, forward /, backward \, this _, this |, this ~, (these), and the top half of an equal =.
Planning our next few days, we thought it might be neat to walk part of the Wicklow Way, Ireland’s oldest waymarked walking path. We knew we’d need to catch another bus eventually, which is only possible in bigger towns, so we picked the town with the largest name on the map as our walking destination: Glendalough.
In Glenmalure it started raining so we ducked into the lodge pub for a hearty dinner of sausages and chips (giant French fries). One of Ireland’s national sports was on the screen: Gaelic Football, which is basically soccer, but you can use your hands, and there are a lot of fights. That’s what it looked like, anyway.
High up on an exposed mountainside, the wind blew fierce and Karen declared that we were in a storm. If so, it was a Mist Storm. Misty rain fell and flew, misty breezes snuck up without warning, mist obscured the other sides of valleys. We had high respect for the mist. It was our old friend. We heard it mention itself with consideration those last twenty minutes at least.
We pitched our tent inside the hut, hoping no other hikers would chance upon us and see how silly this was. It made for a cozy night out of the wind and in the morning we continued on our way to the big huge city of Glendalough, sure to be crawling with buses eager to whisk us off to destinations far and anon.
Never assume that a big name on a map implies a big city. Glendalough turned out to be a large valley, totally devoid of any bus station, or any town whatsoever. We had stranded ourselves in a remote wilderness (swarming with tourists) with no sign of public transportation for miles. To cope, Ryan sketched the ruins of the monastery, which symbolized our ruined trust in the bigness of words on maps, yet thrust a hopeful tower of hope into the heavy sky of our tired weariness.
We would press on. We would walk to Laragh, then all the way back to Rathdrum, for, as it turned out, that was the closest bus stop.
We saw our first big wildlife, a few deer, one of which Karen tried to attract by shaking a bag of chocolates at it. It would not approach – evidence that shaky bags of chocolate are not in a deer’s natural diet.
We ended up making a giant loop back to Rathdrum, and that’s what we told people – that we had done a loop, to make it sound like it was on purpose. At least we were back at Hidden Valley, away from that mist.
While walking the Wicklow Way, we encountered many creatures that belong to the magical world, all of which, are native to Ireland. The first creatures being Aethonans, which are a chestnut breed of horses with wings that we found grazing just beyond our hiking hut. In the night, we thought we saw a woman walking down the way, but quickly we knew it was a Banshee due to the loud shrill it began to cry when it saw us. Thankfully, we did not encounter any Grindylows- those vicious water demons! However, we were fortunate enough to meet a friendly Leprechaun.