13. Glendalough

Woodland, lakes, fen and moorland

Map reference: T1296 Nearest town: Laragh

One of the best ways of approaching Glendalough is on foot, as the early Christians probably did, approaching the monastic ruins from the east through Derrybawn Wood. The ancient track is overhung by gnarled trees and, through gaps in the woodland, the spectacular scenery begins to unfold before your eyes.

Landscape: This is one of the most beautiful and best-known sites in Wicklow and, as well as being of archaeological and historical interest, it is rich in plants and animals. The original Irish name Gleann dti Locha means the valley of two lakes and these are still the main natural features which te the area. The valley is deep and narrow with the typical U-shape showing that it was carved out by a glacier during the last Ice Age. In retreating, the glacier left a moraine across the mouth of the valley, on which the present Glendalough Hotel is built. A tributary, the Poulanass river which plunges into the valley from the south, created a delta which eventually divided the original lake in two. The valley is surrounded by high mountains with summits rising over 650 metres (2132 feet).

Habitats: Glendalough contains some of the best surviving examples of native broadleaved woodland in Wicklow. While they have all the appearances of ancient woodland most of the trees are less than 150 years old, as substantial clearances took place in the nineteenth century.

The present woodland is ted by sessile oak with an understorey of holly and birch with rowan around the margins. There are groups of introduced trees, including beech and Scots pine, near the lakeshore and on the northern slopes. The ground flora includes woodrush, bilberry, sweet vernal grass, a number of ferns and many typical spring flowers such as wood anemone and lesser celandine. Grazing by sheep, goats and deer has restricted natural regeneration on all but the steepest slopes.

The Lower Lake, close to the monastic ruins, is fringed by a marsh and fen containing articulated rush, horsetail and marsh violet. The acidic water of the Upper Lake is deep and contains only a few plant species such as white water lily, pondweed and bulbous rush. At the upper end, near the mining village, the lake is shallower owing to large deposits of granite sand. A marsh has formed here with common reed, bottle sedge, articulated rush and horsetail. The Poulanass river forms a deep gorge with rich growths of mosses and bryophytes in the moist conditions.


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