Mountains between us

A Jackdaw scoffing crackers from the roof light

My running rehab continues. Yesterday, Mark dragged me out of bed (albeit by text message, suggesting we go for a run), and we managed about 4 miles in the local park. Neither of us were feeling particularly feisty, but it’s always good to get out. No hot chocolate, alas, to bookend the activity, as I had to go to work. I hadn’t done any running since our escapade out at Tibradden in the Dublin Mountains. And it would appear my legs were keen to remind me of my laggardness.

I change of work plans gave me back my Sunday morning, so I opted to join the hill runner crew again for another crack at the mountains. This time, we would travel a little further south, into Wicklow County, and tackle Djouce Woods and around into Powerscourt Demesne. And so, at about 8 in the morning, I was picked up at the top of my lane, and we headed for the hills.

The weather was as good as you could hope for, mid-February. Reasonably mild, cloudy, and very little breeze to speak of. Jarlath once again was our leader for the day, and we took off downhill towards the valley through Djouce Woods. Irish language enthusiasts may already know this, but I had to look it up; Djouce is obviously not an Irish word in itself. Rather, from a phonological viewpoint, it’s a classic, somewhat tortuous, Anglicisation of an old Irish word. In this case, it’s Dioghais, meaning ‘fortified height’. Though true to form, scholars don’t agree that this is the exact translation. But we’ll let them bicker away in their own time. We have trails to hit, and our own hills to climb. Fortunately, this day, we are not trying to scale the peak of Djouce, which is just as well. At 725 metres (2,379 feet), it may only rank as the 74th highest peak in the land, but it would have made hill running impossible.

A sneak peek of Powerscourt Waterfall, shortly after we left the car park; Ireland’s second-tallest waterfall

Our path took us down into the valley floor and across a little stream (no bridge, so straight through the shallow waters) before we began the steady climb up the northern flanks of Djouce. Once we left the safety and relative calm of the valley, we were out on more exposed fire roads. These are not the most attractive of places to run, but they do afford great views of the capital city below, and a broad sweep across Dublin Bay and beyond.

An altogether smaller waterfall!
Panoramic views with the iconic Sugarloaf Mountain taking centre stage
The downside of hill running in Wicklow

As can be seen from some of the images above, the landscapes of Wicklow and south Dublin have been altered radically by human behaviour over the centuries. The problem is that many folk simply can’t see it. They are just ‘up in the mountains’ having a walk, and enjoying the fresh air. And that’s fine. But the landscape you are in is far from ‘natural’ or ‘native’. Where you see green, you are seeing blocks of non-native Sitka Spruce plantations, and where there are no trees, you are seeing, quite often, a vista stripped of its natural covering of native plants and trees, and often grazed to the bone by sheep and deer. And to make matters worse, these Sitka stands are regularly clear-felled and the ground left behind is nothing short of traumatised. The semi-state agency that handles our wooded areas, Coillte, are taking steps to manage things a little better. To be honest, ‘little’ is about right, for now. A lot more work to be done to improve the situation, and increase the amount of broadleaf trees, and set aside areas for amenity that would be spared the indignity of clear-felling.

We topped out at about 413 metres, according to the watch, before dropping down towards the Dargle – the stream that creates the Powerscourt Waterfall. Once again, you scholars of Irish might like to know that Dargle is An Deargail, and means ‘little red spot’. This refers to the ochrous tint on the rocks at its source. I profess I cannot tell you, dear reader, if this is a result of some iron or copper ore deposits, though this is possible, as there are mines dotted around this region for both metals. It could also be a reference to the peaty colour of the water, and this I can vouch for, as I have soothed and cooled my feet at the plunge pool of this waterfall on a number of occasions, and the water is a glorious golden-brown.

The Dargle, looking towards its source
The Dargle, shortly before it plunges about 120 metres into the valley below
The view back up from where we came…
…and the view where we were headed

Along this stretch, Alison (Jarlath’s partner) offered her condolences on my Dad’s passing. We had a good chat about grief. The best way I could describe it was that feeling you get when you have had a skinful of pints. Or, as we might say here in Ireland, a geansaí-load. (A geansaí is a sweater, and the phrase probably comes from the ancient custom of ‘boxin’ the fox’, or stealing apples from an orchard, which was made a little easier if you could stuff a few dozen in your jumper before you got the obligatory chase from the indignant owner). So, when you have drank far too many pints, you feel not just full, but the beer is sloshing away in your gullet. One or more sup, and it will spill out your gob. That’s a little bit how the grief has been of late. It’s there, all the time, just waiting for a teaspoon more and then there is the risk of spillage. And it’s usually when someone you know offers you their condolences and starts to tell you what a lovely man your Dad was, and you can feel the grief beginning to well up inside.

Of course, the house it still absolutely loaded with emotional landmines. But one never knows which ones will remain quiet underfoot, and which will explode. Dallan and I collected Dad’s ashes on Friday and brought them home. They are sitting in a smart little wooden casket on a wooden chest in the main room. And that’s fine with me. But then someone will stop me in the supermarket and embark on a tale with my Dad as the superhero, and I’m off. Such is the way of these things.

A view of the waterfall from another angle

We forded the Dargle a few hundred metres below the waterfall and began our climb back up out of the valley. The paths are quite popular (some of this section is on the Wicklow Way) and we began to meet fellow travellers out and about, either running too, or just walking, or mountain biking. As Jarlath remarked, it was great to be able to share the paths with everyone without any trouble. A steep climb to finish was our reward for our journey, which clocked in at just under 9 miles. Back at the car, we all changed into warm clothes and rejoined the rest of the world on the busy M50 motorway. Home and a bath. The legs know we’ve been in a fight, and I’ll charitably call it a draw. The mountains are silent on the matter. But if they have taught my legs a lesson, they have soothed the soul in recompense. We will return.

In other news, S and I hit up Ireland’s national theatre (darling!) during the week. It was the last Christmas present hurrah, when a stroke of luck saw me score tickets to what became a sell-out show in the Abbey Theatre in city-centre Dublin. It was a production called ‘Tales from the Holywell’ and was essentially a musical performance by Damien Dempsey and band, with an intertwined monologue from the artist detailing his life and influences. We’ve seen him live on a few occasions, and he never fails to entertain. Few performers match him on stage for raw energy and passion. You can search him out on YouTube of course, and here’s one offering. It’s a live gig from a good few years back. He has the audience in his hands, and indeed, he is also in theirs!

It’s been far too long since we’ve been to any theatre, let alone our national theatre. It was a lovely night out. One feels quite civilised! The stage set was powerful too; hard to describe, but I took this photo at the end, when the place was more or less empty. In the centre panel, you can see the pair of us in our seats. These mirrors were literally ‘mirrored’ with similar semi-transparent screens which could be raised and lowered in front of each performer. I like to think the set designer was making a commentary on the modern phenomenon of social media and everything being on a screen. But in truth, I don’t know, and I have yet to fish out any clues online as of yet. Suffice to say, it was very effective.

And in a somewhat related note, I have added yet another guitar to my collection. I think (he says rashly) that I can stop now. Though, of course, the N+1 rule applies to guitars as it applies to bikes. And other items. I’m sure I can get an ‘amen’ on that from Jim at

It’s the orange Gretsch in the picture above. I’ve always fancied a Gretsch, and this one was at a modest price. The top of the range ones are out of my league. I played it at our last gig. It’s a lively guitar. What I mean by that is the guitar body is mostly hollow, and the two humbucker pick-ups pack quite the punch, so the guitar, at decent volumes, wants to feedback. Once you learn how to control this vibration, you can have some serious fun on stage.

And finally. Yes finally. It’s dogs. Don’t be fooled into thinking these two are bosom-buddies. Perhaps Bonnie might like the snuggle, but Odi is really only tolerating this unacceptable invasion of his personal space. The grumpy old bastard 😉

4 thoughts on “Mountains between us

  1. Your pics always astound me (that Jackdaw shot? omg!!). I’m loving my vicarious jaunts away from the beaten path, I’m delighted you and yours had a grand night at the theatre, beasts are looking well, and the Gretsch is looking even better (congrats!). Best of all, the tears are still freely flowing for your Dad. As well they should be. Grief should never be denied, mourning should never be hurried.

    Liked by 1 person

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