Rathdrum Walking Festival: Viking Ship, Heritage and fantastic outdoors
In the Viking Ship Museum of Roskilde in Denmark, a reconstruction of the second largest Viking ship ever found can be seen. The name of the ship is the Havhingsten fra Glendalough or the Sea Stallion from Glendalough. The original ship was built in Dublin around 1042, and as its name suggests, the oak that was used in its construction comes from the surrounding woods where Rathdrum’s inaugural walking festival will take place on the 25th and 26th of March 2017. To read more about the Sea Stallion Viking Ship and its Wicklow origins click here to go to an article from the Archaeology Ireland magazine archive.
Two walks will take place on Saturday and another two on Sunday. The first walk is the Avonmore Way walk which begins at Trooperstown Forest carpark, leading up over Trooperstown Hill, before arriving at the picturesque hamlet of Clara Vale. Here you will cross the old stone bridge which was built in the 1730s and the white church that dates to 1799 on your left as you pass. This is a beautiful place to reflect on the serenity of the surrounding landscape and to read the names on the commemoration stone of the local men who were lost in The Great War. The walk then follows the trail through the ancient woodland of Clara Vale, with the rippling swell of the river Avonmore accompanying you on your right. It was from this woodland that the Viking ship was built, and it remains one of the few ancient Irish woodlands that we can still enjoy today.
As spring begins to take hold, there will be an abundance of wildlife to see along the way. The spring bird migration is beginning to take place, with some visitors already arriving for the nesting season. Listen out for willow warblers and the chiffchaff amongst the holly, birch and hazel. Down by the river bank, watch out for a dipper bobbing on a stone, or a grey wagtail catching insects on the wing. Or if you’re lucky, you might even spot the blue dart of a kingfisher’s wing as it flashes by. Looking skyward, though the ancient oak canopy, a buzzard or red kite might be seen, gliding majestically over its mountainous kingdom.
Ireland’s history and landscape are often entwined, and nowhere is this more evident than the second Saturday National Loop Walk that brings you by the Famine Graveyard in Rathdrum, to Avondale House. The house was designed by James Wyatt and was built in 1777. It is most famous for being the birthplace of Wicklow’s favourite son, Charles Stewart Parnell who was born here in 1846.
The river Avonmore flows through the forest grounds and is home to a number of tree species from around the world, including some impressive giant red woods. On Friday the 24th of March, there is a night walk through the grounds, beginning at 7pm from the Avondale Forest Carpark. A night walk is a great way to experience our nocturnal wildlife. Here you may see some common pipistrelle bats flying through the fading light, having just awoken from their winter slumber. March is usually the time when the vixen gives birth to her cubs, so a possible sighting of a hunting fox returning to its den may be on offer.
The Sunday walks include a three and a half kilometre looped walk from Glenmalure lodge, or a two hour walk from Ivy Leaf Mill Bridge to Avondale House. Bring warm clothes, some snacks and a rain jacket and if you choose to do the night walk in Avondale on the Friday, remember to bring a flashlight. Whatever walk you choose to do, it promises to be a great family weekend, with the splendour of Wicklow’s rich nature and heritage to be discovered with every step.
Seán Ó Súilleabháin is author of Wicklow bound: a seasonal guide, available in all local bookshops, nationwide or order directly from Wordwell Books here