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Dublin: 17 °C Sunday 31 May, 2020

12 Great Irish Drives: Tackle mountain roads along Wicklow's Sally Gap - and stop for a swim on the way home

Just an hour from Dublin, you’ll find awe-inspiring views.

Image: Dariusz I

For summer 2019, we are partnering with Allianz to bring you 12 Great Irish Drives: the most amazing road trips in the country. Whether it’s with friends, family or by yourself these trips should give you the courage to get in the car and go explore.

This week, Paul Wilson takes on the Wicklow Mountains, with a stop off for a satisfying hike at Glendalough – and thrilling sights along the Sally Gap.

  • Name: Wicklow Mountains Drive
  • Where: Co Wicklow.
  • The route: From Wicklow town, head for the Sally Gap and Blessington. At Hollywood, the road joins the Wicklow Gap for Glendalough. The route for Avoca and Arklow via Brittas Bay will take you back to Wicklow. See our Google Map of the route here. 
  • What makes it one of Ireland’s Greatest Drives? Easily accessible from Dublin, two passes cross the Wicklow Mountains for double the fun.
  • Journey time: 4 hrs, approx.
  • Photo opportunities: Lough Tay, or the ‘Guinness Lake’, sits on private land owned by the trustees of the Guinness family, but you can look down on the black water from above.
  • Hidden gems: Snack on wild bilberries at Vale of Clara, and bring the kids to Clara Lara FunPark for an afternoon of canoeing, obstacle courses and rope-swinging.
  • If you’re feeling courageous: Even the bravest adventurer will be left awestruck by the Sally Gap mountain pass.

JUST UNDER AN hour south of Dublin, Wicklow town nestles on the coast. As for the mountains, you’ll know you’ve arrived by the colours: rich brown earth, purple heather and golden gorse.

On the R759, the road leads you to the Sally Gap. This road gets a shout-out on dangerousroads.org – but only because winter snow sometimes renders it impassable. On a summer’s day it’s a wonderful route to bring you further into the mountains.

The stark black waters of Lough Tay are in contrast to the white sand along the top edge which form a man-made beach. Lough Tay can be viewed easily from Military Road. 

shutterstock_1273364722 Views over Lough Tay. Source: Nataliia Pushkareva

At the Liffey Head Bog, the river Liffey rises toward Dublin. The first bridge over the river is high in the mountains, 600m from the source. The rare Red Grouse nests around here – you’ll be lucky to spot him, but listen out for his explosively guttural call because you can’t miss it.

The road will lead you onward from here to Blessington, and slightly further on you’ll hit Russborough. This is an exquisite historical house with acres of parkland, its own fairy trail and an annual Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

shutterstock_1251894112 Russburough House and Parklands. Source: JordiCarrio

At Hollywood, you can join the Wicklow Gap on the R756, zig-zagging east through the Wicklow Mountains National Park. 

At Glendalough, Kevin of Glendalough set down a monastic city of sorts in the sixth century, with the Round Tower and St Kevin’s Bed two particular sites of interest, along with an endless spread of views, lakes and walking trails. 

From Laragh, the R755 heads for the Vale of Clara, but if you have kids in the car, Clara Lara FunPark should be your first stop for canoeing, zip lining, obstacle courses and heaps more.

Then, take the Forest Walk through the Vale, where you’ll spot plenty of wild juicy bilberries just waiting to be picked and eaten.

Only open March to June, at Macreddin Village, The Strawberry Tree was the first certified organic restaurant in Ireland, and it’s worth a stop to treat yourself to a locally sourced meal.

The R752 will take you to Avoca (where Ballykissangel was filmed). Keep your eye to the sky here – the Red Kite bird, reintroduced to Ireland after a 200-year absence, has been spotted around Avoca. 

shutterstock_789388642 The Avoca River, Co Wicklow. Source: lifeisajourney22

Heading back towards Wicklow, the Blue Flag Brittas Beach is full of powdery sand and dunes, ideal for swimming or strolling as the sun sets.

More Great Irish Drives: See glacial fjords at the edge of the world on the Inishowen Peninsula>

Many choices we make in life can require a degree of courage, big or small. Whether it’s the moment you sit behind the wheel for the first time, decide to settle down, or bite the bullet and take that trip of your dreams. This is how great things happen and, at Allianz, we are proud to support people who have the courage to go forward in life.

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