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Immerse yourself in the wilderness of the Wicklow mountains and challenge yourself against its ever-changing terrain
Route provided by John Buckley
The Circuit of Brockagh is 27 km and gives you a real sense of being immersed in the wilderness, while at the same time remaining accessible. The terrain is constantly changing, which keeps you on your toes – or ass – if you’re not careful. And the length gives you a chance to really delve into the Irish countryside and allow it the seep into your senses.
I’ve been running and walking in the Wicklow mountains since the age of 8, and while the Circuit of Brockagh is new to me, it has struck a chord. Prepare yourself to be blown away by the physical challenge, but also the beauty that is constantly unveiled to you on the route. After finishing the route for the first time, I was drunk with desire to get back to it again.
When I go trail running, what I love most is the free feeling and connectivity that you get from your soles moving along the wild and rugged tracks of the mountains. It’s a connection that is very primitive and natural; Bruce was right, we were born to run. Trail running has become the most mentally and physically liberating experience of my outdoors career.
The 27 km Circuit of Brockagh was developed by Gareth Little for the Irish Mountain Running Association’s (IMRA) Leinster Championships in April 2014. Before I ran the route for the first time, I was familiar with bits of it, but as the theorem goes, the sum is definitely greater than the parts.
Taking in Wicklow staples like Glendalough, the Wicklow Gap and the Wicklow Way, the route also brings you into the more intimate and challenging surroundings of Scarr, Tonlagee and Camaderry.
The route starts at the Education Centre in Glendalough. Get a good early start in to get parking and avoid the rush that Glendalough naturally yields!
Initially, head along the trails including St. Kevin’s Way and the Wicklow Way out towards Scarr. Turning off the Wicklow Way, you’re on to bare open mountainside. The track is boggy underfoot here, but your eye is constantly drawn to the Glenmacnass River slowly unfolding in the valley before you. Scarr isn’t a steep climb, but offers a good burn on the legs in the form of a 3 km drag.
Once you summit Scarr, you’ve got a beautiful view down to Glenmacnass Waterfall. It’s important to get your bearings right here. Come off Scarr summit to the northwest and follow the track as it winds down off the summit. This is a really beautiful and unspoilt, but wet underfoot, part of the route. Spring and summer bog flowers, including bog cotton and foxgloves are sprouting at the moment and the intoxicating smell of gorse is thick in the air.
Keep the height on Scarr’s shoulder and follow the track down to Glenmacnass Waterfall. Your greatest challenge – Tonlagee – will present itself here. This is my favourite mountain in Wicklow. It poses navigational challenges, remoteness, but also beautiful views. As you come past Lough Ouler on your right, then comes the famous Tonlagee incline. It’s time to get the legs burning to push and weave the body through the boulders before the summit. Definitely stop to take in the views around Wicklow and maybe take a quick selfie.
Take a quick bearing if need be, and definitely some water, and move off to the southwest of the peak, following the trail to the Wicklow Gap car park.
Now, it’s choice time. Do you try and hop up to Camaderry via the reservoir or do you brave the steep north face of the mountain?
On my most recent run, I went for the handy option, hopping up the service road. Running through the undulating bog, you tag the summits of both Camaderry and Camaderry East and you then descend into Glendalough. Take time at this point to take in the view as you’re dropping down from the height.
You’ll be tired at this stage and there are a few steep descents here, so watch the footing, or like me, you’ll clip the trailing foot and enjoy a nice face plant. It’s worth slowing down a little too, as there are richer flora and fauna. Coming down off Camaderry East in May, just as I came into the forest above St. Kevin’s Way, a huge heard of sika deer nonchalantly emerged, having a chew on their lunch and eyeballing me while young deer gambled about. There’s a really vast deer population in Wicklow and it’s fairly common to see sika, but if you’re lucky you may spot the native Irish red deer. Also keep an eye out for mountain hare, fox (though they mostly move around dusk) and red squirrels. I’m lucky enough to have seen a few red squirrels around that area over the last while, let’s hope their numbers are growing again. I was also lucky to spot reintroduced red kite, Merlin, sparrow hawk and other raptors.
Moving on from Camaderry, you can take the longer zig-zag route back to the Education Centre or else go for the quicker option, which will save you about 2 km.
Make sure to the finish the route with all you’ve got; only sprint finishes accepted here! You’ll have completed a route that is challenging for every level of fitness and runner. You can always pop down to the jetty after the run to cool.
All the beautiful wildlife! Also, if you want to stop and snack or have a picnic, Tonlagee summit is a good spot. Or if you want something more sheltered and scenic, try Glenmacnass waterfall.
If you’re driving from the Dublin direction, you can pick up nice food at Avoca in Kilmacanogue or if you take a 10-minute detour off the N11 you can get healthy and raw options at the Happy Pear in Greystones. There are also other options in Laragh to visit for other refreshments.
This is a challenging route and that should be well planned for. You should have navigation experience and the right gear. The ground is a mix of well-worn and lightly trodden trails. Some of the route, specifically Tonlagee and parts of Camaderry, is boggy and always wet, no matter the time of year. You’ll want to consider medium to hard trail runners. I’m wearing Salomon Fellcross 2s at the moment, which came in handy for the steep declines and descents, but a medium shoe would be fine too.
OSI sheet 56 is a bare minimum, with Harvey’s Wicklow Mountains sheet being a more detailed option. Stock the hydration pack well and make sure to have whatever food/snacks suit you for running. Rain gear and phone are essential kit too and, as always, leave your route with someone before you head out too, all in the name of making sure the mountain rescue guys don’t need to come get you!
For more information on trail running, visit IMRA and Mud, Sweat and Runners.
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