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A forest walk with a detour to the top of The Scalp – panoramic views, but not for the faint-hearted!

Scalp Header

Finally, following week after week of downpours any time I was off work, we’ve had a couple of days sunshine and I’ve been able to undertake a little exploration that I’ve wanted to do for years – seeing if the top of “The Scalp” was accessible by an easier route than just climbing up the sides!

If you have ever driven to Enniskerry or travelled on the 44 bus you will know The Scalp – a very steep sided gorge where the road seems to go straight through the centre of a huge rocky hill, with jumbled loose rocks of varying sizes overhanging the road and “falling rocks” signs. I’d often wondered what the view was like from the top, but the route up the sides from the road looks very sheer and dangerous for someone who is just a walker rather than a climber.

Local exploration had shown me that a small road – Barnaslingan Lane – runs behind The Scalp on the eastern side, and my plan was to approach from that direction. When coming from Dublin and Dundrum,  Barnaslingan Lane is on the left, a mile or so before The Scalp, but very easy to miss, as both the turning, and the road sign showing it are hidden by hedges. Basically you pass the Golden Ball pub and the filling station at Kiltiernan, and pass the new traffic lights that control the junction with the Ballycorus Road. Carry on towards Enniskerry, and when you see a long straight row of old cottages on your right, the turn for Barnaslingan is on your left, as you reach the end of the row.

A couple of km along this narrow lane there is a forest park on the right – easy to miss, but it is directly opposite the first turning on your left.

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Forest Park gate – click on any thumbnail for fullsize picture

This park, despite having signs proclaiming that the gates get closed at 8pm, never seems to be actually opened – several time I have passed during the daytime it has always been closed. The somewhat strange hypenation of “To-morrow” in the sign is also unusual!

There is just room for a car or two to park on the side of the road, as long as you in as close to the hedge as possible. Few people come here, so there should usually be a space. Once you have parked, pedestrian access through the gates is easy.

Once in the carpark, I took the smaller of two pathways on offer, which seemed to be the one leading most directly upwards.

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The pathway was clear in some places, and slightly overgrown in others, presumably little used because people pass by if they can’t drive in. It was quite walkable though, even in the overgrown sections.

After crossing through an open area where high voltage ESB lines cross the forest, the path rose gently between mature trees. So far, so good, as long as I was heading upwards and directly west I was fairly sure I was bound for the top of The Scalp.

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After about half a km the path comes to a T junction, with the main path going to the left. I followed this for a while, but turned back when it was clear that it was going downhill again and away from the hilltop. I retraced my steps to the T, and took the other fork, more overgrown. Almost directly after taking this, there was a small path on the left, leading directly to a low point on an old stone wall that seems to encircle the top of the hill.

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The wall has an obvious crossing point, and climbing over it, and scrambling up a rock just beyond it are the only mildly difficult parts of the trip.

Few people use the forest park, and fewer still go beyond the wall, and although there is a fairly clear path through the trees and undergrowth, the area was wonderfully still and utterly silent, and I frequently came across birds and small animals who seemed startled to see me.

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The ground here was uneven, but easy enough to cover, climbing over large smooth embedded rocks, and choosing trails that seemed to head in the direction I wanted to go in. For about 10 to 15 minutes I followed trails through bracken and scrubland, heading southwest and beginning to descend slightly. I still wasn’t sure at this stage that I would get to a point where I was on the top of the steep sides of The Scalp, but finally the great cleft in the hillside came into view ahead of me, and a stunning vista across the Wicklow countryside came into view, dominated by The Sugarloaf (a future walking ambition of mine).

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The picture above (click on thumbnail for fullsize) shows the view towards The Sugarloaf. If you look carefully, the top of the spire of Enniskerry church can just be seen in the middle distance, a little to the right of the centre of the picture.  The village itself is hidden in a hollow at the foothills of The Scalp. The Enniskerry Road can also be seen, and some of the houses around the Ballyman Road.

Very shortly beyond this, I came to the edge of The Scalp, where there are some flat rocks to sit on a safe few metres away from the edge, which is steep enough to make even me nervous. Unfortunately a strong sun was setting directly on the other side somewhat restricting my photography options, through trees could sometimes be used as cover.

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Above: Destination reached – standing on the edge of The Scalp, with the road far below.

I won’t be archiving this into the “Walks By Car” section, as I feel that the last part offers too much scope for the unwary to have accidents, especially if they take some other trail for the final few minutes, and perhaps come to some sheer drop that I did not myself encounter. it is safe enough for anyone cautious and level-headed, butI certainly would not reccomend it if you are walking with children!

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While sitting on the top, a 44 bus passed way below, and I used the zoom lens to get a birds eye shot. Unfortunately the sun intervened again, and the circular discoloured area in the lower left is a reflection of direct sunlight on the lens.

The Scalp itself is right on the border between Counties Dublin and Wicklow – I’m sitting in Co. Dublin, but the bus is in Co. Wicklow at this point (although about to cross back into Dublin very shortly).

All in all, a nice after-work walk, a chance to realise a long held ambition, and after all the rain, it was great to be out and walking again.

Fat Steve

 

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A visit to a 150 year old tower on a hilltop with a scary-looking outside staircase, visible in many parts of south-east Dublin.

For my second expedition, I picked something much more manageable, and took my American friend JS along with me. I will write this up as a “walk page” with directions shortly.

Carrickgollogan is a medium-sized hill in south county Dublin, but one whose name would be unknown to the majority of people, even though they would have a knowledge of it as part of the landscape in their area as “the hill with the tower on it”. The tower can be seen over quite a wide area, from Killiney and the Bray Road over to Sandyford and Kiltiernan.

The hill is located between the Enniskerry and Bray roads, a little south of Glenamuck, and can be easily accessed from Ballycorus Road (turn left off Enniskerry Road just after Kiltiernan).

Even from quite a distance, the spiral staircase on the outside of the tower can be seen, though it is only when you get closer that you observe that it is not complete.

Tower on Carrickgologan hilltop

Tower with staircase – click to view fullsize on this and all pictures

The reason for the stairs being on the outside is that this is in fact a chimney rather than a tower as such, and the inside would back in the days of its use have been full of choking noxious fumes. The structure was built on top of the hill, and at the end of a flue nearly a mile long, which conducted the smokes and fumes from a lead works in the valley below up to the hilltop, where they were discharged at a height of 900 feet, thus sparing those living below from the effects of their industry.

The hill itself was once penetrated by a lead mine, but lead from other mines was also transported to Ballycorus to be smelted, and the area was a teeming centre of employment at one stage. It is now long since abandoned, and has been so for as long as I can remember, certainly when I first visited in the early 1970s it was already a matter of history. The mine is sealed and forgotten, the works gone, though some buildings remain in the valley, but the giant chimney remains, and should stand for a long time into the future, as a recognisible landmark in this corner of County Dublin.

Travelling from the Ballycorus Road, we took the side turn which is signposted “Pucks Castle” which leads to the most convienient of the several approach routes to the top of the hill. Pucks Castle itself, a ruined fortified dwelling rather than a fullsize castle, can be seen in a field on the left after about a km, but the hedges are high and it is visible just once through a gap, so blink and you’ll miss it.

The road climbs, and after the Pucks Castle golf range on the right, there is a track leading up the hillside, with just enough room to park a car or two.

Having been up here more recently, I was able to let JS know that the climb would be about 20 minutes, and that the first half is the worst.

The track is rough but walkable, with forest on the left, and a stone wall and hedge on the right, behind which is the golf range, built on such an impossible slope that you wonder how the ball does not just run away.

Chimney 2

For most of the climb, thre is no sign of anything on the hilltop, but as you near the top, the structure suddenly comes into view. The stairs can now be seen clearly, as well as the fact that several gaps mean that they cannot be climbed – one of the gaps being close to the bottom, and possibly deliberate on the part of the local authority to stop people from climbing and suffering accidents.

Stairs

 

Where the steps still exist, they are steep and unprotected, and the prospect of being able to climb them when they were all in place must have been both wonderful and terrifying at the same time. A platform at the top, similarly unprotected, would have allowed access to the top of the chimney, and must have given stunning views across Dublin.

The flue up from the mineworks below having long since been filled in, there is now an opening at the bottom of the tower, and it is possible to go inside, and look up, and out of the giant stone chimney.

Inside

The views from the hilltop, while not as extensive as those from ThreeRock, are none the less very good, and comprise most of Dublin city and bay, Killiney Hill, and to the west, the Scalp and Glencullen valleys, Two Rock and Three Rock mountains.

West

Looking west over towards Glencullen, the massive redevelopment of the Kiltiernan Sports Hotel is carving an ugly scar in the valley below, and it is to be hoped that once finished and landscaped it will fit in better. Both time I have been up here recently has been in the evening, and the view westward over the valleys and hills can give some lovely constrasts of light and shade, and rays through the mist (the picture used as the header of this blog is taken here).

view north to Dublin

Looking north across Dublin you get a good view of the eastern half of the city, with the sweep of the bay, and Howth Head in the distance.

Killiney

Looking east across the Loughlinstown valley, the sprawl of Tulley and Cherrywood can be seen, as well as Killiney Hill, with the sea behind it.

Coming back down is easy of course, and we managed to reach the car just in time to avoid a sudden squall of rain.

Compared to my last efforts, a successful conclusion!

Fat Steve

 

 

 

 

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Last Sunday (May 20th) I set out for the first of my walks/explorations for this site, spurred on by the untimely death of a friend, who was only a little older than me, and of a similar level of unfitness.

Having recently been rereading the excellent “Neighbourhood of Dublin” written by Weston St. John Joyce in 1910, and made available by the good folk at chaptersofdublin.com, I decided to try to retrace a journey in chapter 14 of Weston’s book, covering the area of the Wicklow Mountains above Kilbride, and including the relics of a long closed (even in 1910) iron mine, both for the exercise I would get, and out of curiosity to see how many or how few of the landscape and historical features extant in his time can still be distinguished.

The route starts at Oldbawn Cross between Tallaght and Ballycullen, which in his day was still of very rural aspect.

Taking the road towards Bohernabreena we soon enter into a valley, with the River Dodder on our right, and higher ground to the left. I remember cycling this way when younger, when the old 49A busused to come along this road, about half way to the waterworks. These days the 49A is much reduced, just a couple of trips a day as footnotes on the main 49 service, and these take a different route, going up the hill to the church on the old Bohernabreen Road, rather than the lower route. The pull-in where the 49A used to turn round has been blocked in, and is now barely discernable.

The road has a tight S-bend where it crosses the river, and then climbs steadily, with the waterworks to the left. The gap in the hills it is ascending to is called the Ballinascorney Gap, not one of the better known areas of County Dublin.

Finding the point where the route taken by Weston branches off was more difficult than I expected, as both Weston and the latest Ordinance Survey map (No.50) describe a roadside cross – a Famine Cross – at the junction, whereas due to a road realignment at some stage in the past, this cross is now located off the main road, on a little loop from where the road to Kilbride Camp can be taken.

The Neighbourhood of Dublin describes it thus:

——

At the top of Ballinascorney Gap is a large plain granite cross, erected some sixty years ago, and at this point we turn to the left along a well-kept road, bounded by low hedges, interspersed with fern, foxglove and other wild flowers, and passing through a partly cultivated country, with occasional meadows and stunted trees. Some distance further, a pretty ford leading to a farmyard, crosses the little stream beside the road which here begins to rise sharply, having already attained an elevation of over 1,000 feet. As we continue the ascent, the character of the country becomes wilder, the whitethorn and hazel hedges give place almost entirely to those of furze, and rising majestically to the left of the road in front is Seechon Or Slievebawn – the great mountain dominating all this region, its rounded summit seared and scarred by the winter torrents, and its brown, heather-clad slopes variegated by patches of soft green sward. It will be noted that those portions of the top denuded of vegetation assume a whitish tint in dry weather, which circumstance may have originated the name of Slieve Bawn (the White Mountain). It should, however, be mentioned that the name Slievebawn, which has now disappeared from the maps, is quite unknown to the country people in the neighbourhood, by whom it is invariably called Seechon (the seat), corrupted by the Ordnance Survey in the more recent maps, into Seahan.

——

Famine Cross at Ballinascorney Gap

Some things are there 90 years later, others have changed.

The cross is still there, and the road towards Sehan is still pretty much as described, starting off between hedges and cultivated fields, and quickly climbing to a level where furze predominates. There is little or no view of the mountain though, as forestry cplantations block the view to the left until you are past the highest point of the road. Of the ford to the farmhouse, there is no trace, and it could be any one of a number of buildings which now adjoin the road or stand close to it.

To the right, there is a great view westwards towards the flatter countryside of southwest Dublin and Kildare.

Presently the road starts to descend towards Kilbride Camp, the forest ends, and a lovely open vists of bog and mountain opens up. That such places still exist within a very short drive of Dublin is something very much to be appreciated.

Towards Kilbride Camp

The road runs down rapidly into a valley, with Sehan behind to the left, and the slopes of Seefin and Seefingan to the left. At the bottom of the hill we cross the Shankill River, little more than a stream really, at the enterence to Kilbride Camp, which in Weston’s day was “a collection of huts” but now comprises a number of buildings and some antenna masts, well fenced off and with a variety of signs forbidding access and warning of the dangers of the military firing range.

Kilbride Camp

Beyond the camp the road continues on for about half a mile, before coming to a junction where we turn to the right.

Now heading west, we follow this road for less than half a mile to a bridge where the Shankill River is crossed again, apparently on the site of an old ford. On the right the land is being used for motorbike trekking.

At the bridge, there is space to park a car, and it was here that I ventured on my first walk, in what was a futile attempt to find any remnents of some old buildings and a closed off former iron mine as described in The Neighbourhood of Dublin.

In 1910, signs of the old mine workings were still very evident, according to Weston, and I felt sure that something, particularly the broken stone wheel, might remain to this day.

Weston wrote:

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. . . we turn to the right by the road leading to Ballinascorney, again crossing the river by a bridge on the site of the old Shankill ford. If, however, the excursionist is on foot, or if he is not afraid of taking his bicycle along a rather rough track through the heather, it will be well worth while to diverge from the road on the left, by the pathway which crosses the river, and leads to the Cloghleagh iron mine. The high mountains, Gravale, Mullaghcleevaun, and Moanbane present an imposing appearance from this point, traces of snow often remaining on their summits as late as mid-summer. Keeping to the pathway, we presently reach a curious-looking stone house, which was erected as a residence for the manager of the iron mine some fifty years ago. It would seem that no earnest attempt was ever made to work this undertaking to a successful issue, as the great stone segments of the crushing wheel, now lying beside the river, and other machinery obtained from England, were never put together, so that the whole concern was a failure from the start Just beside the house is the entrance to the mine, the shaft of which, now closed up, extended a considerable way under the hill.A short distance beyond the house we reach a wooden gateway leading by a pretty bridge to a picturesque little defile, planted with firs and larches, through which the Shankill river tumbles and splashes along its rocky bed to join the Liffey a few hundred yards below Cloghleagh Bridge.

——

All traces of the pathway referred to are now long since gone, and apart from the first couple of hundred yeards, which are fairly clear, it is hard enough to walk along the path of the river, and would certainly be impossible to bring a bicycle.

Shankill River

The old book does not clearly state which side of the river the buildings were on, other than that the path crossed the river at some point, nor exactly how far down the river from the bridge the building and the mineshaft were located. So I decided to stick as close to the river as possible, and look for any remnants of buildings, or possibly chunks of the great stone wheel referred to, which surely would not have been moved or taken away.

The further down the river gorge I went, the tougher it got – dense forest with lots of fallen trees on one side, marshy ground with high thorny bushes on the other. I tried cross over a few times, but whatever side I was on always seemed to hbe the hardest!

There was a time 20 years ago when I would have waltzed through such a landscape, however years of inactivity saw me on this, my first outing, tired, heart racing and pespiring from exertion almost from the start.

I have a long, long way to go from Fat Steve to Fit Steve – hence why these excursions are neccessary!

I struggled on for nearly an hour, for what I would estimated to be slightly more than 1km down river, but found no sign of anyh of the buildings, sealed off shafts, or stone segments. Either they have been removed, which seems unlikely in this remote location, or it is all so overgrown as to be invisible, or else I did not go far enough on this occasion.

Hard Going

Progress was very slow over fallen trees at waist level, and I somehow managed to cut myself quite badly without realising it, so bad the time I got back to the car I was quite tired and grumpy. I had intended starting out with a successful trip, and getting interesting photos for my first blog trip, but failure instead.

The exercise did me good though, and I’ve not struck this off my list yet – I shall return at some stage with a curious American friend, and the lost mine may be found yet.

Fat Steve

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