trail running

Trail Running in Ireland – Fairy Castle

“Cape Town has Table Mountain, Belfast has Cave Hill, and Dublin has Fairy Castle: all fabulous mountain viewpoins, location right in the suburbs, that provide unsurpassed panoramas of the cities at their feet.”

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t? I definitely had high hopes after reading that along with the description of the route in my Dublin & Wicklow Walking Guide book. I should have known better considering this is Ireland and having that perfect day for gorgeous views isn’t always so easy to achieve.

My boyfriend, Martin, goes mountain biking in the forest surrounding Fairy Castle on Sunday mornings. After buying a new pair of trail shoes recently week I decided I would go with him but stay on two feet rather than two wheels. We arrived in Ticknock Forest at 8am-ish (if you want to go mountain biking/hiking/running here then the key is to get here early!), I quickly got my bearings, wish Martin good luck and set off along the path.

Fast forward a mere 200 metres and I was already thinking “goodness me, this is tough!” but then thought to myself I hadn’t really warmed up, I had simply got out of the car, chatted a little and started running up a hill. Time to take it easy! It turned out this was a very short trail path leading to the upper carpark where I had a choice of routes to take. I like to stop and read the map boards but it’s hard to beat local knowledge.

Interaction number 1: I asked a man who was out walking his dog if I was on the correct path to reach Fairy Castle as I didn’t want to end up on a mountain biking trail by accident AND it just looked like a road ahead (that is not what I bought my Inov8s for, excuse me!). Like most people in Ireland he was very nice and helpful and told me to follow the road and then take a right at the masts. From there I can follow the signs and I’ll be heading up to Fairy Castle.

I reached a crossroads where a family appeared from one direction and a runner from another. They took my right so I thought this must be my right turn! I haven’t even set the scene yet with the weather but I guess that is actually the crux of the whole issue. Of course, today was super foggy. As I turned right and ran along the path, I looked to my left and very faintly I could make out a large mast. Thank you dog walker, you gave me the right instructions!

Trail path towards Fairy Castle

I am now on the uphill trail towards Fairy Castle and I can’t see a thing around me. I could only see people once they were a few metres in front of me. I mixed it up between running and walking as I wasn’t sure how long the climb would be. It didn’t actually take too long until I saw the summit and the other runner who I had been following up here.

Interaction number 2: We had the classic exchange of discussing the terrible weather but this runner reassured me that there are lovely views on a good day. I said I will have to come back again. We chatted about trail races and running the Wicklow Way. I had my guide book in my bag so asked him for advice on the route to take. As well as the route I took to Fairy Castle, there were two other paths meeting at this trig point. Now, as I write this, with newly gained knowledge of the area, I know I should have descended using the path directly opposite the one I took up. Did I go that way? Of course not, that would have been far too easy. My new running friend introduced himself as Steven and suggested I run with him/he runs with me but I sent him on his way and I followed a few minutes later after taking my selfies despite the lack of view.

Steven explained that if I take this left path (instead of straight on) then it will come back round to the right and back into the forest. Great, I thought, I had plenty of time to add a bit extra on to my run. The start of this path was good fun to run on as it was flat but rocky. I shortly arrived at a crossroads and took a right. I could Steven’s yellow jacket, a beacon in the distance. I descended a narrow, rocky path until I hit marshy patch. I wasn’t feeling overly confident but assumed there would be another right turn soon to get me back on track.

Interaction number 3: Another male runner, running towards me, stopped briefly to ask if we were on the Dublin Mountain Way. In all honesty I was a bit confused as to where I was but I said I thought so. I tried to remember if I had seen any signs but assured that him that if he runs up and takes a left at a crossroads then he will reach Fairy Castle. He seemed happy enough – go me for helping someone! I then shouted after him, “if I take a right down here will I get back into the forest?” (note I did not ask for a particular forest which was a mistake) and he replied with “yeah should do as Glencullen is on your left.” I thanked him and ran on thinking that was not overly helpful.

At this stage my Inov8s were no doubt excited for some muddy action in this boggy terrain. I embraced it and trudged through the mud, with another rocky path in sight. I reached this path with a false sense of optimism assuming it would swing around to the right and I would know where I am. Low and behold I see Steven again but there is a fence between us and he wonders how on earth I am on this side of it. Acting as if I had known him for years I bluntly explained I followed his directions so where else would I be?! He reassured me that I just needed to jump over the fence, follow the gravel path he was on and I would arrive at The Gap. He ran off and I never saw him again. Sounds good doesn’t it? Back at The Gap – yay. Yes that would be good if that was where I started but no Steven, the “mountain biking carpark with the coffee shop” that I mentioned at Fairy Castle was a different one. In fact, I am now at the complete opposite side of the mountain to where I need to be. Fantastic!

The cogs in my brain started turning and I realised I had been to Glencullen before. It’s a lovely village with Ireland’s highest pub – Johnny Foxes. It is not however, where I expected to be on this run. I checked Google maps and realised what I had done. I quickly formed a plan to continue in the same direction instead of turning back. I knew I could join up with the Wicklow Way and follow it back towards Fairy Castle. I was almost proud of myself for figuring this out. I ran through The Gap where I am sure the coffee drinkers could sense I was not in the mood for stopping and chatting.

I was quite angry with Steven at this stage although thinking back it isn’t really his fault for sending me the wrong way. Anyway, a few words were voiced as I ran alone along the road between Glencullen and the point of joining the Wicklow Way. Shout out to my Inov8s for also being comfortable on the road!

Signpost on the Wicklow Way (taken on a previous hike)

The sign for the Wicklow Way appears and I take a right turn off the road and I am back on a rocky uphill path. Despite still being pretty far away from where I need to be I feel a sense of security because I know where I am and where I need to go. Despite only hiking on this section of the Wicklow Way once before, I have a nice feeling towards it. I am not sure if I would go as far saying there is some sort of connection but I definitely appreciate the route. I walked a lot of this because I was getting a bit tired. I had water with me but no snacks and I actually hadn’t had breakfast because I wasn’t planning such a long route. The path flattened out and I ran again, passing a few others and thinking I looked pretty hardcore running along here, especially as it was still so foggy.

I reached the point where I could either turn right and head back up to Fairy Castle, which I worked out is the path I should have taken down from it earlier. Thinking about it, that would not have been a very long run. Alternatively I could keeping following the Wicklow Way and take a right turn later, which would bring me back to Ticknock Forest. I stood for a couple of minutes trying to decide when I could hear two voices. It sounded like two runners and soon they descended out of the fog.

Interaction number 4: On hearing these voices, which I think had French accents, I did what any solo female runner would do and shouted “hey guys!” so they would stop and talk to me. They were both absolutely lovely and I could tell they ran on the trails a lot. They told me it would be easier/more direct to go back up to Fairy Castle and down the way I came. I wished them well and did exactly that.

On reaching Fairy Castle for the second time, the fog had not lifted so I didn’t even stop to look around me. I ran down familiar paths and soon hit the road where a lot of mountain bikers and hikers were started their ascent. I was flying down this path so to all of these people I am sure I looked pretty serious but little did they know what had happened in the past hour. The downhill, as always, was a lot of fun. One thing that was worrying me this whole time is that Martin would get back before me but I think I was just imagining I was a lot further away than I actually was. I got back to the carpark where we started about 10:30am.

Once I got back on track and got over my anger towards poor Steven, I thought it was actually quite a good run to do and it meant I wasn’t waiting for too long on Martin to finish cycling. The issue just lay in the fact that it wasn’t what I set out to do. If I went back there I would probably do something similar again because I know I can.

At the carpark, there was a coffee shop, which was part of a bike repair shop. I grabbed a jacket from the car and ordered a coffee. I won’t go into a lot more detail here but the first coffee I had looked off but it was because the milk was frozen. It took a while but I eventually got a black coffee and slice of carrot cake – the perfect post-run breakfast! I chatted to some others who were sitting at the picnic tables and Martin arrived about 45 minutes later.

Instead of running the 6km loop that my hiking guide book has mapped out, I ended up running nearly 14km. I am pleased with myself that my current level of fitness means I can  “detour” and despite being annoyed that I did end up so far away from the start, I kept myself composed and worked out how to get back. There is likely to be a nicer loop around that area that is still a reasonable distance so no doubt if I go back I will do something similar. I learnt a couple of things: other trail runners are usually very helpful and mean well even if they do accidentally direct you to the wrong place, always bring a snack, and if you get lost don’t panic!

This run really marks the beginning of my trail running journey in Ireland. I ran a couple of trail races when I lived in England, including one really fun off-road hilly race in Dartmoor where I think I was nearly the last person to cross the finish line, but it hasn’t been a regular thing. I have some big plans in mind so will be getting out to the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains a lot more often to train on the hills and strengthen myself up! I hope to write more about it as I go because trail running seems to lead to a lot of interesting stories, people and places!

Thank you for reading,

Rachel

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