Dublin to Rathdrum; Camping in a very hidden valley; A goat skull; Gypsy caravans, or a reasonable facsimile thereof

Today dawned with an urgent desire in our hearts to be as far from Dublin as we could manage. After some discussion we settled on heading south for the mountains of County Wicklow, and camping for a few days of peace and quiet after the noise, crowding and drunken tourists of the capital. The train station we needed, Connolly, was a short walk from the hostel (which we were very happy to leave behind). We bought tickets from a machine for the town of Rathdrum, near to the Wicklow Mountains National Park. The town of Glendalough was our first choice, being closer to the park, but the hostel there was full and the bus seemed expensive (though would have ended up cheaper - see the entry for May 14th).

The train was comfortable and fast, once we got out of the city, and not at all crowded. One delightful change since my last visit is that smoking is no longer allowed on trains, for which I’m grateful. The country we passed though was mostly pastoral, with the ocean out the east window, calm and blue that day. Rolling hills began to appear after awhile, with the blue shadows of low, round mountains approaching. I’d wanted to do some writing to catch up this journal (ha, in retrospect - I’m writing this on the 27th) but rediscovered that my memory edits out the bumpiness of train rides.

We arrived in Rathdrum around noon, and I realized that I’d forgotten to write down the directions to the campground. There was nothing near the train station but a couple of houses - no indication as to which way the town was, or the campground. So we walked in a random direction (uphill) and asked the first man we saw. The campground was downhill, which, it being named ‘Hidden Valley’ seems obvious in retrospect - very few valleys being found at the tops of hills. It was a kilometer or so to the place, and Sheryl was suffering a bit by the time we got there. It didn’t help that the road looked like a construction site with machines and potholes and such, so that we didn’t believe the signpost and walked past it a bit to see if there was a better candidate. There wasn’t, which caused us to form the first of undoubtedly many travelers’ axioms - follow the pointy end of the signpost. This was to stand us in good stead the next day, as it happened. The walk was all downhill at least, though the squeakiness of Sheryl’s pack will drive us both crazy at some point.

The man who ran the campground was very nice and friendly, a you guy who’d traveled a lot, visited Thailand and the United States and picked up a wife from Denver. Unfortunately he also exhibited the rampant greed that has characterized our experience of Ireland - the campground charged €10 per person to pitch a tent in the field for a night - and showers were an extra €1 for 6 minutes.

We looked the place over and settled on a spot in a large field down by a little stream. After setting up the tent, we washed our dirty clothes in the washroom sink and hung them to dry.

One especially neat thing was that, walking across the field, I came across a big old skull from some sort of horned animal - a goat, likely. I named him Bugs, because the shape of its head and horns looked like a rabbit’s head, if you used a little imagination. I stored it under the tent fly with the intention of shooting some pictures of it later.

At some point in the late afternoon, a series of brightly-painted horse-drawn covered wagons rolled into the campground. I realized they were the ‘gypsy caravan’ rentals I’d looked into earlier. It looked like so much fun, and I still think it would have been a blast to get a bunch of people together for a week and pretend to be gypsies. We could have gold teeth and jewellery, and the girls could wear long skirts and the guys could have chest wigs, and we’d play the fiddle and accordion around the fire. Unfortunately no one was interested, since the price tag (around €1000 for the week, campsite fees not included) seemed a bit out of reach.

We hiked back up the hill to town, found a little supermarket and bought groceries for dinner and breakfast (at the price of which I was once again horrified… I’d suspect the Irish of having special tourist-only supermarkets if I didn’t know better) and a small bottle of the cheapest whiskey on offer, then went and had tea.

We had no way of cooking anything, so stocked up on flatbread, lunch meat, biscuits and similar things. Happily the campground owners said we could use the kettle in the office whenever we wanted, so we were set for tea between 9am and 9pm.

We didn’t last much past that anyway. I spent the evening organizing and repacking, and it was dark by then, so we took a last spin around the campground and went to bed. The weather is good, but quite chilly at night still, so we had tights on, lots of layers, and hoods and toques as well


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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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