In early October 2018 I traveled to Dublin for work and decided to make the most of this trip by staying a few days more to explore some of Ireland’s East coast. A friend let me stay at his place in Wicklow town, which made for the perfect base to explore the beautiful Glendalough as well as further down the coast to Wexford.
Glendalough is a stunning glacial valley in County Wicklow, renowned for an Early Medieval monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St Kevin. It is also home to beautiful fauna and flaura and as it was deer rutting season whilst I was there, I was hoping to capture some vocalisations. There is a small population of Red Deer in Glendalough, but the most common species is Sika Deer.
My time was limited, with only one day to explore. I woke up before dawn and drove down to the car park at the visitor centre. Before heading to Ireland, I had been in touch with one of the local rangers who had given me plenty of advice. In true Irish style, it was raining very heavily as I set off. I had my recording gear in my backpack but was carrying my parabolic reflector by hand which made hiking a little challenging. Not long after setting off I stopped to shelter under a tree and heard a wonderful Robin singing its heart out. I focussed my parabolic reflector towards where the Robin was perched and hit record.
The rain clearly wasn’t going to stop so I decided to carry on. I began hiking up a steep slope. Wooden steps had been installed which helped, but I soon realised just how challenging this hike was going to be. My fitness levels weren’t great, I hadn’t eaten anything since waking up and the rain was making things really hard. I persisted, making regular stops to catch my breath. I couldn’t see how much further I’d need to climb before reaching the top and the rain was getting heavier. I began to feel really discouraged. Another 10 minutes on and I decided I had been defeated, and turned to head back down to the car park. Just at that precise moment, I heard a deer call out!
Like someone willing me to carry on, I found motivation again to continue the climb. This would probably be the only time I would come here so I just had to keep going. I drank some water before carrying on the climb and eventually, after another 15 minutes or so, the slope leveled out and I was at the top of the plateau. I continued along the path and heard more deer calls in the distance. As I headed towards where the calls were coming from they began calling more frequently. My hopes were soon dashed however as I quickly realised they were located at the very bottom of the valley. It was too dangerous to climb down so I tried recording them with my parabolic reflector from the top of the plateau. Parabolic reflectors can really help pin point a specific sound source but they were just too far and directly behind where the deer were located was a large gushing river, making recording clean deer vocalisations impossible.
I decided to carry on along the path, but soon began to feel discouragement creeping in again. Weather conditions were really harsh and I was dreaming of a steaming hot cup of tea. I passed a small group of walkers who were coming from the opposite direction. We stopped and chatted and I explained I was trying to record the deer but that I was feeling discouraged and ready to turn back. One of them, an older gentleman, said to me that if I carry on the way I was going I wouldn’t get any more wet than I already was, it would only take about twenty minutes longer than it would take if I were to turn back and that there’s a good chance I would see some deer. For the second time that morning, my motivation had been boosted and I decided to take his advice and carry on. And he was right.
The hike from that point on became much easier and even the rain eased up slightly. The path was fairly flat and I followed the wooden paths through some stunning landscapes. After about fifteen minutes I came across a small group of Sika Deer standing close to the path I was on. I slowed down, prepared my equipment and advanced very slowly, not wanting to scare them off. Shortly after, the male began to call out.
From a technical point of view, it’s definitely not the best recording I’ve ever made. Conditions were difficult and the number of small streams made it tricky to find any quiet locations. But for me this recording represents much more than that. I had overcome my own disbelief and more importantly, I had not given up on what I came here for. Recording in the bag, I continued on my hike and followed the path back down the other side of the lake.
I arrived back to my car wet and tired but extremely satisfied to have completed the 10 km hike. I was grateful to my two guardian angels that day : the first deer that called out at the exact moment I was contemplating turning back and the walker I had chatted with that helped convince me to keep going. The hike had taken 4 hours in total, and despite the challenging conditions I had seen some of Geldalough’s most stunning scenery, including heaths, bogs, Scots pine woodland, waterfalls, rivers, streams and lake.
I left Glendalough and headed further south along the coast towards Wexford, stopping on the way at a lovely historic pub for some warm homemade soup. Greenland White-fronted Geese spend the winter at the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve but when I had phoned a week before leaving for Ireland, one of the local rangers told me that I was a couple of weeks early and only a handful had arrived. I wanted to visit the reserve anyway, but as suspected, I was unable to record anything. Weather conditions at Wexford were even worse than in Glendalough, with very strong wind. But it was a nice location and I was happy to have visited.
My time in and around County Wicklow was fantastic and has inspired me to try to discover more of Ireland in the future. With a bit of luck, the weather will be more favourable the next time I visit.