The Wicklow Mountains
A mere stone’s throw from Ireland’s capital city lies the natural wonderland of the Wicklow Mountains; a splendid and ancient landscape punctuated by magnificent, domed granite mountains, purple glens, soft rolling hills and silvery streams. Whether you hanker for windswept mountain peaks, long distance nature hikes or coastal rambles, walking in Wicklow is certain to capture your spirit.
The total area of County Wicklow is approximately 2023 square kilometres (781 square miles). The Wicklow mountain range rises majestically from sea level to the east, with its granite peaks occupying the majority of the county and even spilling over into neighbouring counties.
The Wicklow Mountains make up the largest mountainous area in Ireland and offer unrivalled natural diversity.
The Wicklow Mountains were formed some 400 million years ago by a mass of granite, which was forced up to the earth's surface when the ancient continents of Europe and America collided. The molten granite crushed and baked the surface sedimentary rocks (slates and schist), forming mica-schist, much of which has now been weathered away.
The boundary between the granite and mica-schist holds high concentrations of lead, tin, copper, iron and zinc, which were historically mined in various areas of Wicklow. The last Ice Age had an enormous influence on the character of the Wicklow landscape, as evidenced by breathtaking examples of deep valleys and glacial lakes and the huge scattered boulders deposited by the melting ice – which now often form a welcome shelter from the elements for walkers.
Large herds of deer can often be seen frolicking on the open hill areas of the mountains. Other mammals you may encounter include the mountain hare, badger and fox. If you’re lucky, you may catch a sighting of the rare red squirrel in pine woodlands, and feral goats with long shaggy coats and curved horns can often be observed on the remote cliffs.
Bird-watchers stand a good chance of spotting some fine species, including peregrine falcons, merlins, kestrels, buzzards, sparrow-hawks and even hen harriers, all of which inhabit the Wicklow hills. Red grouse – which are becoming quite rare in many parts of Ireland - are still quite common here. Small birds, normally associated with mountain moorland, heath and blanket bog, such as meadow pipits and skylarks are also frequently spotted. Less common birds such as whinchat, ring ouzel and dipper can also be found here.
The fish fauna is typical of Irish uplands, consisting mainly of trout, stickleback and minnow.
Wicklow's mountain streams are a characteristic golden brown, and it’s all because of the peat; a soil made up of the partially rotted remains of dead plants that have accumulated in waterlogged places for thousands of years. Its components include Sphagnum moss along with the roots, leaves, flowers and seeds of heathers, grasses and sedges. Occasionally the trunks and roots of trees such as Scots pine, oak, birch and yew are also present.
Peatlands originally covered more than 17% of the land area of Ireland - a higher proportion than any other European country, with the exception of Finland. Peatlands, together with their unique assemblage of plants and animals, are a seriously endangered western European habitat. Most countries in Europe have exploited the majority of their peat resources for fuel. Ireland is one of the few countries where a wide range of peatlands still exist in a near-natural state.