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Led up the zig-zag pathwayI‘ve been watching the recent exchange of opinion on the pros and cons of pathways up mountains. Recently, I have been doing a lot of field work in Glendalough (Wicklow) and have had cause to walk up the zig-zag pathway from the ‘miners’ village’ above the Upper Lake to Van Diemen’s Land numerous times. This beautifully engineered road was constructed in the late-1860s by the Mining Company of Ireland to facilitate the movement of lead ore downhill to the dressing floors (incorrectly named the ‘miners’ village’) from the mines at Van Diemen’s Land. It has delightful features like stone culverts diverting streams beneath the road and is now well used by walkers who stream up the route to the Spink in their thousands each month.
However, above the zig-zags, the road is reduced to a mere track. This has been heavily engineered with the installation of a stepped route created by laying granite boulders (with heavy scoring by angle grinder to prevent slippage), small bridges over the Glenealo (which can’t decide whether to stick or twist when it comes to a water channel), and further up, railway sleepers laid across the bog. Huge white bags of granite dropped by helicopter currently lie beside this ‘path’ bearing testimony to on-going works. Quite apart from the fact that I am not keen on the surface and question its safely when icy especially when one is travelling downhill, I also contest the wisdom of the need to create this pathway at all.
Why? Because the old mine road actually swung left over the Glenealo at 308046 196192 and then crossed over the top of a cutting for a former incline tramway running up to the mines. The old road then continued uphill, passing through the heart of the Van Diemen’s Land Mine and its fascinating industrial archaeology, ending close to a structure that was a crusher and waterwheel pit right by the current track to the Spink. So, we already have a purpose built route, that, with a little rehabilitation, would have obviated the need for and considerable expense incurred in the installation of a new track that is always going to be highly prone to erosion. A track that has had money needlessly spent on it when a perfectly good route already existed, and one, I might add, that is a great deal safer for the inexperienced/casual stroller. I fail to see why anyone who could read a C19th OS map could have missed this road, let alone fail to see it on the ground today, it’s course is so blindingly obvious.
Maybe there is a case for rehabilitating this old road above the zig-zags (2 bridges required to cross the river and the tram track and perhaps a walkway/membrane for boggier sections upslope). This would reopen an historically fascinating route that would ease the pressure and bad erosion on the track that is now used above the zig-zags but which was not there in the C19th. Unfortunately, it’s been a case of reinventing the wheel where the Glendalough-Spink walk is concerned.
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