Full Moon Hike in Glendalough

James Orr

Exploring the Wicklow Mountains at night. 

Glendalough, in the Wicklow Mountains National Park, can be a very busy place, especially in summer. One way to avoid the coaches packed full of people and the traffic jams on the mountain trails, is to visit… at night.

After work one evening I looked up the forecast and the moon phase for the coming night. 0% cloud cover and a 95% illuminated moon meant that I was good to go for an evening of hiking and photography under a (practically) full moon in the mountains.

I packed my gear, jumped in the car and drove straight down to Glendalough. I arrived into the lower lake car park at about 9pm. The sun was just about the set and there wasn’t a soul in sight, except for the odd dog-walker. On the twenty-minute walk from the lower lake up to the start of the trail there was still bird song in the air and I even saw a jay whizzing by.

I stopped for a quick snack at the Poulanass waterfall and watched the bats flying overhead. I was forced to move on by the swarming midges and I began to climb the (in)famous wooden steps of the ‘Spink’ trail.

Some of the sika-red deer hybrids

As I walked through the woodland up towards the summit I witnessed first hand Ireland’s ‘Deer Problem’. About every 50 steps I came across a new group of sika-red deer hybrids. It was almost pitch black within the forest but when I climbed above the tree line the landscape was glowing from the light left over from the sun that had set about an hour ago.

Looking back down at the lower lake, where I had left the car

The image I had planned on taking that night was an ultra-long exposure of the night sky and the Glendalough lakes from the top of the Spink trail. I had to find a composition before it got too dark to see clearly so I spent the next twenty minutes rushing around on top of the ridge.

I needed to get up to the summit of the Spink, in top left of this image, before it got too dark to compose my image

As I made my way to the summit of the Spink I came across a group of feral goats. I was a little nervous with the steep cliffs on my right and the feral looking feral goats on my left.

Feral goats

Eventually I found a composition I was happy with and I set up the shot. This is where I would stay for the next three hours. I waited for about an hour until it was dark enough for the stars to be visible.

Waiting for the light to be right. The “W” shaped Cassiopeia, my favourite constellation, is just appearing in the top left of this image

As the moon started to rise and as the light from the setting sun faded I started to capture the scene. I took a series of 30-second exposures, with a four second gap between exposures to let the camera’s sensor cool down, for just over two hours. During that time I  captured about 200 images of the same scene with the stars drifting across the sky and light from the moon moving across the mountains.

This is the final image of the two hour exposure. The motion in the stars, called star trails, is caused by the rotation of the earth

By about 2am the wind became so strong that the images were coming out a bit blurry because the tripod was shaking so much. I packed up and headed back towards the car. On the ridge the moonlight was so bright that I didn’t need a torch but once I got into the forest it was impossible to see my feet. I put on my head torch and climbed back down through the forest.

I heard rustling in the nearby bushes a couple of times and when I looked up I saw the green eyes of deer reflecting the light from my head torch back at me. For once I was glad that there were no large carnivores in Ireland!

I spent some time on my way back down taking image of the stars from the conifer plantations.


Moonlit meadow

When I got out of the forest I decided to head to the upper lake before going back to the car. I wanted to capture the iconic image of Glendalough’s upper lake but in a completely different light. I set up this vertical composition and captured a 25 second exposure with a wide-open aperture to let as much light in as possible. Where I was standing was probably the most popular spot in Wicklow, but right now, at about 3am, it was incredibly calm.

The upper lake in moonlight

I arrived back at the car by 4am and was back home in my bed at 5am. Getting up for work the next morning was tough, but I didn’t regret going on my little adventure. I can’t wait to get out again and explore another location under a full moon.


Photos by the author

Originally posted on jamesorrphoto.com



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