Wicklow, to the south of Dublin, is a county of contrasts, with rugged highlands and sheltered river valleys with lush vegetation that have given it the nickname ‘the garden of Ireland’. The beautifully sited monastic remains at Glendalough and the enormous Powerscourt Estate are the main attractions.
In a narrow, wooded valley with two lakes stand the evocative ruins of the an cient monastic settlement of Glendalough. The hermit St Kevin foun ded the monastery here in the 6th century, evidently inspired by the breathtaking, remote scenery. He planned it as a small, contemplative institution, but as its fame spread far and wide, Glendalough of the Seven Churches became an important monastic centre, until 1398, when it was destroyed by Anglo-Normans.
The buildings which survive date from the 8th and 12th centuries. The most famous is the round tower, which is 34m (112ft) high and 16m (52ft) in circumference at the base. This was the place to sit out any sieges; its doorway is built 31⁄2m (11ft) above the ground – enough to discourage even Vikings from invading.
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Near Enniskerry, is the grand estate of Powers court. Covering 20 hectares (47 acres) of glorious countryside and gardens, the estate has an 18th- century, 100-room mansion at its centre, which was damaged in a fire in 1974. Today it contains an exhibition devoted to the history of the estate. From the house, disciplined terraces descend to a lake with a fountain in the middle. The garden centre is also worth a visit, as is the Powerscourt Waterfall, 5km (3 miles) south of the house.
The picturesque village of Avoca, with its multicoloured houses and working weaving mill gained new fame as the location for the 1990s BBC series Ballykissangel.
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