With lockdown restrictions easing, adventure beckons, and as we yawn and stretch and try to come to life (to paraphrase the besainted Dolly) there's no better time to explore what’s on offer around the country. On Today with Claire Byrne, with Damien O’Reilly at the helm, Evelyn O’Rourke shared her experience of a guided night hike in Glendalough that covered approximately 14kms and took her and a small group of other adventure–seekers from day to sunset into night and produced more 'ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ than you could shake a walking stick at.

Evelyn’s guides for the 5-hour hike were Dave and Patrick from Wild Summits, but before she could head out on her walk, she had to ensure she was suitably suited and booted:

"Of course, you pack good walking shoes or your sturdy runners, a rain jacket […] you know bring warm clothes or whatever. You basically have to dress like an onion so you’re peeling the layers on and off."

These night hikes are the brainchild of Mark Keogh, who made the unlucky decision to start wildsummits.ie in January of 2020. But now that we’re almost post-pandemic, the hunger for outdoor experiences is growing. Mark explained the kernel of the idea that was behind his venture:

"Really all my ideas that I’ve brought to the business, they’ve come from what I’ve enjoyed personally during my time training as a mountain leader, training as a climbing instructor, and then trying to package that and offer that to the general public, and to give people those unique experiences."

But why night?

"A different world opens up at night so there’s a different element to the wildlife. And so you have the bats come out, more minute wildlife like the shrews come out. Deer, once all of the people leave the trail, they like to come out so last night we saw a couple of stags as well.You’re under the night sky, there’s stargazing going on, the sun sets, you’re catching up while you’re on the ridge – it’s just a different way to explore and to view the landscape in a different way to what we’re used to really."

Joining Evelyn on the trail were a diverse group of walkers, some looking for a bit of adventure, some just enjoying the opportunity to socialise in a unique environment. One trio, Maura, Deirdre and Gemma, were taking the time to catch up after so many months apart. Gemma spoke of the group’s expectations:

"It just sounded like something different. We do different walks and hikes around Dublin, but this seemed like something that was taking it to the next level and obviously it’s going to be pitch black, which seems a bit mad – we’re kind of half terrified half excited."

The experience includes two guides who, along with ensuring the walkers’ safety, are also experts on the history and biology of Glendalough – something Evelyn thoroughly appreciated:

"It’s such a stunning setting. I mean, the evening I was there was just beautiful. It was such a pleasure to be there just wandering along, listening to fascinating facts and hearing all about the background to the park."

And this seems to be the trend that the Wild Summits team have capitalised on – not just the need for adventure and escape, but the vital need to be in nature after so long cooped up indoors. Guide Dave stressed how basic this need is:

"Humans evolved over thousands of years and for most of that time we lived outside, so if we developed and evolved in nature and we’ve moved away from it, to come back out into nature is to reconnect with your part of nature."

The pace of the hike shifts once the sun goes down and the head torches come out – you need to watch your step, but also keep an eye out for the other residents of the park, as guide Patrick explained:

"That’s where we start to move a bit slower, start to listen to the landscape a bit more. If you shine your light left or right, you’re going to see deer’s eyes, essentially, illuminated back. So, it spooks a few people, but I assure you they are deer."

And there are bats, rare birds, and plenty besides, but Evelyn reminded us of an equally important outcome:

"To be honest Damien, can you put a price on smugness? You know, when people ask you what’d you do at the weekend, and you say actually I did a night hike in Glendalough, like, how irritating and how wonderful is that?"

So, if the stunning views, incredible wildlife and expert guides aren’t enough to convince you to go, the bragging rights are sure to push you over the edge, metaphorically speaking of course.

You can hear Evelyn’s full Glendalough night hike report by going here

- Gemma Craddock