Lover’s Leap, Co. Wicklow

(by Gerry Moss, from IMC Newsletter Summer 2003)
A climbing guide to the little Co. Wicklow crag.

The top of this steep outcrop is smooth and shining, burnished by the feet of the many visitors that have come here down through the centuries, to savour the view and see for themselves the spot where, according to legend, a tragic drama unfolded in the dim and distant past.

Once upon a time (and long before my father’s time) a distraught young couple came here, fleeing from the wrath of a domineering and avaricious Papa. She was the only child of a wealthy merchant, he was a handsome but impoverished stable-lad in her father’s employ, and they were deeply in love. But it was a love that was forbidden, a love that they could never share in this life. So they came here to end it all and be together forever in the hereafter. Fondly embracing, they bade a tearful adieu to this cruel world, then, hand in hand, they ran to the cliff-edge and jumped.

But before we allow ourselves to be overcome with grief, we would do well to remember that these old legends have about as much factual content as a Fianna Fáil election manifesto. The truth about Lover’s Leap is likely to be more mundane. Here’s how it probably panned out.

As they ran towards the edge didn’t the perfidious wench slip her hand from his at the last moment and the poor gom sailed out into space on his own – a bunjee-jumper sans bunjee – to end up in flitters on the boulders below. Meanwhile, the love of his life was legging it back along the track, and arrived home just in time for tea. She knew which side her curranty cake was buttered on. A week later, at the local céilidh, she met up with an exceedingly ancient, uncommonly ugly, but seriously rich farmer from the plains of Royal Meath and they were wed within a month. Was Papa delighted, or what? Honeymooning on the golden sands of balmy Bundoran, there was ne’er a thought for the poor bugger whose bones lay bleaching on the banks of the fast-flowing Dargle. Ain’t life a bitch?

Your average reader might find this tale of woe very moving, but we climbers, hardened and cynical lot that we are, will disregard the sentimental waffle and hone in on the one significant point in all of this. Which is this: if the crag is high enough to meet the exacting demands of those hell-bent on self-destruction, might it not also be high enough to yield a few routes? Well, in the words of that well-known literary béal bocht from Limerick: ‘Tis.

Developed too late for inclusion in the guide to Bray Head and minor crags around Dublin, and not considered extensive enough to warrant inclusion in the Wicklow guidebook, this dramatic little outcrop has, as a result, been neglected for years (though someone has been pottering about there recently). Given that it has just come of age; 21 years having passed since the first route was put up in January 1982, we decided to mark the occasion by adding a couple more routes to the list. It is nearly two decades ago that details of the climbs first appeared in these pages, so, for the benefit of our younger members, we include an updated description here. While the crag is not extensive, there is certainly enough to keep one occupied for a half-day, or a long summer’s evening. Steep, south-facing and quick-drying (a bonus in a summer such as this), the crag is generously supplied with sharp, in-cut holds. Back in ’84 Jim Butler aptly described it as ‘user friendly’, the first time I ever heard that term, and aficionados of the climbing wall will feel at home here. While some of the climbs require a certain degree of boldness, most are adequately protected.

The situation is delightful. Standing high on the slopes of the well-wooded and deep-cut Dargle valley, it rises above the oak trees, offering a pleasant vista out over a broad canopy of mixed woodlands to the summits of Bray Head and the Little Sugarloaf. The murmur of the river below, rushing down over a series of rapids, provides a soothing background and, in early summer, the air is full of bird-song.

So, when you have run out of dry lines to climb in a rather damp and muddy Quarry, you might consider giving Lover’s Leap a whirl; it offers a change of scene, a change of rock and a change of technique. Who knows, you may even fall in love with the place.

The crag can be approached via Kilcroney or Enniskerry, but the latter is best for car-owners or those travelling by bus. Drive (or walk) up the steep hill out of the village in the direction of the waterfall. Near the top of the hill the main entrance to Powerscourt Demesne is passed on the right and, about 100 metres beyond this, there is good parking on the left, just before a sharp bend to the right. The track starts at the bend, and the crag is fifteen minutes on foot from here. Now very overgrown, the first section of the track is just wide enough for pedestrians to proceed in single file. It broadens after it passes the ruins of the old lodge, and continues beneath some sections of arching laurels. The track narrows again and reaches its highest point after passing through a stretch of furze bushes. Watch out, as it levels off, for a narrow path on the right, which leads to the top of the rock within seconds. Descend a steep path to the right of the rock (facing out) as far as the second oak tree on the left and traverse in over some boulders to the foot of the crag.

The climbs are described from left to right.

1  A Home of our own  7m  VS
G. Moss, D. Doyle, J. Butler 14/4/84
Start at the mouth of the cave halfway down the descent path. By strenuous moves gain a foothold above the cave. Move right and follow the groove to the top.

2  Ballroom of Romance  15m  HS 4a
G. Moss, B. Norton 11/2/84
Sparse protection makes this a serious route for its grade. Start at the bottom left edge of the Main Face, to the left of the ash trees. Climb directly to a large block on a ledge. Move up left to a higher ledge, below a bulge. From the left end of the ledge make a difficult move to overcome the bulge and follow the edge to the top.

3  The Odd Couple   16m  HS 4b
G. Moss, B. Norton 11/2/84
Start 1m right of Ballroom of Romance below a small cracked overhang at the top of the crag.Climb direct to the overhang which is turned on the right. Good protection beneath the overhang.

4  It’s a Scorcher  17m  HS 4b
D. Doyle, G. Moss, J. Butler 14/4/84
Start between the ash trees. Climb direct to a wide ledge, then slightly rightwards to reach a left-trending line of weakness (good runners here). Follow this until able to step right onto a small ledge. Move up right again to a bigger ledge and more easily to the top.

5  The Eternal Triangle  17m  VS 4c
G.Moss, J.Butler, D.Doyle 13/10/84
Start between ash trees and a little holly bush left of a recess. Climb the right edge for a couple of metres to a ledge. Climb steep wall above to another ledge using a flake on the wall and a foothold on the edge. Climb directly up over a bulge and strenuously up wall to the top.

6  Toy-boys  20m  VS 4c
G.Moss, L. Convery 11/6/03
Start behind the little holly tree. Climb up to gain the crack in the leaning corner. Move up and climb the overhang through the break, just right of the corner. Follow the deep crack above to where it peters out. Step up on the flake and climb the short corner crack slanting up right. Finish over the nose at the highest point of the crag.

7  Moss Mill Groove  19m  VS 4c
G. Moss, T. Purcell 9/1/82
Start in the recess right of a little holly tree. Climb to the top of a block at 2m and make a long step rightwards to a good foothold. Move straight up to the crack in the short overhanging wall above. Climb this on good holds then move up diagonally left, crossing the line of Toy-boys, to reach the bottom of a left‑trending groove. Gain this direct (crux), and follow it to the top.

8  Frost on the Roof  21m  VD
G. Moss, T. Purcell 9/1/82
Start below the overhang at the bottom right of the crag. Climb up diagonally right beneath the overhang to the top of the block and make a difficult step back left to a ledge above the overhang. Climb steeply over ledges just left of a tall block to reach the foot of a narrow blocky ramp leading up to the left-hand holly tree. Climb the edge of the short wall to the left of the holly tree, on good holds.

9  A Bit on the Side  20m  D
L. Convery, G.Moss 05/06/03
Start to the right of the main face, below a corner. Scramble up to the corner and climb it to a ledge on the right, beneath the sharp prow. Move up the corner a little and make an airy move out right, onto the edge. Follow this to the top, keeping right of the holly trees.