Thoughts on the sleepiest, creepiest town in Ireland
I jumped on the first train south I could find. Only to realise that it was a Sunday. Therefore this was one of the grand total of two trains, the latter of which had now by default become my return. This grand start left me with four hours to kill in town.
I thought this was too short. Little did I know what makes Wicklow tick.
I boarded the train by the skin of my teeth having run the kilometre to the station in flat-out bag-bouncing pelt, nearly sending the Flynn twins of the Happy Pear toppling as I sprinted between them (read more about this hippy pair on the Greystones post). I decided this wasn't the best time to ask for an interview, and raced straight aboard. As a devious granny had taught me, I boarded ticketless and awaited the delivery to Wicklow with the sweat running through my temples and pooling in my collar bones. Want to ensure a bad first impression? This is it.
The result was of course that I got caught out and ended up innocently offering the ticket officer a seat before realising my faux pas. I was obliged to make the guilty ticket purchase a mere 300m from the station. As a result I almost didn't disembark in time, and had to run to the window to confirm I hadn't left my purse. Also bad for first impressions. Luckily, today I was the chaotic tourist with a backpack to show for it, and we're exempt from first impressions.
With my purse €8 the lighter, I turned my nose to the awaiting village. There wasn't one. After a couple school sports fields, I met with a triple intersection. Chose the left fork. Opened Google. The ominous top hit was automatically filled as 'things to do in Wicklow in the rain'.
Lo and behold, the heavens opened. The village centre (when I reached it, dripping and damp twenty minutes later) was as cute and colourful as one may expect a sleepy Irish village to be. Every museum and church was closed or empty. The café windows were steamy. The roads were bustling with the town's few cars outbound in search of dryness.
I ended up at the organic farmer's market. It was so organic I didn't recognise the vegetables.
The rain had by this stage permeated my jeans, and encased my inner thighs in a damp embrace. My shoes squelched.
The smoke of a log fire drew me to the Wicklow County Gaol coffee shop and into the interior of the heritage site. For a museum that unashamedly spells out the horror of its history and is frequented by ghost chasers and seance parties, the exhibits are tastefully done. I have a deep-rooted fear of mannequins, particularly those dressed in wartime memorabilia. I will never understand the need to make a piece of shaped plastic resemble a humanoid being. I can't read posters with actual eyes on my back. It detracts from the whole experience.
The Wicklow Gaol, however, is populated by statues and artworks. They're no less creepy, but somehow more beautiful and truthful, having been designed explicitly for their purpose. You will notice that many of my photographs were nevertheless taken from the exterior of the cells. I have my limits. The prison is icy. The damp combined with the hard coldness of underground granite flooring rapidly worked its way to my sinew. When I finally emerged from the Paranormal Activity chamber, I was chattering and jumpy. Two Brits who appeared to be on a weekend bender (in Wicklow??) had followed me around the latter section, which did little to assuage my paranoia. My escape was hasty, my breath growing ever more solid the closer I got to the exit.
Jeans a-steamin', it was back to the village. Which is truly charming. My favourite spot was a speciality wine importer's, who was able to cater to a sum total of one seated tables - and whose menu consisted solely of two items: spiced olives on homemade sourdough or Arabica coffee, the Irish way. I must have worked my first impression magic again because the rather imposing Frenchman approached me while I was examining the New World vintages. I was forced to remove my earphones and in order to be gruffly offered a piece of dark chocolate.
I was again approached during the twenty-minute wait for the train by a gentleman named Peter who was headed to Arklow to visit his daughter and her family. A recent landslide had limited railway access, so he intended to overstay his welcome well past St Paddy's Day. The reserved manner of his banal conversation was, if anything, strained. I get the impression that there isn't much to do there.
Teenagers walk the streets with lollipops in hand, kicking cans in school sneakers as though they are on the filmset of a budget 70s movie. Wedding planning must be chaos. The Dublin-bound couple were practically hopping against the chill when the train arrived. The trai' may be late, but nah fear, the drivers arn' worried, pet. Pulling in to the station is the highlight of their slow, sloooow day.
It's a charmed town frozen in the past. But blame the spooks or the damp polo neck cloying my trachea - I was mighty chuffed when that train pulled up.