Exploring the Wicklow Mountains with Suzuki

The Wicklow Mountains provide a fantastic backdrop (Ted Welford/PA)
The Wicklow Mountains provide a fantastic backdrop (Ted Welford/PA)

It can be easy to forget just how good you have things on your own doorstep, and that most certainly applies to the roads in Ireland. Whether it’s the Ring of Kerry or the famed Wild Atlantic Way, this isle has plenty to offer.

But how about a road trip a little closer to Dublin? Few other capital cities in the world could lay claim to having such great roads on their doorstep – and just 20km from Dublin city centre you can be in the incredible Wicklow Mountains National Park.

It’s here that marks the start of our mini road trip, taking in some of the most impressive scenery Ireland has to offer. Our wheels for this adventure are the Suzuki Swift Sport – one of the lightest and purest hot hatches available around the world.

Driving along with the Wicklow Mountains in the background
The backdrop in the Wicklow Mountains is often spectacular (Ted Welford/PA)

The slight elephant in the room? You can’t actually buy a Swift Sport in Ireland. Suzuki shipped its warm hatch over from the UK, especially for us. We asked Suzuki if would ever introduce it here. “No plans” and “demand isn’t high enough” was the response we got back, disappointingly.

The good news is, you can get a regular Swift however, which we believe is one of the best small cars on the market where driving fun is concerned – and on roads that can be as narrow and tight as this, you don’t necessarily want a hugely powerful car anyway as you wouldn’t be able to make the most of it.

Our fun begins as soon as we leave the M50 motorway at Knocklyon on the outskirts of Dublin, and almost immediately we’re onto the good roads as we soon begin climbing. We’re on the R115 road here and our first stop is a lay-by next to the Glassamucky Mountain. With incredible views down into the valley, it’s a prime picnic opportunity – but given we’re just a few miles into our route, the pastries have to wait.

This road, and the places it passes, have been used as filming locations in various blockbusters, including Vikings, P.S. I Love You and Braveheart. It’s easy to see why, as you could stop almost every few miles to take in the scenery if you had time.

We do pull over a few times to admire the views, including at the incredibly picturesque Lough Bray, only 100m or so away from the road. With super-clear water overlooked by the mountains, it really is stunning (though it should be noted that the lake itself and immediate surroundings are privately owned).

Driving along a road near the Sally Gap
The Swift Sport on the way to the famous Sally Gap crossroads (Ted Welford/PA)

The next section of the route is arguably the best bit, with fantastic flowing corners that demonstrate our Suzuki’s perfectly judged steering and peppy 1.4-litre turbocharged mild-hybrid engine. The Swift is perfectly sized for these roads too, as in anything larger you’d have to stop far more often to give way to traffic, while two Swift-sized cars are able to pass each other safely in most places.

We join the back of our convoy of other Swift Sports on the stretch to the well-known Sally Gap, a crossroads where you go north to Dublin, west to Blessington, south to Glendalough and in our case, east to Roundwood. Seeing these Swifts all in bright shades of blue, yellow and red bobbing along this bumpy stretch is a joyous sight.

Next, we’re on to possibly the most challenging section of the route, with sharp turns and narrow roads – but again the Swift takes it all in its stride. We stop to take in the incredible Lough Tay, as you almost get a bird-eye view from this side.

The lough has been compared with Guinness – and it’s a description that fits. The water looks black, with white sand at the edges giving the effect of a foamy pint.

We start heading downhill after this, the roads widening and improving as a result. You could stop off at the small Wicklow villages of Roundwood and Laragh but we carry onto Glendalough, a popular tourist hotspot as it’s one of Ireland’s most important monastic sites, dating back to the sixth century.

From here, we start an ascent once again (you’re never far from a climb around here), and stop for our picnic just a small way up the R756 from Glendalough. It’s another marvellous panoramic view across the valley, helped by our trip being conducted during the recent warm weather spell in early September. There are plenty of opportunities for walks and hikes around here, but tight on time we scoff our pastries and get back on the road again.

This stretch of tarmac, laced into the mountainside, is another cracking piece of asphalt, and with better visibility we can push the Swift on that bit more. The Sport might have ‘only’ 127bhp on tap but, thanks to weighing just a little over a tonne, it feels much quicker than the figures Suzuki quotes.

We turn onto the R758 where we stop off at the Poulaphouca Reservoir, the largest man-made lake in Ireland, which supplies power stations across the River Liffey. It’s well worth a stop here, even for just a quick photo opportunity.

From here, you can either turn around and do the same route back to Dublin, or explore the many other smaller roads and circuits to be found. If we’d had time, we’d have headed further north to Kilbride, and from there if you head east you’ll return back to the Sally Gap crossroads.

A small hot hatch is ideal for a route as varied and challenging as this, and though it’s a shame there isn’t access to the Swift Sport in Ireland, as mentioned, Suzuki’s Swift is still a great drive. If you want something more in line with the Swift Sport though, it’s worth a look at a Ford Fiesta ST (2013-2018), which can be picked up for around €13,000, or as something a bit more affordable a tidy R56-generation (2006-2014) Mini Cooper S can be bought for about €8,000.

We reckon it’s worth pestering your local Suzuki dealer to see if they could introduce the Swift Sport in Ireland some time soon, though. This is a car that deserves to be enjoyed on roads as legendary as these.