I walk lots and not just in the South Downs of England. I was very fortunate to live in Ireland for a few years recently within sight of the majestic Wicklow Mountains and the picturesque Irish east coast.
If you don’t know the area well, the Wicklow Mountains are towards the east/ south-east coast of Ireland and are just over an hour drive south of Dublin. My local walk from home, took in the equally dramatic but more accessible coastline.
Walking Greystones to Bray Cliff Path
I’m still surprised to this day by the number of people who have never explored Ireland, beyond a stag or hen weekend in Dublin. Such a shame. Dublin is less than an hour’s flight away from many of the UK’s major airports, even Gatwick in the south of England to Dublin is only 55 minutes flying time.
If you want to take your own car, then you have the option of ferry sailings from Pembroke Dock in Wales to Rosslare or Holyhead on the Isle of Anglesey to Dublin Port or Dún Laoghaire. Also there are sailings from Liverpool. In a nutshell, a lot of easy travel options.
Greystones Coast Path
My regular walk for a refreshing break was from the small town of Greystones Co Wicklow along the cliff path to the larger town of Bray, also in County Wicklow. The cliff path follows the route of the historic railway line and as you’ll see from some of my photos – that is worth a trip itself.
As I lived in Greystones I would of course start my walk from there. The town of Greystones has undergone many changes, the most recent being the creation of a large marina / harbour complex which sadly has suffered due to the global recession of 2010-2014. At the time of my walks (spring 2013) the harbour complex was far from complete but this shouldn’t stop you from exploring the area.
A lot of effort by volunteers and Wicklow County Council has gone into keeping the cliff path safe and open in all seasons, though it can be closed due to rockfalls and coastal erosion. This is a very active coastline in the winter and large sea swells remove a lot of the Emerald Isle.
Walking from Greystones Harbour in a northerly direction the cliff path (or coast path as it’s also known) starts off as a gentle climb through fields. The path in most parts is gravel but some sections do get muddy and wet. So walking shoes really ought to be a minimum.
To your right will be the Irish Sea, I cannot promise weather like these photos but when the sun does shine, it’s gorgeous. What I would say is that if you intend to walk to Bray via the cliff path and then return via the high path, along the top of the ridge, then you will need protection from the wind. With views far out to sea and inland to snow-capped mountains (in the winter) the wind can and is bitter.
Greystones to Bray Railway
Along the cliff path you will often see, or at least hear, the commuter trains that run from Dublin to Greystones and occasionally beyond. The railway line was built in 1856, in part by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It is known as Brunel’s Folly due to the high cost of building a railway line at the base of a 750 feet high rock cliff.
The railway line has been featured on several TV programmes including Michael Portillo’s railway journeys and also Coast. It is well worth the train fare on a calm day. Look out for the disused tunnels and remains of the wooden bridge that collapsed in the 1800s taking many passengers to their watery grave!
Co Wicklow Wildlife
The coast path is a very popular spot for admiring wildlife, away from Dublin, much of Ireland and certainly Co Wicklow is still very rural. Farming and agriculture play an important role in day-to-day life for many. In spring and summer the cliffs are alive with the sound of sea birds, the colour of butterflies, silent birds of prey hunting. It is a very enjoyable location.
The downside, if you can call it that, is during a sunny weekend the path will get very busy along most of the 7.8km route. It can be an isolated location during darkness or in bad weather and it is not unusual to hear the coastguard rescue helicopter out and about. The reason being the lack of road access, even a sprained ankle is a problem when all you have is a cliff face and the sea for company.
Bray Head Holy Cross
After walking north you eventually reach the town of Bray but before you venture as far as the promenade there is a path that runs left up the steep climb to Bray Head. This prominent natural landmark (623 feet / 190 metres high) is further highlighted by a large concrete cross on top, constructed in 1950.
The views from the Holy Cross at Bray Head are far and wide, you can see beyond Dublin to the north, to the east with good binoculars you can sometimes make out the mountains of Wales. Looking west inland you can see in winter the snow-capped Wicklow Mountains, silent and majestic.
Bray Head by the Holy Cross is a great spot for lunch if you have brought your own. If not you can head down into the town of Bray itself, which like any seaside town has something for every palette.
Bray Head – Earl of Meath
If you want a different route back to Greystones, other than retracing your steps, then providing you are fit enough for a scramble over some rocks at the end, you can take the high path back south along Bray Head. From the Holy Cross there is an obvious trail running south but remaining high on the ridge. This is the route of a carriage path built by the Earl of Meath to enable his estate guests to enjoy the views around Bray Head.
The Carriage Track is a quieter route back to Greystones, one thing I got used to in Ireland was the complete lack of any rights-of-way signposts; there just aren’t any. Almost a given right to roam but care should be taken when nearing farms. No one wants to be on the wrong end of an angry farmer’s shotgun.
Another Trig Point
It’s not just in Great Britain that you find trig points, the summit of Bray Head is not in fact at the Holy Cross but is at the southern end of the ridge, nearest to Greystones. The walk towards the trig point is worth it. Often just the breeze blowing and birds tweeting, far away from the Dublin wedding crashers.
The wind can be bitterly cold up here, 791 feet or 242 metres high, as it funnels off the snowy Wicklow Mountains and tumbles into the sea. Rainbows can often be seen as the weather rushes in and then rushes out again. Take a hat and take lots of photos.
As I mentioned earlier there are few marked paths in Ireland, you have to look for the obviously trails and follow your instinct and common sense. From the trig point there numerous ways back down to the cliff path. Some involve clambering through a lot of gorse and barbed wire fences; other ways involve a brief scramble down some rocks and a gradual descent to the cliff path.
The Scramble Down To Greystones
From the trig point on Bray Head summit you can retrace your steps north-eastwards for a short distance where you will see a rocky outcrop. You would have walked past it on your left as you headed towards the trig point.
It is at this rocky outcrop that you scramble down the rocks (facing the Irish Sea) and follow the obvious trail through the gorse, in the general direction of the Irish Sea and Greystones, eventually rejoining the cliff path.
Once back on the cliff path it’s a matter of following the trail back to Greystones where you’ll find plenty of places to eat and drink. I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief guide to just a tiny part of Ireland. I really would encourage you to fly over to Dublin, take a train down to Greystones and go exploring.
Route: Greystones Co Wicklow to Bray Head and back
Distance: 7.8 miles (12.55 km) (including elevation)
Map of Walking Route
The map shown is a rough guide to the route that I walked. Please make sure you always follow safe and legal paths, roads and walkways. The actual location of the red-route on the map is an approximation. Never walk in the sea or off a cliff, please just don’t, you’ll get wet and I’ll get worried!