My Ireland send-off was to experience a cool cloudless day, all day. That is a rare event in my 60 or so days on the island. This was the perfect day to hike the Bray to Greystones Cliff Walk in County Wicklow Ireland.
The bus from Radisson Blu St. Helen’s in south Dublin to Bray in north County Wicklow cost €3.30. My plan was to DART my way to Bray on the train until an employee at the hotel, who lives in Bray, recommended the bus. The train would have been easier.
Bray Promenade with view of Bray Head, County Wicklow, Ireland.
The Bray DART station is quite near the Bray Promenade and there is no uncertainty about where to get off the train for hiking the cliff walk compared to the bus.
Bray looks like a lovely seaside town. There are several hotels along the waterfront. Like Dun Laoghaire, some ten or so miles to the north, Bray developed as a Victorian era seaside resort once the railroad came to town and provided easy access from the city of Dublin 20 miles to the north.
The railroad extension south of Bray is what created the popular Bray to Greystones cliff walk. Plans were designed in the 1840s to build a railway south to connect Dublin and Wicklow. The natural landscape favored building the railroad through Glen of the Downs, however, Lord Meath, the landowner, did not want his estate divided by the railway. His compromise provided the railroad company the coastal land along Bray Head for free to construct the rail line built between 1847 and 1856.
The railway was built by hand and workers needed a trail for hauling materials along Bray Head. The Bray to Greystones Cliff Walk is that 19th century workers’ trail.
Continuing up the road from Bray Promenade leads to the start of the trail. There is a large cross on Bray Head that is also a popular hike. A local told me there is a more challenging hike from the cross along the hilltops to Greystones. The easier route was fine with me since I did not know exactly what to expect.
The engineering challenges were greater to construct the railway on the coast. The rail line is one of the most expensive stretches of railroad in Ireland to maintain due to rockslides.
The walk is about 6 to 8 km depending on which sign you read. The actual trail along the cliffs is less than 4km and relatively easy with only a few stairs and slight elevation changes.
The most challenging parts are about a kilometer with rocks in the trail where extra caution is needed to avoid tripping. The bright southern sun was my greatest challenge, since it was so low on the horizon in December and shining in my eyes as I walked south. I had to shield the sun with my hand to see the rocks in the trail.
Bray Head blocked the sun for the first kilometer. Then around the bend I found glorious sunlight and a brilliant view down the County Wicklow coast.
The trail is easy in parts with a smooth, flat surface. Then, there are parts where the trail is narrow and rocky.
These are the places where I needed to shield my eyes from the sun to see where I was stepping. Fortunately, full-on sun is so rare in Ireland that most hikers will not encounter that problem. And blinding sun was not an issue for hikers walking north from Greystones to Bray. The Cliff Walk is popular. I passed two school groups and dozens of other hikers making the trek.
There was a little wire fence in some places to keep hikers from falling down the cliff.
I rode the DART train back north from Greystones. Much of the railway is through tunnels. In the photo below, it looks like the tunnel on the right used to be the main tunnel and then a new tunnel had to be built after coastal erosion washed away the track.
The scenery was great to see. Seagulls and other birds soared along the coastline cliffs. No sea life to be seen, although some seals are supposedly still around these parts.
The views were spectacular on a bright day. Howth on north Dublin Bay was visible when looking back along the trail.
The last couple of kilometers into Greystones are not along the cliffs. There are some nice views of the long rocky beach before the trail heads away from the immediate coastline.
Flowering gorse bushes lined the trail in many places. Their yellow flowers look so inviting in the winter sun when trees are bare.
I learned many years ago hiking around Edinburgh, Scotland that they are one tough plant when you get too close.
Thick thorns surround the gorse flowers.
Greystones beach came into view, yet there is still two kilometers of easy trail to reach town.
The trail passes by pastures and farm fields. I held onto a high stone wall in a wooded area to watch sheep grazing.
The final two kilometers are a straight shot into Greystones, past fields. The pleasure on this part of the trail were the thousands of small birds in the fields. I stopped to snack on some food and I thought a train was passing by until I realized it was the sound of hundreds of birds’ wings quickly flapping over my head.
The final steps of the Cliff Walk to reach Greystones are bordered by metal fencing and not an attractive way to finish such a beautiful trail. Perhaps that will change in coming years.
Greystones itself is a pretty village. Here is a photo from the Greystones Promenade where several sea view benches are engraved as memorials.
I could not have wished for a better ending to my Ireland trip than a gloriously bright sunny day.
California I am coming home today.