Best Wicklow Walks: Bray Head Loop
It was a bitingly cold day in January but happily not one of the grey, dreary ones we've become accustomed to recently. Finally the winter sun had burst through bringing a crisp, bright day and a happiness-inducing blue sky - the perfect conditions for a hike. Nothing like some fresh air and exercise to ward off those January blues.
While most people in the Dublin / Wicklow area are familiar with the popular Bray - Greystones Cliff Walk, the Bray Head Loop is a less-trafficked route but a more diverse one in terms of scenery. With woodland trails and panoramic sea and mountain views to knock your socks off, this was one of the most enjoyable hikes I've taken in some time. The loop is a short one at just 5.5 kms but you can extend it by hiking up to Bray Head as a starting point, either from the sea front or the Cliff Walk car park.
There are two main spots at which to join this route. The first access point is up a series of steps off the Vevay Road / Southern Cross Road roundabout in Bray. However, I'd highly recommend starting off with a hike up to Bray Head first and starting the loop from there. Drivers can park for free at Raheen Car Park - Google maps link here. Those travelling by train can extend their walk even further by strolling from the Dart station - the lovely Bray Promenade has retained the charm of an old-fashioned seaside town to this day. And then, quite literally, it's all uphill from there to that iconic cross landmark.
The up-and-back walk to Bray Head is very popular locally with walkers and it's easy to see why - the views from the top are some of the best that Wicklow has to offer. The initial incline is short but very steep - follow the Green arrows from the car park to ascend a series of steps and a well-worn dirt track through the trees. The ground underfoot is uneven and can get very muddy and slippery so make sure to wear proper walking or hiking shoes. It's approximately 250 metres to the top and should take between 20-30 minutes, depending on fitness levels.
Speaking of fitness levels... it became apparent fairly quickly that mine had plummeted post-festive season. After about ten minutes on the incline, my heart was pumping and my legs felt like they were made from Christmas pudding. But what's great about this walk is that gorgeous views reveal themselves very quickly on the ascent. So while you're pausing to enjoy the scenery and to take some photos, you can also use it as an opportunity to catch your breath - no judgement here.
At the top of Bray Head stands its iconic landmark: a large stone cross, erected in 1950 during the Holy Year. The mind boggles to contemplate this impressive feat of engineering and construction on such a rugged, precarious site.
And then there are those spectacular 360 degree views with the vast open expanse of the Irish Sea to the east, Bray to the north, the Dublin Mountains to the west and the Wicklow Mountains, including the Great and Little Sugar Loaf, to the southwest. It's awesome in every sense of the word, especially on a clear day like this when visibility was optimal - I could see for miles.
From here you have two options for kicking off the Bray Head Loop: head south along the coastal path or start by taking the inland route to the west and looping back to the coast. I'd highly recommend the latter as you'll encounter the most dramatic views towards the end of the hike - you'll see what I mean below. From Bray Head, take the inland path downwards towards the pristine grounds of Bray Golf Club. Here you'll come to a metal gate with the first directional arrow (red on black) pointing the way.
Follow the path to the right, eventually coming to a long country lane with fencing on one side, home to some very friendly horses.
From this point onwards I met only a handful of other walkers and relished the peacefulness and solitude. At the bottom of the lane I joined a woodland path where trees formed a pretty canopy overhead. It's worth noting that directional arrows are sporadic here and not always obvious so you'll need to keep your eyes peeled. As you make your way through the woods, the gaps in the trees reveal fabulous sea views on one side, with mountain peaks on the other.
The woodland path eventually brings you to one of the main entrance / exit points of this trail on Vevay Road. This is where it got a little confusing as there was only one red arrow - pointing back the way I'd just come from. But using the map I found online (link here), I figured that I needed to join the road for a short time.
Exiting left onto the H761 road towards Greystones, I strolled along the public footpath, enjoying the expansive mountain views on my right. A short distance past the main entrance to Bray Golf Club, the footpath terminates and turns into a cycle lane. It's at this exact juncture that the route moves off-road again, though it's far from obvious. A lane to the left has a slight incline and after walking past a number of private homes (and thinking I'd definitely taken a wrong turn), I finally caught a glimpse of another information board and another red arrow pointing left. Hooray!!
From here on in, the views just keep getting better and better. The gentle incline forced me to slow down a little, offering an opportunity to fully appreciate the amazing scenery on all sides, getting more impressive the higher I climbed. The craggy landscape on the right had an unexpected wildness and took on a fiery hue in the late evening sun, contrasting beautifully with the clear blue sky. At a certain height, the sea came into view once more and I began to loop around to the final section of the trail.
Shortly after, the full expanse of the Irish Sea appears straight ahead and is a gasp-worthy sight with dramatic views both up and down the coast. On a clear day like this, the Wicklow Head Lighthouse is visible to the far south. As the trail curves around towards Bray Head once more, you'll find yourself looking down on the tiny figures of walkers on the Bray-Greystones Cliff Walk on a parallel path far below.
This part of the coastline is particularly stunning, no more so than when the evening light illuminates the rugged coastline and the horizon is blurred in a fusion of sea and sky. And while the waves crashed wildly on the rocks below, all was silent and serene from up above.
And now you're on the home stretch. As you take that final bend in the route, Bray Head comes into the frame once more, its rocky mounds rising from the landscape with the sea as a backdrop - a glorious panorama. Following the winding path, I eventually reached the gate which marked the end of the looped trail. From this approach, the incline to the cross is a gentler one. I made my way to the top once more to drink in those panoramic views.
And now for the final descent. A starkly beautiful winter landscape came into view as I followed the steep path downwards, where bare branches formed a silhouette against the sea and sky. What a powerful force nature is - I arrived back at my car feeling alive and reenergised.