Between Wicklow Town and Arklow, the coast is intermittently accessible. There is no continuous coastal walk other than the roadway. But, if you have use of a car, you can access a fair portion of the coastline, and enjoy a number of wonderful beaches and secret coves.
Immediately south of the Black Castle, there’s an excellent short walk that will take you out to the extremity of Wicklow Head. From the Castle head south along Castle Field until you find yourself back on the main road. The Wicklow Golf Club will be to your left, and after you pass the Clubhouse, you will reach the Glen Beach Cliff Walk Car Park, perched above a picturesque ravine. Head down to Glen Beach, and follow the markers to pick up the walk along the headland.
At first the walk is intertwined with the golf course, but crucially separated from it. If golf is a good walk spoiled, then this is a good walk. To be fair, it looks an attractive course. I hear good reports too about the Clubhouse, with a bar and restaurant open to all.
The walk leads up past Lover’s Leap and on to Tobar Bride, a holy well sacred to sailors. There is a stone marker inscribed with the Saint Brigid’s Cross, a well known Irish emblem, for long the logotype of the national broadcaster, RTE. Bride, pronounced Breda, is the Gaelic for Brigid. Saint Brigid was born in the mid fifth century and became Abbess of Kildare, and conferred with the authority of a bishop. Successive abbesses of Kildare remained vested with this authority until removed by the (male) clergy in the mid twelfth century.
In pre-Christian times, the name Brigid denoted a Celtic pagan goddess. Brigid’s feastday is the first of February, as is her pagan namesake’s. It marked a Celtic feast of fertility, along with the onset of Spring. Saint Brigid died in 525. She is a patron saint of Ireland, alongside Patrick from the previous generation. She is also sacred to certain groups: babies, blacksmiths and boatmen, poets too, and scholars.
After Tobar Bride, the landscape grows craggy and beautiful. The path forks above a deep, rocky inlet. The inland path leads through a cleft in the rocks. A church was hidden here in penal times. An outer loop leads to Bride’s Head. The rugged coast below is riddled with small coves and sea arches, lapped by crystal water and thronged by a variety of seabirds. Peregrine falcons, ravens, gulls, guillemots, oyster catchers, shags and kittiwake jostle for supremacy, and survival.
From Bride’s Head there’s a spectacular ocean panorama: to the north the Wicklow Mountains step down to the Sugarloafs and Bray Head. Away to the east, the coast of Wales is a sporadic chimera when conditions rhyme. Southwards, and the higher crag of Wicklow Head frames the view, crowned by its lighthouses.
The two paths meet again at Limekiln Bay. There are ruins of an ancient kiln house nearby. Grey Seal breed at Limekiln Bay and other coves on this headland from September through to April and you should keep your distance, and peace, over these crucial months. Dolphins and porpoises have also been seen frolicking in the water.
At the southern extreme of the walk, you will see an array of lighthouses. The stark granite tower crowning the headland is the original, built in 1779. The octagonal tower of six storeys rises thirty meters with walls one metre thick and was originally topped with an eight sided lantern. There was a lower tower nearby. The idea of twin towers was to distinguish Wicklow Head from other major headlands on the East Coast. But within thirty years it was realised that the towers were prone to losing their heads in the clouds and fog. A new lighthouse complex, again with twin towers, was constructed lower down and remains in use today. It was decided to keep the higher of the original towers as a daytime landmark, it was so well recognised by mariners. The high tower was struck by lightning in 1836. The strike left it a shell, with the lantern destroyed, and a protective dome was inserted some thirty years later, lending it a distinctive profile. More recently, the building has been renovated as holiday accommodation; quite an inspiring love nest, I’d say.
Usually, the headland is accessible, but it was closed and guarded this weekend. From here you can loop back to the carpark via a higher path or you can take the track to the main road and follow that back towards town. As a loop walk this is marked at four kilometres if starting from the Glen Beach car park and is doable in an hour. Taking available detours it was a bit longer by my watch. The weather was fine and there was plenty to take in. All sorts of wildlife, including humans, but such a spacious and spectacular setting that we were reluctant to leave. Back at Glen Beach we saw a seal swimming no more than fifty meters offshore from the human bathers. All having a wonderful time. Wales winked obligingly above the horizon.
Beyond Wicklow Head, the coast is renowned for its fine beaches. The first of these is Silver Strand. Formed around a small cove, beneath low cliffs which house a caravan park, it is relatively quiet and a most pleasant oasis on a sunny day. Further on, past another golf course, a straight tree lined private road leads to Magheramore Beach.
Magheramore beach is attached to the nearby convent wherein reside the Columban Sisters. These are a teaching order dedicated to foreign missionary work in Asia and the Americas. A portion of the beach was traditionally reserved for the sisters although they had sold their interest in the eighties. The order was founded in the 1920s and in 1957 the Motherhouse moved here. Set in specimen woodland, it encompasses a residence, nursing retirement home and retreat centre.
Another sisterhood broke the world record for the largest skinny dip in 2018. The Dip in the Nip saw 2,505 women brave the elements wearing nothing but a smile in aid of chidren’s cancer charity. The cove is popular with surfers too. Turning left at the t-junction, the main road meanders down the coast to Arklow. About halfway along there’s a section known as Brittas Bay.
It’s automatic when I
Talk with old friends
The conversation turns to
Girls we knew when their
Hair was soft and long and the
Beach was the place to go
Of all the beaches, Brittas is the biggest and the best. Five kilometres of golden, silken sand, backed by enormous dunes and a mixed wilderness of grass, ferns and woodland. If you want to walk the beach you’ll need to go to the public car park which is at the southern end of the bay, beside the road inland connecting to the N11 at Jack White’s. At the main public access point, the beach is often busy, particularly in July and August. But it’s a big beach with plenty of room, and acres and acres of high dunes to lose yourself in.
At the far north of the bay, a small river enters the sea beneath the rocky promontory. The river winds through a variety of scenery, from the parched spectacle of high sand dunes, through marshland and into a sylvan setting, before crossing under the road and making for the hills. Here at its estuary it is sheer perfection, and I am forever new to its beauty each time I see it.
With suntanned bodies and
Rays of sunshine the
California girls and a
Warmed up weather
Let’s get together and
Do it again
Do It Again by the Beachboys was released in 1968 and was a UK number one. Written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, it formed a particular soundtrack for that coming of age year, the one where I’m cresting the first wave of the teenage years. There are echoes of the Beachboys surfing halcyon days, honed by the musical sophistication of Pet Sounds while rippling with the simple solidity of a riff that chimes with the zeitgeist. Songs of summer keep simmering when you plant your toes on Wicklow’s wonderful coast.
Well I’ve been thinking ’bout
All the places we’ve surfed and danced and
All the faces we’ve missed so let’s get
Back together and do it again