Bray Head is the defining geographical feature of the town. Rising sheer eight hundred feet from the Irish Sea, the headland is capped by a large stone cross, erected for the Holy Year of 1950. The headland is a sizeable upland area. Its ridge consists of five or so mounds of exposed quartzite, like the knuckles of a fist. While the cross marks the headland, the summit is a couple more humps inland.
The climb to the Cross is a must for visitors, and a regular pastime for locals. The route from the seafront is steep, though the incline can be tempered by zigzags through natural woodland. A longer but more gradual climb runs from the junction of the Southern Cross and Greystones Road, adjacent to Bray Golf Course.
The lower entrance, through the gates, makes for a lovely start through dense deciduous woodland. Dappled green and umber, but allowing the occasional patch of sunlight through, this is a cool and mesmeric way to disguise the climb. Merging with the golf course path, the incline hardens, but compensates with fabulous views over the Sugarloaf Mountains, to the Wicklow Mountains beyond, with Bray’s urban landscape leading down to a blue sea, and South County Dublin’s rocky bays and inlets leading the eye on to the distant city.
At the top of the path there’s a short, stiff clamber over rocks just above the treeline before the path resumes. Another option, is to veer right for a longer, smoother ascent, with some wonderful rugged scenery above the manicured golf course. Emerging from the scrubland, there’s a smooth path leading up to. the Cross. The headland offers dizzying views over ocean, coast and townscape, framed by the majesty of the Wicklow Mountains.
The hummock is often thronged, but often not. People come and go, and you can linger as long as you like to get the best from the experience. And there’s a surprisingly large expanse of wilderness up here to explore, or just to be away from it all. We take the path towards the stile, but leave it to ensconce ourselves beneath the second knuckle in, and sitting on grass with the rock guarding our backs, relax for a while and bathe our eyes with sunshine and the blue and glinting Irish Sea.
It doesn’t take long before I feel a song coming on.
Somewhere beyond the sea
Somewhere waiting for me
My lover stands on golden sands
And watches the ships that go sailing
La Mer was written by Charles Trenet, a homage to the view of the Etang de Thau, a lagoon he passed on the train between Montpellier and Perpignan in the South of France. Jack Lawrence’s Anglo version gives a romantic twist to the descriptive thrust of the original. It was a major hit for Bobby Darin, which is how I know it. It features on his 1961 compilation, the Bobby Darin Story, the oldest, probably, and most bedraggled album in my collection.
Somewhere beyond the sea
She’s there watching for me
If I could fly like birds on high
Then straight to her arms I’d go sailing.