At the top of Bray Main Street there’s a fork in the road. Imagine this through time as being something of a village green, with timber frame tavern and monthly fair days. The Old Town Hall from 1881 originally included a covered market and is Elizabethan in style. Picture it in a Tudor setting, or perhaps Dickensian, surrounded by leaning buildings with gabled fronts and muntin windows.
The fork to the left is the coastal route, climbing up to the gap between Bray Head and Giltspur, (the Little Sugarloaf), and on to Greystones. To the right, Killarney Road is the principal route south towards Wicklow Town and Wexford, via the N11. Gothic redbrick houses of the Fin de Siecle line the road out of town, set in extensive gardens behind granite walls.
The road rises towards the massive spire of Christchurch, Bray’s towering landmark. The Gothic revival church, built of stern granite blocks, was completed in 1863 to serve the Church of Ireland community. The tower was added some decades later, the octagonal spire rising to 175 feet is garlanded by stone pinnacles. Christchurch’s imposing presence is further emphasised by its elevation, standing atop the Rock of Bray, the summit of the rising ground that defines the town.
Past Church Road, we crest the hill, and from here the route falls into the valley of the Swan River. This tributary of the Dargle rises in Kilruddery Estate on the slopes of Giltspur, flowing through Oldcourt and past its castle, under the bridge below our vantage point and on to the Dargle. The Swan trails a score of varied woodland along its deepening chasm. A rich mixture of oak, ash, birch, pine and poplar, with some exotics such as Eucalyptus, cloak the area with a sylvan beauty. With the town centre only a couple hundred metres behind us, and the suburban housing estates gathered on the next hill, this spot is like a blink in time, remote from surrounding urbanisation.
This view, rendered in acrylic, is taken from the junction with Beechhurst estate. Christchurch is out of sight to our left, Patchwork Cottage, to the right, and the bridge await below. After a long uphill climb from the seafront or Dart station, it’s a welcome downhill stretch. Past the bridge, the road will rise continually to Fairyhill, surmounted by the ancient, weathered cross of St Sarain, the area’s patron saint. (Killarney is an Anglicisation of the Gaelic ‘Church of Sarain’.)
On this day, a shower has just cleared, veils of cloud are pulling off to the West. Ahead the sun has broken through, turning all it touches to silver.