The Wicklow Mountains taunt locals who descend through Dublin’s north inner-city. Their framing of our grey city dwellings only reminds us that escape is within reach – if we could just schedule the time. Thanks to the crazy burst of sunshine this summer, my boyfriend and I decided the time was right to explore Wicklow beyond the great Sugar Loaf Mountain.
Day trips from Dublin will invariably bring you to this garden county – the rich textures of the forested hillsides, streams and deep valleys are certainly enchanting. But we wanted to find our own adventure, away from the bus-loads of tourists looping around the Wicklow Way to Glendalough and Johnnie Fox‘s. Besides, we were broke and needed to do it on a budget. We decided to make our way along the Wicklow coast from Arklow to Wicklow Town, stopping overnight at the beautiful Brittas Bay
Thanks to the undulating sand dunes, miles of fine golden beach and its diverse wildlife, Brittas Bay is a hot spot for Dubliners on four wheels – which is why I’d never been. I was advised by fellow two-wheelers to put my bike on the train and enjoy the cycle. It was too far to walk, apparently. Of course, we ignored this sound advice and with bulging backpacks and a tent strapped to our backs, we took an early train from Connolly Station to Arklow.
When faced with a cheery lady in the Arklow Tourism Office telling us there was no coastal path to walk and that it was too dangerous for pedestrians on the country roads, we were dejected and yet determined. Sure, it’s little more than 10km?! We headed straight down Seaview Avenue to the promenade where our adventure began.
The public footpath soon ran out and we found ourselves walking up a dusty track and down to a secluded beach. Wonderful, we thought, no people! Walking over cliffs, stony beaches and craggy rocks seemed like a fun way to reach the stretch of golden sand that teased us in the distance. For two hours, we didn’t see another human being. It was just us and the distant whir of wind turbines on the horizon as we waded through the sea and around sheer cliffs – the sharp stones digging into our feet
When we finally stumbled upon the towering sand dunes of the rough golden beach that had tantilised us from afar – we were fit to kill each other. But our frustrations soon paled when we realised that we were still only half way there. The cliffs had become impassable and so we braved the winding country roads. Being on solid ground once again as we wandered up the R750 was a relief; it also meant we could take in those lush sloping landscapes that make you wonder why you’re addicted to city life.
Within minutes of staggering into the north beach Brittas Bay car park we were demolishing greasy burgers and chips. Luckily we had no notions of a slap-up meal, as the amenities there are pretty basic. It was only once we trudged out from between the immense sand dunes that we realised what all the hype is about.
Five kilometres of fine white sand stretched out beneath the hazy evening sunlight, with an uninterrupted view. Guarded by loose sandy pyramids, which are held together by marram grass and play host to an array of wildlife, Brittas Bay is quite spectacular. As it was a week night, we had our pick of the various wild camping spots nestled in these dunes. But after the honorary toe-dip in the sea, our appetite for adventure was back: off to the pub!
We’d been told the closest pub was a ten minute walk down the road. After a 40 minute walk along the grassy verges, past beautiful homes and their angry dogs, speeding cars and surprised sounding locals – ‘you might make it there before dark!’ – we made it to the pub. Apart from the intense staring of a goggle-eyed old man who murmured, “Hmm, Jackeens” as we ordered our pints, it wasn’t a bad spot. We even got a chilled bottle of wine to take back to our tent and soften our sleep.
We spent the following day splashing about in the sea as a group of unfortunate teenagers attempted a surf lesson – it was so calm the sea barely lapped at the shore. We tucked away another greasy meal and decided walking all the way to Wicklow town was not an option after the previous day’s shenanigans. We ordered a taxi and it took only 20 minutes to get to Wicklow town, where we were collected by a Bus Eireann bus.
Yes, it was a pretty pathetic end to an ‘adventure’, but there were some important lessons learned:
- If you can’t find a coastal path on Google and the local tourism officer agrees, it’s probably because it doesn’t exist. We were lucky the tide didn’t come in and leave us stranded.
- If the locals tell you the pub is only 10 minutes away, allow for an extra half an hour’s walk.
- Walking on country roads in Ireland isn’t great. Cars bomb it around the bends and there are no footpaths – you do so at night at your own peril.
- Stay away from the scary bearded man who grumbles about Jackeens.
- Unless you’re a seasoned camper, night caps are essential for comfortable sleep
- If you’re from the city, you probably need to practice ‘having adventures’ – always bring an extra tenner for a taxi 😉
- Brittas Bay was totally worth it…