Bray Head
National Heritage Week

"Bray Head, Geology and Nature"

Meeting Place
Pitch and Putt Car Park, Bray Head, Co. Wicklow

Leader : Koen Verbruggen (GSI)

A visit to Bray Head, Co. Wicklow, exploring the geology and the natural environment along the scenic cliff walk.
With thanks to UCD (Peter Haughton) for Field Notes.
Bray Head, the imposing hill which dominates the coastal town of Bray in Co. Wicklow, is the setting for an interesting c.two hours nature walk. The walk covers the rocks, relief, coastal erosion, flora and fauna of this isolated yet accessible area. The trip takes place along the first 2km of the "Cliff walk", a 5km path connecting Bray Esplanade to Greystones Harbour.

Bray Head viewed from the Esplanade.

Map of Bray & meeting place

The walk begins from the Pitch and Putt car park, at the eastern end of the New Court Road/ Raheen park on the Bray side of the Head. Meet here at 2pm and while the walk is relatively even and slopes are gentle, paths may be muddy and wheelchairs or buggys may need some serious physical assistance. As regards weather, this is Ireland, so bring a coat!

Handouts and maps describing the stops will be available, as well as a quiz for the kids with a suitable prize!

First stop is the bathing place at "The Cove", to look at modern marine processes (the sea!) and try to put the marine environment that formed the Head into context. Hopefully this will also allow us to see some seabirds and other items of interest depending on the tide.

After this we will set out along the cliff walk, to explain the different rock types that make up the hillside, how they formed and their control of the coastline now.

Stops include "Death Valley" where the geological conditions have resulted in numerous rockfalls, including one which lead to one of Ireland's worst train accidents. We will also look at the efforts which are ongoing to stabilize the railway area and keep the Dart line safe, currently a major project of Larnroid Eireann under the National Development Plan.

The final stop occurs above the "Brandy Hole", a spot where smugglers used the natural cave to store contraband in days gone by.

We will also explain why Bray Head was once the world's top attraction for geologists and fossil hunters, with the discovery of what was thought to be the oldest ever fossil, believed to represent the "Origin of Life".

Oldhamia radiata, is a trace fossil, i.e. a sedimentary structure resulting from the biological activity of an ancient organism. The fossils were discovered on Bray Head by Thomas Oldham (1816-1878), Director of the Geological Survey, after whom they were named.

Along the way we will hopefully get some explanations on the wildflowers and plants growing along the path. Many of these are surviving in a precarious environment and unfortunately Heritage Week takes place in September, long after the plants on the Head are at their best (although the rocks aren't as sensitive to the time of year).

Birdwatching can also be rewarding and in previous years we have seen ravens, cormorants, shags, herring gulls, fulmars and herons as well as a rather dramatic fox sighting on the railway.

The Brandy Hole Tunnel on Bray Head

Hopefully by the end of the trip you will have a better understanding of this imposing landmark, and know where it came from, why it is so majestic and know a little more about the history and natural environment of this beautiful place.

If you can't make this particular field trip please try and visit this area some day, you'll be glad you did!