Out and About Around Dublin – walking from Greystones to Bray

Published on 24 December 2009 in , , , , , , , , ,

The day after our visit to the Book of Kells was our final day in Ireland, and we decided to head on out of the city once more and try and find somewhere nice after the relative disappointment of our trip to Howth.

Mosaic panels at Bray DART station

We chose to get the train south from the city and walk from Greystones to Bray, along what was, by all accounts, an impressive coastline.

Well that was the plan. The first mission was to actually get there.

Now as anyone who knows Dublin’s suburban rail network (the cunningly named DART – Dublin Area Rapid Transit), this is dead easy. Bray is the penultimate station of the system in the south, and Greystones the terminus. All we had to do was turn up at a DART station and away we’d go.

We checked the times; we checked them twice (for not all trains go to Greystones); we bought our lunch and we arrived at Dublin Connolly station (one of the big two stations in Dublin) and bought out tickets. We checked the boards, found the platform we needed and headed off to catch our train.

The platform was rather busy with lots of people milling around. But there was one notable absence. There were no moving trains. The platform display screens also seemed not to be working. We all waited. And waited. And waited. And no train came.

Eventually a train did depart from our platform. Except it went the wrong way to Howth. Lots of people looked confused.

For reasons best known to Iarnrod Eireann (whose abilities to run a railway I was already beginning to question, despite them having a lot of experience), once you’re on a platform, there are no screens telling you what’s going on on other platforms. So leaving Catherine stood waiting (just in case something happened) I wandered around the station looking for clues.

What few screens I did find backed up what we expected – there should have been a train. But it had vanished into the ether. There were a few posters about engineering work, so I dutifully looked at them only to find they were about a long term issue at the north of the line. Staff were extremely notable by their absence.

After about half an hour (and another train having disappeared into the ether), we headed to the ticket gates where, by overhearing someone trying to enter the station, we found the central section of the DART line was closed due to engineering work. We had to get a bus.

Now lets put this in to context. By this point we had spent forty five minutes in one of Dublin’s main train stations. It has seven platforms. It has an international service (true – trains to Northern Ireland leave from there). It’s huge. It has dot matrix screens which tell you what’s going on…

And not once was there any prominent, visible sign that the city centre section – the lynchpin – of Dublin’s suburban railway network was out of action. Not one giant poster; not one announcement; not a single member of staff hanging around the platform telling people what was going on. This in a station used by thousands of people every day. It’s a flagship station on the network. I’ve been at unstaffed halts in the middle of nowhere in England with better ways of informing about engineering work than Dublin Connolly had.

In fact the only thing they’d done was turn off the platform displays because – as we found out two days before – they run on a strict timetable regardless of what your train is doing.

I eventually spotted the sole method Iarnrod Eireann were using to communicate this major disruption to their railway service – small signs taped on the automatic ticket gates, placed at a position where they’d be easily missed, especially if you were too busy working out where to put your ticket.

We had to get a bus and we eventually were given a leaflet by the sole member of staff in the whole station, who clearly didn’t particularly care much as he muttered about going to a bus stop near the river. The leaflet didn’t even contain a map. Given Iarnrod Eireann’s complete incompetence so far, this didn’t surprise me.

Now that in itself is worth another point. We had to walk to an unknown bus stop on the banks of the River Liffey about ten minutes walk away. Yet, Dublin Connolly station has huge numbers of bus stops near it AND (yes, AND) is right next door to the central bus station!

If you’re in anyway thinking that this is just useless tourists who can’t navigate some simple engineering works, I will say that without us, an Irish couple may still be wandering the streets of Dublin wondering how to get to the rail replacement bus service.

We got to the bus stop moments after a bus had pulled out. Thankfully another was not far behind it and we eventually arrived at a station where trains were running from just in time to miss a Greystones train and see a large middle aged Irish man completely lose his temper with the poor person in the ticket office. Like us, he’d been stuck at a station with no information and no clue what was going on. And I’ll repeat… this is in the capital of the country, on a major suburban railway network used by millions of people each week.

Up on the platform things were a bit more calm and there was even a member of station staff up there, although if it helps, he had absolutely no idea when the next train would be and he just presumed it would be about ten minutes and going to Bray. Eventually it did arrive and – nearly 60 minutes after we tried to get on our way, we finally boarded a train!

Bray DART station

Okay, before you all start thinking “Oh dear, old Andrew’s really losing it now. I’m sure there’s a vein throbbing quite dramatically on his forehead”, I will say that the train journey to Bray is lovely. It goes along the coast for quite a way, and you get some lovely views of the harbour. Changing trains at Bray, we then got the delightful Greystones segment, with the track hugging the cliffs, with dramatic and imposing views through rock.

So after all that time and effort, Greystones finally arrived, looking, well, err, a bit like a village on the edge of the suburbs near the sea. No quaint fishing village or resort town was this, and as we hit the coastal path we found a problem. Someone was building a whacking great big marina and had blocked off the beach. As such the first part of our walk was not about enjoying the sounds of waves hitting promenade walls, but about being behind wooden hoardings. It’s like being in a chocolate factory and being told you can only eat celery.

Signs of erosion

Eventually we left the developments behind and hit the countryside. Signs of erosion were all around – old paths had been fenced off where they had become dangerous, and on several occasions old fences – complete with concrete posts – hung limply in the air where once they’d been embedded firmly in land.

It was a beautiful day even with a rather firm wind as we walked alongside farmland and enjoyed a great view.

The Greystones to Bray coastal path

However the coastal path was not to be our home for much longer as an arch enemy was about to strike yet again. Yes, even though we’d escaped their clutches, Iarnrod Eireann were about to strike once more as we came across a barrier on the path proclaiming it was closed due to “rock stabilisation works south of Tunnel 1”.


It was an example of Iarnrod Eireann at their finest – if we hadn’t had enough of them already! Why anyone thought it was more important that I, as a walker, should know the work was in the Tunnel 1 area is beyond me.

I bet most regular train users in Dublin don’t even know which Tunnel 1 is. Yet Iarnrod Eireann thought this information more useful to the average walker who has walked about an hour from Greystones than, oh I don’t know, a map showing you how to get to an alternative route. I mean, these guys are sheer geniuses!

As it turned out, a scramble up the hill to Bray Head was all that was needed, although we did so on a route with no obvious path. The detour up the hill (which Catherine proclaimed she’d always planned to do) gave an amazing panoramic view of the area and was a delightful place to eat lunch.

Panoramic view from Bray Head

Sandwiches eaten; water supped. We moved on towards Bray, now viewable in the distance – a gentle stroll before an easy descent as we inched closer and closer to our goal.

Getting closer to Bray

We arrived at Bray’s pebble beach mid afternoon. Bray is a more noticeable resort town with large hotels and an arcade on its beach front, even if it did have a slight feel of faded glory.

The good weather though was on the turn. Rain was heading in as I took artistic photographs of blue and grey pebbles, and sensing the need for shelter we called it quits and headed for the welcoming, warming sight of The Porterhouse’s Bray branch. Well it was our last day in Ireland. Might as well enjoy it whilst we could.

Later we returned on the more sedate journey back to the city, although Iarnrod Eireann did reek its revenge once more as we got lost in the Bray’s back streets trying to find the station…