Hiking with The Hazel House

I am always looking for places to hike near Dublin city. I discovered a really cool place in the Dublin Mountains called The Hazel House, which is a café, Irish craft shop, petting farm and woodwork school located on Mutton Lane, Tibradden, Rathfarnham. On the last Saturday of every month, The Hazel House provides guided mountain walks (approx. 2hrs long) followed by a tasty lunch of any sandwich from their menu with tea or coffee. Dogs on leads and kids are welcome too. The meeting time is 10am at The Hazel House and any number of people can join.Hazel House

There are a number of trails to walk. Our guide Ciarán took us along a route with stunning views – the weather was perfect.

When we reached the top of Tibradden Mountain, Ciarán told us about the hidden ‘treasure’. Hidden beneath some rocks we found an old tin box containing some trinkets left behind by other hikers. A few random things like small toys, a comb and short messages by people visiting from various parts of the world. We returned the ‘treasure’ to its hiding place as we found it and headed back along a different route.

Our lunch was waiting for us when we reached The Hazel House. I had the delicious chicken pesto sandwich, a hearty serving on a proper white roll.  We sat outside in the yard surrounded by wood crafts and flowers.

The venue was opened in 2014, owned and run by Niall Fitzharris, a carpenter and furniture maker by trade. When it first opened, an ‘honesty box’ policy was adopted, which meant that visitors could help themselves to teas, coffees and baked goods and then pay an amount of money that they deemed appropriate for the goods consumed. This enabled the owner to work in his workshop without interruption. Fast forward a couple of years and the House has developed a café with menu (and cash register) and a number of woodwork courses for adults as well as courses and camps for kids.  Kids’ parties are also available and include one of three activities such as a woodwork party, a paper craft party or a planting and gardening party.

The café interior is a delight. I love these kind of places. The owner’s passion for woodwork is obvious and there is a lovely warm, relaxed atmosphere. Outside there is plenty of seating and the occasional passing hen! There is also a traditional clay pizza oven that the owner made himself and regular Pizza & Wine Bar nights take place throughout the year. There are Classic Movie nights too. What’s not to love about this place!

Before checking out the petting farm, I popped into the craft shop to see the wood crafts. The hazel wood reindeer were my favourite!

The petting farm is adorable. Visitors are asked to make a small financial contribution to an ‘honesty box’ so they can take some vegetables from a basket to feed the animals. There are a couple of sheep, a donkey, a Shetland pony and a pig. My nieces aged 13, 11 and 9 fleeced me for money to feed the animals, but knowing that the money goes towards supporting the farm animals it was totally worth it. The girls loved it and they also had a go on the tree swing.

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The Hazel House is only a 25-minute drive from Dublin city centre, I love this place – we need more places like this. I wish the owner and all involved the very best for the future. I will definitely be back soon. Well worth a visit.

 

 

 

 

Goats and Grub on Dalkey Island

I usually try to arrange a trip away for the August bank holiday weekend but this year I decided to stay in Dublin and catch up with friends. I met up with my fabulous friend Martina for a walk in Dalkey with her boyfriend Raj and friend Gabriel, who was visiting from Brazil.

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Dalkey is a beautiful seaside village about a 30-minute drive south-east of Dublin city centre and home to some of Ireland’s celebrated artists, authors and musicians.  Bono from U2 is probably Dalkey’s most famous resident. A few years ago Bono and his wife Ali invited their pal and First Lady, Michelle Obama for lunch in their local pub, Finnegans. Their lunch made Irish news headlines throughout the day.

Visitors can find more information about the village and its walking trails at the Tourist Office, which is located in Dalkey Castle. Being familiar with the village, we had already planned our walking route. We met at The Magpie Inn and started our walk towards Coliemore Harbour overlooking Dalkey Island. While walking past the harbour, we discovered that none of us had ever been to the Island before so we decided to ditch the walk and hop on the next boat crossing with Ken the Ferryman.

Before we got on the boat, we looked at the sky to consider whether a trip to an island without shelter was worth it! Of course, being Irish we have an innate ability to read clouds and determine the likelihood of rain. Normally, there is a 99.9 per cent chance of rain at any time. In this case we ascertained that the dark, moody, menacing clouds surrounding us were in fact passing and that brighter clouds from the north were approaching. We decided that although there was a pretty good chance of rain at some stage, it wouldn’t last long and that everything would be grand. This is why, in Ireland, layers are important!

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The boat ride was less than five minutes long. Crossings to the Island were every few minutes. A return ticket cost €8 (for adults). We were delighted with ourselves. While we waited for our boat we watched a guy paddle-board his way to the Island. We reckoned he was quicker. As we made our approach we spotted some seals and our skipper promised that he would get us closer to them on the way back.

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The Island comprises 22 acres and is inhabited by seals, gulls, rabbits and wild goats. I didn’t know about the goats. I was a bit surprised when we spotted them and went all ‘city slicker’, double checking with Martina to make sure that they were actual goats! I was also surprised to see so many rabbit holes, it reminded me of my childhood and summer holidays in Tipperary where we spent most of our days in fields getting up to all sorts. Good memories.

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Goats Muglins Lighthouse

The Island’s original occupants were from the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age. There is evidence that it was inhabited 6,000 years ago and also used as a Viking base. Our skipper told us that the Vikings used the Island to trade slaves. Ruins of an old stone church dating back to the 9th or 10th century still stand on the Island and it was likely abandoned when the Vikings landed. There is also a Martello Tower, which was built in the early 19th century, one of eight Martello Towers built along the Dun Laoghaire coastline.  A gun battery was also built beside the tower and it is believed the builders resided in the old ruins of the church during construction – remains of a fireplace inserted in the old church in later times supports this.

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We chilled out and watched sailing boats, kayakers and paddle-boarders circle the Island. Some ventured out towards the east of the Island to the rocks called the Muglins. These rocks have been fitted with a beacon that looks like a miniature lighthouse. The beacon was erected in the 19th century following complaints from ships that found the rocks problematic when approaching the city.

sailing around Dalkey Island

The rain never fell and the sun came out as we made our way back to the harbour. We had lots of questions for our skipper but we only had five minutes! He was great. The whole experience was great. It is a perfect place to visit for a picnic/date (I’m a romantic) and for families and friends, especially when the weather is good.

We were pretty hungry when we got off the boat and fancied eating in a restaurant with outdoor seating so we headed for the Tramyard Kitchen. Situated in an old tram yard on Castle Street, this place has a real seaside village vibe about it. The weather held so it was perfect. A number of eateries and market stalls can be found in this area, it’s well worth a visit. While I was there I popped into Armelle’s Kitchen to pick up some of their amazing eclairs – probably the best eclair filling I have ever tasted. Check out their stall in the Marlay Park Market too!

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I highly recommend a trip to Dalkey Island. I also highly recommend watching the new Irish movie ‘Sing Street’ before a visit to the Island. A charming, Oscar-worthy movie set in Dublin with some lovely scenes shot in Dalkey and Dun Laoghaire. Enjoy!

Dingle – great food, ceol agus craic

Accommodation secured for this year’s Dingle half marathon on 3rd September and I cannot wait, always a great weekend in Dingle. Now all I need to do is start training!

This will be my third year running Dingle, a fantastic race that won ‘Half Marathon of the Year 2015’ in the Running Ireland Race Awards. The views and the spectators are simply the best. The last few miles through Slea Head looking out to the Blasket Islands are particularly beautiful. Tough but beautiful!

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The marathon attracts about 2,000 participants, matching the town’s population and there is always a great buzz around the place. Situated on the south west coast of Ireland, it is a food, music and nature-lover’s paradise and is the only town on the stunning Dingle peninsula.

Dingle attracts between 100,000 to 200,000 visitors annually. Its extraordinary beauty has attracted high-profile visitors, such as the Star Wars film crew shooting scenes for the film’s new trilogy. An epic sight along the Dingle peninsula and sure Mark Hamill is more Irish than the Irish themselves at this stage. Capturing the hearts of many with his eloquent description of Ireland as “an endless gallery of incomprehensible beauty.” Also, american actor, Matt LeBlanc drove into Dingle recently in a flashy Rolls-Royce shooting scenes for the BBC’s flagship motor show, Top Gear. Matt and Dingle both looked gorgeous and judging by the viewer response, they were a big hit! #OnlyInIreland

This year, a gang of us are travelling from Dublin and Galway and making a long weekend of it.  Last year, I ran with my friend Helen (and her good friend Claire who lives in the UK) to help raise money for the Renal unit in Temple Street Children’s Hospital. Helen, an amazing mum-of-two, donated one of her kidney’s to her four-year-old son, Hugo.  She ran the race one year after the transplant to mark the end of an incredibly tough journey and to celebrate the success of the surgery. Hugo met us near the finish line to run the final 20 metres, which was really special. The support from everyone was overwhelming and Helen’s strength inspirational. Almost €4k was raised. Amazing.

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Hats off to these two clowns, who ran the full marathon bare foot to raise money for charity.  They ran a good time too!

The first port of call post run is Dick Mack’s for some well-earned beers, my favourite bar in Dingle. It is an authentic, Irish pub and the Best Whiskey Bar in Ireland to boot. There is always a great atmosphere and the staff are super friendly and good craic.

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Tucking into our first drinks…of many
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Random magic tricks in Dick Mack’s after last orders with the lovely barman (right) assisting. Bants and lols, love this pub.

To be fair, there are plenty of great pubs in Dingle, like Foxy John’s, Currans, O’Sullivan’s, O’Flaherty’s, Murphy’s and Kennedy’s Bar.  The South Pole Inn, formerly owned by the Antarctic explorer Tom Crean, is on my list to visit this year.

The Marina Inn and John Benny’s Pub are situated opposite the pier in town and are always bustling, especially in the summer. The GAA hurling final is held on the first Sunday in September (the day after the marathon) so we usually try and grab a seat in either to have lunch and watch the match.

Dingle harbour

A weekend in Dingle must also include a boat trip to see Fungie, the town’s beloved bottlenose dolphin! The friendly dolphin is well-known throughout Ireland since 1983 and even has a statue dedicated to him in the town centre.

Conor Pass is also a must-see and is only a ten-minute drive from the town. It is the highest mountain pass in Ireland with breathtaking views…and ice-cream.

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Not sure if I am brave enough to try paragliding over Conor Pass but it looks like good fun. The Dingle Whiskey Distillery  is not far away so perhaps a tasting beforehand would help ease the fear!

Dingle also boasts stunning sunsets and there are so many beautiful places to watch the sun go down. I usually go down to the pier to catch the last of the sun dip behind the mountains. Beautiful.

Dingle sunset

As well as its amazing scenery, sunsets and authentic Irish pubs, Dingle has three of Ireland’s top 100 restaurants listed in John and Sally McKenna’s 2016 annual guide. Having three out of four of the best restaurants in Kerry, Dingle’s accolade as Ireland’s Best Foodie Town 2014 is well-deserved. The three restaurants, Out of the BlueThe Global Village and Idás Restaurant  are well worth a visit. A bit pricey but a real treat. Dingle also has its own Food Festival, which takes place this year from Friday 30th September to Sunday 2nd of October.

As for music, there is usually a trad session happening every night and a couple of late bars such as, An Droichead Beag and the Hillgrove nightclub for the party animals! I think marathon runners get a free pass into the Hillgrove? I remember dancing and I remember sore legs, so sore that it was almost impossible to walk down any steps/staircase. Note to self…stretch properly after marathon!

The ultimate music experience in Dingle is the annual Other Voices Festival. A special three-day music event held in December that involves filming of live performances of both Irish and international bands in intimate settings, such as a 200-year old church called St. James. The filming is produced for an Irish national television series that broadcasts in January. This year the festival takes place on 2nd, 3rd and 4th December. Tickets are like gold dust as they are not for sale. Given that it is a television production rather than a music festival people are not asked to pay for tickets, instead they are given away through competitions on Facebook, Twitter and radio stations etc. I have been unlucky trying to get tickets in the past. This year I am keeping everything crossed! #TicketFairy

Dingle, you have stolen a piece of my heart forever!

Always love to hear suggestions for things to do and see in this beautiful town…

 

 

 

 

Doolin to Cliffs of Moher

As far as cliff walks go, Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher in Co Clare is pretty spectacular.

Ranked the best ‘cliff-view’ on the planet by Conde Nast Traveler, the Cliffs of Moher are the second most visited attraction in Ireland after the Guinness Storehouse. Over 1.2 million people visited the cliffs in 2015.

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When planning a trip to Co Clare and the Burren Food Trail last year, a friend of mine suggested I include a walk from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher. He knew I’d love it!

During our trip, we stayed in the fabulous Wild Honey Inn in Lisdoonvarna, which was about a 10-minute drive from Doolin. The weather wasn’t great but we decided to do the walk regardless. It was dull when we arrived in Doolin but the colourful shops and pubs lining the main street made it brighter. We parked up opposite Gus O’Connor’s pub (famous for its traditional music) and headed for the cliffs.

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Looking back at Fisherstreet, Doolin

It was a bit of a steep walk up out of the main street and following the road to the right for about half a kilometre until we reached the sign for the Cliffs!

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From this point the walk was generally easy with the Atlantic ocean on our right and the tranquil, rural landscape on our left. We could see the gradual rise of the cliffs as we followed the track along the cliff edge. The beautiful pinks of sea rose dotted our path, which was a lovely contrast against the dull sky. The views were spectacular and we hadn’t even reached the highest point yet!

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The track took us a little inland for a couple of kilometres until we had made our way closer to the highest point of the cliffs, which stand at 214m high. From here, we joined up with the hundreds of people visiting the centre. Words can’t describe the beauty at this point. It was simply breathtaking.

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We followed the legions of people walking the main path. It was quite surreal how close we were to the edge. Really incredible. My heart was in my mouth as I watched the brave couple (pictured below) shuffle their way as close as possible to the edge for a ‘cliff selfie’. Successfully thank goodness!

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It was too busy to stay for coffee so we decided to keep going and return to Doolin before the rain started. The walk back was just as stunning, passing some curious bystanders along the way too!

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The rain held off for most of our journey, which was about 8km each way, four hours or so in total. I was glad to see the colours of the main street as we made our final descent into the village. Our last stop was the Doolin Chocolate Shop for some well-earned fudge and a triple chocolate bar! Sweet and delicious, perfect after our lovely, long walk.

 

 

 

Burren National Park

It’s hard to beat a holiday in Ireland when the sun shines, especially a place like The Burren in Co Clare. A magical area of 18,000 hectares of exposed limestone stretching across northern Clare, a truly spectacular sight.

The word “Burren” comes from an Irish word “Boireann” meaning a rocky place. Filled with a unique mix of Alpine, Arctic and Mediterranean wild flowers, it’s also one of Europe’s most important botanical regions.

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Last year we spent a couple of days in Clare staying in the Wild Honey Inn sampling the culinary delights of the Burren Food Trail. During our stay we wanted to learn more about the rich cultural heritage of the region so we arranged a tour of the Burren National Park with Tony Kirby. He came highly recommended and he didn’t disappoint.

We arranged to meet Tony at the Burren Centre in Kilfernora and he drove us to the National Park. It was a tricky route to navigate as we got closer to the Park, so we were happy Tony was driving!

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A mine of information, Tony’s knowledge of the landscape, wildlife and history of the area is incredible. As we walked through the park, Tony also pointed out the various wild flowers, unique to the region, providing information on each.  Apparently we were lucky to spot the Spring Genitan, otherwise known as the Alpine wonder and icon of the Burren. My favourite flower was the cat’s paw, which looks and feels like a cat’s paw!

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The Spring Genitan – the icon of the Burren
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Cat’s Paw

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A nature lover’s paradise, the tour took around two hours. To find out more, check out Tony’s website here.

Tony dropped us back to our car and after all the talk about exotic flowers, we decided to pay a visit to the Burren Perfumery.

Located about 2km from Carran, the Perfumery produces perfumes, oils, soaps and creams onsite inspired by the surrounding landscape. The small family-run facility is tucked away behind trees and rocks in the heart of the Burren. The approach to the car park is quite magical and the scents of its flowers and herb garden fill the air the closer you get.

The rain started to fall again so we headed straight for the Tea Rooms for some tea and cake before taking a little walk in the garden. A beautiful place to visit, good for the soul.

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The Burren is a truly spectacular place and just earlier this month, The Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark was recognised as a Global leader in sustainable destination development, a scheme that honours tourism companies, organisations and destinations regarded as leaders in sustainable tourism best practice. A well-deserved accolade for this wonderful eco-friendly tourist destination. Read more about it here.

Day trip in Killarney, Gap of Dunloe

Voted one of the top 10 holiday destinations is the world by Trivago, based on reviews of the town’s hotels, Killarney is possibly my favourite place in Ireland. Located in Co Kerry, one of the most scenic counties in Ireland, there is so much beauty to see in Killarney. Also known and referred to by locals as ‘The Kingdom’, Kerry is definitely a must see.

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When I worked as a PR manager, my vacations were precious and Killarney was always my No.1 destination for the Easter holidays – five glorious days of relaxation in paradise!

With Easter approaching at the end of March, it reminded me of my trip last year. The weather was amazing (it doesn’t always rain in Ireland!). I went with three friends and we stayed in the Park Place Apartments. Modern, clean and great value, these self-catering apartments were perfectly located beside the town but not too close, so we weren’t disturbed by noise at night. Car parking is available too. There’s also a lovely authentic French bakery called Petit Delice just around the corning, serving great coffee and pastries to set you up in the mornings!

We planned trips for each day, my favourite being the boat trip through the three lakes of Killarney followed by a hike through the Gap of Dunloe, finishing with a pint of Guinness at Kate Kearney’s cottage. Bliss! (This is a must do when staying in Killarney).

We booked the 11am boat trip departing from the pier at Ross Castle (10 min drive from our accommodation) so we decided to book a tour of the Castle an hour beforehand to make the most of our day. About 50 mins long, the tour of this beautiful Castle was a perfect start to the day.

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Pic of Ross Castle by my friend Jen Stafford

From the Castle it was only a two-minute walk to the pier. Because we had booked in advance, we just had to give our names, pay and board the boat. Complementing the Castle tour, the skipper shared his excellent knowledge about the history and vegetation of the area as we made our way through the three beautiful lakes to Lord Brandon’s cottage. The boat trip was about an hour or so long and although it was a fine Spring day, it was chilly on the boat – wrap up warm!

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We grabbed a coffee at Lord Brandon’s cottage before we set off on our hike. We opted to walk rather than cycle or take a jaunting car. I cycled a couple of years ago but the struggle uphill was real. I wanted to take in the amazing scenery without the hassle of pushing a bike. The beauty of this walk has to be seen to be believed. Myself and my friend Lisa took it easy while the other two led the way but we caught up with them towards the end. It’s hard to describe the beauty in words so I tried to capture it from my iPhone camera as best possible…

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After two and half hours of meandering through the Gap of Dunloe we reached our final destination, Kate Kearney’s cottage. A well-earned Guinness was enjoyed by all except by our designated driver!

We organised a taxi to bring us to Ross Castle to collect our car, which was about a 20-minute drive away. We made it back to the apartment with plenty of time to rest up and change for an amazing dinner at Treyvauds Restaurant. After dinner we stumbled upon live music in one of the bars on our way home so we dropped in for a night cap and a few songs…sure it would be rude not to!

#LoveKillarney

 

 

Marlay Park to the Wicklow Way

Marlay Park is a great place to walk, to bring the kids for a run around or to catch up with friends over coffee and cake in the Market. It’s also the starting point of the Wicklow Way, one of the best known long-distance walking routes in Ireland (127km).  Usually done in stages, the first stage to Knockree (21km) can take up to 7hrs. We opted for a shorter hike, setting off early at around 9.30am – I’d never seen the car park so empty!

The weather was perfect, a real Spring feel in the air. We made our way to the top of the park (not a buggy in sight), out onto College road and passed under the M50 motorway towards Kilmashogue. It wasn’t long before we were away from the traffic.  From here, it was uphill all the way but I was glad for the exercise. It was a beautiful walk through Tibradden woods, reaching Barnacullia two hours after setting off. We had somehow taken a wrong turn earlier adding half an hour or so. Too much yapping!

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The views of the city were spectacular, the Poolbeg Chimneys clearly visible. A perfect place to rest and refuel.

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Although we could have kept going, we were happy to turn back. I was looking forward to coffee and some treats in the Market.

We arrived back to the top of Marlay Park around 1pm, it was much busier than earlier. Lots of buggies! Families and friends out walking, young ones playing football.

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I was craving coffee and a vanilla chocolate éclair from the Armelle’s Kitchen stall – hands down the best éclairs I’ve ever tasted. Delighted to hear they’ve just opened a new shop in Dalkey. Check it out.

IMG_1375A lovely Sunday walk. The Wicklow Way is definitely up there on my list!

Bray to Greystones cliff walk

Itching to get out for a hike after a long, wet January, my good friend Jane suggested the cliff walk from Bray to Greystones, “if the weather picks up at the end of the week”, she said. Three weeks later, it was looking good!  Although it was still raining when I woke, I was confident it would clear. I dressed in layers, grabbed my (almost) waterproof jacket and set off to Bray. *Note to self buy new hiking gear.*

Low and behold, as I drove through Dublin city centre the rain cleared and the sun’s silhouette was visible through grey clouds. In fairness, it would have been totally jammy if I saw blue in the sky and sure, I hadn’t prepared for actual sun! I arrived to Jane’s just before noon and we headed off without delay so we’d beat the rain. Every Irish person will understand this.

As we meandered through the cliffs, we shared each other’s news and woes.  Slowly, and looking out at the stunning views, my shoulders began to feel much lighter. We even gave the DART a wave when it beeped as it passed beneath us. Convinced it was beeping at us, we laughed and I of course took a pic – bless Jane’s patience.

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The cliff walk is one of the most popular walks in Bray for locals and tourists. We were only two of a few people who had ventured out in the cold that day but it was totally worth it. The walk itself is not challenging. It’s about 6.5km to Greystones Harbour from the bandstand in Bray and fairly even throughout. The rain was our only challenge and it had held off at that stage.

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On our approach to Greystones the hunger was on me. I saw road works ahead of us, which were part of the massive harbour development. I was glad Jane was familiar with the detour, although it was only slight and it didn’t make much of an impact on our walk. I managed to get a pic down at the beach looking back on our journey we had made. We’d been walking for almost an hour but it hadn’t felt like it thanks to the amazing scenery and great company.

 

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We made it to our destination, The Happy Pear  – the perfect pit stop to refuel with hearty, wholesome goodness. I went for the delicious, chunky Moroccan soup and a selection of healthy breads and Jane went for a plate of salads bursting with flavour and colour. We didn’t want to feel too full for the return journey so we reluctantly abstained from the tempting array of desserts. Instead, I had a good, strong Americano and Jane had tea infused with fresh mint leaves – she’s always really healthy!  The place was buzzing and it was difficult to leave our warm, comfy seats but eventually we gathered our coats, gloves and scarves and set off for our return journey home.

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Rain threatened, it was spitting down on us so we quickened the pace. With bellies full, the struggle was real. Looking back towards Wicklow, the views were striking. I stopped to take a few more pics. Knowing that the walk ahead of us was going to be kind made the hike more pleasing. I managed to quickly take a couple more photos before the rain started to come down a little heavier.

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Towards the end of our lovely hike we spotted a lone ranger in the distance, enjoying the views. I wondered where he was from and what he was thinking about. By this stage I was at total peace and completely mindful of just how good a walk in the fresh air surrounded by beauty truly is for the soul.

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Thank you Jane, the Bray to Greystones walk in Wicklow is always beautiful, whatever the weather.

Wicklow, also known as The Garden of Ireland, is at the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East. To find out more check out Visit Wicklow