Gale Force at Bray Head

Wind whipped sea foam at your face, so hard it felt like hail pricking your face. Two girls who stopped for a photo by the shale beachside had their hair blown together into a tangled mess. On ground level the wind was reaching up to 30 mph in Bray.

Orientation weekend was going along smoothly. I was unpacked and settled into my apartment, we’d been to the Champlain College Dublin Academic Centre – a twenty five minute walk at a brisk pace from where the students are living – and had a meet-and-greet with the Irish faculty. I landed in Ireland Tuesday afternoon, but it took two or three days before I got a full night’s rest because of the jet lag.

Friday afternoon, as a part of the planned orientation activities, all of the Champlain Dublin students – 73 in all this semester, the largest group the college has ever sent – took the train to the small seaside town just south of the city called Bray.

Out the window on train ride there a beautiful view of the sea, framed by the lush Irish landscape. Even with gray clouds that threatened rain, it was a beautiful sight to behold.

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From out the train window

We didn’t get much chance to explore the town of Bray, however there were two particular landmarks that were pointed out to us. As we pulled into the station, the school’s program director, Stephen Robinson, pointed out a small pub just on the other side of the station. “That’s Harbour Bar. Lonely Planet voted that the Best Pub in the World.”

I will definitely be returning to Bray, if only for a chance to go into The Harbour Bar.

Off the train, we were all led a short jaunt up the boardwalk, the stormy sea to our left. Off in the distance there was a tall hill, about a mile high, with a huge cross at the peak. It was explained to us that, under normal circumstances, there was an organized trip up to the top of that hill, which is called Bray Head and connects the towns of Bray and Greystones. However, with the weather being so poor, and the wind sure to be even worse at the peak, the faculty was not going to require we make a trip to the top. But we could if we wanted to.

Immediately about half of the group took off towards the hill. I should note now that I am not at all dressed for a hike. I had a sweatshirt on under my wool peacoat and a pair of leather chukka boots on my feet. I wasn’t going to let a silly thing like that stop me though.

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The shale beach with Bray Head in the distance

We made out way to the foot of the trail, which winded a mile up to the peak. The rocks were slick from the rain, but the mud was worse. All in all, the path wasn’t too steep. Under normal circumstances, it would have made for a nice, quiet hike. The wind was having none of that.

Ever time there was a gust of wind I’d have to duck low to the ground or be at risk of being blown over into the thorny bushes that lined the whole path. Gusts were happening several times a minute.

Halfway up I started to overheat. Even with the freezing wind and the beating of sea spray my face was taking, the physical exertion of climbing that hill was too much to bear with all the layers I had on.

Luckily I had a backpack, which I shoved my sweatshirt down into. However, my wool coat wouldn’t fit, so I had to push that up under the strap on my right side.

The peak was magnificent. The sea sprawled out in front of us, the whole town of Bray lay at our feet to our left, and in every other direction were the rolling green hills of Ireland. You couldn’t stand up straight, because the wind was so strong, so constant, and continually changing directions, that if you were at constant risk of being blown straight off the cliffs. Still, it was exhilarating.

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The view of the town of Bray from the peak

We didn’t stay long up there, just enough time to catch our breath and snap some photos. Then we were making our way back down. I’m so happy I made it to the top. To me, the bad weather made it all the more fun: it made it a once in a lifetime opportunity. I will always have the memory of the very first time I hiked up to the top of Bray Head in the howling winds.

Ben Pitt
Champlain Abroad Dublin, Spring 2015
Champlain College Professional Writing Major
Class of 2016