THE CLIFF WALK

The Cliff Walk from the Black Castle to Wicklow Head is another area of outstanding natural beauty, interesting not alone for its coastal scenery but also for the great variety of flora and the wide diversity of migrating sea birds which nest around the cliffs. Very often seals can be seen swimming offshore or lying on the beaches. It is unique to this district as the only other walk of its kind in the County is at Bray.

History of the area

One history book of Wicklow Town records that a traditional right of way existed, extending from Wellfield (Black Castle area) to Wicklow Head, and indeed the senior citizens of our town would testify that this walk has been in place for generations. Older residents of our town, some in their mid-nineties and closely associated with Wicklow lighthouse, recall that they often walked this area as children. Irish Lights maintained the roadway leading to the lighthouse.

Bride’s Head, situated on this walk, is an area of particular historical interest. At the entrance to the canyon there is a fresh-water well from which local fishermen drank in the belief that it would keep them safe. It is possible to make out the outline of the foundations of a Penal Church which was erected in the late 17th Century to serve the spiritual needs of the local community during that sad period of our history. Close to the beach we can see the remains of an old lime kiln which gives its name to the little bay, while in a cave nearby some workings have been found dating from the Stone Age period – over 5000 years ago. Apparently a knapper carried on his business there, producing flints for arrow-heads and axes. There has obviously been human habitation in the area for a very long time.

Further on, at Wicklow Head, stands the old octagonal tower, which was constructed in the late 1770’s and which served as a lighthouse – it was powered by candles! It now serves as a holiday home.

Threats to public walkway

There was an attempt in 2002 by the local authorities to officially close this walk to the public. The reason given by our Council was ‘coastal erosion’ and notices posted at Bride’s Glen stated that there was ‘no way through’. These notices referred to the Cliff Walk going both in a southerly and also in a northerly direction from the Glen. Wire fencing was also erected in an attempt to prevent access. A report appeared in the local paper stating that the Town Clerk and a Council Engineer had inspected the walk and found six areas where erosion had taken place that could be considered dangerous. The local Heritage Officer was acquainted with the problem in the hope that some sort of funding might be made available in order to address the issue, but nothing ever materialised. It is interesting to note that this walk is still patronized by the public just as much as it has been for generations past - as the well-worn pathway would testify.

Apart from the Heritage Department, continual representations have been made at the highest level both locally and nationally, but to no avail.

Possible solutions

A small amount of coastal erosion should not present an insurmountable problem. The walk, for the most part, is based on a rock foundation where erosion would not be a factor. Dúchas has provided many miles of boardwalks throughout the Wicklow Mountains often in more difficult areas that are far less accessible. Bridges have been erected on Coilte property on the side of a sheer cliff at the Devil’s Glen. Many other areas of Ireland where the cliffs are longer, higher and more precipitous than our Cliff Walk, can have their walkways maintained in good condition. The Giant’s Causeway would be a good example.

Under the 2000 Planning Act the Council can create a Right of Way in case there are any difficulties from a legal point of view, but it must be recognised that if this area were ever to be successfully closed down to the public for a certain number of years, it will be lost and gone forever. One EU document recommends that Member States “are advised to adopt a policy of opening rural areas as much as possible to outdoor recreation and sustainable forms of tourism”. The problem of funding for any necessary repairs might be addressed to INTERREG and/or the Irish Tourist Board. Perhaps some of the surplus cash that has been returned by our Council to Central Government could have been put to good use in this area. Other countries in Europe such as France, Germany, Austria, the Nordic Countries and the UK preserve their very many traditional walkways and cycle paths and these are clearly indicated on their maps. Here also, the Irish Heart Foundation might be persuaded to get involved with a Sli na Slainte if co-operation were to be forthcoming in establishing this walkway on a more firm footing. A circular route could be established returning via the lighthouse road to the car park over the Glen Strand.

One would sincerely hope that the close proximity of our local Cliff Walk to the adjacent golf course would never be prejudicial to the reinstatement and proper maintenance of this traditional walkway. A parallel situation existed at the Old Head of Kinsale, which did cause a lot of trouble. It should not be unreasonable to suggest that traditional access to this area could once again be guaranteed to all, regardless of their particular recreational pursuits.

We, in Wicklow, have an irreplaceable heritage in these wonderful amenity areas. Let’s make sure that they will still be there for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.