There is something incredibly soothing and peaceful about travelling on a train, and I’m not referring to a city’s crammed subway or unventilated underground.
Those are merely a means to an end, a necessary evil. I’m talking about trains that, with the slightest glimpse out the window and onto the horizon, stimulate your mind and open your imagination. I’m referring to the Dublin Area Rapid Transit (DART) bound for Greystones, Ireland.
The train itself isn’t too sweet on the eyes. Its carriages are old and plain, covered by a green mucous-like colour those with bacterial chest infections are all too familiar with.
Throughout my travels, though, I’ve learned never to judge a train by its outward appearance.
A look back at how the line was built
So anticipant of our Greystones arrival, I perceived the train ride as merely a means to reach our final destination. Slowly but surely, as we distanced ourselves from Lansdowne Road – our place of departure – I realized this journey was going to offer so much more than just a commute.
Tasked with creating tunnels through an outcrop of bedrock into the belly of pre-Cambrian rock, William Dargan – one of Ireland’s most famous railway projectors – and his crew were responsible for the Bray to Greystones line expansion.
The first five miles of the extension saw Dargan and his crew dig three tunnels and build four expansive wooden trestle bridges under abject conditions. That section of rail was named Brunel’s Folly due to the numerous problems the line faced, including falling rocks, landslides and erosion.
Tools needed to be brought in by hand, making them nearly impossible to deliver.
To solve this quagmire, workers built a cliff walk that, in some areas, directly follows the rail line. Starting in Greystones and skirting its way along the seafront all the way to Bray, the walk is now known as the Bray Cliffside Walk.
This functional trail enabled an easier delivery of both tools and men to the construction site. The line extension was completed in the mid-1850s, the team responsible lauded for their impressive engineering feat.
Relinquishing control en route to Greystones
But for a few other passengers, the train was almost empty. I took comfort in the rhythmic pace with which the train zipped down the tracks.
As it picked up steam, I found myself being transported into a wholly unfamiliar world, one of total serenity. Though a rare occurrence, it felt good to relinquish control.
The landscape, with Dublin fading away in the rear view, started to change as we snaked along Ireland’s eastern seaboard. We had escaped the big city, bungalows and country houses now taking the place of city blocks and stacked high rises.
The surrounding scenery changed again after departing Blackrock, a station about 20 minutes from Greystones. Houses along the train line became more sporadic, the cliff’s bedrock starting to envelop us on both sides.
The engulfing rock clued us in as to what was next. Everything went dark as we darted directly into the cliff’s belly. Like a through-and-through bullet, the train pierced out of the tunnel almost as quickly as it entered. Upon exiting the darkness, we were met by a view worthy of its own postcard.
Snug against the cliff face on one side, the train skirted the Irish Sea on the other. Vibrant, radiant flowers accentuated the already stunning coastline. Flocks of seagulls flew overhead, biding their time for an opportune moment to catch dinner.
A few jagged rocks, like pimples on a pre-pubescent face, protruded from the sheer cliff face. It was a sight to behold, the earth’s burley, rugged side meeting its elegant, graceful counterpart.
About 30 loud and leery students hopped aboard our carriage at Killiney. Resembling a colony of bees, the group was buzzing with excitement. Some sat, albeit briefly. Most, however, scurried about the cabin, a few pointing to the horizon on the Irish Sea.
It appeared that, even though it must be a familiar sight, the view hadn’t become tiresome.
Seeing all these kids go about their daily routine reminded us that this train hadn’t been plucked from a fantasy novel but is an ordinary mode of transportation for most passengers.
To us, though, it felt like we were on board an Irish version of the Hogwarts Express. The kids disembarked a few stops later, the cabin quieting with eerie efficiency.
We approached our final destination after passing through another four tunnels. Rolling into Greystones, I reflected on how gratifying a train ride it was. It reinforced the idea that it’s not the destination that holds the most sway but the memories made on the tracks along the way.
Had Greystones not been the end of the line, and our severe hunger not come into play, we may have just stayed on Ireland’s Hogwarts Express for rest of this magical day.