It was a Sunday in late February and I was staying with my daughter and partner who live in Devon. My son had joined us for a couple of days and so, each of us with different requirements, we set off to explore Brean Down, a limestone promontory and continuation of the Mendip Hills on the Somerset coast about an hour’s drive from my daughters home.
I wanted to walk by the sea. Son wanted a cliff walk. Daughter wanted a site with archaeological interest and daughter’s partner, an ecologist was happy to wander with his binoculars.
Now this is where I must confess that I had done very little research so knew nothing of the place that I was about to discover. I thought, at best, this would be like any other cliff walk, but with bumpy remains of ancient fortifications maybe. Well, it was, at first.
We arrived in the National Trust car park around lunchtime and manage to bag the last two parking spaces. Walking boots, hats on and facilities used, we set off on our walk.
Brean Down is reached by climbing well maintained and sturdy wooden steps which have several platform stops to admire views of beach at Burnham-on-Sea and also to catch your breath. With the bright weather and low, just about to turn tide, the views along the Somerset coast were just stunning.
The top it is flat, wide and grassy, dotted with windswept hawthorn trees. At its highest point Brean Down reaches 97metres (318 feet) above sea level. But when reaching the summit though you realise that the Down extends further into the Bristol Channel than you first think and so we continue to walk to the next brow of hill and its here where we see a sight to draw you further and on to the end.
Nestled in the undulations of the furthest point of Brean Down are the ruins of a Victorian Fort and wow what a place. Open to the public to explore for free, the buildings tell a fascinating story and form a perfect place to hunker down for a snack and to enjoy the views towards Wales and the islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm.
Sitting just 18 metres above sea level the Brean Down Fort was built in the 1860’s and was one of the Palmerston Forts which were built around the coast of Britain at that time in response to concerns of invasion from the French Navy. However by the time the forts were finished, the threat of attack was no more.
I am fascinated by abandoned and decaying buildings and happily meandered around imagining what life would have been like for the 50 officers and men that staffed it until active service ceased in 1900. The only evidence of life there now are the splattered pats from the cattle and goats that have taken shelter amongst the buildings.
World War II saw the fort back in action as a site for weapons testing including the bouncing bomb and subsequent visitors have left their names and colourful marks to the bunkers since, adding further layers of history to the site.
On our walk back inland we find the ancient remains of an Iron Age hill fort, yes pretty much lumps and bumps of grass but archaeological evidence indicates that this area was occupied by humans in the late Bronze Age. Those ancient time frames blow my mind!
So yes, Brean Down ticked all our boxes that bright and blustery February Sunday.
What an amazing hidden treasure, well worth a look.