It looks so near, and yet…

From our beach we look across the muddy estuary of the River Axe to the promontory of Brean Down… it look so near, it looks so easy to get to! Foolish holiday-makers, and even local people sometimes, think they can walk across the river bed to the other side… I wonder how many have been rescued over the years, either by the coast guards, the beach wardens or a helicopter scrambled from somewhere. The mud is deep and holds and sucks you down… very dangerous!

Brean Down sticks out into the Bristol Channel for about 1½ miles and it is the last lumpy bit of the Mendip Hills, but you only really appreciate that when you are on the Down and looking back inland. It looks quite high, but in fact it is only 320 feet at its tallest point. It is carboniferous limestone and has been a significant part of local history going back thousands and thousands of years. Now it is deserted apart from rabbits and other small mammals, butterflies and many, many other insects, and as you might imagine, many birds, some quite rare. There is only shrubby vegetation growing on its bare sides, but there are lots of wild flowers at certain times of the year.

Although humans have lived on and near the Down for thousands of years, the remains of their activities only really date back to 300 BC when a hill fort was constructed. The Romans arrived and thought it would be an ideal place to build a temple, looking down on the wharves at Uphill and Bleadon from where they sent out the minerals they had mined in the hills and the grain they harvested on the Somerset uplands. I think they my well have used the south-facing slopes for wine-making!

In more recent times there has been other activity on the Down, including a Napoleonic fort – to defend us from the French Emperor, not to welcome him! There have been various schemes to build harbours and breakwaters, but none were realistic and none succeeded. Apart from having soldiers stationed in the fort, there has been no active use of it as a defence… then tragically a man was killed when the munitions exploded in 1900… he had fired into the magazine so it wasn’t really surprising that the whole thing blew up.

A café was built in the ruins of the fort before the second World War; now there are a couple of cafés at the bottom of the Down, but none actually on it. However it is still a wonderful walk to the end to see the ruins, and to look out across the channel to Wales, and south to Devon.


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