Whilst on a short camping holiday two years ago on a campsite on Brean Down I took the opportunity to walk along the headland. There is a car park at the base of the cliffs next to tropical bird garden / cafe. You then need to undertake a very steep set of steps which take you to the top. Just as you get to the top of the steps there are the remains of a small hillfort to be seen - corner section. Only small but fairly well preserved. I also managed to obtain a N.T. visitor leaflet on the site from the cafe. This gave details of the prehistoric, Roman and WW2 defences found on the headland. It's quite a long walk but there is a circular walkway which takes you right around the headland and past the various sites. A good way to spend and hour or two.
I was in the area recently and discovered that the original dyked road (incidentally recorded by Dion Fortune in Sea Priestess) from Brean Down alongside and across the River Axe is - quite astonishingly - still in situ. Walking past the entrance to the military road towards Brean Down Farm, one comes to an earth bank at the farm entrance. From the top of the bank, one can see across the Axe, the mudflats and the saltings to the village of Uphill. To the right is the embankment that the road was carried on - the road is still plainly visible, grass grown as Fortune records, and as it must have been since its construction. One can walk along the road round a big loop of the Axe, all the way to Brean Cross Sluice, which I believe was once the site of a bridge. At high tide the mudflats are submerged and the saltings are awash - it would only require a mist to hide the holiday accommodation at Uphill to begin to visualise what the area must have been like in the past.
I was last here a few years ago, on a bit of a random day out, we just stumbled across the place. A few weeks later I read about Brean Down in Ronald Hutton's excellent 'Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles'. In the book the focus is mainly on the Romano-British temple that once stood here, but very close by is a Bronze Age barrow, and there may well have been more. The temple fell into ruin and was built over with a christian shrine. This too has now completely gone. So in terms of sacred sites, there isn't a lot to see. However in terms of the sacred landscape this place is completely awe inspiring - I can't think of many places I have visited which are quite so elemental. You really do feel on top of the world gazing over the edge. The vastness of the sea stretches out before you, and behind the flat marshy plains of the Somerset levels with Brent Knoll clearly visible in the distance, itself the home to an Iron Age fort.
As we left Brean Down the wind howled and a storm was starting to blow in from way out at sea. This is a truly heathen place.
The Berrow Flats are the huge expanse of sand that abuts Brean Down. I read this folklore in Ruth Tongue's 'Forgotten Folk Tales of the English Counties' (1970) and it also reminded me of the fishermen's lore associated with Worlebury, the next headland north.
"My father used to tell us that there was a big fish of Berrow Sands and it had a huge mouth. It used to swallow all the fish and the sailors too, and what it didn't finish, the conger eels did. They used to bark at those times and people knew the big fish was hungry and the fishermen were in danger. Well, there was a bold fisherman who went out in his little boat and the big fish opened his great mouth to take him and he cast his anchor down its throat and the cold iron finished it."
Told to RT by Brean WI members.
You will notice the mention of 'cold iron' - always good against the fairies too - the power of metalworking! And the conger eel, which is also mentioned in the folklore of Wookey Hole.
Brean Down was essentially an island up until the medieval period when the surrounding land was drained for agricultural purposes. The thought of having to paddle through foggy swamp to this remote, stormy place is quite something!
In 1896 Marconi made the word’s first radio transmission from Brean Down to Lavernock Point, Penarth.
You can download the EH monograph 'Brean Down: Excavations 1983-1987' by Martin Bell from the ADS website. He calls the site "the best preserved Bronze Age settlement sequence in Southern Britain", with five prehistoric occupation phases amidst 5m of blown sand and eroded soil.