Brean Down Coastal Walk
Discover one of the great landmarks of the Somerset coastline on this scenic coastal walk across Brean Down. Standing over 300ft (92m) high and extending 1.5 miles (2.4km) into the Bristol Channel, the Down is steeped in intriguing stories, from prehistoric worship to Second World War weapon testing. It’s also renowned for its wildlife, so keep a look out for a great variety of birds, plants and butterflies whilst on route.
Cove Café, grid ref: ST296588
There are two routes from the café towards the headland. At low tide head onto the beach and walk towards the headland until you reach the coast path to your right, continue on the path until you reach some fairly steep steps. These will lead you up onto the Down. For a more accessible route continue on the road and follow the route to the tarmac path on your right.
This rugged headland is the site of archaeological remains from the Iron Age. A hill-fort was first built here in about 300BC to defend the entrance to the River Axe, which was an important trade route for lead coming out of the Mendips. The large whaleback headland is an extension of the limestone rocks of the Mendip Hills. The vegetation on its steep, rocky southern slopes and cliffs contrasts with that on the gentler slopes of the north side where the soil is deeper.
Once on the Down, take the path to the left, along the southern slopes. Wildlife thrives here due to the rocky limestone grassland and warm south facing cliffs. In early summer look out for the white flowers of the rare white rock rose, which grows in abundance in the thin limestone soils. Listen out for the loud, sharp call of the stonechat. You may also be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of skylark, meadow pipit, linnet, raven and peregrine falcon.
Continue along the path until you come to the site of a Romano-Celtic temple. It was built in about AD 340, close to a Bronze Age burial mound. Rock from a quarry on the Down provided some of the stone for the building.
Many butterflies love the limestone cliffs and do very well on Brean Down. The common blue (pictured here), chalkhill blue and marbled white can often be spotted during the summer months.The chalkhill blue butterflies love the limestone cliffs.
Further along the path you will come across the remains of a Celtic field system, a series of small rectangular fields.
To preserve the rich variety of vegetation on the Down, grass and scrub need to be cut back otherwise they can overwhelm more delicate plants. Cattle and rabbits help to mow the turf. Feral goats do a good job at trimming it back too.Grazing goats help to preserve the rich vegetation on Brean Down.
Continue up towards the fort, which is located on a small hill. Here you can take a closer look at the remains of the fortifications and enjoy spectacular views across the Bristol Channel. In 1862 four acres were requisitioned at the tip of Brean Down to build up fortifications to protect access to Bristol and Cardiff in fear of the growing strength of France under Napoleon III. No shots were ever fired in action, but regular drill and gunnery practice was part of the routine. The fort was re-armed at the start of the Second World War.
From the fort make your way back along the other side of the Down to the site of the Iron Age hill-fort. Take a closer look at the banks and ditches before continuing along the path. Follow it round to the right. This will take you back to the steps and down to the café.
Cove Café, grid ref: ST296588
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