Family & friends Photography

Brean Down & false memory

A few weekends back I went back to the West Country to see my Mum, some friends, ride a bike and go to the dentist – the same one I’ve been going to for the last 25 years. On Sat I headed down the M5 to see my Aunty who lives in Brent Knoll near West-Super-Mare. My mum and my Dad are both from that area.

One of the things we used to do when we were younger was go and explore the now derelict fort on Brean Down. Brean Down is a rocky outcrop poking out into the Bristol Channel just west of Weston and overlooked by Uphill. It’s had various incarnations of a fort on the outer reaches of the land mass over time with the latter being of second world war origin.

The site has a long history, because of its prominent position. The earliest recorded settlement is from the Early to Middle Bronze Age.

The current buildings were constructed in the 1860s as one of the Palmerston Forts to provide protection to the ports of the Bristol Channel, and was decommissioned in 1901. During World War II it was rearmed and used for experimental weapons testing.

Burnham on Sea

But what interested me so much about it is that I had memories of the fort and walks around it as a child. When I thought back to it they seemed completely vivid and still strong in my mind. Yet when we walked up the stairs to the top of the hill it all seemed entirely new to me.


The idea of memory is a fascinating idea to me and I think about it a lot, especially in relation to photography and imagery. I was somehow shocked that something could be so utterly different. I don’t seem to remember the long walk in or the compact nature of the site or the general form or arrangement of it. I also think that certain areas had been closed off and made safe since the National Trust had taken it over but even so I was till confused and at points not sure I had referenced the right place in my mind. This further makes you question what memory is and how the mind overlays its own additions in later years.


Regardless of relation back to childhood memory I was really blown away, quite literally in places, by the area. The sense of exposure, the wind, the height and the views over Weston, Burnham-on-Se and the Bristol Channel were incredible. It was sunny just long enough for us to get to the Fort and back before it closed in and started raining.


We had a look around the end and I clambered over some rocks at which point I realised how exposed I was and how rough the sea looked beneath me.

Brean Down

We also had a poke around the old gun emplacement which had a strong stench of sheep poo. Looking down we could see why, it was everywhere.


The mixture of the weathered concrete against the colours of the sea and the rocky outcrop made for a few nice snaps. I’d love to spend a few days there with a tripod though. So many photo opportunities! After that we made our way back along the lower path which was far less exposed and back to the van.


It really is a stunning place and well worth a visit if you’re ever in that part of the world. The Guardian even lists it as one of the best 10 walks in the UK.