Where There’s a Will…… The Brean Down Way - Somerset

26 Jul 2019


By Vicky Banham

The eight-mile route opened in 2017 and within three months had smashed the annual target that its creators had set themselves -  30,000 users! It is not hard to see why. It is designed for leisure or commuter use and is accessible to cycles, wheelchairs, buggies and dogs. It opens up unexpected views, conceals surprises and is steeped in history and wildlife. You can start and finish with a café and soak up the smells of wildflowers and the sound of birdsong along the way. The beauty of it is you can sample stretches of it, do the whole of it and catch a bus home or, if you are on a bicycle, you can continue on the rest of Route 33 of the National Cycle Network of which it forms part. It is no surprise that it is connected since the inspiration behind Greenways and Cycleroutes is none other than John Grimshaw, founder of Sustrans, which started the whole idea of signed cycle routes across the UK.
When John and fellow trustee Caroline Levett looked at the practicalities of linking the routes built by North Somerset over Uphill to Brean by a cycle route there were a number of obstacles in their way, not least the River Axe. The solution lay in using the Environment Agency’s road across the sluice gates that control the flow of water. An agreement was reached whereby people, but not vehicles, could use the private road which is midway along the new path. This did raise concerns about disturbance to the large numbers of wading birds, particularly the shy redshanks, who make the river their home. A quirky bird screen was the answer to that one with an equally quirky name. The Great Bird Screen of Brean allows the birds to live in peace and at the same time, with strategically placed slits in the planks, allows people who are interested to squint through and watch the long orange legs of the birds strutting in the mud looking for molluscs.   
Greenways and Cycleroutes worked with the land owners and local authorities and gained additional funding from Europe and EDF Energy to complete the path using an army of volunteers and it was opened in style last July with a celebratory cycle and a ribbon-cutting by the Lord Lieutenant of Somerset Annie Maw.

A route map of the Brean Down Way starts you off at the Grand Pier in Weston and takes you down the seafront for a mile before giving you a choice of the beach or main road to Uphill. For those who don’t know it, this is a delightful village above the mouth of the Axe and once a flourishing port thought to have welcomed Joseph of Arimathea on his merchant trips to South West England. It has a marina, café, nature reserve, disused church, 14th century windmill tower and spectacular views across the Bristol Channel.  Have I sold it to you? If you can drag yourself away, head on down through Walborough, another reserve, this one with nationally rare plants such as Somerset hair-grass and honewort. Around half way between here and the sluices you can divert up on to the river bank for more great views and the chance to see egrets fishing and boats resting at jaunty angles on the mud. In summer your sure accompanists will be skylarks in a sing-off high above you.
After the excitement of the Bird Screen you skirt the edge of one of the many camp sites for which this stretch of the Somerset Coast is renowned and come out on Warren Road. If the tides and weather allow you can walk or cycle the next two miles along the beach before arriving at National Trust owned Brean Down which is one of the gems in the County’s crown. A natural pier, it extends the Mendips Hills limestone out into the sea. Rising to 97 metres, it offers a panorama taking in Steep Holm island, South Wales, the sandy beaches down to Burnham, the Somerset Levels and Glastonbury Tor. It matches Uphill’s church and tower with a Roman Temple site and Palmerston Fort! The idea of linking these wonderful places by a route for bikes and walkers is genius but Greenways and Cycleroutes don’t want to stop there. They have their sights on other routes and where there’s a will…………. 
Where There’s a Will…… The Brean Down Way - Somerset
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