Brean Down. I had camped in its shelter long ago and even painted it, not knowing what it was. This is the spit of land on which the fort of ‘Vivian Le Fay Morgan’ was built in Dion Fortune’s Sea Priestess. Last time I was here I didn’t even know it was a real place. I had read her work but had not read about the woman herself or her life in those days and, had I thought about it at all, would have assumed that the fort the ‘Wilfred’ made into a palace for his sea priestess was a place seen only in imagination. Now I knew differently, but had little idea what to expect.
The Down is a promontory of rock with a truly imposing presence that reaches out into the Bristol channel. The road leads along the edge of the beach right up to the base of the rock and we parked near a café. There is something quintessentially English about sitting at a beach café on a summer afternoon with a teapot full of freshly brewed tea. We were not, however, contemplating the waves, we were looking at the steep zig-zag of steps leading to the top and the flocks of jackdaws and swallows that were competing in numbers with the seagulls. The AAQ* was really quite amazing. However, we were definitely not climbing up sheer sided cliffs in this heat. Were we?
We were, of course. We did try to talk ourselves out of it. Really quite convincingly. But to no purpose. The tea consumed we set off towards the cliff and began the long, breathless climb up the seemingly endless steps…. Steps, I might add, that were never designed for the short legs of hobbits. Thankfully the camera gave me an excellent and elegant excuse to stop every few yards.
The landscape is quite spectacular here. The road that Dion wrote of still snakes round the hairpin bend up the landward end of the Down. It is closed to traffic now, but somehow it would not have felt right to drive anyway. There is a sacrifice of energy in these ascents, both physical and symbolic. As we climbed I wondered what we would find up there. I knew there was the remains of a hillfort… so the land had been significant even so long ago… and the remains of a fort abandoned by the Ministry of Defence for many years. Dion had also written of a processional way that Wilfred had walk near the close of the book… that I did not expect to find.
We followed the lure of the goats and took the road that travels the northern edge of the Down, looking across at the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare in its sheltered bay. The silence was stunning. There was absolutely no intrusion from any man-made noise… only the whisper of the surf and the song of birds. It is a strange place with an Otherworldly feel.
Then, finally, we saw the fort… just as Dion Fortune had described it before the transforming hand of Wilfred made it into a palace for a Sea Priestess. In one of those odd coincidences we had seen a Roman altar to Fortuna the day before in Marlborough and the thought made me smile. Odd, too just how much we manage to fit into these days without rushing around.
There were people exploring the Down and the fort, we couldn’t expect anything else on a summer afternoon at the seaside, but for once it didn’t matter. I think we both felt the excitement of the moment as we descended towards the point of the promontory where, in the book, the ‘mooncalf’ had been taken by the sea.