Viva Brean : Traditional British Holiday in Somerset

Mark Bibby Jackson travels to Brean in Somerset to experience a traditional British holiday at Unity Holiday Resort

Beaches, Culture & History, Europe, Outdoors

Mark Bibby Jackson travels to Brean in Somerset to experience a traditional British holiday.

One of the consequences of Covid was the growth of domestic UK staycations. In recent months this has led to the re-emergence of concerns regarding overtourism as well as people complaining about an overpriced domestic tourism market. Popular locations such as Cornwall and the Lake District might have become oversaturated but there are other locations which still have plenty of room for growth.

Somerset is one such example. Many UK holidaymakers pass through the county of Glastonbury, cider and Cheddar, on their way to the queues of traffic in the far southwest of the country. Perhaps they should also vacate here.

Brean Beach

Amazing Brean Beach
Amazing Brean Beach, Somerset

We stayed for a couple of nights in a static home in Unity Holiday Resort, Brean. Staying in a holiday park might seem a strange option for a quiet break, especially one in Brean, which has the second largest number of holiday park accommodation units in the UK after Skegness, but time your trip right – midweek out of season – and solitude is what you get.

Across the road from the camp is Brean Beach, a magnificent seven-mile stretch of golden sand that runs all the way to Brean Down. Apparently, it is one of the longest unbroken stretches of sand in Europe. You can even park your car on the beach, making this incredibly accessible.

At the northern end of the beach is Brean Down, a mile-and-a-quarter limestone peninsula that stretches off into the Bristol Channel. I park in the car park (£6) next to the National Trust café, which also has a small shop and free toilets.

Brean Down, Somerset
Brean Down, Somerset

Brean Down rises 100 metres above sea level. It takes about five minutes to reach the summit depending upon how many times you pause for breath. The views once you reach there are stunning.

To the north lies Weston-super-Mare and its own sandy beaches, to the west is the south Wales coastline, and to the south the endless beach leading back towards Brean.

This is as far from the flashing lights and weird noises of the arcades of Brean as you can get.

At the end of Brean Down is an old Napoleonic Fort, which also used to protect the channel during World War II. The guns were removed in the 1980s and now all that stands are ruins.

Old Napoleonic Fort on Brean Down
Old Napoleonic Fort on Brean Down

From here you can clearly see Steep Holm and Flat Holm two islets in the channel which are in effect extensions of Brean Down which is itself a continuation of the Mendip Hills.

Apart from the initial climb, the walk is relatively easy and, even allowing for plenty of stops to take photos and explore the ruins, only took around two hours.

There are also the remains of an Iron Age Hill fort on the Down which somehow I managed to miss. If you do not wish to double back then you can always continue along the English Coast Path towards Weston-super-Mare.

The beaches are part of Bridgwater Bay site of scientific interest, and important feeding grounds for wading birds, including oystercatchers, turnstones and curlew in winter.

Bream beach with Brean down in the background
Brean Beach with Brean Down in the background

UK Holiday Parks : Traditional British Holiday

With the rise of staycations in recent years it is worth remembering the huge role holiday parks have played in the UK domestic tourism industry.

The Cunningham camp which opened in 1894 on the Isle of Man might lay claim to be the first holiday camp in the British Isles but it was companies such as Pontins and Butlin’s that spearheaded the post-war growth of affordable family holidays for the working class.

Fred Pontin opened his first camp on the site of a former US army base in 1946 at Brean Sands. This is now closed to the public and provides accommodation for construction workers building Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.

The same year as Fred Pontin opened his first camp, Bert House bought a dairy farm just along the road. A couple of years’ later Bert was approached by a scout group who wanted to camp on the land.

Unity Holiday Resort

Alan House at the entrance to Unity Holiday Resort _ British holiday
Alan House at the entrance to Unity Holiday Resort

Almost 80 years’ later Unity Holiday Resort is managed by Bert’s grandchildren Alan and Sarah House. One of the largest family-owned holiday resorts in the UK, on busy weekends they can hold up to 10,000 including people visiting their Leisure Park and Waterpark.

Alan believes that staying within the family has allowed the company to remain flexible and adapt to market demands.

In recent years, they have provided for a more up-market customer than might be associated with bluecoats and Hi-di-Hi. In December 2018 they launched the Brean Country Club, which has 50 upmarket lodges. Apparently, the country club’s Sunday roast is to die for.

According to Alan, some 70% of people in the UK take domestic holidays or breaks, and their needs range from camping to the upscale lodges in the Country Club. His aim is to provide something for everyone while recognising that Unity’s DNA and that of the British holiday camp is to provide quality and affordable family holidays.

“If families go home happy, we have done our job right,” he says.

Keeping It Local
Rich’s Cider, Somerset
Rich’s Cider has a small museum and great cider

Unity also organises music festivals and classic car events. They even hold an annual Kentisbury event for cross-dressers and a Bully Bash for lovers of bull terriers.

Part of their ethos is to showcase local goods and produce. In June they held a food and drink festival – A Taste of Somerset. One of the products highlighted was Rich’s Cider, which has a small cider museum, restaurant and shop in Highbridge, Somerset.

Darren Cavill, the food and beverage manager for Unity, is keen to promote local produce. In their Breakers Bar, they serve both Rich’s cider and the excellent locally-produced E18hteen gin, which comes from Bridgwater.

He plans to produce their own honey from beehives they have located next to the 18th hole on the golf course. Their bread comes from Winnie’s an old-fashioned bakery in Weston-super-Mare, while the gelato comes from Julio’s also in Weston, and the meat from Pines in Bridgwater. Even the fruit and veg comes from local greengrocer Arthur David.

Darren describes the fare as traditional British food, bur “served with a bit of love”.

Musgrove Willows

Musgrove Willows, Somerset
Musgrove Willows, Somerset

Another local product is willow. One of the largest existing willow farms is Musgrove Willows based in the Somerset Levels.

The farm has existed since the 1920s, and now grows 60 types of willow over 180 acres. Ellen Musgrove takes time to walk me around the farm.

She explains that while the farm is not organic, it does employ regenerative farming practices, so while they do use chemicals this is done in a sustainable way. They also collect rain water to soak the willow to minimise their environmental impact. Recently, they have gone back to old ways in certain aspects, such as getting cows to eat the old willow stems. They also use offcuts from local fencing companies to power their boiler. The excess water is then reused in the fields.

In addition to making willow products, such as fences, baskets and coffins, Musgrove Willows also runs full and half-day workshops in willow-making; one was ongoing during my visit. Ellen says that at the end of a workshop, you should be able to walk away with a small busker tray or perhaps a small animal such as a duck.

Westonzoyland and the Battle of Sedgemoor
Church in Westonzoyland, Somerset
Church in Westonzoyland, Somerset

Musgrove Willows is just outside the village of Westonzoyland, which lays claim to being the site of the last full-scale battle on English soil (although some historians dispute this).

On 11 June 1685, the Duke of Monmouth landed at Lyme Regis with 80 men. Within a month their numbers had risen to some 900. On the morning of the 6 July the rebel forces set off to attack the army of King James II. Their plan was to surprise their foe by stealing across the marshes outside of Westonzoyland. Sadly, the local guide got lost – perhaps too much cider the night before – and the rebels were slaughtered.

Some 400 were killed in the field, more slain fleeing. Judge Jeffreys presided over the Bloody Assizes that followed sentencing 331 to death in nine days, and a further 850 to be transported to the West Indies, a lot died en route.

Battle of Sedgemoor Memorial
Battle of Sedgemoor Memorial, just outside Westonzoyland

There is a small visitor centre on the Battle of Sedgemoor in the church in Westonzoyland. Just outside of town down an unmarked lane is a memorial to the battle. It is here listening to the birds chirping away in the fields amid the spring meadow flowers that my short visit to Somerset concludes. It is an appropriate ending to my quiet time in Somerset, an English county which is often overlooked, and is deserving of more attention.

Unity Holiday Resort

For more information about having a traditional British holiday at Unity Holiday Resort, visit

Things To Do in Somerset

Somerset is a wonderful county with plenty of activities to do on a British holiday. For more information on what to do in Somerset, go to:

All images: Mark Bibby Jackson.

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Mark Bibby Jackson

Mark Bibby Jackson

Before setting up Travel Begins at 40, Mark was the publisher of AsiaLIFE Cambodia and a freelance travel writer. When he is not packing and unpacking his travelling bag, Mark writes novels, including To Cook A Spider and Peppered Justice. He loves walking, eating, tasting beer, isolation and arthouse movies, as well as talking to strangers on planes, buses and trains whenever possible. Most at home when not at home.

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