After my adventures on Flat Holm yesterday I was hoping to head for Steep Holm. However a look out of the window from my hotel showed it was a very foggy morning. Given the weather I had my doubts about whether the trip would go ahead. I had to make an early start so soon checked out of the hotel, too early for breakfast and hence I’d booked for room only.
Heading down the M5 back to Weston-super-Mare the weather soon became worse the fog now very thick and turning up the headlights just bounced the light back off the fog. My mind started to wander to alternative plans. A walk further down the coast on the mainland? Or perhaps a walk along the West Mendip Way which ends at Uphill at the sound end of the bay. Neither would be great in the fog though. The fog was still pretty heavy as I drove into Weston-super-Mare and along the sea front. I parked up near the harbour and used the same convenience store to buy both breakfast and lunch. Heading to the harbour I found a crowd already gathered and easily identified the “leader” with her clipboard. I gave my name and asked if the trip was going ahead. She was very cheerful and told me that of course, it was a calm day and the fog was no problem because the boats had a GPS. I was very relieved as otherwise I’d have to rebook for another day.
I was allocated boat number 4 which seemed a bit odd, as I assumed we’d be going on the Westward Ho again, as for Flat Holm. I was soon proved wrong, as two RIB boats from Cardiff Sea Safaris soon arrived at the harbour. It was clearly going to be a rather different journey than yesterday!
It soon became clear that we were split into two groups, the first group would be going out first, then the boats returned for the second group of people. I didn’t mind since it would be a good oppurtunity to see how wet the other passengers got by how wet the boats would be inside on the way back. We were making an early start, 8am, and were not expected back until around 8pm in the evening, so with nearly 12 hours on the island I had also taken several books to read too! I watched the first group being kitted up with life jackets etc (again, rather different from yesterday) and once everyone was on board they left the harbour, at great speed! I watched from the harbour as the boats headed out to sea and soon disappeared into the fog. Most of the people heading out were part of a Geocaching party which is something I’ve also thought sounded fun but never really got into, perhaps I should investigate more.
Around 20 minutes later the boats can be seen returning, and soon we are then kitted out with life jackets (which as usual I struggle to do up) and then got on board the boat. It is small and the seats little more than a perch, with a large handle to hold onto in front. We were told to bring only a small bag as there was limited room, and I soon see what is meant, since our bags are piled up at the front of the boat. I am slightly nervous as my rucksack is the one on top, and concerned that a large bump could see it propelled into the sea, concerning since my camera is in there, amongst other things! Worries about my bag and camera aside I enjoy the trip and it’s clear the crew of the boats very much enjoy their job, treating us to music on the way over.
Soon I can see the island ahead and see the shingle and pebble beach we are heading for. The other boats having already come over have set the stairs up for us so it is an easy step off the boat to the rocky beach, where the old Steep Holm Inn can be found, now derelict.
The path leads us up from the slipway past another disused house and still up through dense woodland to soon reach the top of the island. I can now see why it got the name “Steep”!
Soon I reach the top by a large concrete World War II fort (Garden Fort), one of many on the island. The rusty guns are still in place as are the doors probably for the ammo store, now rusted solid in place. From here I have fine views over the Severn and Bristol Channel and to Flat Holm. Nearby away from the coast are the ruins of an old Abbey although not much is left. Near here are the ruins of a farm and cottages too, of which more remains.
The grassy paths on the island are being maintained by the volunteers from the Kennith Allsop memorial trust who own the island. I head back to the south coast and past the first of several search light posts. Here conrete steps descend down to the old search light post. I follow them but the bottom is overgrown with brambles so I decide against going any further here, and return back up to the main path.
Soon I pass the barracks and visitor centre. Here there are a number of books for sale, as well as postcards etc and some basic food although I came prepared as we were warned the choice is limited. There are plenty of seats outside overlooking the coast but with the fog still present there is not much to see! The island is also unusual in still maintaining it’s own postal service and issuing it’s own stamps, which are on sale here. I then continue west on the coast to the Slip Rock Battery. This is a large site and here the guns are still in place, probably as they were left when the last soldiers left the island at the end of World War II.
I explore some of the underground storage areas too although there is not much to see and it’s dark (I did however remember a torch!). I now head west to the most westerly point of the island, Rudder Rock where there is another large fort, mostly World War II I suspect. There is another search light post here which I climb down to but again the path gets overgrown at the bottom and I can’t make it quite to the old hut.
Heading east I reach another large fort, Summit Battery, presumably near the high point of the island. It is clear to see the strategic importance of these islands in the busy Bristol Channel and Steep Holm in particular, given it’s height offered wonderful views over much of the estuary. Places like this let the imagination run free, wondering what it must have been like to be stationed here on a long winter night in the dark looking out over the busy shipping lanes. It is certainly an atmospheric place to visit.
I soon reach another search light post down many steps which again I can’t quite access as the path is overgrown. I soon near the eastern end of the island again passing another battery, Laboratory Battery although I’m not clear what the laboratory was for.
By this time the fog has begun to clear. I then follow the path up to the middle of the island and reach it’s summit where there is a trip point. I then head back down to the beach and walk a little around the coast although I can’t get far, as most of the island is steep-sided with near vertical cliffs.
I spend the rest of the day relaxing and exploring the various forts. Soon the sun comes out to give a lovely day and I enjoy the wonderful views back from the top of the island at the trig point where I can see up to the Severn bridges, the North Somerset coast, Flat Holm and the Welsh Coast. The wild flowers are also beautiful.
Now the weather has improved I spend some time sat on the concrete steps of one of the search lights where I can enjoy the sunshine and views of the coast. I also return and re-walk all the paths now the sun has come out and I can really enjoy them. I see many of the other visitors enjoying themselves too and have a chat with some of them.
After a wonderful day it is soon time to head back to the barracks. I’m quickly met by some of my fellow travellers who tell me that our host has been looking for me. She wants to know if I mind swapping to the first boat off the island so one of the wardens can stay later. I’m happy to agree so soon find myself heading down the steps and back to the beach, where we wait for the boats.
Soon we can see them rushing towards us and we are soon back on board and heading back out into the estuary. It is a beautiful evening and I enjoy the return crossing far more because now the sun is out I can see far more and this time my bag is not on the top!
As we near Weston-super-Mare it is clear the crew want to have some fun, taking us right up to and almost under the pier, going round fast in circles and generally having a great time. It is an exhilarating journey and a great end to a wonderful day.
This has been a great weekend exploring these two fascinating islands which I’ve been seeing from many angles as I’ve walked back around the coast. I would recommended a visit to either of the islands, they make for a wonderful and relaxing day although good weather would obviously help. The links below provide details of how to book trips.
Steep Holm Island – Official website where you can find details of trips and how to book.