Last Sunday we packed the Kelly kettle, dog and boys in the car and set off for Venue 126. It’s a rarity these days for the whole family to head out on an adventure but even my eldest son, who would usually drag his heels now that independence beckons was intrigued by the destination – a disused fort with a promise of ‘art on the edge.’

Arriving at Brean Down is quite a surreal experience in itself and after having driven through the seaside town and holiday camp heaven of Brean, populated that weekend by cowboys in chaps and Stetsons, only heightened the wildness of the peninsula dotted with extreme windblown hawthorn trees smothered in red berries. I’m used to the remoteness of Exmoor and here was a similar wild landscape, hemmed on each side by breathtaking beach views but FULL of people due to its proximity to Weston, Bridgwater and Bristol. Like others visiting I relished in the ‘wildness’ and could instantly understand why artist Donna Vale was so captivated and determined to appropriate the disused fort as a perfect yet unconventional venue for installing art inspired by place; enabling artists to create imaginative responses in situ to past layers of history, its buildings and inhabitants.

2015 witnessed phase one of this ambitious plan and this year, throughout Somerset Open Studios, artists Joy Merron and Lydia Needle joined Donna in relocating their studios to the fort. Throughout the two weeks they were visited by 2,000 curious onlookers, 25% of whom sought them out specifically – which is no mean feat considering the steep steps and long walk to the venue.

During my visit I loved the mix of responses that tapped into the hidden, often secretive history of the MOD juxtaposed with pieces so obviously inspired by the nature of the place, or made a social comment about the environment.


Joy Merron


Joy Merron


Lydia Needle

I urge you if you have the chance to visit the current exhibition that is now on at the Fort. The studios have been packed away to make room for yet more thought provoking installations.  These new works offer insights that will hint at the area’s connections with the poetry of Coleridge, another will make us confront the worrying current statistics of suicide rates among young men, while another will make you smile at the words of Dr John Cooper Clarke.


Donna Vale


I have great admiration for Donna, last year the project received funding from the Arts Council but this year funding has been minimal, with the main and only input being received from The National Trust, recognising the positive public reaction to the project and its ability to connect visitors to the site’s history. The majority of the work has been driven by the innate artistic energy and passion to create from all those involved. Do go – do support them, it’s an amazing contemporary art project in an astounding location and it’s right here on our doorstep in Somerset.


Opening Dates & Times: 11-4pm

8th, 9th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th October


Lydia Needle

To help plan your visit simply click on the links connected to this post. Pack a torch, get your boots and prepare to climb the 218 steps that youngest son counted and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

links connected to this post







WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY by Davina Jelley


Published on October 7, 2016 // Davina Jelley