We visit the seaside resort near Bristol that’s a ‘ghost town’ out of season

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This summer will be different because a huge Pontins holiday camp is temporarily closed to tourists

As the empty bus stopped outside Pontins holiday park at Brean Sands, I soon found myself humming ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials.

Through the heavily padlocked iron gates of this 80-year-old holiday camp - built as a US army base during World War II - the tropical palm trees swayed in the wind but the sky was the colour of slate rather than the blue depicted in posters and signs outside nearby bars and shops.

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On a bitingly cold February morning with the roar of the sea in the distance, Brean is a far bleaker proposition than it is when thousands of holidaymakers descend in the warmer months.

Eight miles from Weston-super-Mare and close to Burnham-on-Sea, Brean has been a popular summer base for decades.

Many of the holiday parks used to be farms but now they are a sea of motorhomes, caravans and chalets. But by the summer holidays, the village will be packed as people travel from all over the country for a week or two away by the sea.

The annual Brean Country Music Festival returns at the end of June, with events spread across several venues including The Tavern, Bucket and Spade and Breakers.

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Themed nights at ‘the biggest country and western festival in the Wild West’ include hillbillies, cowboys and cowgirls and ‘vicars and tarts’.

Later in the year, there will be other attractions including the ‘Hallow Brean’ halloween event at the Unity Holiday Resort.

But this year is going to be different in Brean because Pontins is closed for business. The famous holiday park is being used as accommodation for workers at Hinkley Point C nuclear power station further down the Somerset coastline.

They will be using it for the next three years which means tourists won’t be staying there until at least the summer of 2026.

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Of course, Pontins isn’t the only holiday park in Brean but it’s the largest and best known so its temporary closure will make a dent in the profits of local businesses.

Out of season, Brean is quite literally deserted. During my visit, I saw only a handful of people and the atmosphere is eery.

Brean overlooks the Bristol Channel and is home to many caravan parks and holiday campsBrean overlooks the Bristol Channel and is home to many caravan parks and holiday camps
Brean overlooks the Bristol Channel and is home to many caravan parks and holiday camps

Roads normally packed with cars of holidaymakers with their suitcases and beach equipment, are empty and there is a ghostly silence in a place usually filled with noise, laughter and people having fun. The only sound is the occasional creak and squeak of a metal sign in the wind.

Outside Krackers Karaoke Bar, a man dressed against the wintry elements was painting the benches and tables in readiness of the village coming back to life in spring.

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The only shop open for business at the moment is a branch of convenience store McColl’s, which also houses the local post office.

“Yes, it’s very quiet here,” laughed the shop assistant, when I asked her how life in Brean was out of season. “A few people do live here but most of the caravan owners will start coming back in March.”

She pointed out that Brean was more than just Pontins, and that there are other holiday parks, but this year might be quieter without the main attraction.

Brean beach is well known for its soft sands and fast rising tidesBrean beach is well known for its soft sands and fast rising tides
Brean beach is well known for its soft sands and fast rising tides

The only other customer in the shop was Mike, who lives and works nearby. He said he thought the Hinkley Point workers might be there longer than the three years suggested.

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“It will be a big difference without Pontins,” he told me. “A lot of the smaller bars and shops rely on people staying at Pontins and the Hinkley Point workers probably won’t be using them as much as the tourists do.”

As I walked through the village, every business was shuttered. Stardust Amusements, Brean Beach Shop (with its colourful sign advertising gifts, toys, sticks of rock and buckets and spades), Giftique and the Bread and Butter bakery and sandwich shop were all closed for the winter.

The Brean Down Inn on Warren Road was also locked and bolted, the pub’s bright blue converted horse trailer for ‘Alfie’s BDI Baps’ takeaway parked outside, waiting for the holiday season to resume.

Other businesses are getting ready for the next wave of visitors and hoping for a good year ahead. A sign advertising caravans for sale was placed outside Yellow Sands Holiday Park, and Animal Farm Adventure Park was already trumpeting the fact they had a pygmy goat and llama ‘new for this year’.

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The sky may have been grey and the sea the colour of milky tea but Brean is a place that lives by its sunny seaside image despite the fact it overlooks the Bristol Channel and in the shadow of the rugged Brean Down peninsula with its Victorian-built fort.

Caravan parks and houses have romantic names like ‘Golden Sands’, ‘Sunset View’ and ‘Beach Wood’, although walk through one of the sandy lanes to the beach and the reality is a little different on a blustery winter’s day.

Pontins is closed for three years to accommodate workers at Hinkley Point Pontins is closed for three years to accommodate workers at Hinkley Point
Pontins is closed for three years to accommodate workers at Hinkley Point

Yes, the vast, driftwood-covered beach is relatively golden in parts, but red warning signs for sinking mud, soft sand and fast moving tides are a salutary reminder that the tide at Brean Down rises quicker than in many places around the UK. It is not without its dangerous side.

Not that it was stopping a man in the far distance, possibly foraging for cockles or collecting seashells, or a woman riding her horse on the beach.

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For the warden patrolling the beach in his truck, the winter months are reasonably uneventful as so few people visit the area.

“There will be a few Brummies coming back to their caravans soon but it doesn’t really pick up before Easter,” he told me.

“But I’ve lived and worked down here all my life. I love it here whether it’s quiet or busy - I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

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