Steep Holm is an island lying in the Bristol Channel, so it is not that easy to visit by car. The island covers 48.87 acres at high tide, expanding to 63.26 acres at mean low water. Its highest point it is 78 metres above mean sea level. It lies within the historic boundaries of Somerset and administratively, it forms part of North Somerset. Between 1 April 1974 and 1 April 1996 it was administered as part of Avon.
Steep Holm photo by Karlton 15
The island serves as a wind and wave break, sheltering the upper reaches of the Bristol Channel. The island is formed of carboniferous limestone and is geologically a continuation of the Mendip Hills at Brean Down. The island is uninhabited, with the exception of the wardens, and protected as a nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Nearby and to the north is Flat Holm island, which is part of Wales.
In the 6th century Saint Gildas lived on Steep Holm often visiting his mate Saint Cadoc, who lived on Flat Holm as a hermit. Gildas eventually left the island to become Abbot of Glastonbury.
Former military uses
Both Steep Holm and Flat Holm were fortified in the 1860s as a defence against invasion. They form part of a line of defences, known as Palmerston Forts, built across the channel to protect the approaches to Bristol and Cardiff.
The island was fortified following a visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to France, where they had been concerned at the strength of the French Navy. The Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom, under direction of Lord Palmerston recommended fortification of the coast and the island formed part of this strategic coastal defence system. Construction began in 1865 and was completed in 1869.
Steep Holm Beach and ruins. photo by TR001
Steep Holm has several gun batteries, some of which are Scheduled Ancient Monuments, and a centralised group of brick-built barrack blocks.
These facilities were updated in both World War I and World War II; in World War II, search-light batteries were built on Steep Holm. The Steep Holm batteries were also connected, by underwater telegraph cable, to the Brean Down Fort batteries, but parts of the cable were stolen for scrap after the end of World War II.
Kenneth Allsop Memorial Trust
The island is owned by the Kenneth Allsop Memorial Trust, a charity which took over the administration of Steep Holm in 1974 in memory of the broadcaster and naturalist Kenneth Allsop, and purchased it in 1976. The mission statement of the Trust is: "To protect, preserve and enhance for the benefit of the public the landscape, antiquities, flora, fauna, natural beauty and scientific interest of the island of Steep Holm in the County of North Somerset and to advance the education of the public in the natural sciences."
Visits can be made to the island. The trust runs day-long boat trips from Weston-super-Mare. Note: one barrack block is in use to provide visitor facilities, so there should be a loo!