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Somerset, England: Picture Perfect Cheddar Gorge and Caves

My interest in historic events, nature and wildlife is reflected in our choice of destinations when planning our holidays and day trips.

Cheddar Gorge

Cheddar Gorge

The Famous Cheddar Gorge Caves and Cheese

Cheddar Gorge, famous for its caves and its well-known cheddar cheese, is situated in the Mendip Hills at the northern edge of the village of Cheddar in Somerset, England.

The gorge is just 20 miles southwest from where we live in Bristol and is one of our favourite travel spots in the summer. On a nice sunny day, when we want a day out but don't want to travel too far, we pack a few snacks and plenty of hot water for coffee, and head outwards towards the famous Cheddar Gorge in the Mendips. This article, with the aid of pictures I've taken on day trips to the gorge, presents a showcase of Cheddar Gorge at its best and reveals its beauty.

The arrival to Cheddar Gorge

The arrival to Cheddar Gorge

Plenty of Tourist Attractions

Upon arriving in Cheddar Gorge, it looks like a small tranquil village at the bottom of a steep and narrow valley surrounded by sheer rocks on either side. In fact, it's a tourist haven, with almost exclusively tourist shops, cafes and restaurants, a museum and of course the famous caves. Two of them are open to the public for six months of the year.

There's one big car park at the bottom where once you've parked, you leave on foot and start exploring. If you don't fancy seeing the caves right away, and depending on how fit and energetic you feel, there are plenty of other things to see and do in the meantime.

You may just wish to wander through the shops, see the museum, learn about the famous cheddar cheese (perhaps even buy some!), and then have a rest outside. You can hang out outside one of the local cafes or restaurants (with a bite to eat and drink) while admiring the scenery. Then you can purchase your tickets and explore the caves.

Once you've explored the spots open to the public—Gough's Cave and Cox's Cave—you may want to finish the day with a bus ride up the steep gorge and back again. If you're still feeling energetic and time permits, tackle the famous Jacob's Ladder and the Lookout Tower at the top, or even take a gentle stroll around the public footpath along the top of the cliff's edge towards the end of the gorge.

Cheddar Gorge is also very popular with rock climbers, so if you're interested in that, you can try it here.

Open Top Bus Tour of the Gorge

If you decide to take the bus tour up the Gorge (which I highly recommend), you won't be disappointed. The views are breathtaking, and if you're not up for all the walking, it eliminates the steep climb up Jacob's Ladder and long trek along the cliffside path to get to the other end of the gorge. Although if you are up to the walk and have the time, the Cliffside walk is an awe-inspiring experience with fabulous panoramic views of the Mendip Hills. You can't fully appreciate them from the bus tour alone.

The tour bus operates daily from Easter until September, except for when it's raining. At busier times, you may have to queue and wait.

Jacob's Ladder and the Lookout Tower

If you're into walking, then the journey along the top of the gorge is a must. First, you have to climb Jacob's Ladder which is 274 steps in total. For a fabulous view, take another 48 steps to the top of the Lookout Tower. That's 322 steps! From here not only do you get stunning views of the Mendips itself, but you can also see right down into the valley and get a clear aerial view of Cheddar itself.

I've only made this trek once myself, but if you're up to climbing then it's worth it every step of the way. You won't be disappointed in the views, though you might be exhausted from the return journey and very much in need of a nice refreshing cup of coffee in one of the cafes.

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Jacob's Ladder and Tower

Jacob's Ladder and Tower

Cheddar Gorge's Famous Caves

Cheddar Gorge's rocks, which now stand at about 450 feet high, are limestone and the gorge itself was formed by melt-water floods during ice ages over the past 1.2 million years. The caves themselves were formed in the last few hundred thousand years as underground rivers ran through and dissolved the limestone during the warmer periods between ice ages.

Today Cheddar Gorge is a dried-up prehistoric riverbed, and the only trace of any river in the gorge is where the underground Cheddar Yeo river emerges into the lower parts of Gough's Cave; the Cheddar Yeo which runs under the Mendip Hills being the largest underground river system in Britain. Although the Gorge is still prone to flooding, the last major floods being that of the great flood of 1968.

Gough's cave, occupied at various time by humans between 13,000 and 9,000 years ago when we were still hunter gatherers and living in the Stone Age, is the larger of the two caves open to the public. It with its reflective rock pools and the stalactite and stalagmites in both caves along with impressive water deposited limestone flows are spectacular to see.

Many of the other caves in the gorge, not open to the public, are inhabited by the Greater and Lesser horseshoe bats, a protected species.

The Origin of Cheddar Cheese

Cheddar is the origin of the famous Cheddar Cheese, and even today some of that cheese is still matured inside Gough's Cave, as it was done over 100 years ago. Although these days cheddar cheese is made worldwide, traditionally it's only genuine cheddar cheese if it's made within 30 miles of Wells Cathedral. I'm not sure of the historical significance between Wells Cathedral and Cheddar Cheese but Wells is only 10 miles away; so in the eyes (or hands) of an athletic stone age human (Neolithic period) you might say it's only a 'stone's throw away', and to a modern age tourist just 20 minutes by car.

Tourist Attractions Near Cheddar Gorge

Our visit to Cheddar Gorge is from Bristol, which is just 20 miles away, so over the years we've visited the Gorge quite a few times, so sometimes we just make a fleeting visit for a few hours before striking off to one of our other favourite local tourist hot spots.

Our other favourite location destination spots for day trips in the West Country (Southwest England), all within an hour's drive of Bristol and all within striking distance from Cheddar Gorge include:

  • Wookey Hole Caves, just 8 miles from the Gorge.
  • Bath, only 24 miles away, and
  • The famous Longleat Safari Park just outside of Bath
  • Wells, 10 miles from Cheddar Gorge and
  • The popular holiday seaside resort at Weston-Super-Mare, just 13 miles west of the Gorge.

Bath, Wells and Bristol of course (which is only 20 miles from Cheddar Gorge) are all great historic cities steeped in history with plenty of attractions and good shopping and are all well worth the occasional visit.

There's not much at Wookey Hole except for the famous cave there; so you'd only want to make the one visit, for a couple of hours. During your visit you'll have a guided tour around the cave followed by a demonstration from a paper mill in the cave's entrance of how paper use to be made from cotton rags. The paper mill is authentic, located in the caves entrance as it originally was to make paper from cotton rags in the days before paper started to be commercially made from wood pulp. This was in the days during the early Victorian period when the rag and bone man made a living in selling rags to the mill for paper making. Before leaving the paper mill you're given the chance to buy some of this paper, which is well worth it; it makes great gift sets for presents, and it's biggest advantage over paper made with wood pulp is that it's acid free paper so it's not deteriorate as modern paper does.

If you're thinking of visiting the Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire, near Bath you need a whole day there so you'll not be able to see Longleat and Cheddar Gorge in one day; they'd require two separate day trips over a long weekend. However, Weston-Super-Mare is just half an hour's drive away so if you intend not going on the long walks in the Gorge and intend just visiting the caves in the morning then (on a nice sunny day) you could be in Weston-Super-Mare by the afternoon. And once there you may decide on a leisurely stroll along the promenade, spend time on the restored Victorian pier, sit on the sandy beach, exploring the town, its facilities and shops or just enjoy an unhurried meal from one of the many restaurants along the sea front and thus a perfect end to a perfect day.

Weston Super Mare Pier at Night

Weston Super Mare Pier at Night

© 2013 Arthur Russ

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