The Cheddar Gorge

Along the Gorge ABefore I plunge into writing up some posts about Cornwall from our holiday last week, I thought I’d better finish off some of the ones I still have to do from our stay in Somerset a few weeks’ ago. (Too many holidays to keep up with at the moment!) This post is about one of the sites we’d been intending to visit for years – and I’m very glad we eventually made it there. Oddly enough, at the mention of the Cheddar Gorge, most people’s minds turn to cheese. And rightly so.

The Cheddar Gorge is the largest gorge in England and is located on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills near to the village of Cheddar in Somerset. (x marks the spot!)

Location of the county of Somerset. Source; Ordnance Survey OpenData. Author: Nilfanion. Creative Commons
Location of the county of Somerset. Source; Ordnance Survey OpenData. Author: Nilfanion. Creative Commons

The Gorge’s limestone cliffs rise to 450 feet and the scenery along it is quite beautiful, as well as dramatic. It is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It has been inhabited since the end of the last Ice Age and today, visitors come from all over the world simply to admire the scenery, climb the near-vertical cliffs or cycle along the steep gradients of the road that runs through it (the B1315). Cavers come to explore the many caves, the two largest of which are stalactite caverns and open to the general public.

This handsome, 9,000-year-old chap can be seen in Gough’s Cavern (he’s not a real skeleton, of course – just a replica. :)) His name is Cheddar Man, whose real skeleton was found in this cave in 1903. I’ll be writing about the two caves in my next post.

Gough's Cave 1 ++

Ownership of the Gorge is shared by two parties. The south side (where most of the visitor attractions, including the two caves and several tea rooms and cafés, are) is owned and administered by the Marquess of Bath’s Longleat Estate. The north side, where the striking rocks of the Gorge tower alongside the road, is owned by the National Trust.

Here’s a very simple description from of how the Gorge was formed:

The Gorge was formed about three million years ago when a small river cut through the soft limestone. Thaws of subsequent ice ages increased the flow at times to produce this spectacular natural attraction. You can still see the benign-looking river which now flows underground and appears at the foot of the Gorge.

On arrival at the site, we decided to do what many visitors do, and take an open-top bus ride trough the gorge.  So we headed for the car park to wait for the bus, which runs back and forth quite frequently.

Car park for catching Gorge tour bus +

Naturally, this guided tour isn’t free, but the cost does include entry to the two caves and the little museum as well. The bus turns around at a point a short distance past the touristy area, and allows us to see the stunning Gorge cliff s without the shops and other buildings. At that point, we got off the bus to walk back, visit the caves and generally enjoy the attractions on offer.

These are just a few of the photos we took from the bus. I bet you can’t miss the friendly lion:

Wildlife in the Gorge includes dormice, yellow-necked mice, slow worms, adders and rare blue butterflies. Many bats inhabit the caves and on the rocky slopes, goats can just be seen (if your eyesight is good!). The ones we spotted were too distant to see clearly:

Cheddar Gorge Goats 1

So here’s a close up picture from Wikipedia:

Cheddar Gorge goat 1

The goats have been  introduced as part of a programme to encourage the biodiversity of the area. A flock of feral sheep also graze the slopes. There are also many species if birds, including peregrine falcons, kestrels and buzzards and too many species of flora to mention, other than to say that many are chalk grassland-loving species.

We had lunch at one of the many ‘eateries’ . . .

Wishing Well Tea Room (View from road 3 +. . . and in the afternoon, we headed up Jacob’s Ladder. This is a series of 274 steps which takes visitors up to a stunning cliff-top walk:

Jacob'sLadder 2

The clifftop walk is three-miles long and there are excellent views of the Gorge as well as further afield from up there. There is also an observation tower (more steps for my knees to complain about) with 360 degree views. Here are a few of the photos we took from the clifftop. Not all are from the observation tower:

To finish off with, here are just some of the many things to see as you walk along the road:

And, really, really finally this time, a quick word about cheese. 🙂

The village of Cheddar is the home of the original Cheddar cheese. It has been produced here since at least the 15th century (earliest mention of Cheddar cheese in 1170) and left to mature in the caves, with their cool and constant temperatures. The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, unsurprisingly, is located further along the Gorge than we went, and cheeses can still be seen today, maturing inside Gough’s Cavern. Now, Cheddar cheese is made all over the world. And I’m not surprised at that because it’s very yummy!