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Picture Perfect Cheddar Gorge and Caves
The Famous Cheddar Gorge Caves and Cheese
Cheddar Gorge, famous for its caves, and their well-known cheddar cheese, is situated in the Mendip Hills at the northern edge of Cheddar village, Somerset, England. The Gorge being just 20 miles southwest from where we live in Bristol is one of our favourite travel spots in the summer. On a nice sunny day, when we want a day out and don't want to travel too far, we pack a few snacks and plenty of hot water for coffee, and then head outwards towards the famous Cheddar Gorge in the Mendips for the day. This article, with the aid of pictures Ive taken one day trips to the gorge, presents a showcase of Cheddar Gorge at its best; revealing its beauty.
All photos in this article were taken by me while visiting Cheddar Gorge; and the history of Cheddar gorge, its caves and cheese mentioned in this article are written in my own words.
The Arrival to Cheddar Gorge
OS Explorer Map of Cheddar Gorge and the Mendip Hills, an essential detailed map recommended for anyone exploring this most scenic part of the Mendips by foot, walking and off-road cycling; the map marks essential information for the walker including youth hostels, pubs, visitor information and where the rights of way, permissive paths and bridleways are.
A Great Tourism Attraction
On 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 village, almost exclusively tourist shops, cafes and restaurants, a museum and of course the famous caves, two of which are open to the pubic six months of the year. There's one big car park at the bottom where once you've parked up you leave on foot and start exploring. If you don't fancy seeing the caves right away, depending on how fit and energetic you feel there are plenty of other things to see and do. You may just wish to wander around the tourist shops, see the museum, learn about the famous cheddar cheese (and perhaps even buy some) and then have a rest outside one of the local cafes or restaurants (with a bite to eat and drink) while admiring the scenery before buying your tickets and exploring the caves.
Once you've explored the two caves open to the public, Gough's Cave and Cox's Cave you might want to finish the day with a bus ride up the steep gorge and back again, and if you're still feeling energetic (and time permitting) tackle the famous Jacobs ladder and the look Lookout Tower at the top or a gentle stroll around the public footpath along the top of the cliff edge to the top end of the gorge. And for the more adventurous Cheddar Gorge is also very popular with rock climbers.
Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England
Cheddar Gorge caves open to the public; tourist shops and cafes at the bottom with a bus tour up the gorge and the famous Jacob's ladder walk.
Cheddar George Tourist Attraction - Views From the Bottom of the GorgeClick thumbnail to view full-size
Cheddar Gorge Scenic Tours
Open Top Bus Tour of the Gorge
If you decide to take the bus tour up the Gorge (which I highly recommend) you'll not be disappointed; the views are breath-taking, and if you're not up to all the walking it beats the steep climb up Jacobs ladder and long walk along the Cliffside footpath to get to the other end of the gorge. Although if you are up to the walk, and you've got the spare time, the Cliffside walk is an awe-inspiring experience with fabulous panoramic views of the Mendip Hills, which you can't fully appreciate from the bus tour alone.
The tour bus operates daily from Easter until September, except for when it's raining, and at busy times you may have to queue and wait.
Tour Bus of Cheddar Gorge - At the Bottom of the GorgeClick thumbnail to view full-size
Jacobs Ladder and the Lookout Tower - 322 Steps and Counting
If you're into walking then the public walk along the top of the Gorge is a must, but first you have to climb Jacobs ladder, 274 steps in total; and for a really fabulous view a further 48 steps to the top of the Lookout Tower. 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; the village after which the famous Cheddar cheese is named. I've only made this trek once myself but if you're up to climbing the steps and the walk it then it's worth it every step of the way; you'll not be disappointed with the views, although you might be exhausted on your return journey back down the 274 steps and in much need of a nice refreshing cup of coffee in one of the cafes in the gorge.
Views of Cheddar Gorge from the top of Jacobs Ladder - Birdseye view of Cheddar and the Mendip HillsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Cheddar Gorge Famous Caves - Gough Cave and Cox Cave
The rocks of Cheddar Gorge which now stands 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 being formed in the last few hundred thousand years as underground rivers ran through and dissolved the limestone during the warmer periods between ice ages. So 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; which are protected species.
Gough Cave and Cox Cave - Cheddar Gorge CavesClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Origin of Cheddar Cheese - The Famous Cheese of Cheddar
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
Great for a long weekend break in Somerset
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.
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