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 AboutBritain.com 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!

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About milliethom

I am a reader and writer of historical fiction with a keen interest in the Earth's history and all it involves, both physically and socially. I like nothing better than to be outdoors, especially in faraway places, and baking is something I do when my eyes need respite from my computer screen.
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50 Responses to The Cheddar Gorge

  1. r_prab says:

    Wow!What a spectacular site! The shape of lion is unmistakably arresting! And the link with ice age evokes such a sublime feeling of imagination and wonder! Quite an adventerous trip it must have been, Millie! (:

    • milliethom says:

      The lion grabs everyone’s attention. It looks almost as though someone has sculpted the shape out of the rock from some angles. It’s a lovely gorge, Thank you! 🙂

  2. This goes well with my Gruyères post, hahah! Though I do like cheddar much, much more. Great post with so many photos! That lion was amazing.

    • milliethom says:

      Yes, it does! What a great coincidence. I love all (well most) cheese, but Cheddar is so good for cooking and we have a lot of it in our house. As a vegetarian, Nick eats loads of cheese – and still has a rock-bottom cholesterol level!
      The lion was definitely something worth seeing. 🙂

  3. It’s beautiful Millie. It’s amazing!!

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you, Suzanne. It was a really interesting visit. The gorge was lovely, and finding out about Cheddar Man and the people who lived here so long ago was so interesting. 🙂

  4. leggypeggy says:

    Great tour and thank goodness for cheddar cheese. 🙂

  5. Joy Pixley says:

    I would not have noticed that “friendly lion” if you hadn’t pointed him out, but now it seems so obvious. It’s nice to learn about natural formations, especially if they have some tie to food, ha ha! My knees would be protesting those stairs too — not going up so much, but I’d be dreading going back down.

    • milliethom says:

      The shape of that rock is really great. Once you actually focus on the lion shape, it’s so obvious. It is a lovely place to visit – not exactly the Grand Canyon, but stunning in its own way. My knees protest about going up any steps at all, so by the time we’d done the 274, plus another 90 of the lookout tower, they really didn’t like me very much. The views are worth it, though. Going down, I find OK.
      Thanks, Joy. I’ll catch up with some of your posts asap. 😀

      • Joy Pixley says:

        The comparison for me was the gorges in upstate New York, particularly the one that runs through the heart of Ithaca. A completely different geography — very deep but very thin, so you’re walking up steps beside a series of waterfalls, and the cliffs are so high and so lushly vegetated on either side that you can’t even tell you’re in the middle of a city.

        My knee problems have started to limit my adventurousness, which is no good. I just finished two months of physical therapy to help strengthen them, so now I have exercises to do at home before and after such excursions. It sure helps with everyday walking, so I hope I can get out hiking in nature again too.

  6. Ann Koplow says:

    A very yummy post, Millie!

  7. Aquileana says:

    What a great tour… I loved seeing the replica of the old Cheddar Man, alongside all the perfect natural lansdscapes… As soon as I read Cheddar, I thought of the Cheddar cheese… and, surprise, you mentioned it by the end of the post… I truly liked this one…. enjoyable and informative, dear Millie… thanks for sharing. Best wishes and happy weekend to you.
    Aquileana 🌟

  8. draliman says:

    Looks lovely, I like that sort of scenery with the rocks.

  9. 274 steps at that height i would probably pass out.
    Great photos, Millie.

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks, Chioma. It’s a lot of steps, but usually OK for people who don’t have useless knees. 🙂

      • Mine isn’t the knee rather a very unpleasant dislike for very high grounds.
        🙂
        🙂

      • milliethom says:

        Oh, I see what you mean. Well, there’s plenty to do and see in the Gorge itself without going up to the top. Mind you, once you’re up there, the 3-mile walk is far enough away from the cliff edge so that you don’t have to be looking down all the time. 🙂

      • 🙂
        🙂
        I would love to think that would help but the mind does have a habit of pulling up interesting images.
        Have a wonderful week Millie. xxx

      • milliethom says:

        Thanks, Chioma. If you really don’t like heights, the best thing would be to avoid them all together. How are you in about flying? Does that bother you? Thank you for the follow on Twitter, by the way. I haven’t been on the site very long, either. 🙂

      • 🙂
        🙂
        You’re welcome Millie!
        I am good with flying to an extent , it does bother me slightly but at least I can close my eyes and not look out.

  10. DG MARYOGA says:

    Oh dear,oh dear Millie!You stirred up sweet and well-treasured memories with your gorgeous Cheddar Gorge post!We visited it some years ago with our good English friend,June,who comes from Somerset.Her sister lives in Wells,and we had arranged to visit her and then all together to go to the magnificent Cheddar Gorge and the Wookey Hole Victorian papermill where they produce hand-made paper.I still keep some hand-made note books and letter paper which have an amazing silky texture with fantastic designs.Your post is so informative and well-written,superb accounts and interesting photos.Thank you,I gladly went through it and I am tweeting it right away for some Twitter fellows to enjoy.Happy weekend 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      Hi, Doda. You’ve visited so many places in England, I’ll be finding it hard to surprise you with anywhere new before long. You’re certainly a well-travelled lady. I wish I could say the same for your wonderful Greece. I’ve been to several of the islands, but never to the mainland.I really loved Crete, especially Knossos. 🙂
      We had intended to visit Wookey Hole, but didn’t have the time. We had so many sites to visit in a single week. Perhaps we’ll do that next time. (Also, thank you for the re-tweets of my posts. I really appreciate that.)

      • DG MARYOGA says:

        Thank you Millie.The accurate and vivid way you describe each place is fascinating and if I have visited it or not,the pleasure is the same.In fact,we have travelled so much around the UK,and we also love to visit non touristic places where you get to know the real “Britishness” of your wonderful country.Greece is also beautiful,and Crete is an interesting destination.I am certain sure you appreciated the archaeological site of Knossos and especially the Great Palace 🙂

      • milliethom says:

        There is beauty to be seen in every country in the world. I’d visit them all, if I could! I adore the Mediterranean lands, with their ancient cultures and wonderful climate. You are fortunate to live in such a beautiful place, Doda, and I’m really glad you enjoy visiting the UK, too. 🙂

      • DG MARYOGA says:

        Can’t agree more Millie.Every country has its own beauty,I’d love to travel everywhere although I don’t feel so safe now after the tragic events that take place every now and then.We spent some days in the volcanic island of Santorini in Cyclades.It’s built on lava and its beauty is unique.But guess what … It was yesterday that I received your books!One is for my sister as I told you.I am looking forward to reading it 🙂

  11. Wonderfully interesting place to visit. Nice post, milliethom. I think I’d have to pass on the 274 step climb though. 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      The steps really hurt my knees – but there weren’t as may at Cheddar as there were at Tintagel or St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, which we visited last week. Now my knees have really disowned me. Thanks, Jack. 🙂

  12. Heartafire says:

    Amazingly beautiful, rich with antiquity and the beauty of another time, Love the photos. Such a wonderful adventure!

  13. I had no idea there was a place named after my very favorite cheese (or visa versa). And that the cheese is aged on those very cool caves. I loved this adventure. More cheese,, pleeze!

    • milliethom says:

      I’m just sorry we didn’t have time to go and watch cheese being in made. It’s produced a little further along the Gorge but we had enough to fit in for one day. Perhaps next time … I have some (not so good) photos of cheese stacked in Gough’s Cave. I’ll post one next time if I can, somehow, reduce the glare form the lights. They sell the cheese at the shop near the entrance to the Gorge.

  14. inesephoto says:

    Great trip, so much to see. I love the lion and the goats, and the steep cliffs are amazing. Unbelievable what the water can do in million years – change all the geography.

  15. I didn’t hear about this place, but looks very interesting!
    At first, I thought it’s in Ireland… 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks, Rockhopper. We did find it interesting, particularly the steep cliffs and caves. The history of Cheddar Man and the communities of that time is fascinating. 🙂

      • I meant the diversity of the region, at least I have the impression it’s mostly famous from towns, but I may be mistaken…

      • milliethom says:

        Somerset, the county in which the Cheddar Gorge is located, is diverse in many ways. The towns and cities alone are visited by thousands of people every year. Bath is famous for the remains of its Roman baths and people flock to Glastonbury, the site of an Iron Age village, for the famous festival there. There are seaside towns like Minehead and Weston-super-Mare and the site at Athelney where King Alfred once his out in the swampy fenlands. There are the ruins of a medieval abbey (Cleeve Abbey) and a great castle and ancient market hall at Dunster, and so on…
        As for biodiversity, in the Gorge alone, there are many species of flora and fauna.
        As you know from your own, extensive travels, people visit places for many different reasons, depending on their interests. It was my first real visit to Somerset, other than a quick look at Bath some years ago, and we enjoyed visiting many different sites. My reasons for wanting to see the Gorge were both historical and geological, and I wasn’t disappointed in either.
        I’m not sure that I’ve answered your query (Lol) but I hope it all makes sense, at least. 🙂

      • Thanks a lot for the explanation!
        I remember Bath the most from that area.

  16. What a stunning place to visit. Everything looks so clean. This sounds like it was quite an adventure with plenty of exercise. Yum and we all like Cheddar 🙂

  17. Norma says:

    The lion definitely looks friendly and appears to have been carved by someone. It reminded me of Narnia. It certainly seems to be an interesting place with added nature’s beauty to it.
    Beautiful photos, Millie. 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      The lion captures everyone’s attention, and it is actually known as Lion’s Rock. From the side, it actually looks like the body, too. I’ve been wanting to see this gorge for years, but we’ve never got round to it until now. Thanks Norma. 🙂

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