Cheddar Gorge & Caves: simply gorgeous

Date Posted: 06/10/2016

Three words and an ampersand. I’ve been at Cheddar Gorge & Caves for little over ten minutes and I already know that its name doesn’t really do it justice.

Neither do the in-a-nutshell descriptions of the area that you’ll find through search engines, which refer to it simply as Britain’s biggest gorge.

The best way to explain what this pretty part of Somerset has to offer is to start with the stats. There are officially six attractions to explore here. There are two caves, a museum, an open-top bus tour, a look-out tower and a cliff top walking trail.

But, as I discovered on my visit, the experience on offer here is more than just a sum of parts.

I started my visit with the open top bus tour, which follows the calligraphic curls of the B3135 up through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

This short bus tour isn’t just about taking in the scenery. The trip comes with a Trivial Pursuit style commentary on the quirks of the region.

Cliff top

Pictured: Views from the top of Cheddar Gorge.

In quick fire, you find out about the dipper birds that walk up the stream in the gorge, completely submerged by water. You learn the names of the various rock formations in the limestone, such as The Lion Rock and Priest’s Rock, and the reasons behind their titles. And you discover more about the eccentric local landowner Roland Pavey, who attempted to fly off the tops of various parts of the gorge using whale bones and skin for wings. And that’s just a few spoilers.

At the end of the tour, the bus conveniently deposits visitors at the entrance to Gough’s Cave, where the facts keep coming. Everyone who enters here receives an audio guide, which details the history and geography of the cave.

The information is intriguing. You’ll find out why there are coins cemented into certain parts of the rock face inside the cave. You’ll learn about the discovery of Cheddar Man – the oldest intact skeleton to ever be found in Britain. And you’ll discover how it took the cave’s first explorer Richard Gough eight back-breaking years to clear the cave of debris in order to make it accessible to the public.

But this cave is as much about beauty as it is about brains. There’s a quarter mile or so of the earth’s inner architecture to admire. The various rock formations along the sides of the walkways resemble everything from fanged jaws to beehives. And naturally-formed pools of water act as mirrors to shelves of stalactites and stalagmites, giving parts of the cave a fun-house effect.  

cave

Pictured: Inside Cox's Cave.

In areas, the subterranean passageways open out into underground vaults with names like St Paul’s and the Diamond Chamber – nature’s Grand Designs.
The time dissolves while you’re inside Gough’s Cave.

And while I was there, I found myself understanding why adventurer David Lafferty chose this place to set the World Underground Endurance Record by spending 130 continuous days in the cave, living off 112 cigarettes, 100 gallons of water, three-quarters of a ton of tinned and dried food, 1,438 candles and 200 books.

The natural place to go after an internment in Gogh’s Cave is to the Museum of Pre-History, where there are exhibits on the timeline of Cheddar Gorge and the sorts of tools early humans used when they were living in the caves of the region.

There’s an element of CSI to this place, too. As, just by the exit, there’s a display where you can investigate the concept of cannibalism in the caves of Cheddar. Magnifying glasses let you take closer looks at the skulls of humans that were found in the cave, that display evidence that they might have been eaten by other humans.

If you follow the hill from the top of Cheddar Gorge down to the bottom, you’ll arrive at Cox’s Cave next. This is where the new DreamHunters multimedia experience has been installed. As part of this attraction, animated films are projected onto walls in the cave. You’ll see wolves stalking early man and early cave inhabitants learning to make fires. It’s theatrical and sometimes eerie.

Colourful rocks

Pictured: A colouful rock formation in the caves.

At the bottom of Cheddar Gorge, before the road leads out of the valley, you’ll find the final two of the six attractions on offer.

The first is Jacob’s Ladder – a series of 274 steps that end in eagle’s nest views of Cheddar Gorge and the Mendip Hills at a lookout tower. On a fine day you can see out over the green drifts of the Mendip Hills all the way across to Bournemouth in the distance.

The sixth attraction is the three-mile cliff-top walk. The route has a National Geographic quality to it. From various vantages you’ll be able to spot rare animals like the Soay sheep and – if you’re lucky – peregrine falcons.

Of course, when you’ve got your ticket clipped at all six of Cheddar Gorge’s official attractions, there’s more to experience.

This valley has its chef’s hat on. There are options for places to eat all along its breadth. Pop into the sweet shops for a few pieces of fudge, try a Cheddar cream tea, or duck into the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company dairy and shop to watch live as cheese is being made, and to sample a few varieties – including the cheddar that you’ll have seen being matured inside Gough’s Cave.

Fudge

Pictured: A fudge shop at Cheddar Gorge.

For thrill seekers there’s a menu of adventure experiences on offer. Sign up to Houdini your way out of the adventure caves that lay beyond Gough’s Cave, or try rock climbing on one of Cheddar’s 50-foot cliffs with a qualified Rocksport instructor. 

I left Cheddar Gorge laden with cheese, fudge, facts, and the confidence that this is a – excuse the cheese pun – cracker of a destination for group trips. It places all the group favourites right into the palm of a GTO’s hand.

Group benefits at Cheddar Gorge & Caves

FREE tickets for group travel organisers who are visiting with a party of 30 or more.

FREE coach parking all day.

FREE coach driver’s ticket plus voucher for refreshments per group booking.

FREE adult caving or climbing for groups of ten or more. 

FREE adult caving or climbing for a group of six or more children

01934-742343
groups@cheddargorge.co.uk

www.cheddargorge.co.uk

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