Cheddar Gorge & Wells,


5th - 7th February




This was, to my knowledge at least, the first visit of our hiking club to Cheddar Gorge. It was the first walk of the 2010 season and a month before my much-anticipated departure to South America and my Patagonian adventure - in fact I had soon acquired the nom de plume of Patagonian Pete, courtesy of John Adams, the rascal, who had another trick up his sleeve. The hostel itself, allied to the YHA, is located in the heart of the town of Cheddar, between the A371 and B3135. It is compact, well-equipped, as well as being neat and tidy. The room allocation was organised as follows:


John Adams

Room 1 x 4

Tim Porter

Room 1 x 4

Peter Mathews

Room 1 x 4

Sandra Bird

Room 2 x 4

Mick Witherden

Room 2 x 4

Steve Rogers

Room 3 x 4

Jane Sherry

Room 3 x 4

Maeve Weber

Room 4 x 4

Andy Weber

Room 4 x 5

Bob Smith

Room 5 x 4

Gordon Farquhar

Room 5 x 4

Clive Knapman

Room 5 x 4

John Robertson

Room 5 x 4

Anne Young

Room 6 x 2

Phil Newton

Room 6 x 2

Peter Groves

Room 7 x 2


Cheddar Gorge is a limestone gorge in the Mendip Hills, near the village of Cheddar in Somerset, England. The gorge is the site of the Cheddar show caves, where Britain's oldest complete Human skeleton, Cheddar Man, estimated to be 9,000 years old, was found in 1903. Older remains from the Upper late Palaeolithic era (12,000–13,000 years ago) have been found. Of most significance to a history lover is Gough Cave, rediscovered at the end of the 19th century by Richard Gough when he started exploring the mouth of a cave recently vacated by its elderly female inhabitant. Inside he found a mud and boulder choke and he laboured for six years, with the help of his six able sons, to open up the spectacular chambers hidden behind the choke. Gough's example is the largest cave, with half a mile of magnificent caverns carved out by the actions of an ancient river (there is still a river flowing beneath the cave), which contain stalactites and stalagmites.

Cheddar Gorge, including the caves and other attractions, has become a tourist destination. In a 2005 poll of Radio Times readers, following its appearance on the 2005 television programme Seven Natural Wonders, Cheddar Gorge was named as the second greatest natural wonder in Britain, surpassed only by Dan yr Ogof caves. The gorge attracts about 500,000 visitors per year. My Tom Tom satellite navigation insisted that the way down to Cheddar Gorge was via the centre of Bristol. I arrived on the Friday, though on this occasion, despite the pre-determined room allocation, I was to share a room with a number of folk, including Clive Knapman, a seasoned hiker, who subsequently gave me some advice on rucksacks and preparation for my Patagonian trip.



Along the B3135 towards Cheddar Gorge.


Walking up the The Cliffs (on the B3135) past the Riverside Inn, to locate the actual start of the Cheddar Gorge path.


The car park at the base of The Cliffs (on the B3135) cutting through the gorge.


The gorge was formed by meltwater floods during the cold periglacial periods which have occurred over the last 1.2 million years. During the ice ages permafrost blocked the caves with ice and frozen mud and made the limestone impermeable. When this melted during the summers water was forced to flow on the surface, and carved out the gorge. During warmer periods the water flowed underground through the permeable limestone, creating the caves and leaving the gorge dry, so that today much of the gorge has no river until the underground Cheddar Yeo emerges in the lower part from Gough's Cave. The river is used by Bristol Waters, who maintain a series of dams and ponds which supply the nearby Cheddar Reservoir.

Two main caves are open to the public – the extensive Gough's Cave and the smaller Cox's Cave, named after their respective discoverers. Both are known for their geology, and it has been suggested that the caves were the site of prehistoric cheese-making. Gough's cave, which was discovered in 1903, leads around 400 metres into the rock-face, and contains a variety of large rock chambers and formations. Cox's Cave, discovered in 1837, is smaller but contains many intricate formations. A further cave houses a children's entertainment walk known as the "Crystal Quest". The Gorge's many caves are home to colonies of Greater and Lesser horseshoe bats.


View of Cheddar Gorge from above along the Weir Mendip Way.


View of the town of Cheddar from the West Mendip Way and Cheddar Reservoir.


Tim Porter chases after a feral goat. Desperate measures perhaps?


A feral goat wanders by along the path on the southern side of Cheddar Gorge.


View of the upper reaches of Cheddar Gorge with the town below and Cheddar Reservoir.


Along the path in Black Rock reserve after crossing the B3135.


Since the hostel was located in the residential area of Cheddar, this requires navigation through part of the town in order to reach the start of the Cheddar Gorge walk, passing the Riverside Inn and Restaurant up to the car park located on the left-hand side, at the base of the road cutting through the gorge, along The Cliffs (on the B3135). This is where, on the opposite side of the road, a stairway known as Jacob's Ladder leads off to the right, joining a path running along the southern side of the gorge. At the top of Jacob's Ladder is an iron lookout tower, with 48 steps leading to a circular viewing platform. Here we found a couple of feral goats, having been introduced for the purposes of conservation grazing, to control the spread of undesirable scrub. When feral goats reach large populations in habitats which are not adapted to them, they may become an invasive species with serious negative effects, such as removing native scrub, trees and other vegetation. From here the path continues along what is known as the West Mendip Way, reaching the B3135 at the top of the gorge at Black Rock, near a small car park. Crossing the road, a distinctive track cuts through woods in Black rock Nature Reserve, reaching a disused quarry.


Tea break at the quarries in Black Rock Reserve.


Tim Porter and Clive Knapman (he's the one sporting the doily); Bob Smith and John Robertson.


Anne Young and Jane Sherry.




On the wetlands of the Mendip Hills.


Here we stopped for a tea break though temperatures seemed to have dropped and I was certainly beginning to feel colder. Further along, the forest gave way to rolling hills, wetlands and grassland. Instead of turning west along the West Mendip Way, we continued straight on. This was Blackmoor Reserve, a landscape altered by lead mining during the industrial age, now being reclaimed by nature. Long before the arrival of the Roman Legions in Britain, the ancient Britons discovered lead within the Mendip hills. It was close to the surface making it easy to get at with hand tools. Lead mining continued with the Romans and the Victorians reworking the site. As new technologies developed, the slag heaps could be worked again. This was truly an industrial landscape with many workers, even children, buildings and chimneys, clouds of smoke, a light railway and horses with carts taking the lead to Bristol for sale. Lead from Mendip has been found as fishing weights in medieval villages on the Somerset levels. All that is left of nearly 2000 years of mining history, remains locked into the landscape.



Wetlands and grassland reclaim a landscape where lead was mined for nearly 2000 years.


Blackmoor Reserve, a landscape restored and reclaimed after being sculptured during industrial age lead mining.


Cows grazing on the muddy landscape near Charterhouse, Mendip Hills.


Crossing the muddy Mendip Hills landscape.


At the entrance to Rowberrow Warren pine platation.



Passin through Rowberrow Warren plantation. John Adams, Andy Weber and Phil Newton.


Crossing the wetlands shrouded in mist, I stopped to remove a fleece from my rucksack so as to apply another layer of clothing. It was then that I noticed a few stones in the pack, realising instantly that they had obviously been placed their deliberately by someone. John Adams owned up later as the guilty party, justifying his actions by saying that I needed them to improve my fitness levels for my forth coming Patagonian trip. Passing between Manor and Warren Farms close to Charterhouse, a hamlet in the Mendip Hills AONB, we reached a road very close to a Roman fort. Turning west, we continued on across the muddy landscape until we reached the pine forest plantations at Rowberrow Warren, just east of Shipham. Passing through the plantation, we turned south-east and emerged along a path near Tynings Farm. from here we walked along a minor road for a while, passing Ashridge Farm in the process. The road reached a dead-end and we found ourselves on a path once more that lead us directly back into the town of Cheddar.


Rowberrow Warren pine plantation.


The sun filters through the pines within Rowberrow Warren plantation.


Emerging from the plantation near Tynings Farm, east of Shipham.


Tynings Farm, east of Shipham, with Rowberrow Warren pine plantation in the background.


Heading south along the road from Tynings Farm to Ashridge Farm back towards Cheddar.


North Street Chapel in Cheddar, home to a group of evangelical Christians.


In the evening, we headed off to a pub in Cheddar for dinner. This may have been at the Kings Head in Silver Street, though I do not recall the event. On the way back on the Sunday, I paid a visit to Wells and its splendid Cathedral, where I met before passing by Stonehenge, which I had never seen before. It was a splendid weekend though I would not describe the walk as being particularly challenging or spectacular, however, there is sufficient of interest in Cheddar to warrant revisiting again one day, particularly with a view to exploring the caves.


[UK - index] [Home Page]

[Cheddar - 1] [Wells - 2] [Wells - 3]


Links to other websites:

Cheddar Gorge hostel - webpage

Mendip Hills AONB - website

Cheddar village - website

Cheddar Gorge cheese - a website

Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole, home of spooks, cannibals and witches - website

Sacred destinations: Wells Cathedral - webpage