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Enjoy the beauty of Cheddar gorge and caves
Cheddar Gorge in General
Member Name: alyson29
Cheddar Gorge in General
Date: 18/10/11, updated on 18/10/11 (142 review reads)
Advantages: So much to see and do, fantastic Gorge and caves
Disadvantages: None for me
~~ A LITTLE HISTORY ABOUT CHEDDAR ~~
Before I begin talking about my memorable visits to this pretty town I'd like to briefly touch on its' history. I learned something extremely interesting on the Cheddar Village website and that is that in 1130 AD the stunning Gorge, which are Britain's highest inland limestone cliffs, was known as one of the Four Wonders of England. Cheddar is of course, famous for its' delicious cheese, which has been in production since 1170 AD. It was during the 17th and 18th centuries that Cheddar began to grind corn with its' watermills and commence the production of paper. I further learned that extensive clothing was produced during the Victorian period.
I found it extremely fascinating researching the history of this quaint little village, particularly as I have visited time and time again and never really thought about it. The village began its' popularity during 1869/1870 due to the construction of the railway, which was affectionately known as The Strawberry Line, as it passed fields full of delicious strawberries. The construction of the railway brought considerable tourism into the area and enabled the mouth watering fruits to be transported throughout the country, but sadly ceased in operational in 1965. Fields are full of strawberries to this very day and can be purchased on the side of the road within the village and nearby villages. Whilst The Strawberry Line no longer carries trains, you are able to take a walk and witness the sights that it used to pass.
~~ WHAT IS THERE TO SEE AND DO IN CHEDDAR? ~~
Whilst I would not describe the village as huge I would advise that there are so many different tourist attractions on offer; all of which we have visited on numerous occasions although there is one that I will never visit again and will explain further on in my review. I'll begin with our journey into Cheddar, which is always made my car during the Spring/Summer and Autumn months. The words that perfectly describe Cheddar are quaint and tranquil, as whilst it is always busy there seems to be a real sense of calmness amongst the visitors with nobody rushing around, as everyone always seems to be walking slowly and enjoying the sense of relaxation and beautiful sights that lay before them.
As car parking can become quite problematic in Cheddar, which I will later discuss, we always decide to initially drive up the Gorge so that we can park our car quickly and enjoy the remainder of the attractions on foot. I would point out here that tours to the Gorge are available on an open top double decker bus (when it is not raining) and it leaves the centre of the village at regular intervals; the prices of which I will provide at the end of my review. However, whilst we enjoyed the bus trip (which if my memory serves me correctly, takes about twenty minutes) we prefer to use our own car to enable us to stop when we want and capture some precious images without having to dodge somebody's head!
The bonus of travelling on the bus is that you are provided with a guided commentary for the length of your journey. However, I would advise that the buses have a steep step, so are not suitable for anyone in a wheelchair and could be somewhat difficult for those with mobility problems. Transcripts of the commentary are available for those with hearing difficulties. Our car journey takes us directly through the small village and past all of the attractions, eating places and gift shops when the road starts to slightly narrow and considerably steepen.
Initially there is very little to see, as to the left and right hand sides are simply rocks, but as we continue to drive we will soon witness the most spectacular and breathtaking views that have to be seen to be believed. Sites of real interest on the journey through the prehistoric river bed will take us past millponds, which are home to colonies of water voles. The road begins to twist and turn as it reaches Horseshoe Bed, so it is advisable to keep to a reasonable speed and not overtake. The road is marked with double yellow lines on both sides, but there are a few pull ins where we can stop our car to enable us to step outside and capture a few fabulous shots. The Gorge is one of the most famous places in England for climbers and on each occasion that we have visited we have witnessed a number of people braving the climb where they are fitted with safety harnesses and ropes.
The journey then takes us beneath three slender rocks that stand 450 feet high and are named The Pinnacles and this magnificent site is most definitely worth a photograph although I would advise that we do not have this image, as it's impossible to take in a moving car and quite a walk from one of the pull in areas. We are soon able to witness the sites of Peregrine falcons who rear their chicks on the rocks and again, this is a most memorable site. If you are intending to drive up through the Gorge it is always advisable to carry out your journey early in the morning, particularly as many of the pull in areas are full and we have been disappointed in the past as we were not able to find anywhere to stop the car. Consequently, when this occurs I always seem to end up driving whilst my husband hangs out of the passenger window in an attempt to capture images when we're on the mood, which normally ends up with him declaring that I'm driving too fast!
~~ THE CAVES ~~
There are numerous caves at Cheddar, but only two are open to the public, namely Gough's Cave and Cox's Cave. What I enjoy about visiting the caves in Cheddar is that you do not need to be accompanied by a tour guide, so can wander around at your own leisure with the aid of a telephone style device, which is included in the price of the ticket and is handed to you at the entrance. I prefer to be able to listen to the commentary in my ear as I can rewind if I am unclear of something and it is easy to operate by selecting the appropriate numbers that correspondent with the relevant areas within the caves. The devices can operate in numerous languages and the appropriate language is selected by pressing the relevant button.
There are transcripts and audio loop systems available for those with impaired sight and hearing although I am not aware if there is an additional cost. As the floor can be quite slippery in areas it is advisable to wear appropriate footwear as you walk around the one way system. The visions in front of us inside Gough's Cave are difficult to describe, as they are absolutely outstanding where we were able to witness the captivating stalagmites and stalactites that have beautifully formed over thousands of years and the array of different colours is simply breathtaking. Unfortunately, taking photographs in some areas is rather difficult due to the lack of lighting in their caves and there are some areas where flash photography is not allowed. There are various chambers to visit within the cave, such as St Paul's Cathedral and Solomon's Temple and I have uploaded some images of these for you to see.
Each time my husband and I visit we are totally lost for words as we stand there in silence taking in the fantastic splendour that the caves have to offer their visitors. Clever lighting is used within the caves to accentuate specific areas and I'm not intending to say any more about this, as it will spoil the excitement if you've not previously visited. Whilst some visitors choose not to use the audio guide my husband and I always listen to ours as we walk around as we are informed of what actually happened thousands of years ago in specific areas within the cave, such as the creation of The Ice Age. What I find so difficult to grasp is that some 14,700 years ago our ancestors were living in Gough's Cave and evidence would suggest that they were cannibals.
The cave displays a replica of the skeleton of what has become known as "Cheddar Man" who is believed to have lived 9,000 years ago and is the oldest complete skeleton in Britain with the original being conserved in The National History Museum. Following your walk around the cave you are able to visit the Cheddar Man Museum, which offers some fascinating exhibits and information. The history of Gough's Cave is truly captivated, particularly as it began its' formation some 500,000 years ago, which seems a little difficult to comprehend, particularly when you look at it today. Further on in the caves we are able to witness a rather pongy aroma, which is the maturing of Cheddar Cheese, which is made in the same way that it was 100 years ago. It is fascinating to witness the huge circular shapes of cheese and as someone who adores cheese I would love to sneak a few of them in my handbag and take them home although I would need an extremely large handbag! Some areas within the caves are unsuitable for wheelchairs due to their slopes and the fact that they are rather wet underfoot.
Cox's Cave was named after George Cox who discovered it in 1837 and on entry you are handed a telephone style guide identical to that used in Gough's Cave. Cox's Cave is just as magnificent and offers beautiful mirror pools that offer an appearance of total relaxation and tranquillity with their waters lying still. Throughout the caves we are able to witness haunting choral music, which, in combination with the clever lighting is intended to deliver a spiritual experience. The sights of the beautiful stalagmites and stalactites are simply breathtaking and I found myself standing and staring in total amazement. Both my husband and I found this cave a little difficult to walk around, particularly as the walkways and steps are very narrow, which were a little problematic as my husband has mobility problems. Consequently, it is not suitable for wheelchairs or pushchairs.
The magical part of this cave is The Crystal Quest, which I am not going to discuss in my review, as I do not want to spoil the experience, but I can highly recommend it. However, whilst funny, this section is somewhat frightening, so may not be suitable for children or those with a nervous disposition. Although I have visited this area on many occasions I would advise that it scares me to death on each and every one of them! There is a warning on the door before you enter this section and I would advise that strobe lighting is used, so it may not be suitable for everybody. Whilst both of the caves are fairly dark throughout, pathways are clearly lit and there is adequate lighting to enable you to witness the true glory of what is inside. As you can imagine the caves are extremely cold and offer a damp feeling, so it is advisable to wear something warm. Situated at the exit of both of the caves are large baskets so that you can return your guide.
~~ JACOB'S LADDER ~~
This is a journey I have taken on two occasions, but never again! Jacob's ladder consists of 247 steps (yes, I've counted them!), which are located on the side of the Gorge. There are hand rails for the entire length of the steps and four sit down areas, as there is no way I could ever have made the journey in one go without stopping! Obviously, Jacob's Ladder is not suited for those with mobility problems, wheelchairs and pushchairs. When I eventually reached the top (some 20 minutes later) the reviews that greeted me were totally breathtaking, as I was able to see for miles upon miles. For those who wish to climb even further the 48 steps of the Lookout Tower will enable you to have a 360 degrees view of some breathtaking sites, such as the steep sided valley of Cheddar Gorge and the hilltop plateau.
The views are absolutely spectacular and a climb to the Lookout Tower is perfect for those who love photography. Our last visit saw us enjoying a picnic on one of the many picnic benches situated directly at the top of Jacob's Ladder before we regained our strength to make the journey back down. However, the Lookout Tower is only accessible via the 247 steps, so I'm unlikely to ever see it again, particularly as my husband found it very difficult due to his limited mobility and he joined me at the top a considerable time later. You can choose to take a Cliff Top walk although this is something I have never done, particularly as I have a terrible fear of heights! The walk back down the steps was something that I found very nerving, as whilst there are sturdy and secure handrails, I was fearful that I was going to fall forwards and end up in a heap at the bottom. Thankfully, visitors were all very polite and nobody pushed or shoved, which is a frequent occurrence on escalators and steps of shopping malls.
~~ SHOPPING, OTHER ACTIVITIES AND PLACES TO EAT ~~
All of the shops in Cheddar can be described as quaint, as the majority are small high quality gift shops as opposed to selling sticks of rock and candy floss. I have a fascination for teddy bears and love browsing the shelves of The Gorge Bear Company, which you can choose from a huge variety of different styles of teddy bear and soft toys. If you wish to take a step back in time you can visit the Cheddar Sweet Kitchen and watch and smell the beautiful sweets being created and make a selection for purchase from the huge choices available. You can enjoy a game of crazy golf and then decide to enjoy a tasty cream tea in one of the adorable cafes or eat a meal in one of the restaurants or pubs. I cannot speak of eating in any of the restaurants or pubs, as we've always taken a picnic and have enjoyed eating it by the River Yeo that runs through the centre of Cheddar where we watch the world to by. However, we have frequently had a cup of tea in one of the small cafes or a glass of lemonade in the pub garden, which is located directly in the centre of the village. There is a Toy Museum located in the village, which is a delightful place to visit and conjures up many happy memories of my childhood toys (although I would hasten to add that mine weren't as old!).
~~ STAYING IN CHEDDAR ~~
As Cheddar is not too far from our home we have never stayed overnight, but there is a wealth of information located on the Visit Somerset website where you are able to choose from hundreds of bed and breakfasts, hotels, cottages and caravans.
~~ CAR PARKING ~~
As previously stated, car parking is often problematic, particularly if you arrive later in the day, so we have always ensured that we arrive by 10 am at the latest. There are a few pay and display car parks; one of which is named Cliff Street Pay and Display and offers 150 spaces; 6 of which are allocated free of charge for disabled drivers. There are three car parks located around the Gorge location; two of which have room for 50 cars and the other for 300 cars and these are free from the end of October until half term in February. Unfortunately, I am unable to advise of car parking charges, as my husband is a blue badge holder and we've always been fortune in obtaining a free space. However, when I was married to my first husband and I can recall that charges were very reasonable, as we would often stay for the entire day. There is a warning when leaving your car near to the Gorge, as rocks will often fall and owners leave their cars at their own risk. Fortunately, I am unable to report of ever having to return to a battered car!
~~ TOILETS AND BABY CHANGING FACILITIES ~~
The toilets are clean, tidy and well stocked and are located at Cliff Street car park, Costa Coffee (which is above Gough's Cave) and in the centre of the Dag's Hole Shopping Centre. Disabled facilities are located at both Costa Coffee toilets and Dag's Hole. Baby changing facilities are available at the toilets at Costa Coffee.
~~ PRICES ~~
You can purchase a Gorge and Caves Explorer ticket for the cost of £17.80 per adult and £11.50 per child. Children under 5 years of age are able to gain entrance to all of the attractions free of charge. There is a 10% discount if purchasing your tickets online. The Gorge and Caves Explorer ticket will give access to all of the attractions, as below where you are able to visit each attraction once:-
* Gough's cave inclusive of audio guide
* Cheddar Man Museum
* Cox's Cave and The Crystal Quest
* The Lookout Tower
* Cliff Top Gorge Walk
* Gorge Open-top Bus Tour
Unfortunately, individual tickets cannot be purchased for each attraction, which I find frustrating, particularly as I have visited them on numerous occasions and would like to have a choice at those I'd like to see again.
~~ GETTING TO CHEDDAR ~~
Cheddar is easily accessible by road where need to exit the M5 at Junction 22 and follow the clearly labelled signposts of Cheddar. The nearest railway station is Weston-Super-Mare, which is located some 10 miles away and there are regular bus services. The nearest airport is Bristol International, which is located 14 miles from Cheddar.
As I am sure you have guessed by now, I absolutely adore Cheddar, as it is the perfect day out and offers visitors a wonderful and breathtaking experience.
I hope you found my review useful and would thank you for reading.
This review also appears on Ciao under the same user name.
Summary: A simply perfect day out
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