The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, The Cliffs, Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, BS27 3QA
Tel: 01934 742810 „
My review of The Cheddar Gorge Rural Village.
Nestled among the Mendip Hills in North Somerset is the Cheddar Gorge Village, with it's spectacular cliffs, extensive cave system and the tourist shops that have grown up along the one main street that runs from Tweentown uphill past the cave entrances and finally up into the Gorge itself... But I'd like to concentrate my review on the top part of the village; the caves and museum.
My Opinion/ Features
I know Cheddar very well and have been visiting since I was a kid; what first drew me there were the caves... which were inhabited by our ancestors while they waited for various hapless animals to wonder up the Gorge (the Gorge made an ideal ambush place for woolly mammoth etc). There's even some evidence to suggest that the cave inhabitants may have also been cannibals -lol!
So what's any of this got to do with the village? Well one of the more interesting tourist bits (part of the Cheddar Cave experience) is the museum -which is near the top of the main road, almost at the start of the gorge proper.
In the museum is the skeleton of Cheddar Man one of the oldest complete skeletons to be found in Britain... and amazingly a DNA test a few years back showed Cheddar Man to be distantly related to the town's local school teacher!!!
Underneath the museum is the entrance to one of the cave networks (there are three accessible to the public; Gough's cave Cox's cave and a 3rd fantasy cave that's very Lord of the Rings inspired...
The caves themselves are truly spectacular -many people wrongly believe that special lighting is used in Gough's and Cox's caves to colour the rocks; this is not true -the colurs are the result of the various minerals in the rocks.
The caves are a surprisingly good place to visit in really hot or really cold weather because the temperature is very constant deep underground -so no matter which temperature extreme you've left outside; in the caves it's always a comfortable unchanging temperature. (The caves are usually open all year round -so feel free to visit out of season).
The only artificial addition to the caves (bar the essential walkways, hand rails and electric lighting) are pools of water that are added where beautiful stalactite/mite formations are difficult to view directly... But thanks to the little pools of watr you can still see everything by simply looking at the reflection on the pool; a truly brilliant idea.
You are free to move at your own pace, unaccompanied through the caves -you can pause and listen to the recorded commentary or rush of ahead; the choice is yours... and dog lovers will be pleased to know you can take your pet in too!! I often do... and there's a little story about my dog that I'll share with you in a moment :-)
Value for money wise the caves aren't cheap, but you do get a lot for your money; a ticket includes entry to all 3 caves, the museum, an open top guided tour of the Gorge, and a special entrance up onto the cliffs (called Jacobs Ladder) which leads to a look out tower where you can see as far as the Bristol Channel, South Wales and Wiltshire.... (please note though that it is possible to get up to the look out tower (legally) without paying by going a longer route; which is worth knowing if you're on a budget day out!).
A great feature of the ticket is that any part of it that you don't use (for e.g. if you spend so long in one of the caves that you didn't have time to see the others and the museum etc) then you can come back another day or month or would you believe year! an carry on here you left off -your ticket is still valid for the attractions you haven't yet 'done'. Yes; the unused part of your ticket remains valid for (and you might want to sit down for this one -lol!!) 10 Years -yes you read it right 10 YEARS! Now you can't argue with that kind of customer service :-)
Finally I'd like to mention the most misunderstood part of the cave experience; the 3rd cave ...sometimes called the Crystal Quest; because there's a bit of an adventure story/game here for children and the young at heart, where you have to defeat a life size evil dragon....
The 3rd cave is NOT (and never was portrayed as) one of the real caves... it's purely a bit of fun/entertainment for those who want it -it's a fake world full of goblin like models (full size) 'hidden' among the 'rocks' only to be exposed by sudden clever lighting changes (the 3rd fantasy cave is the only place coloured lighting is used), there are also holograms, the huge dragon I mentioned earlier... and the largest plasma ball I've ever seen/played with in my life (you know; those crystal ball shaped things you touch and a colourful electric spark jumps harmlessly inside the glass towards your hand).
The fantasy cave is wonderful fun - but because it's just a bit of harmless entertainment, you can skip it if you only wanted to see the proper caves; as there's an exit to the outside that skips the Crystal Quest... But if you have children, don't miss the 3rd 'cave' cuz they are going to love the Dragon, Goblins and Plasma Ball!
I get a little annoyed with some of the reviews which try to make out that the 3rd cave is actually a real, geologically and archeologically important site that's been ruined by over commercialisation- lol!!
The Cheddar Cave company make it abundantly clear from the start that the Crystal Quest fantasy it's just a bit of fake fun for youngsters and those who want to be entertained... I don't know why so many people have misunderstood the fantasy cave... they'll be mistaking McDonald's burgers for family heirlooms next :-)
I won't spoil the fun by telling you where or when -but not all the life-size Goblin type models you'll see are quite as lifeless as they first appear... it has (only sometimes) been known for one of the employees to don a cloak and wait motionless amid the many life-size models you see on your journey, to give you a bit of a 'jump' (all done in very good jest!)...
Which brings me nicely back to my dog story -I once took my Great Dane into the fantasy cave; being black he was almost invisible in the cave (despite his great size)... suffice to say that on this one occasion it was the robed employ who got a fright -lol!! We laughed about it outside for ages, the guy was a really good sport (turned out to be a student working temporarily at Cheddar Caves in his holidays!)and indeed in all the years I've been visiting I've always been impressed by the warm friendly staff!
I think there are few places in the UK to rival Cheddar Gorge, for a great day out that keeps the peace -I tend to sod off into the caves and museum while my other half visits all the little touristy shops (that send us men into comas -lol!!); then we meet back up for a picnic on top of the Gorge and everyone's happy!!
If you haven't been -I'd recommend it on your must do list; especially the caves!
Would they hang a neon sign on top of Ayers Rock, a floating McDonalds at Niagara falls, or put a hot dog stall at the Taj Mahal. No I am sure they would not. The question is if you have something of natural beauty how do you encourage people to visit with allowing commercial exploitation to ruin it.
It si a question that the good people responsible for the Cheddar Gorge perhaps need to address again. There are 2 sides to the Cheddar gorge experience. On one hand the views and the caves provide a great spectacle, alas on the other hand it is as tacky as newly dropped chewing gum.
When we visited we went in Cox's cave which is one of the smaller ones. It is very pretty but is a little spoilt by the use of unnatural artificial light patterns and in some areas music. This I felt detracted from the spectacle as it was imposing someone elses view of the cave rather than your own. Outside a walk up Jacob's Ladder is worth if a little tiring for those not fully fit (like me!). Once at the top there is a wooden lookout tower to further help see the distant views. I would say that whilst you can see a long way it is not exactly the most attractive landscape, being a little featureless.
The tacky part of the gorge though comes from the commercialisation. There are too many cheap souvenir shops and naff gift shops. There is a tour bus to take you up and down the gorge which at least has the bonus that if you are on the top deck you are above the tackiness. This is probably the best way to see the gorge.
The Cheddar Gorge is disappointing. I would wonder how many people go once, like me, don't like it and never return. There are better things to do in Somerset.
The rural village is a wonderful place to visit, situated at the Cheddar Gorge in Somerset and has a whole collection of traditional crafts and skills on display here. The village brings together a whole number of the traditional crafts of skills of Somerset and allows you to try and sample many of the products. In the village you can see or try: Cheese making. Cider tasting. Candle making. Fudge kitchen. Cider jar making. Lace making. Pottery. Art Studio. Restaurant. Admission to the village is £1.50 for adults and £1 for children. The centre is open seven days a week from late March until the end of October. (10.00am to 4.00pm) For us the most interesting section was the cheese making. This is a real working dairy and you can watch through large glass windows as the cheese makers work the curds and whey to produce the traditional Cheddar Cheese. There is also a display of the full cheese making process with full descriptions and photographs, that gives very detailed information. Also there is a video playing showing all the different cheese making stages. To produce a round of cheese takes about 7 hours and this company is currently producing two or three rounds per day. After the cheese is made it is then left to mature and this can be anything from 9 months to 2 years. I was totally fascinated by the cheese making and we must have looked very interested because as we were watching the cheeses being made the senior cheese maker came out from the dairy and asked us if we would like to go into the cheese store. This was a great bonus for us as this gentleman informed us that he has been making Cheddar Cheese for 45 years and he kindly spent about half an hour telling us all about the cheese and how it is made and cared for. This was truly fascinating. Admittedly the muslin covered cheeses do not look very appetising in the store as the outside of each round is covered in mould as the c
heeses mature. Each of the rounds weighs 56lb and is worth between £300 and £450 depending on its maturity. There is also the smell. The whole place has the smell of sour milk, but it is well worth putting up with this to see this fascinating exhibition. After looking at the cheese making you can go into the cheese shop where you can taste all of the cheeses at various strengths and ages. Most people, like us, bought some cheese there. You can go into the shop without going to the exhibition and it was busy, especially with people trying cheese after cheese, until they found one that suited their palate. After trying the cheeses you can move over to the cider shop where there is an enormous number of different locally produced ciders, most of which you cannot find outside of the Somerset area. Here you are encouraged to taste the cider and there is a choice of about half a dozen ciders to choose from and try. Just remember if you are driving, because some of these ciders are very strong! In the pottery you can try your hand at making a pot. This is not available all of the time, but times are displayed when you can have a try at pot making. If art is more of an interest to you then you can join a class in the art workshop. Unfortunately the candle making workshop was not open during our visit as I would have liked to have seen that. The restaurant/tea room was open where we enjoyed a pleasant cup of coffee, although it was not the most inviting tea room I have ever been in. It was a bit cold and plain. The shops and workshops are all situated around a pleasant central garden area where there are a number of seats where you can stop and relax for a while. We had a very interesting and enjoyable visit to this craft village and certainly learnt about the rural crafts of Somerset. If you in the Cheddar Gorge area then I would certainly recommend a visit.
Visit our outstanding shop which offers opportunities to taste our cheeses before you buy. Made on site our range includes a selection of handmade traditional cheddars, flavoured cheddars and other speciality cheeses. We also have a spectacu