Image by Lloyd Dirks

The Beautiful Cheddar Gorge

Be blown away by the jaw-dropping beauty of one of the UK’s most spectacular natural wonders!

No trip to Somerset would ever be complete without a visit to Cheddar Gorge, a limestone gorge which was cut by glacial meltwater during the last ice age and situated in the Mendip Hills near the village of Cheddar. At almost 400ft (122m) deep and 3 miles (4.8km) long, this is England's largest gorge, and one of its most spectacular sights. Lying just a few miles to the south of the M5 motorway, driving through the gorge is easily achieved in one of our VW campervans. There is ample room for leisure vehicles, despite the road narrowing to a single lane in one area, and it is certainly an enjoyable road so don’t miss out on this amazing drive.

Our suggestion would be to park up at the bottom of the gorge to explore the village on foot first. There are plenty of shops, including restaurants, pubs, ice cream parlours, cheese companies and coffee houses (some with free wifi), as well as a convenience store if you need any supplies! Once refreshed, you can move up to the parking areas to tackle the gorge on foot, or continue behind the wheel of your camper van for a spectacular drive through the gorge.

The Drive:

The route, winding through the rolling Mendip Hills along the B3135 from Cheddar towards Ashwick, has previously been described as Britain's most scenic drive. Depending on how far you want to drive along this route, also known as Cliff Road, your trip can be between 5 and 14 miles (8 and 23 km) and can include up to 22 bends. The road can be busy, especially during the summer months in the gorge section, so watch out for walkers, cyclists, tourist buses, farm vehicles and animals.

The drive can be split into three sections. The first section offers stunning scenery, with cliff faces rising steeply on either side of the road and plenty of twists and turns as the gorge dictates the route. After about four miles you’ll exit the gorge and begin the second section, with trees taking the place of rocks, and the bends become more sweeping curves. The final section has long straights and gentle gradient changes, giving drivers the chance to enjoy more of the view.

On foot:

Most of the visitor activity in Cheddar Gorge is actually on private land, on the south side. This includes access to the two main show caves and the visitor centre, which is operated by the Longleat-owned company Cheddar Gorge and Caves Ltd. However, there is a public bridleway that passes through it. For free things to do around the gorge, check the National Trust website here.

For most other stuff you will need to purchase a ticket, either for just the walking routes (including Jacob's Ladder) or including access to the cave systems.

There’s so much to see in this area both above and below ground. There’s hiking trails, underground caverns, the famous Jacob’s Ladder, clifftop walks, and a recently-refurbished Lookout Tower where the 360° views, although undoubtedly spectacular, are not for the faint-hearted!

The most famous and popular walking route in Cheddar Gorge is the clifftop walk, shown below. This circular four-mile route, right around the top of the gorge, takes about an hour and a half and is graded as ‘moderate’. Details can be found on the National Trust website here.

However, to reach the walk from the bottom of the gorge you will need to negotiate Jacob’s Ladder. This is the name given to the 274 steps up the side of the gorge, which leads to the start of the walk.

Jacob's Ladder
Lookout Tower

Also at the top is the refurbished, century-old lookout tower. For the modest effort of a further 48-step climb, you can get panoramic, 360° views of the steep-sided valley of Cheddar Gorge, the beautiful Mendip Hills, the lush Somerset Levels, the hilltop plateau and Cheddar reservoir. Well worth the effort!

There’s just as much dramatic scenery to see below ground in this area as there is above. Cheddar Gorge’s cave systems are a definite highlight. The main caves to visit are Cox’s Cave and Gough’s Cave. These were formed around half a million years ago by water dissolving the limestone rock.

Gough's Cave

Excavated in 1890, Gough’s Cave is a particular favourite of ours. The cave is 377 ft (115 m) deep and is 2.12 miles (3.405 km) long, and contains a variety of large chambers and rock formations. It contains the Cheddar Yeo, the largest underground river system in Britain. In here you can find the story of Cheddar Man, a prehistoric hunter-gatherer who lived around 9,000 years ago. His bones, forming the oldest complete skeleton ever found in Britain, were unearthed in the cave in 1903. You can find more information on Cheddar Gorge’s cave systems here.

So, if you're ever in this area, Cheddar Gorge is a sight you really MUST NOT miss!

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