Address: Cheddar, Somerset

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Cheddar Gorge History

The gorge and the caves go pretty much hand in hand in making this one of the natural wonders of the world. It’s the result of water flowing through the area for millions of years, with the caves being formed as the water disappeared below ground before rising back to the surface. Huge cave systems have been formed and these are still being formed to this day. The gorge itself is the result of the same water flow, but during the ice age, the underground caves were blocked and the water stayed above ground eroding away the relatively soft rock.

The gorge consists of near vertical cliffs on the south side and steep grassy slopes on the north side. The land on the south side is owned by the National Trust and the north side land belongs to the Marquis of Bath’s estate. To help the biodiversity of the area, goats were introduced on the north side a few years ago.

The main cave, Gough’s Cave, dates from 100,000 years ago and provided a living area for locals at the end of the ice age. It was discovered in the 1890’s by adventurer Richard Gough. The first stalactite cave was discovered in 1837 by George Cox, who was Gough’s uncle, and it proved such a public attraction that other adventurers explored the area hoping to make a similar find.

Before his discovery, Gough was a retired sea captain and dug in the caves in his spare time. He’d already uncovered a minor cave and one that is now situated above the Explorer’s cafĂ© bar. In 1890 with his two sons, he dug at the end of a small cave and soon discovered bigger and bigger passages. He continued exploring and in 1892 he connected into ‘The Fonts’ and in 1893, after blasting through 4 metres of rock, he reached the ‘Grand Passage’. He finally completed his work five years later in connecting to ‘St Pauls’ and ‘Diamond Chamber’. There are further passages in the cave, but these are only used by experienced cavers or by paying public who are led on trips by an experienced guide.

Work continued and in 1903, excavations near the cave entrance discovered a skeleton of a cave dweller that dated back 9,000 years. It’s the oldest complete skeleton found in Britain and is named ‘Cheddar Man’. Older bones were found further into the cave and the flint and bone that were discovered are now on show in the museum. The furthest point in the cave system inhabited thousands of years ago was ‘The Fonts’, and in this area we can see a drawing of a mammoth carved into the rock.

To make the cave accessible to the public, huge amounts of mud and rock have been excavated from the floor allowing visitors to walk on a clean concrete floor with plenty of headroom.

The great underground river, the Cheddar Yeo, produces a water flow of a cubic metre a second yet still remains relatively unexplored. It rises above ground towards the entrance of Gough’s Cave.

The other main cave, Cox’s, is the oldest. Founded by George Cox who was moving limestone near his water mill when discovering it. Again formed by an underground river, it has some amazing stalagmites and stalactites, with the stalagmites being highly coloured due to various mineral deposits. These amazing columns are made by dripping water over tens of thousands of years.

The area is visited by half a million tourists a year and there’s certainly plenty to do around the gorge. There’s rock climbing and abseiling, both of which can be booked near Gough’s Cave entrance. There’s also Jacob’s Ladder, a 274 step climb up to the top of the gorge on the south side from where tourists can make the 3-mile round trip along the cliff top, down to the bottom of the gorge before walking up the other side and then back to the village.

 

Cheddar Gorge Visit

The whole place revolves around the movement of water over rock for millions of years. The rocks form huge vertical sides to this famous gorge and the road at the bottom is a series of zigzags of between five and thirty yards wide, going up the hill out of the village for about half a mile. Inside the rock face to the side of the gorge is where the caves are situated. As the place is a natural passing point for water, there are watermills in the village.

The general set up is that you have the village at the bottom of the moderately steep road, and when you move slightly up the road, you come to shops and buildings specifically geared to the commercial aspect of the caves and gorge. There are cave entrances, rock climbing opportunities, tour bus departures as well as a host of cafes. These then stop abruptly as the gorge starts.

As you can imagine, for an area that’s one of the UK’s top natural phenomena, thousands of people visit and the parking problem is solved by simply allowing parking at the side of the road along the gorge itself. The rock faces are hundreds of feet high and almost vertical in places and the zigzagging gorge floor varies in width from a few yards, just enough to get one vehicle through at one point, to maybe up to thirty yards in others.

The road obviously takes priority, but then any space that exists between the road and the edge of the gorge is used for parking. They can thus get parking spaces for hundreds of cars. The later you arrive, the higher up the gorge you’re likely to park.