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Cheddar and Cheddar Gorge

The village of Cheddar is a popular tourist area in Somerset and has a long history, having been an important Roman and Saxon Centre. There was a royal palace at Cheddar during the Saxon period, the ruins of which were excavated in the 1960s and are located on the grounds of The Kings of Wessex School. Cheddar was listed in the Doomsday Book of 1086 as ‘Ceder’. The village now is a mixture of old and new, housing many old cottages, Victorian houses, shops, a post office, a small library and five pubs. The parish church, built between 1380 and 1480, has a perpendicular 100ft tower and close by are the medieval Church Farm Buildings.At the end of Church Street there is a 15th century preaching cross. The Gorge, at Cheddar, was recognised as one of the ‘Four Wonders of England’ as early as 1130 AD, and following a recent television programme, has now been named as the second natural wonder in Britain, today it attracts around 500,000 visitors every year.

Cheddar also has a long history of cheese making, which was, historically, Cheddar’s source of wealth. Cheddar cheese has been produced here since at least the 12th century, records show that King Henry II purchased 10.420lb of cheddar cheese at one farthing per pound in 1170. To be known as true Cheddar cheese it has to be made within 30 miles of Wells Cathedral, although the name does not have a ‘protected designation of origin’ ‘West Country Farmhouse Cheddar’ does and may only be made in Somerset, Devon, Dorset and Cornwall using locally produced milk.During the Second World War most milk produced in Britain went towards making cheddar cheese (know as Government Cheddar) and this nearly wiped out many of the other cheese makers, before the First World War there were more than 3,500 cheese producers in Britain, after the Second World War there were fewer than 100. Strong, extra mature Cheddar needs to be matured for up to 15 months with a constant temperature being maintained, the caves around Cheddar give the perfect environment for maturing the cheese and still today some Cheddar cheese is matured in caves in cheddar gorge and at Wookey Hole. Today there is only one producer of Cheddar cheese based in Cheddar itself, ‘The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Co’ who still use the traditional methods for the cheese they produce, keeping alive the art of Cheddar making. At their premises in Cheddar Gorge, visitors can watch the cheese-makers at work or watch a short film which covers the whole journey of cheese making from milk through production to the end results, they can also sample a variety of the various cheeses in the shop before purchasing their own particular favourite. They also produce a ‘Cave Matured Cheddar’, matured in the Cheddar caves, who’s conditions give the cheese it’s own unique delicious flavour

The main attraction in Cheddar is of course the limestone Gorge,the largest in the United Kingdom. It stretches three miles down from the Mendip Hills almost reaching the Village, the winding B3135 runs along the bottom of the gorge through the spectacular scenery created by the near vertical cliff face to the south, which reach up 450 feet above the gorge, and the grassy slopes to the north. On entering the top of the village you will find the entrance to Gough’s cave, which is the largest of the caves, there is also a museum housing many artefacts found in the caves and in the immediate area, a little way past this is Cox’s Cave, both of these are open to the public. Gough’s cave was discovered in 1903, and goes about 400m into the rock face with a variety of rock chambers and formations, Cox’s cave was discovered in 1837 and is the smaller of the two but houses many interesting, intricate formations. There is also another cave which houses a children’s entertainment walk known as the ‘Crystal Quest’. Britain’s oldest skeleton was found in Gough’s cave, it is estimated to be around 9,000 years old, the cave is also an internationally famous site for it’s Late Upper Paleolithic finds of about 12-13,000 years old. The caves were produced by the activity of the underground River Yeo, and contain vast underground cathedrals of stalactites and stalagmites, formed by the melt-water floods during the peri-glacial periods which have occurred over the last 1.2 million years.

There is a Gorge tour bus that runs from the bottom of the village through the dramatic scenery of the gorge and then turns and stops at all the major attractions through the village allowing you to get on and off and explore all the gorge has to offer, you can purchase an explorer ticket which allows entrance into any of the caves or other attractions. There are several car parks situated just above the caves, which offer plenty of spaces, there are attendants to whom you can pay for the parking and if you stop for a chat with them they are only to pleased to tell you all about the gorge, the caves and the surrounding area, look out for the attendants who are exceptionally helpful and knowledgeable. There is a path of 274 steps up the side of the gorge, known as ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ and at the top there is a watch tower that gives 360 degree views over the village and the surrounding countryside, also from Jacob’s Ladder there is a clifftop walk along the crest of the gorge and back to the road. Strolling through the village there are a lot of interesting things to do and see, craft workshops, shops and cafes offering local specialities such as cider and scrumpy( from shops such as West Country Ales), strawberry cream teas, cheese, arts and crafts, a sweet shop, ‘The Cheddar Sweetmaker’, where you can watch the sweets being made before purchasing some in the traditional little shop.

There is also a small lake and waterfall in the village, and the Garden of Fragrance which was created especially for the blind. Cheddar’s other main produce, since the 1880s has been strawberries, which are grown on the south-facing slopes of the Mendip hills. The strawberries were transported by rail on the Cheddar Valley line which was also known as the strawberry line, the line was closed down in the 1960s. Cheddar Ales is a small brewery based in the village providing beer for the local pubs.

There are also a number of camping and caravan sites around the area.

There are a wide variety of wild birds in the gorge which include peregrine falcons, buzzards, kestrals, ravens and the Grasshopper Warbler. The south side of the gorge is owned and administrated by the Marquis of Bath’s Longleat Estate and the north side is owned by the National Trust, Longleat has introduced goats into the area and there are a flock of feral Soay sheep in the gorge, other notable species of wildlife include dormice, yellow-necked mice, slow worms, adders, a rare large blue butterfly (Maculinea arion) and small pearl-bordered fritillary (Boloria selene).There are also over 360 botanical species in the gorge and the surrounding area, one of which is the rare Cheddar Pink, also known as firewitch. The flora also includes chalk grass-loving species such as marjoram and wild thyme.

The area is popular with walkers and hikers and there are many signposted paths and nature trails. Climbing and abseiling is very popular around the gorge and there are about 350 officially graded climbing routes on the 27 cliffs that make up the gorge. For the active visitors there are also nearby riding stables, fishing, potholing and guided adventure caving expeditions. For more information on Caving, Climbing and Abseiling go to Cheddar village website or tel:01934 742343.

Church services in Cheddar:-

St.Andrews-8.00am Holy Communion 10.00am Parish Eucharist

Catholic Church of Our Lady Queen of Apostles– Sunday Mass 9.00am Thurs. & Sat. 10.00am

Gospel Hall-10.00am Breaking of Bread Evening Service 6.30pm

Baptist Church– 10.30am Morning Service 6.30pm Evening Service

Methodist-10.30am Sunday Service

Cheddar Tourist Information Centre Tel:01934 744071

Local Campsites –

  • www.broadwayhousepark.co.uk
  • www.cheddarcamp.com
  • www.bucklegrove.co.uk

Be Inspired

Castles

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The National Parks of England are quite diverse but all have in common one thing and that is their beauty. From the windswept reaches of Dartmoor and Exmoor to the mountains and lakes of the Lake District or the ancient, peaceful tranquility of the New Forest all are worthy of a visit.

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