The Trouble with Cheddar...
Whilst I'm jobhunting, I'm dividing my week down two days jobhunting (Monday and Friday), 3 days where I take Tiger to any beach that allows him to be there, a day out somewhere I want to visit that Tiger can't go, and a day at home. That day will mostly fall on Sunday. Today was supposed to be a Tiger & Sammi beach day. Alas, as the forecast had predicted, by 9.30am the clouds had indeed started to cover the south west. Yesterday I was chilly laid on the beach in my bikini and down right cold after I'd been for a swim, so I decided instead that Tiger and I would go for a walk.
|It's really hard to show you how huge the Gorge is...|
So, an hour or so later, we headed to Cheddar.
Cheddar is somewhere I assume everyone knows about, for me it's the place that meant holidays! Driving through the gorge at silly o' clock in the morning heading to Bristol airport pretty much is how all my foreign holidays started as a child. So much so, it's kind of ingrained in me how to get there (drive up the A37, turn left at the Mendip Inn, follow the road, straight across the junction, straight across the traffic lights). However, I realise that perhaps not everyone knows about Cheddar, so here's a small introduction. The town of Cheddar is famous for, not just it's cheese (yes, American's you read that right, Cheddar is in fact a place), but the caves and the gorge in which it is made.
Cheddar Gorge should be a jewel of the South West. It's not. The thing is, and I can understand that they want people to see it, but there's ways and means of doing things. Not whacking a Blackpool replica into a 400ft deep gorge. If you, as many tourists will, Google Cheddar Gorge a stunningly tacky website will come up. This website tells you of all the wonderful things you can do in Cheddar- and I have no doubt that [the majority] of these attractions are wonderful. Of course they want to charge you for these, some of which are natural attractions. The day ticket sits at £19,95 per adult, and £13.95 per child, unless you book online and you get 15% off. So for a family of 4 that's almost £50, and let's not forget the £5 parking fee ON TOP of that.
|The first thing you see as you walk into Cheddar, pure ugliness.|
So what's included in that price? Entrance to both Cox's and Gough's Cave, the Cheddar Man Museum of Prehistory, The Lookout Tower, Cliff-top Gorge Walk, and the Gorge Open Top Bus.
Hold up, hold up, hold up. Firstly, let's not even get into why a 4 mile, mostly flat, walk requires an open top bus tour. I mean what do they even say to people, "If you look to your left you'll notice a million year old cliff, and if you look to your right you'll see another"? Let's get into the bit that says included in that price is the Lookout Tower, and Cliff- top Gorge Walk? You're telling me that you're charging almost £20 to walk on a public footpath, the footpath on which the watch tower is on? You're telling me that is INCLUDED in that price? I think that stinks of rip off, because the thing about public footpaths is, they're open to the public... for free.
So what I am telling you is, I implore you when you Google Cheddar Gorge to please scroll down a bit further and open the National Trust's website instead. In fact I'll help you out, the link to the page is here. I'm making it sound like I don't like the place. That's the trouble with Cheddar, it's been made into such a tacky place when it's ridiculously cool in its own right without needing an open top bus, or an awful website. I do like Cheddar, the cool bits, the bits I can get to, which Cheddar Gorge won't tell you, for free. Let me tell you a bit more about Cheddar, and how to avoid being totally ripped off.
|From one clifftop to another|
The Gorge, and caves below it, are over a million years old. The Gorge started to form at the end of the last Ice Age, the cause of the fissure cutting through the Mendips would have been water melting from glaciers forming a river that cut into the limestone causing the huge cliffs you see today. They stand at 122 metres (which is almost 400ft) and the gorge is 6.4km's (4 miles) long. These days the river is largely underground, but if you walk through Cheddar village (which, I hasten to add, is not a necessary evil) then you'll see some of the river flowing particularly by the National Trust Shop (which is somewhere you need to remember, kind of). Cheddar Gorge was also home to the Cheddar Man. He was found in Goughs Cave, the skeleton is estimated to have been 9,000 years old, and he is Britain's oldest complete skeleton. His remains, and others dating back even further (though no more complete skeleton's), suggest that humans have been living in the Gorge for a very long time. It's even been suggested that the caves were used by humans for cheese making since prehistoric times.
Now, let me tell you about going to Cheddar for nothing more than the cost of an ice cream (because when you've done this walk, you're gonna need one). Firstly, plan your trip according to the National Trust website I linked to above. Print off the Cheddar Gorge walking page and away we go. Now, I can't get you into the caves for free- but I can suggest going to Wookey Hole would be far more worth your while anyway- but I can tell you how to get to the top of Somerset for free. Secondly, when you drive into Cheddar from the A37, if you pass the coach turning circle you've gone too far and you're gonna have to pay £5 for parking. Use the circle, turn around and park further out. Yes, it's a long windy walk to the village, but it's much better walking and looking around you than trying not to hit the car that's flying at 35mph (that's some speed on those roads, trust me) towards you on the wrong side of the road. Remember I was telling you about that National Trust shop, well let's say you've gotten yourself that far, and you can't quite see this wee unsignposted lane that your directions are telling you to walk up. So keep walking towards the Original Cheddar Cheese shop and look opposite you, you'll see a lane there. On a wooden post is a teensy tiny circular sign that reads "Gorge Walk". That's where you're going, great. Now follow that path until you see some steps with a wee gate at the top, and turn up there into the woods.
|The mad bad beginning|
This is the part where you're gonna hate yourself, and anyone you've dragged with you. This is the first part of the walk, and I promise you in the 4 miles that you're gonna do, this is by far the worst. It's steep, and craggy and full to the brim of fallen branches, but at least you're out of the sun whilst you sweat out that pizza you ate for dinner last night. Plus if you've taken your dog with you, you'll get to watch him bound up full of life whilst you drag slowly behind him. You'll get to the top and turn around, and behold all of the gorgeous Somerset levels below you. You've made it! You're now at the top of the cliff above the hustle and tacky bustle of Cheddar below you, and it's great.
Amongst the things you'll find at the top are some wicked pinky lilacy flowers called Cheddar pinks, they're pretty rare anywhere there isn't a rock formation like this one. A few herbs also grow on the cliffs edge including rock rose, thyme, wild basil and majoram- smells like dinner on warm days. As well as cool fauna, you're pretty likely to see peregrine falcons flying around not so far above your heads, as well as ravens, jackdaws and buzzards who also nest in the gorge. Plus the mountain goats, of course, turns out- after 28 years of driving past them regularly on my way to the airport- they're sheep. Soay sheep, originally native to Scotland and a primitive ancestor of present day domestic sheep. These feral sheep eat the scrubland and generally help maintain the habitat to allow all the fauna to grow.
|Can you spot Tiger?|
I pretty much enjoyed the view, walked along the path, made sure Tiger wasn't getting into too much trouble or falling down the cliff. The view is pretty spectacular, if its clear you can even see as far as the sea. To the left of you, one of the only hills in your view is that of Glastonbury Tor, in front of you is Cheddar reservoir, and Cheddar and Axbridge and an awful lot of green. It's beautiful to look at. I'd say you get the best view of the Gorge from this side, too. There's a point you can clamber off the path and take a photo of the gap between the cliff's, where the road now is and the water would have flown. I didn't do this mostly because I had Tiger with me, and having Tiger is kind of like having a fearless 3 year old who is eager to explore everything, but has no concept of danger- I'll get more into that later.
Once you've clambered down, you've two options, one to turn left and rejoin the path up the cliff, or two to head back to the car. Either are viable, you're stood on the B3151 and if you've parked near where I've told you, you're really close to your car. I'd strongly advise continuing, the best is yet to come. Rejoining the path takes you up through another craggy woodland path, it's nowhere near as bad as the first one, in spite of how it may look when you peer into the darkness. I think you can join it from the bridleway directly opposite where you come out on the road, but I continued the way my guide told me. It's quite nice in the woods, actually, to be in the shade for a while. You don't always realise, on a cloudy day, quite how exposed you are on those cliffs. This path for a while there reads as the West Mendip Way, bear right when it tells you Draycott is like 3.5 miles away, you don't want to head there. I don't know what's there, but I'm telling you right now, your car isn't. Anyway you'll come to this gate which takes you back onto the land of Cheddar Gorge. And boy, that view!
This is by far the best view you'll see all day, don't be listening to the shit that all singing all dancing Cheddar Gorge website tells you about Pavey's Lookout. This is it. Stop, take some photos, try to get a selfie with the dog. Get out that packed lunch and enjoy the view whilst you chow down on several cereal bars, some olives and feta and a packet of crisps. Chill out.
|this view is a million times better in the flesh|
Now, up until around this point Tiger was so well behaved, but I gotta be honest with you. He's 10 years old, and he's going pretty damn well for it. I mean, anyone who could see him right now wouldn't think so- he's pretty much wound around me, trying his darnedest to sleep in the most awkward position going. Taking him on a 4 mile hike up a 400ft Gorge, he's doing pretty well. He's waiting when I tell him to, he's keeping me in his sight (he's always done this, he had a panic attack at Durdle Door not long ago when he was off the lead because he couldn't see me in spite of the fact I was talking to him the whole time). So I let him off the lead for a bit once we're away from the cliff edge- literally there is nothing between you and that sheer drop, and you remember me telling you about how Tiger is like a fearless 3 year old? Yeah, so he's on his lead until we're away from there. Once I let him off he's gone around this corner before me, as we're heading back downwards, and I see him maybe 30ft ahead of me attached to this ginger boys leg. Humping him. Luckily, his father was not angry, in spite of my shouting Tiger. The thing is Tiger is one of a rare breed- he is ginger, and he seeks out other gingers and he shows them how much he loves them. The family were laughing their heads off when I explained this to them, but it's not a joke. Tiger seeks out other gingers. It's why he loves my Nan so much.
So we let the family be, and slowly meandered down the hill, and pretty much all you can see now is the trees around you in the woods you're in. We go through this kissing gate, and there in front of us Pavey's Lookout- this is the tower on the footpath that is so-called included in the day ticket price. To the left of us are people walking up Jacob's ladder- those are the people who have been scammed into paying to walk up the clifftop. Frankly there's a few of them, mostly families with kids. Kids who all want to stroke my dog, and he's pretty cool with attention, and he's watching what's going on and he's seeing everyone going up this tower. So when the attention stops, off he goes, towards the tower. Up the first flight of steps he goes, kinda slowly, kinda rabbit hopping up, but he does it. Half way up the second, he freezes, mid flight. No worries, I bundled him up and carried him up the steps. Pavey's Lookout is a similar view to that at the highest point, just... not as good. I mean if you've just walked up Jacob's Ladder & it's your first viewpoint, then, fair game, go for it.
Back down I attempted to go, except my little shit of a dog had decided to attach himself both to me, the poor little girl stood next to me and one of railings on the tower. I had to put him down to pick him back up to get him down the steps. He was terrified, it was like when we tried to teach him to swim all over again. The thing is, with a 10 kilo dog in my arms I couldn't see the steps, so I was slowly making my way back down, aware of the people behind me waiting, some offering to carry him for me- which was never going to work. He's such a Mummy's boy, that it could only be me. Tiger was digging his claws into my neck and shoulders, and shaking like he'd never seen a staircase before. We slowly got to the last set of steps, where approximately 15 people were waiting to go up, word having got around that there was a tiny 20 something carrying a scaredy-dog down the steps.
|Tiger's leave me alone face in my selfie|
Thankfully, we were nearly at the end of the walk, and headed back into the main strip of Cheddar. According to the National Trust website, this walk can be done in 1hr and 40 minutes. It took me 3. By the time you've taken a few breaks, stopped to admire the view, eat lunch, it's easily done. You don't want to rush, it's too pretty. I hope I've convinced you that Cheddar is worth a visit, and I hope you'll celebrate the natural wonder that the Gorge is. As well as this walk, I am aware that you can rock climb here. Please bring the right equipment, a helmet is necessary by law for all outdoor climbs in the UK, and please make sure you know what you're doing. My father also used to pothole here, going back maybe 40 years ago, now. Definitely not my thing, but I could see some skinny caves that he might've ventured into when he was younger. Most importantly, be safe!
This is the end and where I bought myself an ice cream- and by myself I mean, Tiger & I. We shared a 2 scoop cone of salted caramel, and honey & stem ginger. He mostly ate the cone, whilst I mostly ate the ice cream....
|I think he might be tired, y'know...|