Monday, 14 January 2013

Cheddar Gorge, one of Britain's Best Days Out

We were lucky enough to be selected by Tots100 and Money to go along to Cheddar Gorge and experience one of Britain's Best Days Out. We finally managed to get there this weekend, despite dire weather warnings, and were determined to enjoy ourselves.

I grew up in Somerset, and I've been to Cheddar Gorge a few times, but it's got to be at least 20 years since I last went, and my memory isn't what it was.  (Yes, I AM that old)  Severe weather over the last couple of months has meant that there are road closures and damage, and the caves have been closed due to flooding during the really heavy rainfalls.  Fortunately they were open for our visit, but I did call ahead to check.

A roadside map of the Gorge. 
If Cheddar Gorge was anywhere else, it would be a theme park, the whole Gorge & its environs would be behind a pay barrier, with one massive car park & lots of maps.  As it is, Cheddar is a real, living village, and the Gorge is a main road, free for anyone to walk up and gaze in wonder.  The shops are all small businesses, and car parks are scattered around.  It's not easy to work out where's the best place to park.  Fortunately for us, as it was January and it was quiet, I could move the car a few times to more convenient locations around the Gorge.

Checking out the audioguide
Cheddar Gorge, as an attraction, is made up of 2 separate caves, Gough's (the big one) and Cox's (the pretty one), each named after the people who discovered them.  Cox's Cave leads into the Crystal Quest, and there's also a museum, and access to a Lookout Tower (up 274 steps!), a cliff-top Gorge walk, and a Gorge Bus Tour included in your explorer ticket.  Anything you don't get chance to do in one visit, you can go back another time, the remaining parts of the ticket are valid for ten years!  Hope I don't lose the ticket.  The bus tour operates April-October, so we'll go back in the summer for that, and to walk the steps when it's dry.  For an additional fee, you can try Adventure Caving, Rock Climbing or Abseiling, weather permitting and subject to age restrictions.

One of many audioguide signs
First up, we explored Gough's Cave.  We were given audioguides as we went into the cave.  These are self-operated, you tap in the number shown on display boards around the caves to hear each part of the guide, telling you about the history and things to look out for. There's a fairly substantial commentary for the adults, a separate children's audioguide as well and French & German guides, all on the same handset.  Squeaky was impressed, and decided that she needed to be in charge of the handset.  It kept her engaged with the cave for longer than she would have been otherwise, so this was a good thing.

Gough's is a big cave, it goes almost half a mile into the cliffside (the cave actually stretches far further than that, but this is as far as the public can go in) with some amazing rock formations and pools.  Think BIG.  There are great big chambers, chimneys stretching up far into the dark, pools with stalagmites & stalactites, and a fabulous echo in the Diamond Chamber at the far end of your journey.  This went down very well with Squeaky, who was getting a little freaked out being underground, but the echo soon perked her up.

I get a bit arty with the camera.
I could have spent hours taking these kind of arty photos.  Because there weren't many people about, there was plenty of space to be able to rest my camera & capture the perfectly mirrored reflections of the underground lakes.  The weather didn't make a difference for us, the caves are a constant temperature year round, and once you're in the cave, the only water that lands on your head is a stalactite that didn't hold on tight enough!  Gough's Cave is even used to mature real Cheddar Cheese.  Real Cheddar, from Cheddar, aged in a cave, the only cave-matured Cheddar cheese in the world.  You can buy it in the local shops, and it's DEeeeelicious.

A rare photo of me, on the blog!
After Gough's, we went on to Cox's Cave.  Cox's is the smaller cave, and is opened every half hour.  Both caves are self-guided, but as the village is narrow and the cave quite short, there's no space at Cox's Cave for a kiosk.  Cox's is the really pretty cave, with archways, pools and lots more stalagmites & stalactites.  And a really low bit that you have to bend right down to get under.  Both caves have steps, some steep bits, and are slippery underfoot, so they're not very accessible for people with mobility problems.  If Squeaky had been younger, it could have proved difficult, but now she's old enough to walk that kind of distance with minimal complaining.

The final stretch of Cox's Cave is the Crystal Quest, a Tolkein-inspired underground adventure, where you get to help save the world from the evil Mordon and his dragon Thynngar.  The guide explained some younger children can be a bit scared by this bit, and how we could bypass it if we wanted to, but we had a little look.  It was a bit frightening for Squeaky, or had the potential to be, if we hadn't scooted past the scary bits before she had a chance to notice them.  We saved the world though, so it can't all be bad!

Ice cream, yum yum!
We finished our day out in time honoured day-trip style, with an ice-cream.  Never mind the fact it was 2 degrees outside, an ice-cream was needed, and we found a very welcoming cafe to enjoy it in.

And if you can't tell stalagmites from stalactites, tights fall down!!

Disclosure: I was provided with entry tickets free of charge for the purposes of this review.  I was not told what to write and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive any reward for their use.


  1. How is the audio guide? I missed it as i was not interested.

    1. It's actually really interesting, points out quite a few things you might miss otherwise & explains a lot of the history of the caves. The children's one was a bit ahead of Squeaky, but it did keep her occupied.


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