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Britain’s answer to the Grand Canyon

Cheddar Gorge and the Mendip Hills

Cheddar Gorge

Cheddar Gorge

Cheddar Gorge cuts into the southern edge of the Mendip Hills in Somerset. At 137 metres deep it is hardly the Grand Canyon, but it is pretty impressive nevertheless! Unfortunately (in my view) its lower end is marred by touristic over-development, but as you travel up the gorge it becomes wilder, thankfully.

The southern side of the gorge is steepest and the most developed. There are several cave complexes within it. Some are usually open to the public, but we visited during the coronavirus pandemic and the caves were closed – a bonus in some ways as it meant the gorge was much quieter. On the other hand, it would have been interesting to see where Britain's oldest complete human skeleton, known imaginatively as Cheddar Man and estimated to be 9,000 years old, was found in 1903.

There are several cafés strung out along the side of the road, all also closed when we visited, and of course a shop selling the famous Cheddar Cheese. This was open but we didn’t go in.

While there is some development on the northern side too, it’s mainly restricted to a handful of shops by the car park at the foot and a sprinkling of houses, some of them rather attractive. Paths lead up between the houses to the open land above, which is owned by the National Trust. The most distinctive feature here is the so-called Lion Rock, and unlike some such features you see around the world, I think this one does look a bit like the animal for which it is named! I found photography here quite challenging because of the contrast between the sunny upper slopes and rocks, and the deep shadows lower down.

Lion Rock, and early autumn colour

Tricky lighting in Cheddar Gorge


Towards the top of the gorge the scenery becomes wilder. The road climbs steeply – it’s a popular challenge for cyclists and was used as part of the 2011 Tour of Britain race. There are several places where you can pull over and park to admire the view or go for a walk. There are a lot of rock-climbing routes and we saw several small groups just embarking on ascents, but they were still at the stage of sorting their equipment so I couldn’t get any interesting photos of them. But the light was better here for photographing the scenery, and we came across a number of the feral goats that graze the slopes, including a young kid and his (her?) mother.




In Cheddar Gorge

Mother goat and kid

Goats in Cheddar Gorge


Instead of returning the way we had come, back down Cheddar Gorge, we continued to climb up into the Mendip Hills before turning south on a network of minor roads to the small carpark at Deerleap, from where I had read good views were to be had. Sure enough, the view from the car park itself was good, but even better from the public footpath that starts from here. We could see for miles across the Somerset Levels below, with the former island of Glastonbury Tor, which we had visited yesterday, clearly visible.

View of the Somerset Levels and Glastonbury Tor from Deerleap carpark



More views from the footpath

But we found more than just views, wonderful as these were, as the path led us across the fields to an area set aside as a nature reserve, with wildflowers dotting the grass.


Late summer flowers on the Mendips

It must be lovely at the height of summer and was still a pleasant spot even in late September, especially on this sunny day. This gentle walk was a great way to round off our morning before returning to our base in Wells for lunch and an afternoon exploring the city.

Posted by ToonSarah 01:58 Archived in England Tagged landscapes animals flowers england views glastonbury cheddar_gorge

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I must say I'm a big fan of the cheese, especially the extra mature variety. I've never been to the gorge though. My mother visited years ago and even as a child I remember looking at her photos of the trip.

by irenevt

Thanks Irene - yes, the mature cheddar cheese is the best for sure :)

by ToonSarah

You have brought back lovely memories again.

by alectrevor

That's good to hear Alec :)

by ToonSarah

I guess all canyons are compared to the Grand one. We saw one in Australia which was called Australia's Grand Canyon. Yours looks much greener and prettier

by greatgrandmaR

I guess so Rosalie. Cheddar may be greener than the Grand Canyon but I know which one I'd pick to visit!!

by ToonSarah

This looks like a nice place to visit, but too bad the caves were closed. I had never heard of the Cheddar Man before — do you know where he is now?

by Nemorino

Hi Don. I think the caves are quite touristy but would have been interesting. Cheddar Man is in the Natural History Museum, which I should perhaps have mentioned. You can read about him here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheddar_Man

by ToonSarah

Thanks for the link. He does seem to have died a violent death, from the looks of his skull. It's impressive that DNA analysis can reveal things like his skin color and lactose intolerance.

by Nemorino

Cheddar cheese is, like the British canyon, gorgeous! Nice blog.


Thank you Adam :) I have to confess to a preference for Stilton (or even, whisper it, French cheeses!) but Cheddar is nonetheless excellent :)

by ToonSarah

Don, yes, I was intrigued that they could find out so much about his appearance from his DNA!

by ToonSarah

I just can't get the image of man made of cheese (cheddar man) out of my head, lol.
Is there an replica of the skeleton at the cave?

by hennaonthetrek

I don't think there's a replica in the cave Henna but as it was closed we couldn't visit so I can't say for sure. The original is in the Natural History Museum in London although it still belongs to the Longleat Estate who own the land where the cave is situated

by ToonSarah

seeing the pictures and reading the entry, it must have been quite an enjoyable morning!

by Ils1976

It was Ils, although a shame the caves were closed because of COVID

by ToonSarah

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