A Gorge of Goats
PUBLISHED: 10:36 22 June 2015 | UPDATED: 14:16 07 July 2015
Somerset is home to the largest gorge in the UK - an incredible location steeped in the history of our ancestors.
Cheddar is a remarkable place. Evidence of human occupation dates back millennia and some of this evidence seems rather gruesome to 21st century folk. The discovery in Gough’s Cave of ‘skull cups’ is possible evidence of our ancestors’ cannibalistic tendencies. The human skulls are fashioned as drinking vessels and are over 14,000 years old. Britain’s oldest, complete, human skeleton was found here in the early 20th century; Cheddar Man, as he is dubbed, is thought to be over 7,000 years old. Cheddar Gorge is the largest gorge in the UK and is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. This area is home to the original Cheddar cheese which has been produced here since the Middle Ages, and possibly even before that, when the humidity and temperature in the caves was found to be ideal for maturing the cheese. The local Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company still matures its cheese in the awesome Gough’s Cave.
The walk encompasses some of the most astonishing scenery the West Country has to offer.
1. From the bridge in the village centre, near The Riverside Inn, walk along the road through the gorge, passing the Black Dog Saloon on the right. You reach Cox’s Mill Hotel on the left with the millpond beyond it. After this you find two footpaths on the left. One passes in front of the whitewashed Mark Hole Cottage and another, a few metres further along the road, passes behind the cottage. The one behind is the one you need.
2. Ignore the permissive path you soon meet on the right and continue until you reach another footpath going sharply right, running behind Cufic Cottage and Cufic House. Take this and you soon emerge on a tarmac drive. Here immediately turn sharp right uphill on the grassy path which leads away from houses with the gorge below to the right and a stone wall on the left. A lookout is visible over to the right across the gorge – you will be there later.
Climb to a kissing gate, pass through and continue on the path beyond – there is a vineyard beyond the right-hand boundary. Climb breathily until you reach another kissing gate, after which turn left, now on the signed Gorge Walk. Keep on the trodden path uphill through the trees until it eventually emerges into the open and brings you to a stone wall. Bear right towards the wooden gate in the wall (a stile about 20m metres away at the wall corner can bring you round to the same point). After the gate bear right on the trodden path towards the gorge – it is an arresting view. You soon reach another wall with a waymarker post nearby. Pause here and admire the thirst-quenching views, behind is Brent Knoll with the sea beyond.
3. Leave the post on the well-trodden path, following the wall on the right with the gorge beyond it. At the next waymarker post an arrow points ahead, still following the Gorge Walk, but you may first wish to briefly explore over the stile to your right where it says ‘Caution Steep Drop’. Beyond here are some good photo opportunities down into the gorge – but please go with caution as well as with your camera!
Back at the post keep on the route of the Gorge Walk. You pass a low, stout post that bears the weathered words ‘Black Rock’ – a National Trust reserve towards which you’re heading. Keep on above the gorge ignoring any options to right or left, encountering infrequent kissing gates and steps, and more-frequent goats and Exmoor ponies; these endearing animals are here as conservation grazers, helping to maintain the habitat.
4. The path eventually descends two long flights of steps to reach a wall with a stone-stepped stile in front of you. The Gorge Walk goes right here but you leave it at this point and cross the wall, continuing on the path beyond as it curves right to enter trees. You are now skirting the top end of the gorge, the path ducking in and out of bird-rich woodland and passing through a kissing gate before eventually dropping down rockily to a broad crossing path by a gate.
From here you have the option to explore the area of Black Rock if you wish, in which case go left on the clear path which will also lead to a gate into the evocatively-named Velvet Bottom reserve. These are beautiful spots for bird watching and picnics.
Those not wishing to explore further should turn right at the bottom of the slope, following the track, flanked with wild garlic in spring, to soon arrive at the road.
5. Cross the road and take the path uphill. This is the Gorge Walk again plus the West Mendip Way towards Draycott; it is a steep and rough path. As you climb you meet a bridleway marker where a path comes up from the right. Continue uphill on the main path. Eventually you reach a gate beside a post bearing a bridleway arrow and the destination Draycott. Pass through and continue ahead on the clear path. Within 100m, at a fork, the West Mendip Way to Draycott goes left but you need to keep right on the broad track which will soon be closer to the gorge rim.
At a tall, wooden kissing gate pass through and continue. The path is obvious as it winds its way above the gorge. In spring the grass is decorated with wild violets. On a clear day it affords incredible views across the gorge and surrounding area: Glastonbury Tor, Brent Knoll, the very round Cheddar Reservoir and the distant coast. Take care, it can be edgy in places, though you don’t have to go too close. Hang onto the dog! Eventually the path starts to drop and passes through more wooden gates to reach the area by the top of Jacob’s Ladder steps with the nearby lookout tower – reminiscent of a skeletal helter skelter. These are privately owned tourist attractions. Your way lies on the unmarked bridleway to the left, heading into the trees. Keep going downhill on this rough path until you reach a drive. Turn right here heading down between houses. At the lane turn right and follow it down to the road through the gorge from whence you started.