Life in a Somerset village - Cheddar
PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 March 2020
In our special series Catherine Courtenay takes a look at village life in Somerset
Cheddar has long been a tourist hotspot and for obvious reasons, namely its location at the foot of Britain's biggest gorge. Huge rockfaces, more than 400ft high, tower over the road which snakes up through Cheddar Gorge onto the Mendip Hills. The River Yeo emerges from these hills via a complex cave system and a visit to Cheddar Caves offers a chance to marvel at this underground network of caverns.
The village is also synonymous with perhaps the most famous cheese of all. At the foot of the gorge lies The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, where you can find the only Cheddar that's actually made in the village. You can also watch the cheesemaking process from the onsite visitor centre.
Further up the gorge lies another reminder of this cheesemaking legacy. In 1870 William Small opened the first cheese depot and his old shop is now home to The Original Cheddar Cheese Company, run by Ian and Carol Keane. The shop had stopped selling cheese when the couple took it over about 12 years ago. Daughter Holly, who looks after its café, says: 'Dad fell in love with the old shop and wanted to turn it back into a cheese shop.' It now sells Cheddars made on surrounding farms, including cave-aged, which is matured in the caves at nearby Wookey Hole.
But there's more to Cheddar than cheese and caves. Parish council chairman Peter Colton has lived in the village for more than 40 years and says it has a strong community spirit, with many unsung heroes volunteering for all manner of groups and organisations. 'They are the glue that holds the community together,' he says. The saving of the village library when cuts meant it was up for closure, was one example. With help from the council, which paid for a self-service book scanner, members of a Friends of Cheddar Library group successfully campaigned for its survival by bringing extra activities into the building, like toddler reading groups, art shows and even seed swaps.
Sport and outdoor activities are well supported, from skateparks to football pitches and an array of water sports at nearby Cheddar Reservoir. Some clubs have roots going back years, like Cheddar Tennis Club, which is approaching its centenary anniversary in 2024 and there are new initiatives, like Cheddar Walking, which highlights and supports walking routes throughout the parish and the National Trust's Top of the Gorge outdoor pursuits festival in June.
A key feature of the village centre is the 15th century market cross. Surrounding this ancient landmark are various shops and businesses. A success story is Cobbs of Cheddar, a butcher, fishmonger and deli run by Adrian and Estelle Cobb. Adrian was the butcher at Budgens supermarket in the village until it closed to become a Sainsburys store. Without a job he was faced with having to travel away to find work - but locals organised a petition asking him to open a butcher's in the village. Boosted by their faith in him, he and Estelle bravely took on a long-term empty building and did just that. That was six years ago and they haven't looked back since. 'It was a huge risk, a huge gamble,' says Adrian, who loves the fact he can now visit farms and buy the local meat he chooses.
Being part of a community is important to the Cobbs, they help local good causes and take action themselves where they see a need - like donating a bench for people to use while waiting at the bus stop.
'We like to keep an eye out for people,' says Adrian. 'Cheddar has a fantastic community spirit; the people are wonderful and it's a beautiful place to be.'
In 2014 Katrina Atkinson and a group of fellow artists met with the idea of forming an arts festival in the village. CHAFF (Cheddar Arts Fringe Festival) launched the following year and has grown ever since. More than 30 artists are now involved and each year join together to form a walking trail of open art studios. Workshops and events take place in various venues and pop up throughout the village. This year's festival runs from 8-10 May and coincides with the VE Day anniversary celebrations. There are plans to bring 1945 to life in the village with the first ever CHAFF theatre project.
5,755 (2011 census)
Stay: After a complete refurbishment, The Bath Arms hotel reopened in 2014 offering a selection of adults-only rooms, along with a bar and restaurant.
Buy: A four-bedroom detached house, originally a barn dating back to the 1800s. With open plan studio and a view of the Mendips. £550,000. (Roderick Thomas).