Wonderful walks to try in and around Cheddar
PUBLISHED: 16:31 05 September 2019 | UPDATED: 16:31 05 September 2019
David Noton Photography
Take a walk on the wild side this month on one of many rambling routes that crisscross Cheddar Gorge
Summer may be in its final throws, but we needn't retreat from Somerset's glorious landscape just yet. With any luck those Indian summers that have graced September over the past few years will make another appearance in 2019, allowing us the chance to linger a little longer in the hills, valleys and meadows of our beautiful county.
And where better to escape for wonderful walking days out than Cheddar Gorge, perhaps one of Somerset's, if not England's, most iconic and spectacular landscapes. At almost 400ft (122m) deep and 3 miles (4.8km) long, this is England's largest gorge, and its weathered crags and towering pinnacles offer the most wonderful of natural spectacles. One million years in the making, the limestone gorge was carved by water from melting glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age, the newly formed Cheddar Yeo River gradually making its way underground to create the famous caves you can visit today.
National Trust walk
The National Trust owns the north side of the gorge and has waymarked a rolling 4-mile (6.4km) trail from its shop on the outskirts of town, which circumnavigates this fissure in the Mendip Hills with remarkable views throughout (for more information go to nationaltrust.org.uk).
Cheddar Gorge and Caves has its own 3-mile (4.5km) clifftop route which ticket holders can explore, along with the rest of the 360-acre nature reserve (it is private land, although a public bridle path runs across it).
Whichever path you take, as well as discovering one of England's most impressive landscapes, you'll get to experience a diverse habitat, teaming with flowers and wildlife. Species such as greater horseshoe bats, dormice and great crested newts, while found here, are so rare in Europe that the gorge is now a Special Area for Conservation.
Cheddar Gorge is also home to primitive goats and the UK's biggest flock of Soay sheep, which roam free and keep the scrub down. And those of you with a botanical interest should keep a look-out for the Cheddar pink, a delicate flower only found in Cheddar.
Ample choices to amble
With the gorge proving a year-round attraction for walkers and ramblers of all ages and abilities, it became an obvious choice for the Walkers are Welcome scheme, a UK-wide community-led network of accredited towns whose purpose is to develop and promote walking in areas of particular interest. Through the scheme, local organisation Cheddar Walking promotes Cheddar as a walker-friendly destination, offering 10 walking routes of varying grades, starting from the village centre.
There is the 2.1m (3.5km) Historic Cheddar walk for those interested in local history or a wheelchair-friendly Reservoir Walk of similar length, as well as two West Mendip Way routes that head to Weston-super-Mare and Wells. There is even a gorge walk and quiz, which is a great way to engage younger walkers. Routes can be downloaded from cheddarwalking.org.uk) or found on leaflets throughout the village - just look for the black and yellow Walkers are Welcome stickers in shop windows. Cheddar Walking is supported by a range of local businesses offering accommodation, food and drink, or outdoor equipment, and who won't mind how muddy your boots are.
Heading further afield
There are around a dozen Walkers are Welcome locations in the South West and Somerset towns in the scheme include Frome, Wiveliscombe, Over and Nether Stowey, Keynsham and Dunster. But Cheddar has perhaps the richest variety of walking routes, and is the perfect place from which to explore the Mendips and the Cheddar Valley. With The Mendip Trail and West Mendip Way running through Cheddar, and the Limestone Link and the Monarch's Way nearby (not to mention National Cycle Network routes numbers 3 and 26) there is lots of choice for a September sojourn by foot - whether round the reservoir or cantering toward the coast.
Cheddar was a very popular destination for the roaming South West Outdoor Festival in 2017 and Cheddar Walking members led a selection of walks for the National Trust's Top of the Gorge Festival this June. Both were carnivals of outdoor adventure, entertainment, inspiration and fantastic local food and drink, with unique opportunities to wild camp in the brim of the gorge and activities include trail running, mountain biking, climbing, caving, walking, archery, food foraging, campfire cooking, stargazing and much more.
The Top of the Gorge Festival returns from 12-14 June, 2020.
A Cheddar Gorge and Caves ticket (£16.95 for adults, £12.70 for children, under-5s free, cheddargorge.co.uk) entitles you to much more than the clifftop walk. You can take the audio guided tour of Gough's Cave, immerse yourself in the multimedia experience Dreamhunters: The Adventures of Early Man in the magical chambers of Cox's Cave, or visit the Museum of Prehistory, which tells the fascinating story of our early ancestors, including Cheddar Man, the oldest complete human skeleton found in Britain. If you haven't had your fix of steep gradients along the clifftop walk you can climb the 274 steps of Jacob's Ladder (and a further 48 to the top of the lookout tower).
If you thought the views along the walk are spectacular, they are nothing short of breathtaking from the top of this pylon-like structure - truly a bird's-eye view of the Levels to the south and the windswept plateau stretching across the horizon to the north.
You can also experience the thrill of a 30ft (10m) Black Cat freefall in Gough's Cave, rock climbing, adventure caving and Cheddar's very own escape rooms where you need to solve puzzles and collect clues to find your way out.
However, these adventure activities are extra, and having caught a glimpse of Cheddar's rough-hewn beauty on your journey here, if the sun is still shining why go underground when you have this magnificent corner of the Mendips at your feet?
Where to eat
The Riverside Inn is a bustling village bar that promises 'unfussy food that keeps pace with the farming calendar'. A great place to sup a local Cheddar ale or to grab a tasty mid-walk snack. Visitors are guaranteed a warm welcome too.
Nestled in the heart of Cheddar Gorge is Somerset Life award-winning Lion Rock Tea Rooms, renowned for its breakfasts, homemade cream teas and afternoon teas. It also serves a terrific Sunday lunch, hosts themed bistro evenings and have a lovely secluded garden too.
Where to stay
In Draycott Road you will find Cheddar Bridge touring park, with an array of static caravans, pods, old Airstreams and gypsy caravans. Touring and tent pitches are also available.
If you prefer a touch of luxury, then the Bath Arms hotel in Bath Street, has sumptuous en suite double rooms available from £98, great food, and a sizeable gin menu.
Know where you are
Cheddar Walking has added 'What 3 Words' (W3W) addresses to their walks to help those who use this addressing system.W3W is a website and mobile app that allows you to locate anywhere on the planet to within 3m, using combinations of three ordinary words. And if you are lost on a walk and need to call someone for help, a W3W address can help someone discover your exact location. what3words.com