Walk in Somerset: head for Cheddar

PUBLISHED: 09:54 02 December 2016 | UPDATED: 10:46 02 December 2016

Early purple orchids at Black Rock

Early purple orchids at Black Rock


Enjoy a bracing walk or a stroll through Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Cheddar Complex, three nature reserves in the heart of the Mendip Hills

Stroll past the stream at Long WoodStroll past the stream at Long Wood

Long Road

Long Wood is filled with ancient, semi-natural woodland dating back to the 13th century and an area of species rich grassland, known as the Orchid slope. You can do a 1km circular walk which starts with an uphill path and bears right through the woodland where the Trust is gradually restoring the wood back to the original mix of ash, oak and field maple trees.

At the top of the slope, near a wooden bench, you may be able to see fossils in the rocks of the dry-stone wall here, evidence that the underlying limestone rock was formed 300 million years ago.

As you stroll through the reserve the path descends to a T junction, make sure to keep to the right so you see the nearby, underground stream finally emerge at the lower end of Cheddar Gorge. Occasionally, after exceptional rainfall the water will flood the valley before flowing down the gorge road. In order to visit the Swallet (or sink hole) where the stream goes underground you need to retrace your steps along the valley bottom path.

In the woodland you will notice several fallen trees, which have been left to decay, giving a home to many invertebrates and fungi. Look out for King Alfred’s Cakes – a fungus that grows on dead trees in small black lumps, like the burnt cakes of legend.

Continue along the valley path, and you will come across a cave excavation, which means you are nearly at the end of the walk. Continue along the valley path to the trail’s end at the reserve entrance gate.

Part of the former quarry at Black RockPart of the former quarry at Black Rock

Black Rock

This reserve, filled with flower rich limestone grassland, woodland and rock outcrops at the head of Cheddar Gorge, has two circular nature trails. Both the green trail, (1.6km) and the red trail (2.4km) are way-marked with a number of points of interest for you to explore.

Both take you on a trip through the reserve’s industrial heritage.

You will firstly walk past the Limekiln which was built in 1929 when Black Rock was still being actively worked, and opposite you will spot a typical sight along the Mendip Landscape - a dry stone wall. Further along the trail you will come across the former quarry, and beyond it you will reach a stone stile in the wall on your right. Once over the stile you will climb uphill towards an area of thorny scrub and grassland and where you may see the flutter of butterflies such as the Common Blue, Grizzled Skipper and Dark Green Fritillary from May onwards.

Once you have made it up the slope, take a moment to listen out for the distinctive calls of buzzards, kestrels and ravens. Follow the path to the right, along the wall and you will come to one of the highest points of Black Rock and be rewarded with far-reaching views across Somerset to the North Devon coast, beyond Cheddar Gorge. At this point you can choose to continue on the shorter or the longer trail. If home beckons, finish the trail by walking back down the slope to a gate in the fence. On the way back you will walk through woodland which has been recently replanted with a mix of native broadleaf trees following the removal of European Larch. You will soon meet a pedestrian gate at the woodland boundary which marks the end of the short trail.

If instead you fancy a longer stroll, once you are at the high point of the reserve, continue along the wall until you reach a gate in the corner of the field. Beyond the gate follow the enclosed track-way and amble through the beautiful woodland dominated by ash trees, and dotted with Scots pine and yew trees. Once you reach the woodland edge, stroll through the kissing gate to the woodland boundary.

Velvet Bottom is on the floor of a dry river valleyVelvet Bottom is on the floor of a dry river valley

Velvet Bottom

Velvet Bottom nature reserve lies on the floor of a dry river valley and is long and narrow in shape, filled with rough grassland, and pockets of woodland and scrub. As you explore the reserve you will see the evidence of its lead mining history.

Through Velvet Bottom you can take a linear walk that is 1.7km one way, that leads you to Charterhouse and another Somerset Wildlife Trust reserve, Ubley Warren, and along the way you can see most of the wonders of the reserve. The trail follows the path at the bottom of a long dry valley which has been associated with lead mining since pre-Roman times. The South facing slopes at the Western end of the reserve have many rock outcrops and thin soils which allow flower rich grassland to flourish.

There are two small caves alongside the valley path, named the Timber Hole and Hangover Hole. As you walk through the reserve you will encounter a series of dams and levels left over from the lead mining operations.

Below the small woodland, at the northern edge of the reserve, are the remains of the buildings used to smelt lead ore, and as a consequence the path crosses mounds of lead slag, the waste material left over from the smelting process. Keep your eyes peeled for adders and common lizards which hunt on the bare ground and near the dry-stone walls.

Once the path meets the minor road which passes through Charterhouse, you will know it’s time to turn around and go back the way you came and enjoy everything all over again.

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