March 8, 2009

Cheddar Gorge

Published on The Brunei Times (
Go deep into the holes of Cheddar
Liz Price

Sunday, March 8, 2009

MENTION the word cheddar, and most people will think of cheese.

Wherever in the world you find cheese, you will find a variety of cheddar. It has been copied the world over, but the original variety comes from an English village called Cheddar.

This village lies at the bottom of the famous Cheddar Gorge, in Somerset in southwest England. The nearest cities are Bath, Bristol and Wells. Cheddar Gorge is a well known tourist attraction and is one of the greatest natural wonders in Britain. Its towering limestone cliffs soar almost 150m above the gorge which is 4.5km long. The gorge is situated at the southern end of the Mendip Hills, which are a range of limestone hills noted for their caves; and caves are also found within Cheddar Gorge. There are underground cathedrals of stalactites and stalagmites and some are open to the public.

Cheddar Gorge is the largest gorge in the United Kingdom. A gorge is simply a canyon, thus a deep valley between cliffs often carved out by a river. A road runs through the bottom of Cheddar Gorge. On one side the cliffs are near vertical in places, on the other side there are steep grassy slopes. In winter, the sun doesn't reach the bottom of the gorge even at midday. The gorge was formed by melting floodwater during the post glacial periods over the last 1.2 million years. Water carved out the gorge, and flowed underground through the permeable limestone, creating the caves. This left the gorge dry. However, today water flows through Gough's Cave and emerges at the bottom of the gorge.

The gorge is the site of several caves; some open to the public. Goughs was discovered in 1890 and is where Britain's oldest complete human skeleton, Cheddar Man, was found in 1903. It is estimated to be 9,000 years old. In 2007 a carving of a mammoth, estimated to be 13,000 years old, was found in the cave. Cox's Cave is smaller but was discovered earlier in 1837. Gough's Cave is Britain's first authenticated cannibal site. It is estimated that human ancestors have lived here for 40,000 years, and the new Museum of Prehistory gives information about life and death in the Stone Age.

In summer, the gorge is packed with tourists, and there are traffic jams as buses and cars make their way through the narrow gorge. An open-top bus tour operates during the summer. Visitors who flock to the show caves, can enjoy a traditional cream tea in one of the many tea rooms afters. And of course there are shops selling Cheddar cheese, which is made in the lower part of the gorge. Cheddar cheese has been made since at least 1170 as there are records of King Henry II having purchased some.

Visitors can also go adventure caving in Gough's Cave. The gorge is also a mecca for rock climbers; there are about 350 officially graded climbing routes on the 27 cliffs that make up Cheddar Gorge. At the top of the gorge is Black Rock Nature Reserve, which is very popular with walkers and nature enthusiasts.

Cheddar Gorge is such a stunning place and it is easy to see why it is one of Britain's most visited tourist attractions.

The Brunei Times


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