While the list of family things to see and do in Somerset is a long one, there are few things foodies are likely to be more interested in than Cheddar, the place that gave its name to Britain’s most popular cheese.
The village of Cheddar was indeed where this most ubiquitous of dairy products emerged in the 12th century, with the local caves providing ideal locations for the maturing process. While Cheddar is now made all over the world and is extremely popular in many countries, it is still produced locally and those who love the stuff can go on the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company VIP tour.
Visitors will be able to learn more about how the cheese is made, see where it is matured and, of course, taste the only Cheddar cheese actually made in Cheddar today.
However, the cheese that made the village world famous is not the only notable thing about Cheddar.
The very landscape of Cheddar Show Caves that provided the cool, dark places for the cheese to mature all those centuries ago now provides a series of spectacular modern-day family attractions.
Apart from the caves themselves owned by The Longleat Estate, Cheddar Gorge is owned and looked after by the National Trust. This deep cleft in the Earth’s surface was made during the last ice age, when the River Yeo and then glaciers carved their way through the limestone. As the river migrated underground, it formed a spectacular cave system that is 1.2 million years old.
As well as admiring these, you can see some fascinating plants and animals. There are wild goats and sheep, while horseshoe bats can be seen at dusk. Plants include Cheddar Pink and the rare Rock Stonecrop on the cliff edges.
While some will want to roam and scramble around the landscape, others will be keen to head for the cafes and gift shops, of which there are many in Cheddar village.
Then there are the caves: Open again after a period of closure due to the pandemic, the Cheddar Caves include two of the oldest show caves in Britain, Gough’s Cave and Cox’s Cave.
Gough’s Cave features huge underground caverns and some spectacular rock formations, including one called the Black Cat of Cheddar, not to mention lots of stalactites and stalagmites. (To tell the difference between them, it’s "stalac" with a "c" for ceiling - for those formations hanging down and "stalag" with a "g" for ground - for those pointing up).
It was also in this cave that the skeleton of Cheddar Man was found, the oldest human skeleton ever discovered in Britain. If you look carefully, you can also see parts of the cave where the Cheddar cheese is maturing.
Cox’s Cave has a great feature for the family, showing the adventures of early man. Marvel at prehistoric people discovering how to make tools and tame fire in the far-back days before the invention of cheese. Also if you are interested in Stone Age man and their accomplishments we do recommend checking out our detailed guide to Stonehenge too.
Cheddar Gorge is located in the Mendip Hills in the county of Somerset, England and is just 18 miles from the centre of Bristol. It is easily reachable by car or bus and train.
About 190 million years ago, the area was covered by a warm, shallow sea. Over time, layers of sediment built up and were eventually compressed into limestone rock. The gorge was carved by water erosion over thousands of years, with the River Yeo being the main force behind the formation of the steep cliffs. The constant movement of water also created cracks and fissures in the rock, leading to the formation of the now world renowned caves.
The Gorge is upto 450 feet in places with almost vertical cliff faces on the south side and with steep greener slopes to its north.
The gorge is around 3 miles long - not too far to walk if you're fit enough though it can be steep in places. If you are driving through and it's busy (typically more so on weekends) it can take a while to get to the other end but this then will give you time to admire the Gorge's weathered crags and pinnacles.
Great news! Cheddar Gorge is indeed a dog-friendly destination, including the Caves. There are designated areas for dogs to enjoy off-leash, and many of the walking trails are also open to well-behaved pooches on a leash. We'd recommend keeping close control of your pooch, there are farm animals and other natural wildlife to respect and be aware of.
If you're driving look for directions from Bristol below. We'd expect most visitors from London would take the train, so catch one from Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads station, then onto the seaside town of Western-Super-Mare and take the number 126 Bus to Cheddar. The bus journey should take you slightly over an hour.
Bristol isn't far from Cheddar Gorge, roughly 18 miles away from the city centre. It should take about 45 minutes to drive there, depending on traffic but if it can take longer if it's busy, especially in the Summer months. The best route is to take the A38 out south of the city and then hang a left onto the A371 skirting Axbridge and follow the road to Cheddar.
Take the A39 South West out of Bath and head down and turn right towards Priddy. Head through this village and follow the road to Draycott, then turn right and head to Cheddar from the South East.
The distance from Longleat to Cheddar Gorge is approximately 31.5 miles, roughly a 1 hour drive. If you're planning on visiting both the Gorge and the Caves, we recommend allowing at least half a day for each destination. You'll want to follow the A361 to Shepton Mallet, then head out to Wells and beyond to Cheddar.
Parking is always an issue when visiting Cheddar, certainly during high season. You can find spaces in the village if arriving early enough (typically before 11am) or by paying roughly £6 per day at various pay and display car parks that you'll find around the town. If it's after 3pm then there are reduced charges so it can pay to visit later in the day. Do note overnight parking is not permitted in any of the car parks.
You'll find the following car parks available for you to park in:
Usually the Gorge itself is open 24 hours 7 days a week as it is a UK national B road so in use by locals and not just for curious holiday makers! At the moment the Upper part of the Gorge is closed (as at 20 October 2022) for repairs to the road surface so there are diversions in place.
The Caves are open from 10am to 5pm 7 days a week.
This really depends on your plans. If you're thinking of hiking up the Gorge and up onto Black Down or over to Velvet Bottom (yes, we know, it's a great name!) then we strongly suggest bringing stout walking boots, a water bottle and a waterproof jacket. Weather conditions up on top can be quite exposed even in the summer so it's best to go prepared. If you're planning on using your car and staying in the Gorge or town then it's much less of an issue if the weather was to change.
Cheddar Gorge is famous for its stunning limestone cliffs and incredible views as well as being known as England's largest gorge. It is also home to the Cheddar Man, the oldest complete skeleton found in Britain dating back to 7150 BC. The gorge has been a tourist destination since the 1800s and continues to draw visitors from all over the world. Along with its geological wonders, Cheddar Gorge also boasts ancient cave dwellings, an iron age fort, and the famous Cheddar cheese. With so much history and natural beauty, it's no wonder why it's is a must-see destination for any traveller to Somerset.
There's a varied selection to choose to eat lunch, grab a coffee or a pint of Somerset's finest in Cheddar. Our first recommendation would be Lion Rock Tea Rooms which are an absolute must! Sitting at the bottom of the Gorge, they've been serving teas, coffees and food here since 1905. Other places to try are:
A trip to Cheddar Gorge makes for a wonderful day out, steeped in geological, human history and dramatic scenery (as well as for its world renowned cheese!). And it’s all here in Somerset’s stunning Mendip Hills.
Don't forget to ask us about our discounted tickets for Cheddar Caves, get in touch today!