England: Cheddar Gorge and Caves

DSC_5738After my awesome eggs Benedict for breakfast, we decided to head west. Our goal was to reach Cheddar. We ended up having a nice drive through English countryside on the way as we passed through the Cotswolds and Chilterns, seeing all sorts of varying vernacular architecture region to region. It is amazing that such a small country has so many different regional differences, be it the dialect or the building techniques.

As we drove along we could see the landscape changing in the distance, “that must be where we’re heading!” Following the singular road, we descended into Cheddar Gorge. It was such a dramatic change from what we were just driving through up on a plateau, all was flat and uniform. Here was a craggy narrow pass, Britain’s largest gorge and clearly a different sort of geology surrounding us. The caves and gorge are a product of million year old Ice Age river beds. It was here that Tolkien honeymooned with his new bride in 1916 and this landscape was the inspiration for “Helm’s Deep.” I can see how this place would fire the imagination.

Mark decided to go off on his own and hike around the steep hillsides. He was surrounded by Soay sheep, an ancient breed that makes its living well by living on these sorts of impossible looking cliff walls. My family and I entered and toured the caves. Inside we found Cathedral-like caves, spaces carved out by the action of water. Calcite structures, delicate and impressive. Ancient humans lived here in these caves 40,000 years ago, Cheddar Man is Britain’s oldest complete skeleton. We also had the luxury of the “self guided tour” devices again, which provided so much information on the history and geology of the caves.

Even today, the cheese that bears it’s namesake, is made in the caves of this region. The 500 year old pub we stopped at for lunch featured locally sourced produce and cheese. I opted for the ploughman’s lunch, with none other than a huge chunk of Cheddar holding the seat of honor.

We headed home for another lovely dinner, our pork wiener schnitzel and Oreos! my folks brought over for us for dessert. Oh, my, they were tasty! They are sold here, but as with many US products, they just are not quite the same.

At the end of the day, I do have to say, this is a place I want to visit again. It seems we never plan enough time to really enjoy some of the places we visit. Mark and I could easily go and camp and hike around the Cheddar area for a week and probably still would not have enough time to see all we want to see.