Last year while visiting my parents back in the UK, my Mum and I took an afternoon day trip the Cheddar Gorge.
Nestled in the Somerset Mendip Hills, close to Bristol and Bath, The Cheddar Gorge is the UK’s most well known limescale gorge. Off the main road between Bristol Airport and the M5 the road gets narrow so as always I’m happy to have hired a small car.
I’m used to Spanish winter hours, so we were late to make the most of it in daylight. The idea was Mum explored the village located just outside, got a cup of tea and then waited in the car while I hiked the 6km trial around the gorge.
Mum said she’d been to the gorge years ago so wasn’t too interested in driving through it, but we drove through it anyway for her to see and it and me to see it. It gets narrow in places! You can park a little way in the gorge and can climb some of it, but parts aren’t recommend for parking. I found out back when my brother and sister were little, Mum and Dad had a van they used to go holidaying in. They couldn’t afford anywhere to stay so camped in the van! I think they must have been in their late 20’s. The van was long gone when I came, although I do remember camping holidays in the caravan before my Dad starting building out house when I was 4. I must have been 2 or 3. I know we visited France and the Black Forest with it. I have a vague memory of the caravan awing. There must have been something that happened as I realised recently most of my earliest memories are of me being told off or getting into trouble. My earliest is my Dad leaving me in the living room on the white rug my Mum still has, opening the lounge door to ask if I have stopped screaming. I screamed back! I think I must have been 1 or younger as I wasn’t moving and I started walking at 11 months. Another early memory is waiting for my Mum to return home from the bay window and stepping in the cactuses she’s placed below for some reason. The next subsequent memory is the splinters being pull out. Oh and one of my hair being washed. They’re all flooding back from the first house. I really can’t remember one where I wasn’t in some sort of a pickle. I still remember the layout of the house and I think we moved from there when I was 4. I remember a lot of things! It’s funny how I can remember more of what happened aged 1-10 than other years.
Anyway, back the gorge. Time was pressing so we parked up, handed her the car keys and I got confused by the trial start. Was it here like the National Trust map I had downloaded or did it start at the steps leading to Jacobs Tower?
I decided to ask in the Jacobs Tower admission shop. The lady looked at the map and said it’s wrong. It wasn’t but I didn’t want to argue, she said lives in the area and walks the trial a lot. I think she had the map upside down. It was one of the rare times I shut my mouth to contest what I saw. With daylight was running out I ended up paying £6 to walking up some steps before it closed. Closed to ascend. Not to descend for safety reasons for those still on the trial after closing. The lady said at a certain point I’d have the best view of the gorge. I found out later the reason why the starting point was an issue: The National Trust owns the land on the north side of the gorge while the south side including Jacobs Tower is owned and administered by the Marquess of Bath’s Longleat Estate. This also affects climbing times of the year and why the trail was marked clearly via National Trust footpath signs on my return crossing the road back to ascend the north side.
The steps and the path you need to be moderately fit and wearing hiking boots or trainers with good grip (it can get muddy in places with steep paths). My Mum, bless her can’t any more. I kept the map the lady had given me and was careful looking over the edge. No barriers! When I reached the best vista of the Gorge I was disappointed. I couldn’t see the gorge. Just countryside!
It was the highest vista point.
I had to make a decision. Turn back and get back in daylight or continue the trial hoping I’d back it back before dark. The trial looked okay and there was as couple ahead doing the same thing. I’ll follow them.
Best decision I made! The trail is marked crossing the other side otherwise you have to follow the worn trails among the grass to the wood descent. I cursed a little the ascent again! The couple up ahead got spooked by mountain sheep ahead saying help! I was just make a lot of noise and they’ll move! They did and they did!
This tree I think marked the highest point. This part of the UK is windy as it’s near the Atlantic Ocean. All the trees higher up had signs of being beaten by the wind.
As daylight was leaving I finally made it to the best view of the gorge. The vista of the gorge itself! My climbing friends would be itching to climb it. In fact there’s 970 climbing routes (590 on the south side access, Oct-March and 380 north side with access all year round). I got so lost in taking photos I forgot the light was fading and got side tracked off the trial. Thankfully I asked some guys camping which way. I can make it before it get dark. If it wasn’t cloudy the next day, they had an amazing sunrise.
I was fine until the stones marking the trial ran out with fallen trees along the trial downhill and it was dark dark. I panicked as I didn’t want to get lost or be too late back to the car to not worry my mum. I forgot that I had a headlamp in my packback thinking I’d left it behind. My phone light was okay, however it was pitch black. So I called P. I could hear water, but I was shit help! He was laughing at me! After ducking over and under tree trunks down the slope, I saw the light for the toilets here where we had parked. I made it back safely! And exited the trial via the National Trust hike starting point. I knew was right!
I think I will go back to walk it again, if I do I’ll take the National Trust recommend starting point getting there early. You see more of the gorge itself as looking back it looks amazing. I was too busy trying to walk it as quickly as possible to not worry my Mum. Oh and it would be in daylight. I also wouldn’t have to pay £6 to walk up the steps.
On the back I freaked out that a police car was behind me back to main road. I don’t drive much, it was dark so I was really doing my best to stay at 30mph. When you don’t drive much there are so many dials to pay attention to, the road was narrow with oncoming traffic. My mum was there already probably checked you out. Hire car, Spanish driving licence, tourist you’re fine!
I did get a better headlamp that lives permanently in my bag (thanks Mum for my Christmas present!). I’m not being caught out in the dark again!
Thank you for stopping by!