Exploring the caves at Cheddar Gorge

by Sarah - Craft Invaders


Cheddar Gorge is the finest example of a limestone gorge in Britain. About one million years ago, melt water from glaciers formed during successive ice ages etched out Cheddar's landscape. During colder periods the permafrost rendered the rock impermeable and forced the summer melt water to flow above ground, eroding the surface, and cutting the Gorge we see today. As the climate warmed, the ice deeper down melted, and the limestone became permeable. The river flowed underground, dissolving the limestone below the ground to produce vast caverns.

Last week we visited the caves at Cheddar in Somerset on the way back from a family gathering. Cheddar Gorge is the finest example of a limestone gorge in Britain. About one million years ago, melt water from glaciers formed during successive ice ages etched out Cheddar’s landscape. During colder periods the permafrost rendered the rock impermeable and forced the summer melt water to flow above ground, eroding the surface, and cutting the Gorge we see today. As the climate warmed, the ice deeper down melted, and the limestone became permeable. The river flowed underground, dissolving the limestone below the ground to produce vast caverns.

Cheddar Gorge is the finest example of a limestone gorge in Britain. About one million years ago, melt water from glaciers formed during successive ice ages etched out Cheddar's landscape. During colder periods the permafrost rendered the rock impermeable and forced the summer melt water to flow above ground, eroding the surface, and cutting the Gorge we see today. As the climate warmed, the ice deeper down melted, and the limestone became permeable. The river flowed underground, dissolving the limestone below the ground to produce vast caverns.

Cheddar Gorge is the finest example of a limestone gorge in Britain. About one million years ago, melt water from glaciers formed during successive ice ages etched out Cheddar's landscape. During colder periods the permafrost rendered the rock impermeable and forced the summer melt water to flow above ground, eroding the surface, and cutting the Gorge we see today. As the climate warmed, the ice deeper down melted, and the limestone became permeable. The river flowed underground, dissolving the limestone below the ground to produce vast caverns.

The first cave complex at Cheddar was discovered in 1837 by George Cox who was digging out limestone near his water mill. Although smaller than caves found later, Cox`s cave has many wonderful examples of stalactites and stalagmites, some of which are highly coloured due to iron-oxide in the water that forms them. These beautiful caves are lit in a way that makes them seem magical, with beautiful mirror pools reflecting the rocks above them.

Cheddar Gorge is the finest example of a limestone gorge in Britain. About one million years ago, melt water from glaciers formed during successive ice ages etched out Cheddar's landscape. During colder periods the permafrost rendered the rock impermeable and forced the summer melt water to flow above ground, eroding the surface, and cutting the Gorge we see today. As the climate warmed, the ice deeper down melted, and the limestone became permeable. The river flowed underground, dissolving the limestone below the ground to produce vast caverns.

Cheddar Gorge is the finest example of a limestone gorge in Britain. About one million years ago, melt water from glaciers formed during successive ice ages etched out Cheddar's landscape. During colder periods the permafrost rendered the rock impermeable and forced the summer melt water to flow above ground, eroding the surface, and cutting the Gorge we see today. As the climate warmed, the ice deeper down melted, and the limestone became permeable. The river flowed underground, dissolving the limestone below the ground to produce vast caverns.

Cheddar Gorge is the finest example of a limestone gorge in Britain. About one million years ago, melt water from glaciers formed during successive ice ages etched out Cheddar's landscape. During colder periods the permafrost rendered the rock impermeable and forced the summer melt water to flow above ground, eroding the surface, and cutting the Gorge we see today. As the climate warmed, the ice deeper down melted, and the limestone became permeable. The river flowed underground, dissolving the limestone below the ground to produce vast caverns.

When we visited, Cox’s cave led through to the Crystal Quest, a Tolkien inspired adventure. (Tolkien visited here on his honeymoon in 1916 and it is said used the Cheddar Caves as a basis for Helms Deep in Lord of the Rings.). The Crystal Quest is fun and spooky, with skeletons, trolls, and a battle between good and evil going on, with a couple of elements to it which made us adults jump – I understand that this exhibit is due to be replaced with a new one in 2016 which promises the use of cutting-edge technology and sounds fantastic from what one of the guides told us during our visit.

Goblin in Cox's Cave

Dragon in Cox's Cave

Wizard in Cox's Cave

In 1892 the second and larger cave complex was found by Richard Cox Gough a retired sea captain and a nephew of George Cox. This cave complex is 90m deep and is 2.135km long, and contains a variety of large chambers and rock formations. It contains the Cheddar Yeo, the largest underground river system in Britain, and many of its chambers are only accessible by diving through water filled passages. Audio guides for both adults and children are provided for your use while you look around these spectacular caves, where hugely significant and often unique examples of prehistoric archaeology have been discovered; for example a very rare 13,000 yr old mammoth carving which is on view (although I have to admit I couldn’t make out).

Cheddar Gorge is the finest example of a limestone gorge in Britain. About one million years ago, melt water from glaciers formed during successive ice ages etched out Cheddar's landscape. During colder periods the permafrost rendered the rock impermeable and forced the summer melt water to flow above ground, eroding the surface, and cutting the Gorge we see today. As the climate warmed, the ice deeper down melted, and the limestone became permeable. The river flowed underground, dissolving the limestone below the ground to produce vast caverns.

Cheddar Gorge is the finest example of a limestone gorge in Britain. About one million years ago, melt water from glaciers formed during successive ice ages etched out Cheddar's landscape. During colder periods the permafrost rendered the rock impermeable and forced the summer melt water to flow above ground, eroding the surface, and cutting the Gorge we see today. As the climate warmed, the ice deeper down melted, and the limestone became permeable. The river flowed underground, dissolving the limestone below the ground to produce vast caverns.

Cheddar Gorge is the finest example of a limestone gorge in Britain. About one million years ago, melt water from glaciers formed during successive ice ages etched out Cheddar's landscape. During colder periods the permafrost rendered the rock impermeable and forced the summer melt water to flow above ground, eroding the surface, and cutting the Gorge we see today. As the climate warmed, the ice deeper down melted, and the limestone became permeable. The river flowed underground, dissolving the limestone below the ground to produce vast caverns.

The greatest discovery in Gough`s cave was made in 1903 when a complete human skeleton was unearthed from a pit just inside the cave entrance. This skeleton, called Cheddar Man, was a hunter-gatherer who lived around 9,000 years ago, and is the oldest complete skeleton ever found in Britain. Even more amazingly, in 1997, a 42-year-old history teacher in Cheddar, was shown by DNA tests to be a direct descendant, through his mother’s line, of Cheddar Man, and is now also the world’s most distant confirmed relative (some 300 generations).  Cheddar Man is on display in the Natural History Museum in London, with a replica on display in the cave.  Since his discovery, many bone fragments of both humans and animals have been found further in the Gough Cave complex, which scientists have been able to date, telling us that man was living in these caves 14,700 years ago, at the end of the Ice Age. The most recent archaeological evidence from these bones suggests that they hunted wild horses and that they were cannibals.

Cheddar Gorge is the finest example of a limestone gorge in Britain. About one million years ago, melt water from glaciers formed during successive ice ages etched out Cheddar's landscape. During colder periods the permafrost rendered the rock impermeable and forced the summer melt water to flow above ground, eroding the surface, and cutting the Gorge we see today. As the climate warmed, the ice deeper down melted, and the limestone became permeable. The river flowed underground, dissolving the limestone below the ground to produce vast caverns.

Cheddar Gorge is the finest example of a limestone gorge in Britain. About one million years ago, melt water from glaciers formed during successive ice ages etched out Cheddar's landscape. During colder periods the permafrost rendered the rock impermeable and forced the summer melt water to flow above ground, eroding the surface, and cutting the Gorge we see today. As the climate warmed, the ice deeper down melted, and the limestone became permeable. The river flowed underground, dissolving the limestone below the ground to produce vast caverns.

It is believed (not surprisingly) that cheddar cheese was developed by the villagers of Cheddar. With a constant temperature and high humidity, caves in the Cheddar region provided ideal locations for maturing cheese. Cheddar cheese is still matured in Gough’s Cave, just as it was 100 years ago, making it the only authentic cave-matured Cheddar cheese in the world.

Cheddar Gorge is the finest example of a limestone gorge in Britain. About one million years ago, melt water from glaciers formed during successive ice ages etched out Cheddar's landscape. During colder periods the permafrost rendered the rock impermeable and forced the summer melt water to flow above ground, eroding the surface, and cutting the Gorge we see today. As the climate warmed, the ice deeper down melted, and the limestone became permeable. The river flowed underground, dissolving the limestone below the ground to produce vast caverns.

Cheddar Gorge is the finest example of a limestone gorge in Britain. About one million years ago, melt water from glaciers formed during successive ice ages etched out Cheddar's landscape. During colder periods the permafrost rendered the rock impermeable and forced the summer melt water to flow above ground, eroding the surface, and cutting the Gorge we see today. As the climate warmed, the ice deeper down melted, and the limestone became permeable. The river flowed underground, dissolving the limestone below the ground to produce vast caverns.

We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon at the caves at Cheddar. The family ticket that we bought also gives access to the other attractions at the Gorge; The Museum of Prehistory, Lookout Tower, Cliff Top Gorge Walk and the Gorge Bus Tour. Although we didn’t have time for these elements on this visit,  tickets are valid for 10 years so we will definitely be back later in the year.

Please check out our Family Days Out board, for more ideas of places to visit in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and the surrounding Counties.

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28 comments

Su {Ethan & Evelyn} January 11, 2016 - 9:10 am

This is really interesting. I love that you get to experience where Tolkien has been on his honeymoon. An interesting place for a honeymoon?… And Halloween must be joy to visit when you know about the Cheddar Man – very spooky. I had no idea that Chedder Cheese has found here. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing. I’m pinning this under “Travel Bucket”. I hope you don’t mind. 🙂 #Whatevertheweather

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Sarah - Craft Invaders January 12, 2016 - 2:26 pm

Must have been really spooky when Tolkien visited there, with no fitted lighting, or made up paths. I’m delighted that you enjoyed the post and have pinned it – Hope you get to visit there one day soon 🙂

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Chloe January 10, 2016 - 1:39 pm

This is so interesting. I’ve always wanted to go to these caves! I didn’t live to far away a few years ago and now I’m kicking myself for not going. They look incredible. The Crystal Quest sounds like a lot of fun too. It’ll be interesting to see what it’s like when it changes. I’m definitely putting this on my bucket list for this year. It sounds like it’s worth getting the audio guides too. Thank you so much for linking your adventures to #whatevertheweather. xx

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Sarah - Craft Invaders January 10, 2016 - 9:54 pm

I think you’d love them Chloe, they really are stunning, It’s hard to imagine that our ancestors actually lived in them all those years ago. The plans for the crystal quest sounded amazing, but since the guy who told me about them wouldn’t have known I might stick them up on the internet I’ll keep them to myself until they announce them – but we’ll definitely be checking out the new exhibit when it opens 🙂

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Jenny January 8, 2016 - 11:01 pm

It looks amazing! I loved learning about limestone caverns when I was in school, it’s so interesting to fins out how natural cave formations like this was formed. The Tolkien inspired part looks fab as well, although I do just love staring at all the natural features in the caves. Did you try any cheddar cheese?
Thanks so much for linking up to #Whatevertheweather 🙂 x

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Sarah - Craft Invaders January 10, 2016 - 10:13 pm

No, the Cheese shop was shut by the time we got to it, which I was more than a little disappointed about. Would love to go and see it being made, will find out if that’s possible. I visit a relative down there once a month and take them out for a drive, so am getting to know the area quite well x

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Claire at Tin Box Traveller January 8, 2016 - 7:48 pm

We visited Cheddar Gorge in 2009 and I loved the history of the place. I also had my first experience of rock climbing there. I’m terrible with heights and amused the instructor with my wobbly legs! How great that some of the displays are being updated. I’ll add it to our list of places to return to with our girls #whatevertheweather

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Sarah - Craft Invaders January 8, 2016 - 9:23 pm

I’m not great with heights either, in fact I was quite pleased to avoid the cliff top walk this time around although it’s just putting off the inevitable as the kids keep asking when we are going back to do it! It is a beautiful spot, and the landscape does feel ancient, I even googled property in the area when we got back just in case we ever decide we need a change of scenery 🙂

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Sarah January 6, 2016 - 10:00 pm

What a fun outing! I’d love to visit a place like this. Great sum up of history and natural history! 🙂

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Sarah - Craft Invaders January 7, 2016 - 12:29 pm

Thank you so much, it is an awesome place. I have just been nosing around your blog – it’s fabulous! I love the tracking in snow post and the invisible ink. We will definitely be trying out some of your ideas x

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Kelly Robinson January 6, 2016 - 4:06 pm

Looks like a fantastic day out. We drove past it once and wish we had stopped for a visit. Caves are so beautiful we have some gorgeous ones here in Wales. #whatevertheweather

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Sarah - Craft Invaders January 7, 2016 - 12:31 pm

We hope to visit some of the ones in Wales soon – I’ve heard they are breath-taking. We did have a great day out and would recommend it 🙂

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Life as Mum January 6, 2016 - 2:11 pm

I’ve never been there before but looks interesting and lots of fun Great photos x

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Sarah - Craft Invaders January 7, 2016 - 12:32 pm

The history is fascinating. My daughter has gone back to school and has the stone age as a topic so it was great timing too 🙂

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Lucy Jacob January 4, 2016 - 11:25 am

Love Cheddar Gorge. I did a project on it as part of my archaeology degree (the cannibalism claims are a little questionable). Hope to go back with our little boy when we are next in the area. #countrykids

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Sarah - Craft Invaders January 4, 2016 - 9:03 pm

Must have been fascinating to study it. It’s interesting to hear that there’s some doubt over the evidence, I suppose once it was suggested it stuck in everyone’s mind – nothing like a gory story to catch people’s interest 🙂

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Emma T January 2, 2016 - 6:25 pm

I’ve not been to Cheddar caves since we were children. They’d be a bit scary for N at the moment, although he was fine with Wookey Hole. As a former geographer I just love the hows of how they were formed. The 10 years return ticket is brilliant.

Happy new year

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Sarah - Craft Invaders January 3, 2016 - 8:20 pm

Thanks Emma, Happy new year to you too 🙂 The return ticket is a brilliant idea. It’s so hard to pack everything into one day at so many attractions – especially with younger kids

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Coombe Mill January 2, 2016 - 11:15 am

What a great place to explore, I hadn’t realised quite how much there was to see and learn about at Cheddar Gorge. It’s great that you all learnt so much on your trip there. It’s amazing how long ago the Cheddar Man lived in the caves. Thanks for linking up with me on Country Kids.

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Sarah - Craft Invaders January 3, 2016 - 8:25 pm

It is fascinating to think that you are somewhere that was someone’s home thousands of years ago. Would love to know if they ever wondered why the gorge and caves were there!

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Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault January 2, 2016 - 9:41 am

I took the boys to Cheddar Gorge a couple of years ago and we all loved it. I’d like to go back again and practice my photography skills in the caves. Did you climb up to the Lookout Tower? #CountryKids

Here’s wishing you a very Happy New Year from Normandy and all the best for 2016

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Sarah - Craft Invaders January 2, 2016 - 10:24 am

We just visited the caves this time as it was at the end of the day, but plan to see the rest later in the year. I was pleasantly surprised with how my camera coped with the low light, and it was nice and quiet when we went so I wasn’t getting in anyone’s way 🙂

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John Adams January 2, 2016 - 6:46 am

I visited Cheddar Gorge about 20 years ago. Really must return and take the kids, I think they’d love to visit. #CountryKids

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Sarah - Craft Invaders January 2, 2016 - 10:16 am

Our kids loved it and it was a great time of year to visit as there weren’t many people around 🙂

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Keitha January 2, 2016 - 2:14 am

What a neat place to explore! We visited Carlsbad Caverns last year and were amazed at the history attached to it. Love your photos of the different types of formations.

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Sarah - Craft Invaders January 2, 2016 - 10:14 am

Just googled Carlsbad Caverns – they look amazing! What a breathtaking world we live in 🙂

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Pinkoddy January 2, 2016 - 12:47 am

I really didn’t realise that Cheddar gorge had so much about it. All that history, and beauty. I must take the boys one day.

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Sarah - Craft Invaders January 2, 2016 - 1:03 am

It really is incredible, and a beautiful area. It really feels like an ancient landscape 🙂

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