Cheddar Gorge - Britain’s largest gorge

Beauty Spot

Cheddar Gorge - Britain’s largest gorge

At 400ft deep and 3 miles long, Cheddar Gorge in Somerset is Britain’s largest gorge. As well as spectacular scenery, walks and climbs, the gorge has several deep caves to explore.

The gorge would have begun forming about one million years ago during the last Ice Age when water from melting glaciers formed a river, which over time started to carve into the limestone rock creating the steep cliffs one can see today. The Cheddar Yeo River gradually made its way underground, creating the famous Cheddar Caves. This is the largest underground river system in Britain.

One of the caves was home to the ‘Cheddar Man’, Britain’s oldest, complete skeleton, which was found in 1903.

The National Trust own the north side of this spectacular landscape. The south side of the gorge is owned and administered by the Marquess of Bath's Longleat Estate. Every year, both of the gorge's owners contribute funds towards the clearance of scrub, bush and trees from the area.

A road runs through the gorge, and it is also possible to walk across the high plateau of the Mendips and then encounter the gorge from above.

The area is home to some rare wildlife including Soay sheep, horseshoe bats, feral goats and birds of prey. The Cheddar pink, also known as firewitch, only grows in the wild in the gorge. It was once common in the gorge but declined after being picked by collectors. The gorge is also home to unique species of whitebeam.

The gorge attracts about 500,000 visitors per year. There is some tension between the National Trust and the Longleat Estate, as Longleat plan greater commercialisation of the area with an aerial gondola. We remain in suspense on this one (pun intended), as the financial viability of the plan is still being investigated.

The nearby village of Cheddar is also a pleasant place to visit, with plenty of cafes and other facilities, and is the original home of Cheddar cheese, which was matured in the nearby caves.

Further reading

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