Day 1. Cheddar Gorge and Wells, Somerset

We began our four day break centred around Bath by visiting Wells in Somerset which lies 22 miles to the south west of the city.  I’d long wanted to visit Wells, as it’s England’s smallest city, nestled on the edge of the Mendip Hills with its roots dating back to Roman times.  The name of Wells is derived from its three wells, one is to be found in the market place whilst the other two are located in the cathedral and Bishop’s Palace.

Market Place, Wells
Market Place, Wells

After finding somewhere to park we began our visit with a stroll through the delightful market place which is lined with a mix of small independent boutiques and quality high street retailers.  A twice weekly market takes place each Wednesday and Saturday and although we hadn’t come along on market day the town still seemed lively as Wells is a popular tourist destination.

Wells Cathedral
Wells Cathedral

Wells Cathedral stands proudly at the top of the high street and is free to enter (donations welcome).  The cathedral is dedicated to St. Andrew the Apostle and is the seat of the Bishops of Bath and Wells.

Interior of Wells Cathedral
Interior of Wells Cathedral

It has been described as one of the most beautiful churches of all time and the earliest English cathedral to be constructed in Gothic style, taking around 300 years to build.  The exterior is stunning, especially its west façade which contains over 300 sculpted figures on its walls.

Astronomical Clock, Wells Cathedral
Astronomical Clock, Wells Cathedral

We opted for a self guided tour but free guided tours run by volunteers take place at regular intervals.  Highlights include its 14th century astronomical clock, the octagonal chapter house and beautiful cloisters.

Octagonal Chapter House, Wells Cathedral
Octagonal Chapter House, Wells Cathedral

Leaving there, we took a stroll along Vicar’s Close, a picturesque narrow, cobblestone street lying close to the cathedral.  This 140 m (150 yard) lane is the only complete medieval street left in England with all of its buildings intact.  The Close contains 27 residences and was built to accommodate the priests of the Vicars Choral.

Vicar's Close, Wells
Vicar’s Close, Wells

Moving on, our next destination was to the Bishop’s Palace and Gardens.  Standard tickets cost £16 and are valid for 12 months providing access to the medieval palace, ruined great hall, undercroft, chapel and 14 acres of exquisite gardens.

Croquet Lawns at the Bishop's Palace, Wells
Croquet Lawns at the Bishop’s Palace, Wells

The croquet lawns and Bishop’s Table Cafe are free to visit and definitely worth a look even if you do not have time to explore further.

Drawbridge entrance to the Bishop's Palace and Gardens, Wells
Drawbridge entrance to the Bishop’s Palace and Gardens, Wells

The Bishop’s Palace has been located adjacent to the cathedral for almost 800 years and is approached by a moat and fortified walls.  We crossed the flagstone drawbridge over the moat and walked beneath the portcullis to enter the palace grounds.

Bishop's Palace Gardens, Wells
Bishop’s Palace Gardens, Wells

The moat has been the home to mute swans since the 1800’s when it is believed that a bishop’s daughter taught a swan to ring a bell at the gatehouse for food.  There are now two of these bells, one on each side of the gatehouse with a rope hanging down for the swans to pull.

Portrait Hall, Bishop's Palace, Wells
Portrait Hall, Bishop’s Palace, Wells

Our self-guided visit took us through the portrait hall which documents historical details of the palace along its walls and of the bishops who resided there.  The Bishop’s Chapel is also lovely to see as it contains an ornate vaulted ceiling.

Bishop's Chapel, Wells
The Bishop’s Chapel

For us though, the Palace Gardens were the star attraction and with our visit taking place in mid-summer the herbaceous borders were awash with colour.  There has been evidence of a garden here since 1220 and over this time there have been many notable changes.  In 2016 it became an RHS partner garden awarded for its outstanding high standards of planting and design.  Entry to the garden is free to RHS members most Friday’s.

Bishop's Palace Gardens, Wells
The gardens looked beautiful

Just as we were returning to the car it began raining heavily but thankfully by the time we had reached Cheddar Gorge, 10 miles from Wells, the inclement weather had passed.  Cheddar Gorge lies on the edge of the village of Cheddar and is a dramatic limestone gorge of towering cliffs located in the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Road passing through Cheddar Gorge
The road passing through the centre of Cheddar Gorge

A narrow, winding road passes through the centre of the gorge with numerous small pay and display car parks on both sides of the road.  The actual gorge is a public road with footpaths which are free to access but I recommend purchasing a Cheddar Gorge and Caves Explorer Ticket (Standard tickets £20.95) which includes admission to two sets of caves, the museum and the lookout tower.

Entrance to Gough's Cave, Cheddar Gorge
The entrance to Gough’s Cave

We began our tour by visiting the caves, starting with Gough’s Cave.  Tours are self-guided with the aid of audio guides and as the route is clearly signposted there is no danger of getting lost.  This cave was excavated in the late 19th century and is the largest of the Cheddar Gorge show caves.  Listening to our audio guides and reading the information boards we learnt that the cave began to form over half a million years ago when river water began dissolving the limestone rock.  The cave is named after Richard Gough who discovered it in the early 1890’s.

Inside Gough's Cave, Cheddar Gorge
The vast cavern of Gough’s Cave

The caverns are vast so unlike most other cave systems we have visited, there is no stooping or negotiating your way along narrow passageways to contend with.  Exploring the cave, we looked in awe at the many stalactite and stalagmite formations, the soaring chambers of St. Paul’s and the towering spires of Solomon’s Temple.  Not only did we witness these dramatic cave formations but we also saw shelves of the world famous Cheddar cheese which had been placed inside the caves to mature as the year round underground temperature of 11 degrees Celsius is ideal for this process.

Stalactites and Stalagmites in Gough's Cave, Cheddar Gorge
Stalactites and Stalagmites in Gough’s Cave

In 1903 Cheddar Man, a hunter gatherer who lived around 10,000 years ago was discovered in this cave.  This is the oldest complete skeleton ever found in Britain and has been conserved with the original on display in the Natural History Museum in London.

Cox's Cave, Cheddar Gorge
The spectacular interior of Cox’s Cave

After visiting the spectacular Gough’s Cave we turned our attention to Cox’s Cave close by.  Some bending is required in this show cave as it is not quite as accessible as Gough’s.  This cave tour is also self-guided but with quite a different style as visitors begin their tour by watching a short video clip entitled Dreamhunters – the adventures of early man.  A door then opens into the cave system and as we made our way through the cave, a multi-media experience of sound and light is projected onto the rock face at various points along the route.  The experience takes approximately 30 minutes bringing to life the early hunter gatherers on the walls of the caves.

Museum of Prehistory, Cheddar Gorge
The Museum of Prehistory

Back above ground we adjusted our eyes to the daylight and crossed the road to visit the Museum of Prehistory.  This small museum tells the story of how our ancestors lived through the ice age with displays of flint tools and an assortment of objects that our ancestors would have used in their daily lives.  There’s also more detailed information on Cheddar Man with a replica of his skeleton on display.  Close to the exit is a discovery room with lots of hands on activities for children led by helpful guides dressed in pre-historic costumes.

Jacob's Ladder, Cheddar Gorge
Steps leading up Jacob’s Ladder

Leaving there, it was then time for some exercise as we climbed the 274 wooden steps of Jacob’s Ladder which we accessed from slightly further down the hill.  This staircase opened in 1808 and has several passing places where you can pause for a breather if required.

Jacob's Ladder steps, Cheddar Gorge
The steps seemed to go on forever!

On reaching the top of the ladder there are a further 48 steps up to the top of the 14m high Lookout Tower.  This tower, which was originally constructed from wood was first known as the White Tower but was re-built in 1936 in wrought iron.

Lookout Tower, Cheddar Gorge
The Lookout Tower at the top of Jacob’s Ladder

It was definitely worth the effort to climb to the top of the Lookout Tower as even though it was quite hazy, we had good views across the Mendip plateau to Glastonbury Tor and over the Cheddar reservoir.

View from the top of the Lookout Tower, Cheddar Gorge
View from the top of the Lookout Tower

After descending the lookout tower, visitors can either retrace their steps back down Jacob’s Ladder or follow the way markers along the cliff-top walk.  The path continues uphill to the upper edge of the gorge.

The cliff-top walk viewed from the Lookout Tower
The cliff-top walk viewed from the Lookout Tower

Looking over the rim we enjoyed spectacular views of the gorge and the surrounding countryside.  Most people seemed to turn back at this point but we decided to continue.

Cheddar Gorge viewed from its upper rim
Cheddar Gorge viewed from its upper rim

With hindsight, I would actually recommend doing the same as the path deteriorated and became much steeper and was quite slippery underfoot along the dry river bed.  Additionally, after admiring the dramatic views of the gorge there was little else of note to see.

The stony cliff-top path above Cheddar Gorge
The path was stony and steep in places

Our walk took around 2 hours as it was slow going in places before reaching the road which we walked along to return to the car.  Along there, we spotted numerous wild goats seemingly clinging to the hillside and in other places rock climbing enthusiasts scaling sections of the gorge.

Cheddar Gorge houses, Somerset
A cluster of houses overlook the gorge

Close to the cave entrances are numerous cafes and gift shops many having local Cheddar cheese and Somerset cider on sale for visitors to take home and savour as reminders of visiting the gorge.

Cafes and gift shops line the road around Cheddar Gorge
Numerous cafes and gift shops are to be found along the road

If you’re not up for taking the cliff top walk, views of the gorge can be seen by watching Beyond the view – a virtual tour of Cheddar Gorge which is also included in the explorer ticket.  This 15 minute video starts in Cheddar village and then climbs over 450ft to the top of the gorge itself.  The screening has seating for up to 30 visitors and is shown throughout the day.

View from a cafe terrace at Cheddar Gorge
View from a cafe terrace at Cheddar Gorge

We spent four and a half hours at the gorge and if you also plan to make full use of the explorer ticket I would suggest allowing a similar length of time for your visit as there is so much to see and do.  I hope you find my review of Cheddar Gorge useful in planning a visit as this stunning natural phenomenon should be high on your ‘must see’ itinerary if touring the area.

Cheddar Gorge
Cheddar Gorge

Soon after returning to our car it started to rain again so we had been very lucky to dodge the showers whilst we were outdoors.  Our final destination of the day was to the historic city of Bath where we planned to base ourselves for the following three nights.  We had booked accommodation at the beautiful Hotel Indigo Bath located in a honey coloured Bath stone terrace on South Parade.

Hotel Indigo Bath
Hotel Indigo Bath

After such a busy day it was lovely to be able to relax in our comfortable room and to enjoy complimentary drinks and snacks from our mini bar.  The end of a fabulous day exploring Wells and Cheddar Gorge for the first time.

 

If you have enjoyed reading this post, you may also like:

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Cheddar Gorge & Wells, Somerset

 

100 thoughts on “Day 1. Cheddar Gorge and Wells, Somerset

  1. Pingback: Day 1. Cheddar Gorge and Wells, Somerset – Site Title

      1. I’m looking forward to it!! I have to schedule my wifi times. We live on 11.2 acres in the mountains where we don’t get wifi ☺️. We have a small farm so I read whenever I’m in town and I’m getting ready to head home with my kid to finish farm chores but I’ll check in as soon as I can!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a part of the UK that I know and love, although I must admit that I haven’t been in recent times. I’m so looking forward to reading about your four days, based in Bath (one of my favourite places). I loved Wells and Cheddar Gorge and reading your post has certainly whetted my appetite for a return visit. Even though I know these two places, I have learnt a lot from your post which will help me to plan any future visits. Thanks, Marion!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reading your post brought back memories of when Karen and I were backpacking around Europe and Britain for our honeymoon nearly 40 years ago. We did a day trip from Bath to Wells and enjoyed visiting the cathedral and surroundings before having lunch in a nearby pub. Sadly we were using public transport. Clearly we have missed a real gem in Cheddar Gorge. Must put it on our list for the future when we hope to again make the trip from Oz to The UK. Cheers, Mark

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How wonderful to learn about your backpacking honeymoon trip when you visited Bath and Wells. You must have such happy memories to look back on. Hopefully you will make it back to the UK before too long to visit Cheddar Gorge along with many other lovely towns and beauty spots. We also hope to make another trip to Australia in the next year or two as it must be around 20 years since we were last there!

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      1. Yes, we have many wonderful memories of not only our first trip together but all the subsequent trips to Europe and the UK as a pair and family. The distance to and from Australia makes it daunting flight time and money wise. Look forward to returning sometime to see many places on our list still. I’m sure there’s lots more for you to see in Australia too. Continued safe and happy travels. Cheers, Mark

        Liked by 1 person

  4. hard to believe this is the smallest town because it seems to be brimming with interesting places. I absolutely love that reversed double arch in the cathedral- such a stunning piece of architecture! Cave tours, historic building tour, castle, and incredible views of the valley- my goodness what a wonderful town to discover with you today 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lovely photos of Wells…really like that one of Vicar’s Close…that area looks like a great place to visit. I had booked a tour when I was in Bath of Wells, Glastonbury and Cheddar Gorge, but it got canceled so did the Cotswolds instead…no regrets but now I need to get back there to see what you’ve shown here!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for taking an interest in this post. I do hope you manage to get back to Bath and have an opportunity to visit Wells. Glastonbury and Cheddar Gorge next time Linda. I’ve not visited Glastonbury but would also like to do so but not when the festival is taking place!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. ThingsHelenLoves

    This is not far from me at all and I had no idea. Another place to add to the ever growing list- so many places, so little time! Love the picture of the Bishops Palace Gardens with the flowers round the water and the perfectly timed gliding swan. It would make a lovely jigsaw image.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. For being the smallest city in England, Wells sure packs a punch in terms of sights and attractions. The Bishop’s Palace and Gardens look marvellous. I love how people are actually playing croquet in the croquet lawns. How fun to also visit a nearby cave! I love all the interesting formations. Who knew that being underground could be so beautiful?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Your post brings back memories of my childhood Marion. We visited Cheddar Gorge a few times on our holidays. The cobblestones street looks very picturesque and must be used for tv programmes. We visited Bath earlier this year, lovely city

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow, I am in awe of the Interior of Wells Cathedral, it is simply stunning as are Wells Market Place and Gough’s Cave. I am glad to see you had yet another fun-filled staycation, Marion! Can’t wait to read all about Bath, it’s one of those places I’ve always longed to visit yet never quite made it happen. Thanks for sharing and have a lovely weekend 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I I enjoyed reading and it brought back memories from ages ago when my aunt took me and my cousins to Wells and Cheddar Gorge, I remember most the Bishops Garden and strolling around with her and cousins one in a pusher . Look forward to Bath , my birthplace

      Liked by 3 people

  10. I’m so excited to know that you’ll be showing more about Bath in the next few days. It’s where I spent several summers as a child. I remember visits to Wells, but the memory fades. Now that I am in Europe, it is a temptation to return to this beautiful city, a little further away than London where I was recently.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Another one to add to our “England Wish List”. Wells is stunning. I (Kellye) can never get enough of seeing European churches. Your photography captured the sights so beautifully. A visit to Cheddar Gorge would be right up our alley – I would compare it to a visit to one of our national parks. Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful UK adventure!

    Liked by 3 people

  12. What a stunning part of the world Marion. We have never spent much time in this part of England. Now we can see what we missed. Wells looks like a beautiful little city and the gorge and caves add to is all. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    Liked by 5 people

  13. Look at that cathedral – stunning! And love the splash of colour in the gardens, but how amazing is that road passing through the Cheddar Gorge! I was wondering whether the name “Cheddar Gorge” had any relation to the cheese – it was so interesting to read this bit of information! After climbing all of those steps (well done), you had such lovely views!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Both Wells and Cheddar Gorge were lovely places to visit albeit very different. I’m pleased we walked up to the rim of the gorge for the dramatic views and we were lucky to dodge the rain showers. At least all that walking meant I could enjoy a nice big dinner that evening in Bath!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. SA definitely has its own beauty and wonderful places to see. In summer you could experience the most magnificent thunderstorms. Kruger National Park showcases many of our wildlife and the bush has its own magic. Cape Town is a must-see ….. there’s actually too many to list.

        If you love traveling, South Africa should definitely be considered.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your interest Leighton. Although I’d visited Bristol and spent a day in Bath previously I hadn’t visited Wells or Cheddar Gorge. We were very fortunate at Cheddar not to be outdoors when it poured with rain, somehow we timed it well. Both places were lovely in their own ways and I was pleasantly surprised that there was so much to see and do at Cheddar Gorge.

      Liked by 2 people

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