Back in September, I had the pleasure of being invited to speak at the South West Outdoor Festival. Held on a farm on the cliffs above Cheddar Gorge, SWOF is a small and informal affair linked with the National Trust, designed as a celebration of all things outdoors. If you came to hear me speak, thank you, it was super cool to have an actual audience in front of me to share my love of the outdoors and my One Hour Outside idea with. It was also rather special to have my name on a line-up full of amazing adventurers, authors and all-round super humans; a confidence boost I hope I never get over. I really hope there will be more opportunities like that in 2018.
South West Outdoors Festival, Cheddar Gorge
Speaking in the Adventure Tent at the South West Outdoors Festival
But, naturally, as I was camping right on top of the wonderfully picturesque Cheddar Gorge (Great Britain’s answer to the Grand Canyon…?!), it seemed rude not to head off for a walk to see take in the view. I’d ridden my motorbike through the gorge almost exactly one year previously, and here was the perfect opportunity to keep a promise I made to myself that day to see it from above. Not wanting to miss out on other people’s talks over the weekend, we split up the traditional Cheddar Gorge circular walk into two halves on two days.
Cheddar Gorge from the North Ridge
Hiking Cheddar Gorge
The way marked route usually takes people from the information centre in Cheddar itself, up on to the north ridge, down to Black Rock, up onto the south ridge, and back to Cheddar. In our case, as we were already on the cliffs above Black Rock, we walked from our campsite at Warren Farm in Blagdon, down to the valley at Black Rock, and then up to the south ridge and back on one day and the north ridge and back on the next.
Steps down to Black Rock
Cheddar Gorge is a limestone gorge in the Mendip Hills. According to Wikipedia, the Gorge attracts about 500,000 visitors per year, and so is quite the tourist destination thanks to its show caves, climbing and walking routes. In a 2005 survey by Radio Times, Cheddar Gorge was named as the second greatest natural wonder in Britain, surpassed only by Dan yr Ogof caves, a 17-kilometre long cave system in south Wales (which I am yet to visit – it’s gone on the list!).
Looking down towards Cheddar from the South Ridge
There is a road running right through the middle of the Gorge that is well worth the drive (or ride), although thanks to the numbers doing the same journey you will have no choice but to take it slowly through the cliffs – thankfully it’s beautiful and there are plenty of roadside parking areas to stop and take a break. But when standing by my motorbike just over a year ago looking up at the cliffs, and spotting someone standing right at the top, I knew I had to find my way up there. Thankfully getting up is pretty simple and not too strenuous.
Path to Cheddar Gorge
The route up from Black Rock to the south cliffs of Cheddar Gorge is steep and rooty through woodland until you reach the top. We were actually surprised at how far it seemed, but it turned out we’d taken a slightly-longer-than-needed path down from the campsite before we even reached Black Rock so we’d been going for a couple of miles before we started our ascent. The woodland path is beautiful and sheltered, but watch your footing as it is undulating in places. Once out of the wooded area the path flattens off and heads slightly downhill along the cliffs, with amazing views down to Cheddar and beyond. Beautiful. We turned around here and headed back the same way, but you can take this path all the way down into Cheddar if you are doing the circular walk.
Path from Black Rock
I felt the going was a little easier from Black Rock up to the north ridge than it was up to the south ridge, the path itself was less rooty and uneven, but it was equally as steep in places. No blue skies this time; the rain had been very heavy overnight and there was a marathon running event taking place as we walked which was churning up the paths nicely. I was very grateful to my walking boots for keeping me upright; although I did have a few slides, I didn’t once end up on my bottom! We had to move to the side regularly to let those taking part in the event, which was organised as part of the festival I spoke at, go by – but they were all super polite and basically doing what we were doing, enjoying Cheddar Gorge on a Sunday morning.
Looking over Cheddar Gorge from the North Ridge
Thanks to a tip off from the National Trust volunteers working at the festival, we deviated from the marked route onto a different footpath up on the north ridge for what he promised would be the best views of the Gorge from the top. He wasn’t wrong; we took a slightly different path when we got to the top of the steep section, onto the opposite side of the dry stone wall to the one with the finger board, and got the views we wanted. It turned out to be the exact spot I saw a year earlier when I stood next to my motorbike looking up. Result!
Clambering over rocks at Cheddar Gorge
If you find yourself in the Cheddar area don’t just drive through the Gorge, although that is wonderful in itself, make the time to get up onto the top of the cliffs by doing the walk. At around four miles in total, a bit steep in places (and potentially muddy if the weather has been wet), but completely doable by anyone with reasonable fitness and the right footwear, it’s well worth the effort. Grab a map from the tourist information centre in town or use this one from the National Trust and have a great few hours in the countryside.
Cheddar Gorge from the North Ridge