Cheddar Gorge is a limestone gorge in the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Somerset. The gorge is a popular tourist destination for sure, but there is good reason for that; there are hikes and climbs and cycle rides and views galore – something for all outdoors tastes. Did you know that they found Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton, “Cheddar Man”, in the caves at Cheddar Gorge in 1903? He’s estimated to be over 9,000 years old! Hopefully by the end of this post you will be booking a little trip down to the Mendips to hike from Cheddar, it’s well worth it.
The whole idea of the Outdoor Bloggers camping weekends are to provide an opportunity for those who love to get outdoors and then write about it to meet and get to know like-minded people (read about our latest camp here). One of the best ways to do this is to go on a hike; walking is generally something we all enjoy and, bearing in mind that we are all different kinds of people – introverts, extroverts and everything in between – a hike provides us with a comfortable way to be together and chat about all kinds of things along the way.
I planned the route using OS Maps (the desktop version – superb for planning), which includes a whole host of tried and tested routes from various magazines and guide books. On this occasion I chose this route from the OS Pathfinder book series as my starting point. I knew we should be doing the Cheddar Gorge Walk, which I’ve had the pleasure of doing in two parts before from the Black Rock side before (see my post about the South West Outdoors Festival), and was certain to give us some great views. But I wanted something a little longer if possible, and having spotted “Velvet Bottom” on the map I couldn’t resist finding a route that would allow us to see what that was all about. You can’t beat a good place name! This walk also features in 100 Outstanding British Walks, so I knew we were onto a winner.
Cheddar Gorge North Ridge
Our hike started at Petruth Paddocks, our base for the weekend, which is in the south of Cheddar probably just over a mile to the famous area at the foot of the Gorge. Thankfully there’s a footpath from the campsite through to the centre of town, so you don’t have to squeeze along the road where there are no pavements. We passed two public look blocks before we got to the food of the gorge; there is one in the Cliff Street Car Park with just a couple of loos, and then a larger block on Daghole (I think there is a third block but we didn’t pass those).
When I say you start the official Cheddar Gorge Walk by heading up onto the north ridge I am not kidding. The short but very steep ascent is, I’m told, one of the steepest in the Mendips – an excellent way to start a hike, I reckon! After the obligatory group shot, we tackled the climb at each person’s own pace. It certainly got the heart pumping and the legs working, but was completely worth the effort.
Once at the top we followed the path along the dry-stone wall, heading along the gorge but a bit away from the edge. This was appreciated by members of the group who weren’t too sure about the height. But for those of us less concerned about the edge, there were a couple of opportunities to get up close for some uninterrupted views and all-important photographs. I mean, this was a bloggers weekend after all, and there were a lot of photographs to be taken.
Back to the main path, we continued to follow the waymarked route down the hill the other end of the gorge to Black Rock, swapping the views from the top to woodland and valley views. This was where the group decided an extra few miles to take in Velvet Bottom would be worth it, and we broke off the Cheddar Gorge circular route and followed the map.
We followed a very well-made path from Black Rock towards Velvet bottom, which took us up an ancient riverbed now more like a beautiful spongey meadow. Along the way we saw goats butting right on the edge of a cliff, found a lovely sunny and sheltered spot for our picnic lunch, and did a little bit of scrambling just because we could.
When we reached the area known as Velvet Bottom the meadow opened up and we found the ground was covered in incredibly shiny black. Another walker, a local man, explained that this stone is left over from the lead mining process that filled this valley when the river was fast flowing. And sure enough, there were other remnants from the mining days, including stone huts.
We headed over a style and through a steeply sloping field up the hill above where we’d been walking in the valley, and headed back towards Black Rock. We walked through a farm yard, passed a barn full of cows and through what looked like a campsite yet to open for the season; there was a sign as we exited asking walkers to go around rather than through, but there had been nothing on the path at the other end so we followed the marked footpath without realising. This path descended gently to Black Rock where we retraced our route for a short distance before crossing the road and tackling the other half of Cheddar Gorge.
Cheddar Gorge South Ridge
The path from the road up onto the south side of Cheddar Gorge is not as steep as the one from the town onto the north side, but it is still a significant ascent that will make you pant if you’re of anything other than of peak fitness. Thankfully it is a short climb, and in the trees shaded from the sun and shielded from the wind, and it’s over quickly. The views opening up across the gorge, over Cheddar and into the distance, are spectacular even on a mediocre day, and it is well worth seeing the gorge from both north and south if you can.
There is no dry-stone wall here to keep people from the edge, and so the crags were easily accessible and very tempting. This side of the gorge was much busier than the north, possibly because the vast majority of people visiting use the manmade steps of Jacob’s Ladder to reach the top rather than taking the full route around as we did. It was actually quite lively with people, including a load of lads being a bit silly near the edge – I know I like to get close (sorry mum), but I like to think I’m always very sensible and careful and I certainly like to keep my feet on the ground.
Right at the far end of the gorge there is a lookout tower that some of the group went up before we all walked the 274 steps of Jacob’s Ladder back down into the town. This Jacob’s Ladder is a far cry from its namesake up in Edale, but it does the job and means the views are accessible to more people than would otherwise see it.
After our hike we spent a bit of time wandering around Cheddar itself, looking in the various cheese, cider, outdoors and other shops on the main street and tasting the local ice cream (the perfect reward). In all we walked approximately nine miles from beginning to end, including the trundle from the campsite to the foot of the Gorge and back, and I’d highly recommend this hike if you are visiting the area.
Take a look at the route we used and follow it yourself using OS Maps.
Find out more about Outdoor Bloggers here.
In the interests of full and complete disclosure, I am one half of the organising team for Outdoor Bloggers, and so this is a post about a group hike I organised and ran for others. Links to OS Maps are affiliate links, but I genuinely do love it for planning hikes – and double checking I’m on course when I need to.