England’s largest gorge is a great family adventure but follow our advice to stay safe and enjoy it for free
What is it?
A popular tourist attraction, Cheddar Gorge is a stunning limestone gorge in the Mendip Hills with show caves.
Visitors can complete a three-mile circular walk around the naturally-formed gorge – up one side, along the cliffs 900 feet above sea-level and back down the other side and through the village of Cheddar.
You can also visit the caves where the so-called Cheddar Man was discovered – a 9,000-year-old skeleton. There are two – the largest is Gough’s Cave which is over 500,000 years old with cathedral-like caverns, a large underground river system, stalagmites and stalactites.
Where is it?
It’s near the village of Cheddar in Somerset in the west of England.
What did we think?
This stunning landscape is well worth a look.
The walk would be quite tough for younger children and less fit adults – there are lots of steep parts and the pebbly way means you have to watch your feet a lot of the time.
But the views at the top, and the satisfaction of completing the route, make it worthwhile.
We can see why it is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
How to enjoy Cheddar Gorge for free.
If you do the circular walk clockwise, like we did, you will descend Jacob’s Ladder – not a ladder but a challenging 274 steps – down from the cliff tops into the village, for FREE.
If you want to walk UP the steps instead (there are four resting stops on the way up) – you will need to buy a Cheddar Gorge Caves and Day Ticket. If you’ve got any leg power left, another 48 steps takes you to the the top of the Lookout Tower and some fabulous views.
The ticket includes entrance to the steps and the Lookout Tower, both caves, the Museum of Prehistory and a cinematic experience called Beyond the View.
But it’s a fantastic experience without the extras and you can even park for free too if you park on the road instead of in one of the car parks.
There are more spaces further up the road away from the village – a good place to park is near to the Black Rock entrance to the trail.
*There are some incredibly steep, sheer drops, keep an eye and a hand on children and keep dogs on a lead. I wouldn’t risk this with a child who could run off or anyone who wouldn’t appreciate the dangers.
*Wear walking boots or other suitable footwear, it’s a rocky walk.
*In need of some Christmas decorations? There is an all-year round Christmas shop in Cheddar!
*There is rock climbing and adventure caving for adults and children aged eight and above. Thrillseekers can also try out the Black Cat Freefall – where participants (minimum age 11), climb a 30-foot ladder and take on a big cave jump, attached to a safety line.
*If you want to find out more about the area, visit the Cheddar Man Museum of Prehistory.
Cheddar Gorge information
Food: The route around the gorge takes you through the village of Cheddar where you can buy ice-cream and other food or try cheese tasting at The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company. Alternatively, take a picnic like we did, to enjoy at the top (it can get very blustery but the views are fabulous).
Cost: The cliff-top walk is free if you do the circular route and descend Jacob’s Ladder. Fees apply to ascend the ladder, visit the caves or museum or to take part in the activities like caving and rock climbing.
Best for: Older children and relatively fit adults.
Time needed: Around 2.5 hours for the walk, longer if you include the caves, museum, activities or a look around the town.
Access and restrictions: The walk, the caves and the Jacob’s Ladder steps are not suitable for wheelchairs or anyone with limited disability. You can get a sense of the place via car – the drive through the gorge is one of the most scenic in Britain.
Address: Cheddar Gorge and Caves, The Cliffs, Cheddar, Somerset, BS27 3QF.
Parking: We parked by the side of the road – there seemed to be more spaces further up the road away from the village. A good place to park is near to the Black Rock entrance. Car parks include Cheddar Gorge Car Park and Cliff Street Car Park.
To book: The walk is free but to book paid-for parts of the experience go to the website Cheddar Gorge
Where to stay: We stayed at Wookey Hole Hotel, just eight miles from Cheddar Gorge and on the site of Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions, if you are inspired to explore more cavern, don’t miss our hotel review here.
All you need to know about Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions, near Wells in Somerset
Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions
What is it?
A family attraction centred around one of the UK’s largest series of show caves, said to be home to the Witch of Wookey Hole.
Aside from the caves, there is crazy golf, dinosaurs, a vintage penny arcade, 4D cinema, soft play and a circus theatre.
Where is it?
In the Mendip Hills near Wells in Somerset, in the south-west of England, 20 miles south of Bath.
What did we think?
The caverns are well worth a look, a stunning natural phenomenon. Eight of the chambers are open to visitors. You can see underground pools and even a cheese tunnel, home to Wookey Hole cheese.
Cave-aged cheddar cheese
The rest of the attraction is curious in that it is quite a mish mash of themes and ideas filling the space – I still can’t decide if that makes it charming or confusing.
Nevertheless, we easily filled over half a day and all enjoyed ourselves.
*The caves – they are filled with history – they began to be formed millions of years ago and have been used over the last 50,000 years by various inhabitants including giant hyenas, lions, bears, Neanderthals and Romans. More recently they have featured in films and tv shows such as Doctor Who.
Inside the caves
The temperature is a constant 11° Celsius.
*The Enchanted Valley area when you exit the caves is great for dinosaur fans – there are lots of them to see, some moving and roaring, along with a huge King Kong and a woolly mammoth.
Digging for dinosaur fossils
*There’s a maze of mirrors which is fun to explore, inside a traditional arcade area.
*The circus theatre is worth a look – it stars local young performers who really impressed us with the scale of their skills including aerial, unicycles and even a sprinkling of magic.
Circus at Wookey Hole Caves
*The 4D cinema plays different films – we saw a Scooby Doo show.
*There’s a nine-hole pirate-themed golf adventure course (crazy golf) included in the ticket price.
*We all enjoyed an area with soft foam balls that you can fire out of cannons.
*The staff are very friendly with some getting into character dressed as wizards and witches to enhance the experience.
*The layout can be confusing. Buy/collect your tickets opposite the ice cream parlour near to the hotel (we stayed here, don’t miss our review), then cross the road and walk up the slope to access the caves first.
You walk past the dinosaurs on your way to the caves and through them afterwards.
*The caves take around 35 minutes to get around. They are dimly lit and a bit slippery, with some steps. And watch your head as it can be low in places, but this all adds to the fun of exploring.
*We went during school holidays, but during term-time, you book on a guided tour of the caves. Make the most of the staff stationed in the different caverns to ask them questions as it enhances the experience.
*Wookey Hole Caves is one of over 200 attractions around the UK that Blue Peter badge holders can get into for free. Badge holders with a valid badge card must be accompanied by a full paying adult.
* Look out for the human-shaped stalagmite that legend says is a witch turned to stone by a monk from Glastonbury, hence the legend.
*When you first go into the 4D cinema experience, you enter a room with a talking bat (he natters on for rather a long time) and a witch on a big phone screen – it could be rather dark and scary for some younger children. The 4D cinema experience involves the chairs moving and shaking at times and sensations such as puffs of air. Children under three are not allowed in.
Wookey Hole Caves information
Where to stay: We stayed at the hotel on site Wookey Hole Hotel, which means we were first in the caves in the morning, read our review to find out more.
Wookey Hole Hotel
Food: There’s a large restaurant on site selling meals such as chicken nuggets and sausages and chips. There are a few sandwich and cake options too. It has a bit of a canteen feel so could be nicer to sit on one of the few tables outside.
Next to the car park is an ice cream parlour with a delicious array of flavours.
We stay at the hotel next to the famous Wookey Hole Caves in Wells
Our video tour of the hotel and attraction
Wookey Hole Hotel
Where is it?
At the famous Wookey Hole Caves attraction in Somerset, two miles from the cathedral city of Wells and 20 miles from Bath.
What is it?
A 58-room hotel with a memorable turret shaped like a witch’s hat.
There’s a nod to witches in other details too including the curtains in our room.
A witch peers out of a bush at the hotel
This is due to the legendary Wookey Hole witch – said to have lived in the caves until she was killed by a monk.
Is it family friendly?
Yes, there were lots of families here when we stayed and it is the target market for the hotel. Many are likely to be here to visit the adjacent Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions.
Children also benefit from a well kitted out games room and a great children’s menu in the restaurant.
We had a family room with a comfortable double bed and two singles, a great alternative to the usual offering of two double beds and the children were pleased to have a bed each.
There was lots of good storage space, tea and coffee facilities and a tv plus free WiFi for unlimited devices.
Our family room
There are also double, superior and luxury family rooms. And a Witch’s Hat Suite for two adults with a bedroom and lounge. It can be found, as you might imagine, under the Witch’s Hat tower turret.
Food and drink
The Bistro is the bar and restaurant on site. It’s a nice room with wide windows on two sides.
Breakfast is served between 7.30am and 10am daily and there’s the choice of a buffet-style continental or a cooked alternative such as an English breakfast or eggs benedict.
There’s a good selection of evening meals, with something for everyone, served from 5.30pm to 8.30pm.
*The location – this is fantastic if you want to visit Wookey Hole Caves as it’s right next door. You can also do some scenic walks around the village and to Ebbor Gorge, which is about a 30-minute walk from the hotel.
*There is free car parking.
*The games room includes a giant Connect Four, air hockey table, table football, Jenga and classic arcade games.
Part of the games room
*As you’re staying on the same site, make sure to get up and out early as you can be first in the caves like we were – they opened at 9.30am when we stayed.
*Book the restaurant for breakfast or evening meals before you arrive to make sure you get one at your preferred time.
*Adjoining rooms are available if needed as are travel cots – only the bottom sheet is provided so bring your own bedding.
*There are often special packages available with stays including tickets to Wookey Hole, breakfast and discounts to other attractions, if you book directly with the hotel.
*The adjacent Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions is a series of show caverns which date back millions of years. Alongside the caves are a dinosaur park, 4D cinema, adventure golf, soft play and circus theatre. Read our full review of Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions.
*It’s two miles from beautiful Wells – the smallest city in England. We spent a fantastic afternoon here, spending ages exploring the Bishop’s Palace glorious gardens.
Bishops Palace and Gardens, Wells
*It’s 20 miles from Bath, where we spent a lovely couple of days visiting attractions like the Roman Baths, the Royal Crescent and the American Museum and Gardens as well as enjoying hop-on, hop-off open air bus tours. Read our full guide: Things to do in Bath for families
We take our children to explore spectacular caves on a family day out in the Peak District
Poole’s Cavern & Buxton Country Park
What is it?
Poole’s Cavern is a two milion-year-old limestone cave. It is one of the best show caves in England – there are vast illuminated galleries to explore, filled with fantastic formations like crystal stalactites and stalagmites.
From the car park here is an entrance to Buxton Country Park – an uphill stroll though woodland to a hilltop viewpoint where you can look out across the Peak District.
Where is it?
It is on the edge of Buxton in the Peak District, in Derbyshire.
What did we think?
Poole’s Cavern is a fascinating all-weather attraction. The ancient, natural limestone caves are exciting with fascinating formations and an interesting history, which the guide explains. (All tours are guided).
Visitors explore the cavern (Credit: Visit Peak District & Derbyshire)
To be able to follow our time below ground with a walk high above in the country park, with great views, is brilliant.
*Austin, our fantastic guide around the caves, really kept the children (and us) interested with tales including what happened to the cavern’s biggest stalagmite and pointing out graffitti on a cave wall left by the Victorians. He also told us about the geology behind how the caves and formations were created.
*I had a secret chuckle at the prominent shape of the ‘poached egg’ stalagmites – you’ll see why when you get there!
*Solomon’s Temple – a tower at the top of the hill in Buxton Country Park – climb it to appreciate the Peak District views.
*The temperature in the cave is always 7C, so don’t forget jumpers or coats, especially in summer when you may not think to bring them.
*Guided tours are every 20 minutes and leave from the visitor centre exhibition area. Tours last around 50 minutes.
*The caves are lit but are still quite dark. At the end of the tour, the guide will turn all the lights off for a few seconds so you can imagine what exploring the cave by candlelight used to be like. You may want to hold your child’s hand for this bit. If one of you would not like this darkness, you can let the guide know beforehand.
*Buxton Country Park – we took the yellow route up to the to Solomon’s Temple and the green route back down again. It is quite steep.
*Also here is one of Go Ape’s highest adventure courses, with zip wires and aerial walkways. This needs to be booked separately.
Where did we stay?
We stayed at a beautiful five-star, spa hotel, the Buxton Crescent, read our full review of it next.
Poole’s Cavern and Buxton Country Park information
Facilities: There is a visitor centre which shows archaeology found in the cave and is interesting to look around while you are waiting for your tour.
There is also a shop selling rocks and minerals, toys, gifts and books.
And there are accessible toilets with baby changing facilities.
Food: There are two picnic areas plus a cafe selling drinks, snacks and light meals.
Opening hours: First tour at 10am, last tour at 4.30pm, every day.
Cost: Adults (aged over 16) are £12.50, children (aged five to 16) are £6, students and seniors with valid ID are £10 and a family ticket for two adults and two children is £32.
Best for: Ages six and above.
Time needed: The cavern tour takes around 50 minutes. The walk to the top of the hill in the adjoining country park and back can be done in an hour.
Access and restrictions: There are walkways and handrails. The first main chamber is 100 metres long and is accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs. After that are 14 steps up and 14 back down again (you return the way you came).
Are dogs allowed at Poole’s Cavern? Dogs are allowed in the cafe and the visitor centre but not in the cavern, except for guide dogs.
Parking: There is a pay and display car park.
Address: Poole’s Cavern Visitor Centre, Green Lane, Buxton, Derbyshire, SK17 9DH.
Read our review of a beach hotel stay near Alcudia in Mallorca and a visit to the magnificent Caves of Drach
The Spanish Balearic island of Mallorca (or Majorca*) was a favourite holiday destination for my family when I was growing up.
I have hazy, happy memories of golden sands and learning to swim in a warm, blue sea.
Then there was the Spanish keyboard player in our hotel who inspired me at the age of three to take organ lessons.
He’s probably retired now but the seas and sand remain so 30 years after I last visited it was time to make new memories of the island with my own children.
And so we found ourselves joining hoardes of other British families in August heading to this Mediterranean hotspot.
We used our air miles (see here for more information) and flew with BA City Flyer.
Once again, we were really impressed with the service, the planes (2-2 seating) and the leg room.
Leg room on our BA City Flyer flight
The flight at just over two hours was perfect for our children, they enjoyed the taking off and landing with just enough time in between to eat, read and watch iPads.
My first impression after landing was how enormous the island’s only airport Palma is now. My parents remember it as just a ‘hut’ in the 1960s when they first went.
There is an extraordinarily long walk to collect your suitcases, something to plan for if you have young children.
We collected a hire car, fitted our children’s car seats (see here for our car seat advice) and headed north to our hotel.
It took 45 minutes to reach the Prinsotel La Dorada, a four-star resort in Playa de Muro near Alcudia.
Prinsotel La Dorada
This aparthotel has all the benefits of self-catering and a hotel stay combined.
The rooms are like apartments with mini-kitchens but you can choose to eat at the hotel or mix and match.
Our living area
The resort is a great size – just big enough. And really well designed. The rooms are located in five blocks around the pools so everybody is in a good position.
Our room overlooked an adjacent nature reserve so we had a beautiful view. Other rooms overlook the pools.
The view from our room
And the pools are gorgeous – beautifully designed in different sections to keep the interest up for children, with varying water depths to suit all.
There is also a pool for babies, toddlers and younger children with a slide and other water fun.
The entertainment was great – we all enjoyed the evening shows and entertainers were busy in the day as well, leading aqua aerobics and other games and activities.
The pools kept ours entertained but there is a miniclub for children aged four to 12 with a programme of activities. There’s also a playground and a mini disco in the evenings. Our two tried one of the activities – pony riding around the grounds (an extra €6 per child), which was a highlight, even when my daughter’s horse stopped to relieve itself on the pristine hotel gardens!
There is also a maxiclub for older children, who have access to a PlayStation.
Then there’s a crazy golf course, pool and table tennis tables for adults and children.
A nice touch in the main buffet restaurant is a children’s section set inside a train where they can help themselves to food displayed at their height.
It is a five-minute walk (200m) to the lovely, sandy Muro Beach. Here, the sea remains shallow for quite a way out – great for children.
We hired a pedalo one day for €15 and although I never made it to the hotel spa (or obviously the gym), I enjoyed two foot massages on the beach for €10 each, while the waves crashed in front of me. Bliss.
You can stay self-catering or half board or you can pay as and when you fancy for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
For evening meals, we did a mixture of cooking in our room, eating at the hotel buffet restaurant and sampling the local restaurants – a great variety which really suited us.
For more details of the hotel, click here.
Cuevas del Drach
I was keen to take my children to the Caves of Drach which I had enjoyed as a child (apart from the year we went to the wrong caves and didn’t realise – apparently this still happens now so check the website for the exact location as there are other caves nearby).
The attraction is on the east coast of Mallorca in Porto Cristo and we were glad to escape the August heat to the 21C temperature inside.
It is incredible – there is a long path and lots of steps through the caves, which are dimly lit and bursting with stalagmites and stalactites.
Finally, you reach one of the largest underground lakes in the world, Lake Martel where you sit down, the lights go off (some children may not like this) and three lit rowing boats appear, the first with musicians in, for an unforgettable 10-minute classical music concert. See here for more information on this attraction.
We also visited Alcudia old town on market day – a Tuesday morning – and haggled for a few bits before a welcome stop in a restaurant for tapas (and pizza).
It is a pretty, walled town with lots of atmosphere and lots to see and buy.
Alcudia old town
We went to a couple of other beaches, Alcudia and S’illot, but preferred the Playa del Muro by our hotel.
Mallorca was as lovely as I remembered. August was a touch too hot for us, so we are keen to try it out at a different time of year.
*Finally, Mallorca or Majorca what is the difference?
The Spanish spell it Mallorca, the British started to call it Majorca as they struggled with the double L sound, although both are pronounced Ma-yor-ka. So now you know!