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