Exploring Cheddar

It actually doesn’t take a shit tonne of time to get to Cheddar from Cornwall even when your sat nav is trying to kill you because you forgot to turn off the “no motorways” option. Oops. But a spot of tinkering and a minor nervous breakdown later and she was taking us on to all of those lovely, lovely roads with white lines down the middle that are big enough for two vehicles going in opposite directions. She even threw in a couple of duel carriageways by way of an apology for nearly making me cry.

Cheddar Gorge though! Bit of a stunner.

Right then. Cheddar Gorge. It’s absolutely stunning here. Unfortunately, it’s been wrapped up and packaged so that it’s mostly inaccessible unless you want to pay £18.95 (£16.11 if you buy online in advance) for an Explorer Ticket which includes everything you want to do and a shit tonne of stuff you don’t. Like, we wanted to do the gorge walk, Gough’s cave and I was quite interested in the Museum of Prehistory too. The wording on the website suggests you need this ticket to explore the gorge but that, as we like to say in Blighty, is a load of utter bollocks. Or tosh. Tosh is a good one. I think that you need to have a moustache in order to fully pull off the utterance of “load of old tosh” though. If you’re without a furry top lip then maybe stick to twaddle but avoid balderdash completely because you need a moustache, cane and a monocle for that one. I digress.

Anyway, head to the National Trust office and they’ll tell you where to go for the walk they recommend which does cross into Cheddar Gorge land but that part of the attraction is free. Just stay away from their 274 steps, bi-yatch, and don’t even think about touching their Lookout tower. Gough’s cave is a paid attraction but we’d booked to go caving the next day and you can pay a little extra and have it included in that ticket, so we did that. As for the museum, we just couldn’t go. You can’t pay individually for an attraction, if you want to see one you have to pay for them all and that, my friends, is shit.

We got a map and directions to the start of the gorge walk from a lovely helpful bloke at the National Trust office and off we went. It’s a gorgeous walk though with some incredible views if you can get to the top of the first hill which I swear exists purely to highlight my fitness levels or lack thereof. It’s pretty easy to find your way but when you come out onto the road, don’t go straight over. It’s easier to turn left and take the next footpath on the right. You’re welcome. Other things to see during the walk include British Primitive Goats who will glare at you in a way that reminds you how pointy their horns and refuse to come over to eat the grass you’re offering them on account of them having enough of their own grass, thankyouverymuch.

After a walk, what’s better than a feed and a drink? There are a few places to choose from including an American style diner advertising cheap pints and main meals for £4. Ha. If I was travelling I’d be all over that but you know you’re more Brighton than backpacker when you wrinkle your nose at the prospect of £4 meals on account of them “probably not being that good.” Check ‘er out. Two years in a town that does food particularly well and suddenly only the finest ingredients will do and would you pass the caviar please, Jeeves?

We arrived back at our campsite to find that a family had hijacked our fire pit so we resorted to the traditional British method of complaining which basically involves a lot of glaring and muttering to each other before crashing out for an early night. We had adventures planned for tomorrow. Awesome, awesome adventures.

I mean, it’s a pretty strong look, right?

Firstly, what manner of physics governs the unpacking and repacking of a tent? I mean, it fucking came out of that space, surely it should go back in?! Secondly, caving! Woo! The second most fun a lesbian can have in holes! We’d booked to go caving and it turned out we were the only two. Perfect! We were kitted out in rather fetching boiler suits, wellies and hard hats with lights and were lead through Gough’s Cave to the first chamber.

Way more fun than it looks.

Caving is basically crawling around caves on your belly and hoping you don’t get stuck. Our guide, Shaunus, sat us down and asked us if we wanted to try some squeezes just for fun on account of the fact there was only two of us so we’d have heaps of time. Yeah ok. Why not? He pointed at a hole he called The Letterbox and I instantly regretted the massive fry up we’d had for breakfast. It was fucking tiny and here’s the thing; I’m ever so slightly claustrophobic. Not as bad as I used to be, it’s something I’ve tried to work myself out of like the fear of heights thing. Whilst we were caving, as when I was exploring the silver mine in Potosi, I just had to tell myself that just because I wasn’t out of the hole just yet, I soon would be. I wasn’t going to take the 30 seconds I wanted it to, it might take a couple of minutes of wriggling on my belly, using my knees and elbows to propel myself, but I’d get there and there was no need for any kind of panic.

Once you’ve finished shoving yourself through holes in rock you can have a look at Gough’s Cave which is a bit of a stunner.

I looked at the Letterbox and decided that if Shaunus could fit though it, so could I. Yeah, he was a skinny looking bloke and I have tits that could be used as a buoyancy aid for the entire top deck should I ever be in a shipwreck, but I decided his shoulders were broader than mine and he wouldn’t have suggested we do it if he didn’t think we could fit, right? Right. I slid through, no problem. It was awesome! We did a few more squeezes of varying tightness before carrying on through the cave.

Apparently caves are an appropriate place to keep cheese.

It turns out that caving is an actual fuck tonne of fun. We crawled, wriggled and slid our way through the system until we got to a part which Shaunus told us had a 40 foot drop to the left. Ohhhh fuck… We’d already been told that if you were ever unsure where to go in a cave, look for the smooth, shiny rocks because those are the ones that many people have brushed against. Given that this was used daily, this ledge which sloped gently to the left towards the drop was as polished as Grandma’s best china. Fortunately, because “health and safety spoil all of Shaunus’s fun,” there was a rope to cling onto whilst crying and wanting your mum. This was the first time I was actually, genuinely scared. I pushed myself as far right as I could. The only way I could have gotten closer to the wall was if I was part of it. I actually stared sweating as I shuffled along the ledge, clinging onto the rope. But again, I made it and didn’t die and silently congratulated myself for not having a minor breakdown.

We were nearly at the end. Just another squeeze to get through which involved pulling yourself up through a relatively big hole. I reached through and tried to find a foot hold to boost myself up. Fail. I tried again and again. Think chihuahua trying to get onto a sofa. I couldn’t get any purchase on the shiny, well used rock with my wellies and my arms had decided they weren’t gonna do any more pulling that day. That’s it. I was stuck. I decided I was going to stay here forever. I stopped scrabbling and told the others to go on and leave me. Future tourists would have to bring me tea and cake and children would poke me with sticks and I would be the poster girl for how not to go caving. Then Tarrant pulled me through the hole and I was free to breathe fresh air again and eat cheese.

Because Cheddar cheese. Yesssss. I fucking love cheese. Love it. When we buy cheese at home I have to wrap it in foil so I don’t instantly recognise it as cheese when I open the fridge and therefore don’t stuff it all into my facehole every time I needed something from the big, cold box. Now I just associate foil with cheese. I’m like Pavlov’s dog with less hair. Slightly less hair. Ok, not much less hair but it’s been cold. Don’t judge. There’s actually only one cheese still made in Cheddar these days and it’s unsurprisingly made by the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, sold in the gift shop and aged in Gough’s Cave. There’s a point in the cave which has the perfect temperature and humidity to store the cheese for a year whilst it matures. It’s good cheese too.

Fossil hunting in Charmouth. You’ll have more luck in the cliffs.

Gough’s Cave is really pretty. We didn’t bother with an audio guide although I believe it’s really informative, but we just wanted to take photos and head to Lyme Regis. The cave was discovered by Richard Gough in 1982 who basically wanted a show cave. He just kept digging until he uncovered the parts called St Paul’s Cathedral and Solomon’s Temple and they are pretty fucking awesome if you like caves. Which I do. It also used to be inhabited and the oldest complete skeleton, Cheddar Man, was found here. We probably could have learnt more about this with an audio guide or if we’d been allowed into the museum without having to buy a ticket for fucking everything. Not that I’m bitter. Nope.

Our little fossil stash which we will treasure for ever.

Aaaaaanyways. Time to leave. We’d swung by Lyme Regis on the way to Cornwall but the best time to go fossil hunting is at low tide, or an hour and a half either side of it. Low tide then was ages away, but low tide today was at a much more reasonable hour of 2.04pm. We missioned it to a town called Charmouth, parked up and headed to the beach clutching a claw hammer to look for fossils. This part of the Dorset coast is called the Jurassic Coast. It has frequent land slips which reveal more and more fossils which you’re allowed to search for and take home as long as you don’t hack into the cliffs themselves. It’s fucking awesome!

Hundreds of fossils at Lyme Regis.

Tarrant preferred to pick her way through the rubble whereas I favoured the “bash shit with a claw hammer until it breaks” technique. Neither one yielded results so we shuffled up the cliffs where there’d been a recent land slide and there was a shit tonne of this slatey rock type stuff which broke apart in your hands like wet cardboard. And there were fossils! Loads of them! So many ammonites, all free to be taken. When you first find them you get so excited but I’m not gonna lie, after the 20th ammonite you kinda just want to find a T-Rex or something.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We left Charmouth and headed to Lyme Regis, not to collect more fossils, I just wanted to find a place I’d heard of called the Ammonite Graveyard. Apparently you can’t remove them but it’s a pretty awesome sight. You have to get to Monmouth Beach and just keep wandering west. There are so many interesting rocks here and yes, I just used the words “interesting” and “rocks” concurrently in the same sentence. And the size of the fossils! I ran ahead of Tarrant looking for this graveyard, losing hope as I got closer to the end. Then I glanced over to my right. Holy fuck! It really is something to look at. I picked my jaw up off the floor and took a shit load of photos.

A fossil in a rock and my podgy hand for scale. This was even one of the smaller ones.

We contemplated why we hadn’t lost any weight this holiday despite the number of hills we’d walked up and the fact we hadn’t really drunk that much alcohol as we consumed another cream tea and followed it up with ice cream before heading back to our awesome little rental car and back to Brighton. Anyway. This post has probably exceeded the attention span of the average internet user so I shall end it here. There’s so much to see and do in this slightly damp country I call home. I just wish it didn’t cost so fucking much to get anywhere.

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np

Cheddar, Somerset, & Lyme Regis, Dorset, England
Stayed at: Mendip Camp, nr. Cheddar Gorge

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