Thursday, 28 May 2015

Exeat: Cheddar Gorge

cheddar gorge wiggles car parkingYesterday Ben went to Cheddar Gorge and I thought I'd follow his lead. So, using the tickets we'd bought online just 3 weeks ago, we drove there just after Jof had left for work.
Now we know this journey, we drove to Wookey Hole last year and Cheddar is just a few miles further on the same road, basically another hole in the same hill. We made it to the Salisbury turnoff in half an hour and considered ourselves speedy.
steps and handrail at cheddar gorge cavesBut you've only got to get behind a lorry and you're crawling nose to tail all the way to Warminster. Frome looked promising but by Shepton Mallet we were seething. A prison van took over from the lorries who seemed to stop every now and then to have a sandwich or let a family of ducklings cross the road.
Wells has a cathedral but we didn't care: we drove past the turnoff to Wookey Hole and the road got even narrower. By the time we'd parked halfway up a chasm gouged out by the last 3 ice ages, we'd travelled the 101 miles in 2 hours 40. We had stiff botties.
st pauls cathedral solomons temple goughs cave cheddar gorgeFirst we did Gough's Cave. It was cold, and we hadn't brought tops. The smell of cave-maturing cheese wasn't as bad as in Wookey and the loopy route was quite fun. I liked the shelves of crystal formations looking like giant vomits and the icy cold pools of water where you can see the reflections of the roof and not know where they start and end. But they all have coins thrown in, and alarms so you don't try to nick the stalagmites.
There was a little crevice where some random megalithic man had drawn a mammoth, but I couldn't see it. You're forced to exit via the shop so I squashed a penny for my collection. Next was the museum of prehistory. A Neolithic hunter-gatherer stabbed a hole in our ticket with a sabre tooth and the yurt was closed due to a nesting robin.
coxs cave cheddar gorgeYou get to draw on a window and call it cave art, I drew an animal with long legs but the boys next to me were shouted at by Mummy for drawing bad things. They mention sex (I laughed at the phallus and fat women with their dangly norks out) and cannibalism quite a lot and there's a 3 foot de-fleshed rotating skull in a room full of mirrors, probably not a good thing in the mushroom season.
In Cox's Cave, more of the same with coloured stalactites and Queen Esmerelda or whoever she was and some religious music. At the Crystal Quest there's a warning sign saying flashing lights and scary stuff, leave by the emergency exit if you're a kid. So I said poo to that and went in, a dragon smokes at you and Gandalf waves a book at some Goblins and you hold onto the Orb Of Doom and the voices tell you that you've saved civilisation as we know it, 3rd time for me now.
cheddar caves somersetIncidentally, the Queen Ermintrude in this room turns out to be a rather tasty local girl dressed in black, all the other Evinrudes are fakes. During the dragon-smoking, a small girl burst into tears and had to be taken out by Daddy.
cox cave crystal quest cheddar gorge gandalf merlinOutside is the lookout tower. Now I like a tower as much as the next guy but this 48-stepper is at the top of the hill, up 274 concrete steps. My legs hurt by the top. View's good, though. We declined the 90-minute clifftop walk, as you don't get a medal.
Lunch was beefburger and chips in the Waterfall Restaurant, and yes, there is a waterfall. We saw trout in the millpond and ducklings (no doubt a lorry stopped to let them cross) and various pretty mill races. But I decided to sit inside. Later we had ice creams at the Holly House Tea Rooms and the girl didn't know how to insert a flake, but the ice creams were lovely.
ducklings on millpond cheddar gorge The second-last thing that comes as part of your mega-ticket is the excellent if brief Bus Ride. We sat on the top shelf of the open-topped green bus and a man burbled to us in Western. We learned about Lion Rock and the ice ages and the Romans mining for lead and iron and the mills making charcoal powder for gunpowder and the rent-free cottages and we saw the goats and were happy to believe in the St Dunstan legend, why not.
The last thing given to you by the mega-ticket is the chance to be gaily fleeced by the Sheep Products shop, the teddy bear shop, the numerous ice cream parlours, scrumpy outlets, cheesemongers, plastic dragon slayers, cream tea purveyors, trinket chancers, faerie dancers and even an Indian restaurant.
ice cream shop cheddar gorge
Now, we knew this was going to happen so we bought some scrumpy, a Frisbee, some Cheddar Gorge Chocolate that Jof always says don't buy, a fossilized trilobite, Cheddar Gorge clotted fudge, 3 more squashed coins, a bottle of Gorge Best beer, a 3-D poster of a shark and one of a dinosaur, a Cheddar Truckle (big lump of cheese), a bottle of Potholer beer, a 3-D bookmark, 3 more squashed pennies and a slab of Wookey Hole Cave-aged cheese.
We didn't fancy the journey back through all the little Somerset towns and villages in the rush hour but saw a little sticky-out willy of a motorway spur right in the middle of Bristol. This would give access to the M4, A34 and M3 which meant fast roads all the way home, once you've got to Bristol, which is backwards (not the inhabitants, the direction).
open topped bus tour up cheddar gorgeWe took the gamble. Problem was, it took us an hour to make Bristol. But then the M4 was empty and we felt unlucky if we ever dropped below 90. I invented a new game which is to wrap my head and torso in a blanket, leave just one eye exposed, and spy on people using the make-up mirror in the sun visor. I uttered a stream of orders and reports and strings of digits as I played the Engine Room, Bridge and Control Hub of some kind of intergalactic survey vessel. Plus I tried to touch my nose with my tongue, that game never gets old. Barring an 8-minute layover in Chieveley services for a coffee and a wizz, we steamed on through to the other side. The M3 was busy so we parked there for a while and we got home with stiff botties.
The homeward journey was 2 hours 50 minutes (an increase of 6%) but was 146 miles (increase of 45%). Well, you win some, you lose the other 95%.

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