I said, "Emily, What's this Cheddar Gorge?". In my mind anything that had to do with cheese was not be missed. Emily replied, "Why Ray? Of course we can go!". Her obvious delight should have warned me since Emily has always been a country girl. When we were busy nursing hangovers at University, she was trying out for an army outfit and running obstacle courses. So after spending a lovely evening drinking the most fabulous Rioja- pinched from her husbands even more fabulously stocked wine cellar, we set out slightly hungover to explore the largest Gorge in Great Britain. Another hint would have been to question Emily's admonishing eye roll followed by, "Honestly Ray, we are going walking. You cannot wear heels!"
So off we went, me and my trainers on a crisp blue skied day. The fickle english weather gods had been bountiful and and the sun winked at us between tree branches that arched over winding country roads. After a few hundred sheep, we had arrived and were greeted by large volvo buses. Where there are large volvos, loud tourists cannot be far behind. And where there are tourists there is a certain resignation to expect the worst kind of service. Emily whizzed past them in her little Mazda convertible and we entered the Gorge.
\For those of you who, like me, paid no attention in geography class, a gorge is essentially a small canyon; a narrow cleft with steep cliffs on either side. Cheddar Gorge is Britain's largest and part of the Cheddar complex which houses the magnificent caves we would visit later. It was only 10 am and crowds were thin. We drove through the gorge and found a parking spot, her usual it seems (Ka ching anyone!). She got out and strode purposefully up the left side of the cliff where a small gate under an ivy arch lead to a walkway that Alice would have chased her white rabbit into. Excited at the prospect of going into wonderland, the walkway wound upwards and soon stone steps appeared on a cliff so steep I felt like Frodo climbing Mordor. She had never mentioned cliff! Well we were, all 450 feet of it. I have no pictures of this initial climb since I was dying. My heart was ready to burst and so were the buttons on my tight jeans. The walk is said to have magnificent views yet all I could concentrate on was Emily's backside as it moved up in front of me. After about half an hour of hell we had probably climbed about 150 feet. Yes, that's how steep this was but it finally leveled to a point when I thought to myself, thats no so bad. I took in the panoramic view.
Ahead us, Somerset streched out like a green quilt and behind us (picture below ) was the place where I do believe every Jane Austen film ever made has ever been filmed. I could see Ms Bennet going on her long walks with Mr Darcy discussing how to thwart Wickham by running over him with a carriage or perhaps just reading Northanger Abbey aloud to him instead.
Soon we were making our way down the Gorge and I was terribly relieved as I shimmied my way past large roots and fell Phat on my bum as one caught me unawares. Before I could dust my denim ass off, we had reached the shops where Cheddar Gorge sells all its Cheddar!
For Cheese aficionados everywhere, this is the origination of that hard slightly acidic cheese that we all love. Of course now the entire world produces it, but true cheddar is still made here and the reason for it is because of the ideal storage facilities provided by the caves where cheese is still stored.
Since Emily had never visited the caves, I convinced her to spend good money to go underground to a dark dreary place that had commercialism written all over it. She scowled but agreed. My powers of persuasion are renowned. She balked at the ticket prices ofcourse, but in all fairness they would give us access to the open top bus ride ( no thank you), the walk - we did that, a museum- blah, and finally the caves. After deliberating endlessly on whether to do it, the ticket attendant asked us if we were students and then nodded as I said no. He then nodded more furiously indicating we should say yes and we got in by paying student prices. We saved a whole pound each! He ended it by telling us that even if we didnt want to do the other stuff today, the ticket was valid; for TEN years. Hmmm.
The Gorge is believed to have formed 1.2 million years ago, which makes these caves even older. It seems they also have Britain's largest underground river system. This particular cave, the most beautiful in Britain, was discovered by the children of Richard Cox Gough in 1892 and that's really when we stopped listening and decided to chuck the audio guide.