Today was one of the most enjoyable days out I’ve had in a long time and I include places like St.Lucia and Mauritius in that assessment. I’ve long been a fan of the Mendip Hills and in fact they were partly responsible for me moving to the South West in the first place over 20 years ago. Kate and I parked at the top of Cheddar Gorge (an amazing place in itself) and set off up the side of the hill to join the old West Mendip Way. The path up from the lay-by is very rocky and takes some concentration to avoid twisting an ankle, but it’s wooded and carpeted with bluebells, making it a tranquil environment to admire as you exert yourself. We climbed to the highest point to be rewarded with views across the whole of Somerset including Glastonbury Tor and the villages of Cheddar and Axbridge below us. We could see the small sailing boats practicing on the reservoir in the distance, little flecks of white against the azure blue of the water. The hills were deserted, so we walked in complete peace with a sky bereft of even a single cloud. As we started the downhill section of our route into Cheddar, we passed a lone kite pilot, his box kite rustling in the strong breeze that whipped over the top of the hill and kept us cool in the hot sun.
The path skirts the tops of the cliffs and it’s possible to lean over the edge and see the tiny specks of hikers and cars below in the gorge. With the wind gusting strongly every now and again, I didn’t feel brave enough to peer right from the edge and kept a good 2-3 feet of respectful distance from the point where the grass stopped and the vertical rock started. Nonetheless, it’s impressive to look down into the deep chasm that nature has carved over millions of years. The river that once did that work is now partly underground, running through the cave systems that are one of the main tourist draws to Cheddar and emerging in the populated area at the bottom of the gorge.
As we neared civilisation, we encountered the odd couple here and there, making their way up the slope to the lofty views above. Some goats wandered by the path, a couple of them play fighting and practicing their rutting. This consists of a leap into the air with the forelegs, bringing their head and horns down to smash together in the animal version of a Glasgow Kiss. There didn’t seem to be any venom in the blows, so perhaps they hadn’t had their Special Brew yet?
Our route eventually took us down to the bottom of the gorge, where we emerged next to a riverside cafe. Kate and I wandered over and sat outside under a large parasol, where we ordered our cold refreshments and watched the world slowly go by. There wasn’t a lot of activity until about 20 minutes after we arrived (at about 11:15) and then cyclists and motorcyclists began to appear, weaving between coaches and cars. At one point, about 30 bikers went past up the gorge in convoy, a rag-tag bunch of trikes, sports bikes and cruisers. One Goldwing-based trike peeled off, arm waving above his head, and pulled into the cafe about 20 feet away just as a gaggle of lycra wearing cyclists commandeered a couple of tables and dropped their plastic helmets in piles at the centre of each table. From then on, there was a constant buzz of activity, not what I’d call frenetic, but a steady flow.
We reversed our route to return to the car. It must be a good couple of miles of uphill trekking to get to the tops of the cliffs and that feels that bit harder when it’s hot. There were a few more people about on the walk back, but a handful rather than a crowd. It strikes me that people will fight tooth and nail for a few square metres of beach, when they could come here, lay down a blanket and not see another soul. It’s also closer to the heavens by a few hundred feet, so that must do something for your tan?
Once back at the car, we indulged in some cold water before a steady drive home across the beautiful countryside.
By Oz Warren