Monday, July 26, 2010

Cheddar Caves and Gorge

Tourists in our own backyard. This morning we drove to Cheddar and bought the "Cheddar Caves and Gorge" experience tickets for £17 each. It pays for upkeep of the Gorge and all kinds of eco-goodies ... according to the large tasteful placard attached to the rockface ("Who Looks After The Gorge? You Do! ...").

We started with the Cheddar Museum where we were welcomed by a "hunter-gatherer" in traditional costume. Clare soon struck up an animated archaeological conversation which was enlivened by his attempts to make fire the Ray Mears way (using a bow drill). It's harder than it looks and eluded our host. However, he's a dap hand at making flint tools from leftover bits of flint.

The Museum itself is child-oriented and full of gruesome sex and violence. Prominent exhibits describe eight varieties of cannibalism (practiced pervasively both by our remote ancestors and more recent plane crash survivors apparently). Gigantic "Venus figurines" showing enhanced female sexual characteristics are prominently displayed to frighten the youngest children. However, it's rare to see Museum exhibits being studied in awe by young boys so they're obviously doing something right.

We checked out the facts on "Cheddar Man" and then went to see where he'd been found in Gough's Cave. Only the immediate entrance to the cave was occupied in prehistoric times: given the darkness and dampness one is scarcely surprised. Now however there are concrete floors, handrails and strategically-placed uplights everywhere. Interestingly, areas of the rock face which are illuminated are covered in moss and small plants - apparently the bats bring the seeds in.

Clare listening to commentary in Gough's Cave

Our next stop was the "Crystal Quest" a little further down the Gorge. This is a 200 metre cave which has some pretty stalactites/mites and rock pools. Coloured lights accentuate the pleasing effect and as one traverses the cave one's ears are assailed by the plaintive wailing of new-age chanting. Some relief from this interminable shrieking is obtained finally in the last part of the cave where it becomes a sub-tolkienesque story of a fair princess and evil goblins under the control of a dark lord (manequins). In the final chamber it is possible to save the world by touching a crystal sphere (normally the youngest child in the cavern should do this). You are then permitted to leave.

Our next stop was the Gorge open-topped bus tour: pleasant although quite short. However, it was now lunchtime and pretty soon after eating we tackled the 274 steps to the top of the Gorge (formerly known as Jacob's Ladder - why did they drop this name?).

After much pathetic wheezing, bending over double and pretending to read the historical plaques positioned at resting places en route, often several times, we eventually attained the top. I was immediately impelled to the top of the Lookout Tower (pictured).

The Lookout Tower

Having bravely climbed to the top I took in the view and eventually spotted Clare "resting" below (see the red circle in the upper part of the picture below).

View East from the Lookout Tower

We were done for the day. We made our way back down and zoomed back home. That's Cheddar crossed off.