The Cheddar Gorge: where Cheddar cheese matures

Friday, 25 April 2014 - 7:14pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

On a recent trip to the United Kingdom, Cathryn Pinto explores the mysterious realm of the Cheddar gorge
  • Cheddar cheese maturing in the caves. All Images by Cathryn Pinto

If you are looking for a day trip with a bit of history, a bit of adventure or if you simply want to be swept away by nature's beauty, head to the Cheddar gorge.

At the top of the gorge

Located in the Mendip Hills, just a few miles south of Bristol, as we drive through the gorge, we are stunned by this immense limestone structure. Once you are at the gorge, walk through this beautiful experience, climb the 100 steps or so, and follow the path to the top. In about half an hour, we are greeted by grazing goats and are spellbound by the picturesque countryside.

After soaking up a fair bit of sun, I decide that it's time to explore the caves. There are two main caves–Gough’s cave and Cox’s cave–named after their respective discoverers. I feel like an explorer as I enter this mysterious realm and listen to the stories that our enthusiastic tour guide narrates, “Formed over 1.2 million years ago, the Cheddar gorge is a creation of the various ice ages and their subsequent thaws, which resulted in the water cutting through the edge of the hills to carve it out”. In some places you can see the layers in the rock that correspond to the different ice ages. I am amazed and humbled as I gaze upon this landscape’s journey through time and the impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations in the caves. In some places, the formations even give the rock a sense of movement and fluidity and the artificial lighting enhances the natural beauty, creating illusions of other worlds and glacial landscapes.

The rocks appear to have a sense of movement and fluidity

As we walk further into the cave, we see a replica of Britain's oldest human skeleton. The remains of ‘Cheddar Man’, estimated to be 9,000-years-old and now safely tucked away behind a glass sheet in the Natural History Museum, was believed to be found at the entrance of Gough’s cave.

A certain part of the cave is used for maturing cheddar cheese; this is where the gorge gets its name from. As I continue along the caves, I stumble upon a Crystal Quest, an exciting fantasy adventure of heroes and demons, of dragons and elves and where Good triumphs over Evil. The brochure says this is a fun activity for kids, but I assure you that adults will find it entertaining, as well.  If your heart craves for a bit more adventure, the activity centre also gives visitors a chance to try their hand at caving and rock climbing.

However, all this exploring does work up an appetite. Luckily, the streets near the central bit are dotted with little pubs and tea rooms where you can enjoy a hearty meal or an afternoon cream tea. I spend the afternoon leisurely wandering in and out of the quaint independent shops. As I wander through the streets, I find myself in front of a lovely place called the Cheddar Cheese Company, where I sample a range of cheddar cheeses; traditional cheddars as well as more modern and inventive flavours. The cheese here is made in the traditional way–by hand and allowed to mature by dressing it with a muslin cloth. I try some cave-matured cheese. The procedure to mature the cheese still involves the age-old process used 100 years ago, making it the only authentic cave-matured Cheddar cheese in the world. I buy some of it to savour the experience at home.

Soon it is time to say goodbye. We make our way back to the bus, admiring the cheddar pink flowers that look prettier at dusk. As we drive away, I turn around to face the limestone cliffs one last time and know that I'll be back soon enough!


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