Cheddar Gorge & Caves

Cheddar Showcaves - Gough’s Cave - Cox's Cave - Cheddar Caves & Gorge


Useful Information

Cheddar Gorge. Steep limestone cliffs containing numerous caves.
One of the numerous caves in Cheddar Gorge.
Location: A371 between Weston-super-Mare and Wells.
M5 exit J22, A38 north 11km to Cheddar, follow brown tourist signs. From Bristol A38 then A371 and B3135. From Bath A39 then B3135.
(51.281911, -2.766628)
Open: All year daily 10-17.
Last tour 16:30.
Closed 24-DEC, 25-DEC.
[2022]
Fee: Caves & Gorge Explorer Ticket: Adults GBP 19.95, Children (5-15) GBP 13.95, Children (0-4) free, Family (2+2) GBP 57.60.
Online Discount: Adults GBP 16.95, Children (5-15) GBP 11.85.
Groups (12+): Adults GBP 14.95, Children (5-15) GBP 9.50.
[2022]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: Cox's Cave: L=100 m.
Gough's Cave: L=3,405 m, VR=115 m.
Guided tours: L=820 m, St=100, D=45 min.
V=260,000/a [2000]
Photography:
Accessibility:
Bibliography: Timeless Cheddar Caves, guide book, available at caves.
D.T. Donovan (2006): Gough's Cave, Cheddar, Somerset. Quaternary Stratigraphy Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelæological Society. 24 (1): 17–35. pdf
Address: Cheddar Gorge & Caves, Cheddar Gorge, Somerset BS27 3QF, Tel: +44-1934-742343, Fax: +44-1934-744637.
E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1837 Cox's Cave discovered by Mr George Cox during a quarrying operation.
1838 Cox's Cave opened to the public.
1892 Gough's Cave discovered by Richard Cox Gough.
1895 ExplainE.A. Martel, visited Cox's Cave and declared that "out of 600 caves, Cox's was admired the most".
1898 Gough's Cave opened to the public.
1899 Electric light installed in Gough's Cave.
1903 remains of a human male, named Cheddar Man, discovered in Cough's Cave.
1949 Cox's Cave surveyed by L.B. Thorneycroft
1952 Gough's Cave surveyed by W.I. Stanton.
1960 Cox's Cave surveyed.
1965 caves in the gorge surveyed by W.I. Stanton.
15-SEP-1968 cave flooded for three days during the Great Flood of 1968.
1985-1990 extensive flooded parts of the cave system were explored.
1987 Cox's Cave connected to the artificial Pavey's Cave by a tunnel.
1987 human skulls discovered, which were deliberately fashioned into ritual drinking cups or bowls.
2010 human bones discovered which were dated to 14,700 BP.

Description

The Cheddar Gorge & Caves actually are two caves, the larger Gough's Cave, and Cox's Cave. They are a very British tourist venue with lots of not cave related "sights". The tour includes both caves and also the Cheddar Man Museum, a Dungeons & Dragons Adventure called the Crystal Quest, Jacob's Ladder, Pavey's Lookout Tower and an open-top bus tour of Cheddar Gorge. Some older descriptions notice a third cave, Waterfall Cave, which is today the place of the Crystal Quest, but in fact, it is a part of Cox's Cave. The name of the cave and the tour was changed numerous times since it was opened as a show cave. Some years ago it was renamed Cheddar Gorge & Caves from formerly Cheddar Caves & Gorge. It is also known as Cheddar Showcaves, the plural is intended.

Cox's Cave was discovered in 1837 by the mill owner George Cox while quarrying limestone for a new building. He opened the cave as a show cave in the following year, obviously after building some trails and after making a contract with the landowner. When he became too old, the cave was taken over by the landowner Thomas Thynne, 5th Marquess of Bath. The cave is rather small and completely developed, a large meandering passage leads to series of decorated rifts. There is a natural connection to Pavey's Hole which is an artificial cave nearby. But as this passage was not suitable for cave tours, an artificial connection was blasted through in 1986. This allows a through tour exiting through Pavey's Hole.

Gough's Cave was known in the 19th century, but only the entrance section which was called Sand Cave. In 1892 the retired sea captain Richard Cox Gough, who lived in Lion House in Cheddar, explored this cave. He discovered a new section of the cave and between 1892 and 1898 he excavated and developed the cave. In 1898 he opened it to the public, and in the next year he installed electric light. The trails he installed are almost unchanged until today, and the Diamond Chamber is the end of the show cave until today. Nevertheless, the cave was explored further and is today almost 3.5 km long, a lot of it is the underground course of the Cheddar Yeo, which makes it the largest underground river system in Britain. Extensive flooded parts of the cave system were explored between 1985 and 1990. The river passage is accessible only by cave diving.

The cave contained skeletal remains of both humans and animals. Exceptional is that they all show cut-marks and breakage which are typical for de-fleshing and eating. There are Skull fragments of five to seven humans, including a 3-year-old and two adolescents. The brain cases were prepared as drinking cups, a thing which is known from other Magdalenian sites across Europe. The remains of a human male were discovered in Gough's Cave in 1903 and named Cheddar Man. It was dated to 7150 BC and is thus Britain's oldest complete human skeleton. A replica of the remains and a reconstruction based on his genetic markers are on display in the Cheddar Man Museum, the original remains are in the Natural History Museum in London. According to the reconstruction he had green eyes, lactose intolerance, and dark curly or wavy hair. And probably his skin was dark to very dark.

Further excavations in 2010 revealed human bones which were dated to 14,700 BP. The analysis of the scratch marks using 3D microscopy by Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum supports theories about cannibalism. This is quite exceptional as most theories of cannibalism were actually 19th century superstition. The team even stated that human skulls excavated in 1987 were deliberately fashioned into ritual drinking cups or bowls. As a result the museum was renamed Cheddar Man and the Cannibals Museum.

A 15,000 years old device, made of reindeer antler, was interpreted as being a device for making rope. A similar tool, made of 40,000 year old mammoth tusk, from the CaveHohler Fels in Germany indicated that this technique had already become an important human activity by the Upper Paleolithic. Such discoveries were called batons and were interpreted as badges of rank carried by chiefs. But an experimental archaeology experiment by Veerle Rots of the University of Liège in Belgium proved that they can be used to make rope. Rope was obviously of great use for our ancestors and of great importance.

The name Cheddar is always connected with the Cheddar cheese. And really, this is actually the place where the cheese comes from. The karst area is not suitable for agriculture, it was thus used as meadows for feeding cows, and the caves and cellars in the limestone are an ideal place to store and mature the cheese. There is even a cheese store in the show cave which can be seen during the tour.

As we mentioned at the beginning this is not a normal show cave. It is a sort of British theme park with numerous parts and a single ticket. If you just want to visit the cave, the fee is quite annoyingly high, but if you want to have an interesting day its actually okay. Unfortunately there is no possibility to visit just the cave. If you look at travel portals on the web you will see that the site has rather poor ratings This is simply because numerous visitors would prefer to visit just the cave. And some visitor felt screwed, when they discovered that they paid a rather high fee for the cliff walk, the trail around the gorge. The point is that there are four access point and only one requires a fee at all, so if you start at one of the other three the walk is free.

The open hours and entrance fees are pre Corona. It seems this venue was hit even harder by the pandemic than other tourist venues and it was partly and completely closed for some time. Currently, even the web page was replaced by simple statement that they will reopen in April, no year given.