Monday, 13 July 2009

Somerset: Chedda Gorge

Cheddar is a large village and civil parish in the district of Sedgemoor in the English county of Somerset. It is situated on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills 9 miles (14 km) north-west of Wells.

Cheddar Gorge is the largest gorge in the United Kingdom and includes several show caves. It has been the setting for a major centre of human settlement since Neolithic times, including a Saxon palace. It also provides a unique geological and biological environment which has been recognised by the designation of several Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

The village gave its name to Cheddar cheese and has also been a major centre for Strawberry growing. It is now a major tourist destination and large village with several cultural and community facilities.

There is evidence of occupation from both the Neolithic and Roman periods in Cheddar. There is some evidence of a Bronze Age field system at the Batts Combe quarry site. The remains of a Roman villa have been excavated in the grounds of the current vicarage.
In the 10th century the Witenagemot met three times at the Saxon palace in Cheddar.
The ruins of the palace were excavated in the 1960s and are located in the grounds of The Kings of Wessex School, together with a 14th-century chapel dedicated to St Columbanus. Roman remains have also been uncovered at the site.
Cheddar was listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Ceder, meaning 'Shear Water' from the Old English scear and Celtic dwr. An alternative possible meaning is from Ceodre or ceod meaning a pouch referring to the caves or gorge.
William Wilberforce saw the poor conditions of the locals when he visited Cheddar in 1789. He inspired Hannah More in her work to improve the conditions of the Mendip miners and agricultural workers.
In 1801 4,400 acres (18 km2) of common land were enclosed under the Inclosure Acts.

Village status
Cheddar is a village. The adjacent settlement of Axbridge, although only about a third the population of Cheddar, is a town. This apparently illogical situation is explained by the relative importance of the two places in historic times. While Axbridge grew in importance as a centre for cloth manufacture in the Tudor period and gained a charter from King John, Cheddar remained a more dispersed mining and dairy-farming village until the advent of tourism and the arrival of the railway in the Victorian era.
This situation is unlikely to change in the near future, with the residents of both Axbridge and Cheddar proud of their settlements' respective status and the inevitable friendly local rivalry between the two.

Lion Rock guarding Cheddar Village

The parish council has responsibility for local issues, including setting an annual precept (local rate) to cover the council’s operating costs and producing annual accounts for public scrutiny. The parish council evaluates local planning applications and works with the local police, district council officers, and neighbourhood watch groups on matters of crime, security, and traffic. The parish council's role also includes initiating projects for the maintenance and repair of parish facilities, as well as consulting with the district council on the maintenance, repair, and improvement of highways, drainage, footpaths, public transport, and street cleaning. Conservation matters (including trees and listed buildings) and environmental issues are also the responsibility of the council.
Cheddar Gorge, Cox's Cave Tour Bus

Gorge and Caves

Cheddar Gorge is the largest gorge in the United Kingdom near the village of Cheddar in the Mendip Hills in Somerset, England. The gorge is the site of the Cheddar Caves, where Britain's oldest complete human skeleton, Cheddar Man, estimated to be 9,000 years old, was found in 1903. Older remains from the Upper Late Palaeolithic era (12,000–13,000 years ago) have been found. The caves, produced by the activity of an underground river, contain stalactites and stalagmites.

Gough's Cave, Alladin's Cave

Cheddar Gorge, including Cox's Cave, Gough's Cave and other attractions, has become a tourist destination, attracting about 500,000 visitors per year. In a 2005 poll of Radio Times readers, following its appearance on the 2005 television programme Seven Natural Wonders, Cheddar Gorge was named as the second greatest natural wonder in Britain, surpassed only by Dan yr Ogof caves.

Gough's Cave, 'Diamond Stream'

Cox's Cave, Stalagmites and Stalactites

Gough's Cave, Stalagmites and Stalactites

Sites of Special Scientific Interest
There are several large and unique Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) around the village.

Cheddar Reservoir at dusk looking towards the western edge of the Mendip Hills and Crook Peak

Cheddar Reservoir is a circular artificial reservoir operated by Bristol Water. Dating from the 1930s it has a capacity of 135 million gallons (614,000 cubic metres). The reservoir is supplied with water taken from the Cheddar Yeo river in Cheddar Gorge. The inlet grate for the 54 inches (1.4 m) water pipe that is used to transport the water can be seen next to the sensory garden in Cheddar Gorge. It has been designated as a SSSI due to its wintering waterfowl populations.
Cheddar Wood and the smaller Macall's Wood form a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest from what remains of the wood of the Bishops of Bath and Wells in the thirteenth century and of King Edmund the Magnificent's wood in the tenth. During the nineteenth century its lower fringes were grubbed out to make strawberry fields, most of which have reverted to woodland. It was coppiced until 1917. This site compromises a wide range of habitats which includes ancient and secondary semi-natural broadleaved woodland, unimproved neutral grassland and a complex mosaic of calcareous grassland and acidic dry dwarf-shrub heath. Cheddar Wood is one of only a few English stations for Starved Wood-sedge (Carex depauperata). The nationally rare Purple Gromwell (Lithospermum purpurocaeruleum) is also present, growing in the lane along the west side of the wood. Butterflies include Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia), Dark Green Fritillary (Argynnis aglaja), Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne), Holby Blue (Celastrina argiolus) and Brown Argus (Aricia agestis). The slug (Arion fasciatus), which has a restricted distribution in the south of England, and the Soldier beetle (Cantharis fusca) also occur.
Callow Rock Quarry
Close to the village and gorge are Batts Combe quarry and Callow Rock quarry, two of the active Quarries of the Mendip Hills where limestone is still extracted. Batts Combe has been operating since the early 20th century and is owned and operated by Hanson Aggregates. The output in 2005 was around 4,000 tonnes of limestone per day, one third of which was supplied to an on-site lime kiln, the remainder was sold as coated or dusted aggregates. The limestone at this site is close to 99% carbonate of calcium and magnesium.

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