Discover challenging and dramatic walking trails shaped by the footsteps of traders, smugglers, saints and pirates. Cornish walking trails will reveal ancient tin mines, clifftop castles, timeless fishing villages and wild moors as you travel through a landscape of huge cliffs and hidden coves that goes back to the depths of time itself. In between the coastal drama, iconic harbours such as St Ives and Padstow give walkers access to some of the UK‘s best restaurants and coastal hotels. A county encircled by the wild Atlantic ocean, there is over 330 miles of spectacular world class coast path here taking you around the farthest corners of England - put simply it feels like walking on the edge of the world.
Stretching from coast to coast across the southwest of England, Devon is a richly diverse county with rugged shores and cliffs in the north, and classic Victorian seaside resorts in the south. In between you'll find tranquil green pastures, wooded gorges and the two dramatic wild moors in the National Parks of Dartmoor and Exmoor. Choose Devon for its walking variety, and you'll find that the popular image of cream teas and thatched cottages is true - but that Devon is so much more once you explore it on two feet. Coast to coast routes like the Two Moors Way will offer a journey through it all from the wild northern shores that inspired the Romantic poets to the maritime ports of the south coast.
Free your soul and clear your mind! Walking on the wild moors of these National Parks is a wonderful antidote to modern living. England's last true wilderness, Dartmoor offers 365 square miles of virtually uninhabited freedom with high moors and twisted dramatic granite tors a land of myths, ghosts and legends. Exmoor, its smaller and more gentle neighour, is 250 Square miles of near perfect and unique beauty, with high uplands swathed in heather and steep, wooded gorges and rushing streams. See Dartmoor ponies and Exmoor stags in these wildlife rich areas, home to 30 species of mammals and over 240 types of bird. The moors offer a unique opportunity for more challenging walking where the only human sound you will hear is the rhythm of your own breath.
Avoid the crowds and discover “Secret Somerset” missed by so many rushing headlong for the far South West. The 'land of the summer people' was named in a time when this area could only be visited in the summer months as the sea receded. Today its a rich, fertile and 'for real' landscape crowned by the fine walking ridges of the Mendip and Quantock Hills both protected areas of outstanding natural beauty. Rising up over King Arthur‘s Vale of Avalon along with the magical Tor at Glastonbury, walkers will find hidden gorges, wooded combes and the best inland panoramas of the South West. Also boasting its own Jurassic Coast Path, providing a gateway into the wilds of Exmoor National Park, Somerset offers walking routes without the crowds for those who want to find..... what the rest miss.
Dorset has a comfortable old world “English” feel to it and its walking routes traverse a rather more green and agricultural land of thatched cottages, cream teas.... and fossils ! Walkers here will find the more gentle rolling farmland, pretty villages and chalk ridges beloved by Thomas Hardy that sweep down to end abruptly at the World Heritage Jurassic Coast. Here, alongside the sea, those after more challenging routes can take a walking holiday through time itself amongst the dramatic chalk stacks, cliffs and arches of the Dorsetshire fossil coast. An area that can be very busy in high season but often suits walkers looking for more gentle and less exposed walking than the far west of the region.
Wales offers some of the best walking and outdoor activities to be had anywhere in the world. The 870-mile Welsh Coast Path was only fully opened in 2012 and is the world's first walk along the entire coast of a nation. The terrain is on an equally grand scale with towering cliffs, vast stretches of unspoilt golden sands, imposing castles, offshore islands and to the north there is the backdrop of Snowdonia National Park with its stunning mountains. Wales in general offers walkers great value for money compared to more popular areas like Cornwall with walking options to suit everyone, from those who want the cosmopolitan restaurants and facilities of towns like Tenby and St Davids, through to isolated and remote forests and coastal hills that sit on the very cusp of the Snowdonian Peaks. Bursting with confidence and pride in its “Welshness”, its Celtic history, language and culture there has never been a better time for walkers to enter Wales.
The South West Coast Path is the UK's longest National Trail and one of the top ten walking routes in the world. It snakes, dips and rises continuously on its way through a staggering 1014km (630 miles) of pristine coastline, 450 miles of which is through nationally protected areas. It's a challenge too; walking the entire South West Coast Path is the equivalent to scaling Mount Everest four times! From towering cliffs to hidden coves, ghostly tin mines to lush subtropical wooded creeks. One minute a dramatic rock theatre hewn out of the cliffs, the next a prehistoric fossilized forest or a 20thC Art Deco Island Hotel. What sets The South West Coast Path apart from other trails is that around almost every corner is yet another surprise as you retrace the footsteps and histories of the tin miners, fisherman, smugglers, wreckers and the customs men who chased them.
7 miles - Generally moderate Grade becoming strenuous in the Gorge Area
The Mendip Way Route today takes a steady climb up to the central Mendips plateau before a dramatic drop into the Gorge at Cheddar.
The day starts with a short circle out of the main village of Shipham, passing over “The Gruffy”, a shambolic area of grassed over pits, mounds and troughs created during the 18th Century when this was a prospectors town with its own rush of miners looking for lead and rare minerals. This area was peppered with hundreds of small pits full of ‘groovers’ as the miners were locally called, all looking for their fortune in everything from lead to copper and even small deposits of silver. The Mendip Way twists through the depressions and pits before heading into the Rowberrow Bottom Nature Reserve on an old sunken trackway – the Hollaway, lined with moss covered trees and lush ferns. Having reached the valley floor the route follows a narrow sliver of pretty stream meadow, sandwiched between increasingly steep sided dense woods. This is still part of the Roman route which eventually climbs the side of the highest ridge on the Mendips at Black Down on a lofty and stony logging track that runs in its upper levels through cool and shady forest plantations.
There is an abrupt a change of scenery as you break out of the forest at Tynham’s Farm, the site of several Bronze Age round barrow burial chambers, onto the wide expansive Mendip Plateau. The skies and the views open up in a wide and open space that feels free, uncluttered and expansive and you reach the highest point of the West Mendip Way Route at around 900ft.
The Mendip Way traverses across this high plateau passing occasional isolated farms and tumbled ruins – This is now true caving country and you pass the Gruffy Nature Reserve, another area of shallow medieval mining pits and natural limestone swallets (sinkholes). GB Cave - one of the most significant and best preserved cave systems in the Mendips lies in the centre of the reserve here and over 2 miles of passages and chambers lie hidden below where you walk. It’s well worth a quick look into the small reserve which, due to its sinkholes, has unusual plants and flowers, attracts many butterflies and provides a home for a tribe of badgers and the endangered Lesser Horseshoe Bat.
For something so immense, Cheddar Gorge still manages to hide away from you up here, giving no indication it’s so close. The signs are there however and as you drop down off the plateau through Long Wood Nature reserve the stream in the valley suddenly vanishes underground into the upper cave system linked to Cheddar Gorge, leaving you to descend the first of several dry valleys. Long Wood is another ancient woodland which formed part of the holdings of the Carthusian monks of Witham priory in medieval times; its humid conditions encourage the growth of moisture loving plants, ferns and mosses
After a few twists and turns on the descent down the valley, the sense of the gorge strengthens as The Mendip Way is joined by another dry valley from “Velvet Bottom” The sides get steeper and more rugged above you, now wild gorse and bracken line the valley sides whilst the valley bottom becomes a haven for wildflowers and orchids. As you approach Black Rock Nature Reserve, a section of sheer quarry face leers up above tumbled boulder litter while hidden sets of disused lime kilns lurk in the undergrowth beyond.
The original lead mining in the valley here goes back as far as the Romans. Black Rock provides good habitat for adders and it is often possible to spot them basking near walls and rocky outcrops. The forest envelops you here rich and dense and the smell of wild garlic is almost overpowering - you have reached the top of Cheddar Gorge
At over 400ft deep and 3 miles in length this is Britain’s Grand Canyon, its largest and most impressive limestone gorge. Thick forest clings to a dramatic run of huge weathered crags and twisted pinnacles that literally tower over the narrow dry chasm below - it’s a spectacular sight!
Formed at the end of the last ice age, the water from melting glaciers formed a river so powerful it bored through the limestone rock to carve out the steep cliffs you see today. Deep underground, the Cheddar Yeo River was busy creating the famous Cheddar caves which you will encounter at the foot of the gorge.
The Mendip Way meets the official circular Gorge Walk on the west side of the chasm and after ascending flights of rough steps you get to top out on the lip of the fissure itself. The views are outstanding, over immense tree-covered cliffs down soaring drops to the bottom of a gorge that is almost impossible to see from up here. At the far end of the cliffs the Mendip Escarpment seems to just collapse abruptly in a massive crash to spill onto the wide expanse of the Somerset Levels which stretch out far beyond you, allowing you to see beyond all the way to Exmoor and the Coast
The gorge trail stays high and untouched by farming it’s a haven for wildlife. Swarms of butterflies bob around the bracken and gorse, kestrels, buzzards and even peregrine falcons - the world's fastest bird - are in flight hunting overhead while feral goats gaze down from the rocky outcrops on the edge of the cliffs. There are plenty of wild deer as well, though you need to be quiet to try and spot them and both greater and lesser horseshoe bats roost here, often spotted as the light fades as they shoot in and out of the caves.
This is the home to the rarest of plants the Cheddar Pinks, now fully protected and this is the only place it grows in the world.
Look out for the rock rose and herbs such as thyme, wild basil, garlic and marjoram on the lower slopes you will often smell them before you spot them! The cliffs get larger and clearer as you follow the rim towards the levels before you suddenly encounter that dramatic final drop to the bottom of the gorge, a heady steep rush of woodland switchbacks passing rocky outcrops clad in shady fir trees giving an almost alpine feel to your descent.
And then suddenly you are out in the bottom of the gorge. For the walker passing through it comes as shock after the lonely Mendip Plateau to suddenly find yourself arriving in the chaos and crowds of the Cheddar Gorge day visitors. Yet only someone with no sense of humour won’t find amusement here as you descend from solitude into a virtual Babylon of gift shops, cave attractions and general Stone Age orientated razzmatazz!
Rest up with refreshments and watch the circus for ½ hour and once you have had enough then it’s a great feeling to be able to just walk out and continue on your way back to the tranquil Mendips !
If you are here for the night be assured that staying beyond the gorge in Cheddar town itself has a lot to offer and as the walkers arrive at the end of the day so the day trippers go, making it an ideal time to explore further.
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