Cheddar Gorge lies on the edge of the Mendip Hills and is the largest gorge in the UK. They are world famous for their spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, whose beautiful colours are mirrored in pools of water. These caves also fired the imagination of JRR Tolkien, author of the "Lord Of The Rings" trilogy.
The land around Cheddar was a royal hunting forest from the time of the Saxon Kings of Wessex, who built a wooden "palace" at Cheddar. In 1204 King John gave the land to the Bishop of Bath & Wells, whose tenants cut down the trees to graze their sheep and goats. Sir John Thynne, Lord Bath’s ancestor who carried out Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, bought Cheddar Gorge in 1556 and grazing continued until the 1920s when it became uneconomic in such difficult terrain. Since then ivy and ash trees have taken root in the joints and bedding planes on the cliffs, accelerating natural climatic erosion by over 40 times, while gorse, bracken and thorn trees have grown rapidly on the plateau, shading out the limestone grassland and rare wildflowers like Cheddar Pink, Cheddar Bedstraw and Rock Stonecrop.
The Gorge has been recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, as the finest example of karst limestone geology in Britain and for its rare remnant calcareous grassland.
Under Natura 2000 it was recognised as a Special Area of Conservation, the highest European wildlife designation, because it contains a large number of European Protected Species including bats, dormice and great crested newts.