The tent is dry this morning so we can quickly pack our things and move on. It also feels a bit warmer than the last few days and in ht esun we drive to the west, towards Cheddar, according to our travel guide a very nice town.
Vaguely we have read something about a gorge but we are not prepared for the beauty of the landscape when we suddenly drive through the gorge. We hadn't expected such mountainous sceneries, so far to the south of England. Wild goats are climbing the rocks along huge but empty parking lots. The mountainsides rise sometimes more than 100 meters, straight up. Very typical that there is only one gorge like this in the area.We are surprised by the large parking lots but we are glad they are all empty now. Apparently the holiday is really over now in England and it will be much quieter. But about a kilometer before the village we see more and more cars. And the village itself is crowded, so not as quiet as we hoped. But how busy it must be when it is really in the middle of the season!
Most people will know of Cheddar because of the cheese with the same name (the most imitated cheese in the world, we read), but there are also a couple of splendid caves. We buy a ticket for £ 10,90 each, so that sounds pretty expensive, but with it we can visit 2 caves, do the Crystal Quest, go by bus through the gorge, climb 400 stairs to the top with a watchtower and visit a museum with discoveries from the prehistory in this area. We assure you, it is worth the almost 11 pounds!
We start with a visit to Cough's Cave where we can walk on our own with an audio guide. In the beginning of the cae is a replica of Cheddar Man, who lived in this cave in the prehistory and is now the oldest whole skeleton of Great Britain. DNA-tests have shown that a school teacher in the village is a direct descendant of Cheddar Man.
Normally, not much can live in a cave, but algae flourish with artificial light. Another phenomenon we haven't seen before in a cave, are the coins in the ceiling. The cave explorers put (over 100 years ago) a sort of concrete in the cracks and pushed the coins in it. At a next visit they were then able to tell if the crack had grown or not. If they found the coins on the cave floor they knew they would risk that the ceiling could come down.We spend quite some time in the cave and we long for a refreshment when we come out again. It is warm and nice in the sun. Although we haven't come to England for the weather, it always feels better when it is at least dry and with some sun it really feels like a holiday!
Then we go to the small museum where we see prehistoric remains that are found in Cheddar and the neighbourhood. There is also found evidence that people were cannibals here at some time.
Cox's Cave is much smaller than Cough's Cave, but more beautiful and more colourful. We especially like the the small ponds, in which the ceiling is mirrored, that create miraculous sceneries of beauty. We took a few pictures but in reality it looks much better than on the pictures.
In fact, this is the first really beautiful cave we see in Great Britain. It was discovered in 1837. It stimulated tourism to Cheddar since the 19th century and helped the local economy greatly. Cough's Cave was discovered in 1890 and we can imagine how busy this town must be in the high season. We are glad it is relatively quiet now so we can take our time to see things.
We also do the Crystal Quest, a journey through a magical world, very nicely done with light, sound and all kind of monsters. When we enter the last hall, suddenly a person in monks clothes bows to Teije and grabs his arm. Startled, he walks back a few steps. Not really suitable for children under 12, I notice later when I wait near the exit; there are too many kids who come out crying, so it is a bit too realistic.I have to wait for some time, since Teije wants to climb the Jacob stairway to the watchtower on top. He counts 320 steps in total and I am glad I don't have to feel his muscle ache tomorrow. At the top you can walk around and into the gorge, but I rather sit here, waiting for Teije to return. We have spend quite a few hours in this charming village and we even buy some souvenirs. One of them is really great, a colourful dragon that winds itself around a crystal ball with a castle tower in it. In the ball are also glass fibres that give light. Often, these souvenirs are quite kitschy, but we like this one.
Then we continue our way to the southwest, towards Devon. We have no idea where we are exactly going but we start our search for accommodation in Dunster, a nice town where parking in the town center is still free, which is worth mentioning! We look at the weather forecast in a paper and that doesn't look too good: rain and cold weather. So we forget about campsites and will look for a hotel or guesthouse.
We drive through the Exmoor National Park and according to our travel guide the landscape must be beautiful here. But we don't see anything of it from our car, since the hedges along the road are very high. We stop at several villages and towns to ask for a room, but even in bigger towns like Barnstaple and Bideford there is nothing available or way too expensive. Eventually we find a nice room in Great Torrington above a pub, just when the sun sets. It has taken us more than 2 hours to find this room!When we have dinner in the pub at night, we are pleasantly surprised when we taste the food: it is delicious! The vegetables are not half raw, the potatoes and chips not too fatty, and the meat is really exactly as it should be, not like elsewhere in Great Britain. Would they have a foreign cook here? When we ask the lady who owns the place she looks surprised and tells us that she cooks herself. Well, we think she does a great job, the best place where we have ever eaten in Great Britain!