Bri­tain’s Trea­sures

Shaped over mil­lions of years, the nat­u­ral beauty of Bri­tain’s largest gorge is clear – but there are se­crets of hu­man history lurk­ing here too, un­der the sur­face

History Revealed - - CONTENTS -

Ched­dar Gorge

When the 12th-cen­tury his­to­rian Henry of Hunt­ing­don wrote in his chron­i­cle His­to­ria An­glo­rum of the “four won­ders which may be seen in Eng­land”, he in­cluded the caves of Ched­dar Gorge, right af­ter Stone­henge. “There is an un­der­ground cav­ern which many peo­ple have of­ten en­tered, but al­though they have trav­elled a long way over dry land and over rivers, they have never been able to come out at the other end,” he de­clared.

It is easy to see why he chose Ched­dar, and why the gorge and caves deep in Som­er­set still reg­u­larly fea­ture in polls of Bri­tain’s great­est nat­u­ral won­der. The views from the top are breath­tak­ing and the caves, which have been used by hu­mans for 40,000 years, have re­vealed im­por­tant dis­cov­er­ies about pre­his­toric peo­ples.

The town of Ched­dar, fa­mous for its cheese, lies on the edge of the Mendip Hills, a rugged lime­stone land­scape stretch­ing for 23 miles. The gorge there, the largest in Bri­tain, formed over mil­lions of years by ice ages and fall­ing sea lev­els, which raised the Mendips. As the Ched­dar Yeo river froze and thawed, melt­wa­ter carved through the val­ley and dis­ap­peared un­der­ground.

Dur­ing the 19th cen­tury, tourists were of­ten led by can­dle­light around the caves – some of which were even lived in by fam­i­lies too poor to af­ford a home. In 1837, mill owner Ge­orge Cox had lo­cated a sta­lac­tite cav­ern by ac­ci­dent while quar­ry­ing for lime­stone. He opened Cox’s Cave to the pub­lic and it be­came such a suc­cess that oth­ers were in­spired to in­ves­ti­gate. In the 1890s, a lo­cal named Richard Gough dug into the cave that now bears his

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