I normally associate the beautiful landscape of limestone country - distinctive silver-grey crags, gorges, dry valleys, rocky outcrops all criss-crossed by dry stone-walls with the Yorkshire Dales. However you do not need to venture up north to enjoy cottage holidays in this distinctive countryside. Hidden away in Somerset are the Mendip Hills, an imposing limestone ridge that stretches from the Bristol Channel, like a rampart above the Somerset Levels, to Frome in east Somerset. This is the UK's most southerly example of limestone country.
An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty the Mendips are noted for their landscape beauty and wildlife. Some of Britain's best show caves are found beneath the Mendips, including the renowned Wookey Hole. Twenty five caverns have so far been discovered, with further exploration still pending. However, only some of the caverns are open to the public as many are only accessible to experienced divers, submerged as they are beneath the waters of the river. For those open to everyone there is a sound and light show to enhance the natural beauty of the cave's rock formations, giving visitors a chance to truly marvel at the scale of nature's sculpture here beneath the earth.
Visitors have been coming to Cheddar for centuries to view the magnificent limestone gorge, reaching 500 feet in places. The ravine boasts the highest inland cliffs in the country that can be viewed from the public road running through the gorge or from footpaths along the top of the cliffs. It is a place of wild and rugged beauty, home to many rare plants and animals, including Peregrine falcons and endangered Greater Horseshoe bats. The Cheddar Caves were re-discovered in the Victorian era and have spectacular stalactite and stalagmite formations, whose beautiful colours are mirrored in pools of water.
The village of Cheddar is home to the famous cheese. There are many stories about how the cheese originally came into being, but some facts are not in doubt. The land around the village of Cheddar has been at the centre of England's dairy industry since at least the 15th-century with the earliest references to Cheddar cheese dating from 1170. With the absence of refrigeration or adequate transport the problem of what to do with surplus milk was solved by turning it into cheese. Cheese makers discovered that if you pressed the fresh curd, the cheese lasted much longer. This method of cheese making along with other refinements was perfected in the Cheddar area and so the first authentic Cheddar cheese was born. Today it is ubiquitous and the mass-produced variety is often less distinctive in taste. The name 'Cheddar cheese' has become widely used internationally, and does not currently have a Protected Designation of Origin, as say Parma Ham or Melton Mowbray pork pies. However, the European Union recognises 'West Country Farmhouse Cheddar' as a Protected Designation of Origin - so look out for this when next shopping. To meet this standard the cheese must be made in the traditional manner, using local ingredients, in one of four designated West Country counties: Somerset, Devon, Dorset, or Cornwall.
The Mendips are a great centre for walking, riding, adventure activities and outdoor pursuits, particularly caving and climbing. There are plenty of walks crossing the hills offering the best views of the Mendips, as well as less strenuous riverside rambles and gentle strolls down in the valleys. There are also a number of waymarked mountain biking trails of varying difficulty with something to suit all levels of off-road cyclist.
Nestling on the southern side of the Mendip Hills with the Somerset Levels stretching away to the south and west, Wells is probably the most visited of the historic Mendip towns. In fact it is a city - possibly England's smallest - due to the presence of Wells Cathedral. However, Wells still retains the feel of a small provincial market town despite its fine architecture. Wells Cathedral was largely built between the 12th and 14th centuries and is probably the finest national example of early English architecture. It is famed for its magnificent West Front, featuring over 300 statues and carvings, the arches of the nave, and one of the oldest working mechanical clocks.
Situated at the eastern end of the Mendips, Frome is built on steep hills with cobbled streets including the rather unusual Cheap Street with a leat (stream) running along its length. It once stood at the heart of the prosperous weaving industry with many listed buildings and hidden gems of architectural interest providing testament to its wealthy past. Today, Frome has a lively arts and crafts scene including three theatres and many of the older buildings are now home to contemporary cafes and eating places.
For all cottages in the Mendips and Somerset click here Somerset cottages.
For enquiries, availability or to book over the phone please call: 0844 561 8329
Opening Hours: Mon, Tues 9am-7pm, Wed-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 10am-4pm
Little Burcott Farm, Burcott. View on map>