Located in the Mendip Hills of Somerset, SW England, Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole are separate attractions boasting spectacular limestone caves. Cheddar Gorge also offers scenic hiking and museums, while Wookey Hole has dinosaur models, playgrounds and lots of kid-friendly things to do.
When the husband and I were thinking of things we wanted to see in the UK this year, both places made our list. We couldn’t choose between the two, so we ended up visiting both in one weekend as they are only a few miles apart.
On the face of it, both places sound quite similar, but we found that they had a very different feel to them. Which attraction is best for you depends on if you have a family, how old your kids are and what you want to get out of the trip.
Read on for our verdict!
We chose to visit Cheddar Gorge on the Saturday as we thought we would probably need to spend longer here, especially if we wanted to do the cliff walk. This turned out to be the right choice for us.
Cheddar Gorge appears almost out of nowhere as you drive towards the little town. One minute you’re driving past gentle green fields; the next, you’re meandering through a narrow gulley, surrounded by sharp grey cliffs rising starkly towards the sky. It’s dramatic scenery for England, which usually has a much more gentle beauty.
There’s a huge amount of history in this area. People have used the cave network in the hillsides for thousands of years as the temperature inside stays at 11°C all year round providing respite from weather and predators. The two main caves, Gough’s Cave and Cox’s Cave, were explored and opened to the public in the 1800s and new chambers are still being discovered today.
The largest cave was our first stop. The air inside Gough’s Cave was cool and damp. One of the first sights was a little unnerving; in a pit to the left a replica of Cheddar Man, Britain’s oldest complete skeleton, cut a lonely figure lying curled where he was found.
The inside of the cave is fascinating, and not just for its geological formations. Ducking into a small chamber, we saw a faded ancient cave painting of a prehistoric beast.
Above our heads in the ceiling of the cave, droplets fell from great chimneys carved out by water. As we walked deeper into the cave we found cathedrals of limestone, glistening in the light and melted like candle wax. Stalagmites grew out of still clear pools reflecting the stalactites above.
And perhaps most importantly of all, we saw how Cheddar cheese is matured.
Our tickets included a very thorough audio guide (I admit, I didn’t listen to it all). The Cub got a children’s version but being only 3 she was a bit too young for it. Instead we had fun finding animal shapes in the rocks and shadows.
Cox’s Cave is a very different experience to the self-guided and educational Gough’s Cave. It’s much smaller and the passages are narrow in places; a bit of a squeeze for me with Bee on my back.
“Dreamhunters” is an audio-visual tour with illustrations projected onto the cave walls, telling the story of prehistoric hunter gatherers as they are thought to have lived. With its dramatic narration and imagery it strikes a mystical tone rather than a dry and information-heavy one.
The Cub enjoyed this tour more than Gough’s Cave, although there were a couple of bits she found a bit scary. I think the colourful pink and purple lighting in these caves made up for that though!
Families with children aged 11+ can try some rock climbing or adventure caving activities (pre-book online; link below).
The Lookout and Clifftop walk
Exiting Cox’s Cave, we carried on towards the village and walked up a long, steep set of steps to begin the clifftop walk. There’s some fantastic views of both the nearby reservoir and Cheddar Gorge from the Lookout so make sure you climb the tower.
We stopped on the way for a picnic before walking up to the Pinnacles, the highest part of the gorge. The views from up here are stunning, looking out over the Somerset Levels and the Cheddar reservoir. Keep an eye out for the sheep and goats which eke out their precarious existence on the steep rock faces.
We didn’t manage the whole 3 mile walk as I had to carry Bee and the Cub was getting tired from the climb. If your kids are older and can manage the whole trail, you’ll probably get some great views from the other side of the gorge too.
The Museum of Prehistory
We needed a rest after the gorge walk so this was a perfect excuse to get a cream tea in one of the tea shops. We also took a quick look in the gift shops and bought the obligatory block of Cheddar cheese.
Our last stop was the small Museum of Prehistory where you can find out more about Cheddar Man and his fellow cavemen.
The kids enjoyed looking in the skin tent outside and there was lots of well-laid out information inside about prehistoric life and creatures in the area. There were a couple of interactive displays for kids too. Older kids will like the grisly examples of cannibalised human remains. Lovely.
By this point we were starving so we headed off to nearby Wells for an evening meal before going to our hotel at Wookey Hole.
Wookey Hole Cave Tour
We had planned to visit Wookey Hole on Sunday morning, but after an evening in Wells we decided we had to explore more of the city, so we headed back to Wells first thing for some sightseeing.
Once we got to Wookey Hole we were able to join a cave tour straight away. The tour is guided and you have to stay with your group. Our guide was knowledgeable with a rather sarcastic sense of humour, and he kept the adults in line as well as the kids.
The caves are bigger and more extensive than those at Cheddar Gorge. There’s some incredible history behind these caves; as with the ones at Cheddar, they have been inhabited for thousands of years. The tour takes you through cavernous rooms; some filled with lakes and shimmering quartz, others full of guano from the resident bats.
Kids will really enjoy the legend of the Witch of Wookey Hole and there are a few props set out to bring the story to life. Alongside a figure of the Witch herself, cauldrons bubbled and bottles full of potions helped to set the scene. The Cub still talks about the Witch and asks to hear the story again. It was a shame the “real” Witch wasn’t there when we visited.
We crossed narrow bridges over deep crevasses in the rocks. Pools of water from the river filled these huge cracks, and apparently it’s possible to go cave diving here, although it’s not something offered on the website. I think that’s something best left to professional divers.
Wookey Hole has recently opened a new section of caves. Through a long narrow tunnel (past more maturing cheddar) is a newly discovered chamber with some striking geological features. These caves are definitely special and were different enough to Cheddar Gorge for us to enjoy them.
The rest of Wookey Hole has the feel of a small theme park. It’s most definitely aimed at children; ours loved tearing around the model dinosaurs and the playgrounds, especially after having their freedom restricted inside the caves.
The website boasts lots of attractions but many of them are quite small; for example you can’t walk through the Fairy Garden, just past it. Dare I say that some of the attractions felt a little tired? Perhaps that’s not entirely fair as we didn’t see everything here.
There’s an interactive 4D cinema experience for all the family and a circus show which we didn’t get to as our kids were wiped out by this point – totally our fault for trying to do too much!
Again, families with teenagers (14+) could try the Wild Wookey experience of caving and abseiling. This is something I’d love to try!
So which is best?
This depends on the age of your kids and what you want to get out of the day.
Both sets of caves are pretty spectacular. I liked how all of them had a different feel so that the experience was never the same. But I think that Wookey Hole caves just had the edge.
Overall I would say that Cheddar Gorge is more suited to families with older children. The views from the top of the gorge are stupendous and there’s a huge amount of educational exhibits to explore here.
Wookey Hole’s other attractions will appeal to families with younger children. While the husband and I preferred Cheddar Gorge’s hike, the Cub and Bee definitely had a better time playing at Wookey Hole. Adults won’t find much of interest here other than the caves.
I would say that you should plan to stay half a day at each attraction; but this depends on how long you’d like to take walking around Cheddar Gorge, or how long your kids can spend in a playground!
Either way, the caves are definitely worth seeing, whichever attraction you choose.
Know Before You Go: Cheddar Gorge
Buying Cheddar Gorge tickets online is cheaper (£16.95 per adult) than buying them on the day (£19.95 per adult). Kids under 5 go free. The tickets give you access to two cave systems, the Museum of Prehistory and the clifftop walk and lookout tower. It’s a good idea to try to see all of this if you can.
If you are planning to see more in the area it is worth buying a combo ticket for nearby Longleat Safari Park. An adult ticket for both attractions is £41.22 when bought online; kids under 3 go free.
Getting there and away
It’s best to drive to Cheddar Gorge. It is on the B3135 and is easily reached from the M5 motorway (J22). You will find parking in lay-bys through the gorge where you can pull over to take a photo or to climb up the hillside. Pay the attendant – it’s not free.
If you want to get the train you’ll have to change at Bristol Temple Meads station for Weston Super Mare and then get a bus to the Gorge (126; hourly service, or 826 on Sundays; every two hours).
Food and drink
The Cheddar Gorge clifftop walk is perfect for a picnic, so bring your own food if you’ve got nice weather. You’ll find plenty of cute tea rooms and ice cream shops along the main road if you’re in need of refreshment.
In the evening we went to nearby Wells and ate there before going to our hotel at Wookey Hole Caves.
Safety and accessibility
Make no mistake, Cheddar Gorge can be dangerous. The gorge cliffs are very high and there are no safety barriers in place. You can get right up to the precipice so hold on tight to small kids and take extra care by the cliff edge.
The path on the cliff walk is stony and uneven. I wore my normal shoes instead of hiking boots and I regretted it.
Inside the caves the ground is uneven, wet and slippery so good shoes are a must.
The caves and the cliff walk are not suitable for wheelchair users. You might manage a pushchair in parts of Gough’s Cave (there are quite a few steps) but you definitely won’t be able to take one into Cox’s Cave, or on the cliff walk. Bring a baby carrier instead.
Know Before You Go: Wookey Hole
We bought tickets online to get a 10% discount. Our tickets cost £17.10 for adults and £13.50 for kids (3 – 14).
You have to get your ticket and tour time from the office in the ice cream parlour next to the car park before you cross the road to enter the site.
Getting there and away
Wookey Hole Caves are in the village of the same name, just outside of the city of Wells. Again, arriving by car is best. If you’re coming from the M5, exit at junction 22. From Wells, follow the brown tourist signs. Wookey Hole caves are well signposted and you’ll find a large car park for the caves in the village.
Food and drink
There is a restaurant onsite serving hot food. It looked OK and my jacket potato was fine. We just got the usual packed lunch for the kids, but there weren’t many healthy choices in them (haribo sweets and biscuits).
We didn’t eat in the Wookey Hole hotel restaurant in the evening but breakfast was a choice of continental or full English.
The Wookey Hole cave visit is a guided tour, so it’s unlikely that you will run into much trouble. There are a few hairy looking bridges and drops and a section where you have to wear a hard-hat but otherwise it’s safe. Tiny kids and babies will have to be carried.
Good shoes are a must as the ground is uneven, wet and slippery.
Where to stay near Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole
We stayed at the Wookey Hole hotel which was reasonably priced and, happily, had a bar. It’s only a couple of miles from Wells.
We discovered Wells on this trip and would definitely recommend spending a little time in this beautiful city (England’s smallest). Staying in Wells is convenient for visiting both Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole. There’s a wide range of accommodation available from chain hotels to boutique B&Bs.