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Cheddar — Somerset, England

Cheddar is a large village and a civil parish in Somerset, located on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; a short distance northwest of Wells.

CheddarCheddar has been a popular vacation destination for centuries; however, tourism paled compared to the interest it generates today. The Mendip Hills have always been popular for its beauty, outdoor activities, and trails, but interest in the Cheddar Gorge, Gough's Cave and the prehistoric Cheddar Man have given the village a new aura. Discovery of a 13,000 year old carving of a mammoth head on a wall in the Cheddar Caves is being called one of the most important finds in Britain, as it has been dated from the Upper Palaeolithic period. Cheddar Gorge Prehistory Museum gives a detailed view of the history of man, while showcasing the areas finds.

The village itself has riverside walks; and the medieval Church of St. Andrew, a Grade II listed building dating from the 14th century; a 15th century market cross and shelter in Bath Street that is a Grade II listed building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument; and Hannah More's 17th century Cottage, a Grade II listed building which she used as a school. Cheddar also has the remains of a Saxon Palace which was excavated and then recovered once the grounds were catalogued; as it is on the grounds of The Kings of Wessex comprehensive school, which is presently a conservation area. There are also remains of a Roman villa that were excavated in the grounds of the current vicarage.

What was once part of the Bishops of Bath and Wells 13th century grounds is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) known as Cheddar Wood and Macall's Wood, having ancient woodland; grassland with rare wildflowers and insects that live in habitats conducive to specialized species. Part of the vast Cheddar Complex, the land around Cheddar and Cheddar Gorge, is owned by the National Trust and managed by the Somerset Wildlife Trust. In addition to rare flora, these areas of SSSI are important for vertebrate paleontology and karst, which is the eroded limestone that has made fissures forming the caverns with over 400 caves in the limestone of Cheddar Gorge.

Cheddar Gorge attracts at least half a million visitors every year to view the caves with its stalactites and stalagmites that are formed by an underground river. Cox Cave and Gough Cave are both heavily toured. Cox Cave is steeped in mystical beauty, with its small pools of water reflecting the rock formations that generations of people have marveled at. Outside the caves you will find the circular steps of the tower known as Jacob's Ladder, which takes you to a lookout tower at the top of the cliffs, with a spectacular view of the Somerset Levels far below. Gough Cave which is known for its vastness is also known for the 9,000 year old Cheddar Man whose complete skeleton was found there in 1903. The man who 'accidentally' discovered Gough's Cave, which was eventually turned into the showplace cave that exists today, was Richard Cox Gough who retired to Cheddar and worked for his uncle as a docent for visitors to Cox Cave; which in turn whetted his desire to do some cave exploration of his own during the latter part of the 19th century. By 1898 he and his sons worked through the mud and boulders and found what is seen today. Today Cheddar Man's skeleton is in the Prehistory Museum at Cheddar Gorge. Interestingly enough, the DNA extracted from Cheddar Man's tooth cavity, can be found in 11% of today's European populations. For the village it is significant that a DNA test proved that a school teacher living in the village is related to the 9,000 year old Cheddar Man.

This extraordinary area which is rich in prehistory is also well known world-wide for its cheese, whose name is synonymous with the village. The history of cheese making in Cheddar dates back to medieval times, with its unique process of cutting and stacking known as "cheddaring". Ironically, there is only one major cheddar cheese company remaining here, which is located in Cheddar Gorge, which lends its name to the cheese company. This is considered the only place that true 'cave aged' cheddar cheese can be found. The art of making cheddar cheese was popularized and eventually exported to other countries due to the ingenuity of Joseph Harding, a Sommerset cheesemaker. Harding introduced new machinery and a process which included hygiene; and a quicker method of draining the moisture from the curds, which he graciously shared with visiting international cheesemakers from America, among others. Cheddar cheese has become a household commodity throughout most of the world courtesy of Harding and the village of Cheddar, Somerset, England.

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