We are generally good at getting around locally but are certainly prone to this catch too.
So the lovely treat of the recent weeks has been to make a point of visiting more of the lovely Somerset Wildlife Trust's (SWT) nature reserves. They publish a great guide to over 19 sites across Somerset (copy in the cottage) and we are really spoilt by having five main reserves (and several other minor reserves) pretty much on our doorstep most near the head of the gorge.
Black Rock, Long Wood, Velvet Bottom, Ubley Warren and Draycott Sleights are the five and this blog noted our walk to Velvet Bottom back in June 2012. Yesterday we walked Black Rock and Long Wood which connect with Velvet Bottom as part of the Cheddar Complex Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Black Rock is a wide gully and easy walk along a track past old lime kiln ruins and ancient quarry works. This contrasts nicely with Long Wood where (as the name suggests) you are amongst ash, hazel, beech and oak and conifers (but the SWT are slowly clearing conifers to replant with native broad-leaf varieties. A circular walk (muddy in places even in this hot spell) rises steeply to the north edge and then drops you back to the valley/gulley bottom.
At the bottom you sense this is a dried river or stream bed and whilst dry you can hear the stream. In turns out that the stream disappears in to the ground and in to the cave systems below (eventually coming out in the main Cheddar Caves at the other end of the gorge). Its like a water spring in reverse. These points are called "swallets" and as there is a clue that there are caves below so the local cavers have built a concrete access hatch near the swallet so that they can enter the systems below. Further down the dry gulley on the return path you come across a dry swallet called Long Wood Valley Sink. It turns out that when stream is in full flow it cannot get down the first swallet and starts to flood on down the valley and then goes to ground at the sink. But the winter before last when we had a lot of rain this sink was so choked with debris that the flooding went on down Long Wood valley, through Black Rock and down the winding road through Cheddar Gorge ripping up the road as it went. This then caused the gorge to be closed for weeks as they waited for the flooding to stop and repairs to take place. The rains would not stop, the folding continued and eventually the Mendip Caving Club (with SWT and Natural England helpers) took the initiative to clear the sink and later rebuilt it to be much more robust for the future.
And all this just on our doorstep!
To find out more about SWT's reserves folow these links:
SWT Cheddar Complex Nature Reserves
SWT General Reserves map