Adventure landscapes - Caves, Crags and Cannibals?
This section introduces students to the spectacular limestone landscape of Cheddar Gorge, how is was formed and why people visit it and for what purposes.
- Physical and human processes
What is Cheddar Gorge like?
Cheddar Gorge is one of Britain's best known limestone features and also its largest gorge forming part of a series of features; the Cheddar Complex. The gorge is a dramatic gash in the wooded landscape with grey limestone cliffs, almost vertical in places, reaching almost 500 feet and three miles long. The importance of the site has been recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) with numerous caves. These caves fired the imagination of JRR Tolkien, author of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
How did the Gorge form?
Cheddar Gorge is a spectacular river feature scoured out by torrents of melt water at the end of the last Ice Age which cut down rapidly into the Carboniferous Limestone. Former river sediments can be found high up on ledges on the sides of the gorge indicating that it was vertical erosion of the river bed that was responsible for its formation. Although the area is riddled with caves and caverns it does not appear that it was formed by their collapse. It appears that freeze thaw weathering occurred as water entered the joints in the limestone during the cold period at the end of the last Ice Age and this may also have been responsible for shaping the sides of the gorge.
Who visits the Gorge?
Cheddar Gorge is a major tourist honey pot with approximately 500,000 people visiting the area of Cheddar Gorge every year, with up to 400,000 of them visiting the show caves. Most visitors are tourists staying within 30 miles of Cheddar but very few come from the local communities. The visitor profile indicates that most are first time visitors, are between 25 and 44 and may visit with their children. Peak visitor numbers to this honey-pot site occur during Bank Holidays and the summer. These include walkers, birdwatchers, climbers and sightseers.
You have just arrived at Cheddar Gorge on an adventure, Look at the picture of Cheddar Gorge.
Image: Cheddar Gorge. Image copyright Noel Jenkins.
You have 10 minutes to come up with 5Ws questions that would need answering if you were making a guide for visitors.
The five Ws are:
Download the Five Ws worksheet or launch the flash (SWF) version which can easily be resized for use on an interactive whiteboard.
Have a go at the Limestone landscapes: Cheddar Gorge connections interactive activity.
Can you make the link between the different images? Can you reorder them into a sequence that explains how Cheddar Gorge was formed?
Write a one paragraph as if you were a tour guide to explain the formation of Cheddar Gorge based on what you know now. Use can also use the Cheddar Gorge Limestone landscapes: formation interactive activity to help you.
If there is time you can do some research online and produce a short Cheddar Gorge Visitors Guide and include your paragraph in it.
Make a list of different types of visitors to Cheddar. Think from thrill-seeker to cheese lover (Cheddar cheese is made here).
Start with the Cheddar Man
He visited the gorge around 9000 years ago and unfortunately for him met with a violent death. He was murdered and eaten by cannibals who lived in the area at the time. But at least he is famous now: he is Britain's oldest complete human skeleton.
It is thought that cannibals lived in the area because human bones have been discovered in Cheddar Gorge with cut marks on them, apparently created by stone tools. The marks are similar to those made by a butchers on animal bones, the conclusion being that they were probably eating humans. There may have been a severe shortage of food around that time.