The range of hills known as the Mendip Hills have been officially classed as an area of outstanding beauty. Situated in North Somerset, they are primarily limestone with many caves including the famous Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole. Some of the caves show signs of prehistoric habitation. The region also includes the marshy lowland of the Somerset Levels and the nearby towns and villages of Glastonbury, Wells, Charterhouse and Frome. There are also ruins of Roman lead mines, an amphitheatre and a Roman road.
Wookey Hole is a show cave, that has existed for millions of years. Much later, when the Celtic peoples of the Iron Age were moving into Britain, they found the caves a safe and comfortable place to live, as they were dry, easy to defend, warm in winter and cool in summer. Yet by the 15th century only bones, broken pottery and legends remained. There is also the legend of the Witch of Wookey, which dates back to the Dark Ages. Some say that King Arthur came over from Avalon and slew her and others that the Abbot of Glastonbury sent Father Bernard to exorcise her, and he turned her to stone by sprinkling holy water on her. There is also the oldest handmade paper mill in Britain, a collection of fairground rides and a mirror maze. Wookey is a family fun day out.
Ebbor Gorge Nature Reserve
Ebbor Gorge Nature Reserve is owned by the National Trust. There is evidence of inhabitation in this lovely wooded valley dating back to Neolithic times (about 3000 BC). Bones, tools, cooking utensils and ornaments have been found in caves throughout the gorge. There is a nature trail through the gorge, which features some outstanding views over the Somerset Levels.
Wells has one of the most beautiful cathedrals in England, but still has the charm of a village. The cathedral is one of the architectural highlights of Britain, replete with magnificent Gothic carvings, a unique scissors vault to brace the building against shifting medieval foundations, and a marvellous chapter house. It also houses a wonderful clock, with mechanical knights who exchange blows every hour. Around the corner from the Cathedral is Vicar's Close, the oldest street of 14th century houses in Europe. This was once the home of the vicars of the cathedral, who were housed there by the bishop to stop their scandalous behaviour including womanizing, fighting and stealing. The Bishop's Palace is also well worth a visit, nestled beside the cathedral. It is still the official residence of the Bishop of Bath and Wells. The swans of the moat there are an unusual attraction. They were and still are trained to ring a bell hanging from the gatehouse at feeding time.
The town of Glastonbury is dominated by the enigmatic Glastonbury Tor (an old West Country word for hill), topped with a 14th century tower which draws the eye from anywhere on the surrounding Somerset Levels. Legend has it that the Holy Grail is buried inside the Tor. The Tor can be climbed for wonderful views, though it can be windy on top. At the foot of the Tor is Chalice Well, sleeping in a peaceful garden. The well is another of the reputed hiding places of the Holy Grail.
Glastonbury Abbey was at one time one of the richest abbeys in England. During the Middle Ages Glastonbury was one of the premier pilgrimage destinations in Britain, due to the ancient legends associating it with Jesus, the Holy Grail, and King Arthur.