Special Qualities

August Blog 8/12

There are 12 special qualities you need to understand and experience on the Mendip Hills. Each month in 2019 we’ll be introducing you to one of these special qualities. Individually they are important, together they are what makes Mendip an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Respecting the Mendip Ridge


There are 34 designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) across the country and the Mendip Hills is one of the lucky ones. It’s obvious for all to see what is and what’s not the AONB. The limestone ridge cuts through the flat levels either side giving the area a very recognisable boundary. Some AONBs have a very indistinct boundary line. I’m sure our boundary leads to a greater sense of community, you know when you’re on Mendip.

Around 300 million years ago, at the end of the Carboniferous and beginning of the Permian, rocks were pushed up into a vast mountain range that stretched thousands of kilometres to the east and west. It is during this time that the Mendip Hills were folded into their characteristic ‘whale back’ form.

The Mendip Hills were close to the northern limit of mountain building, and probably reached an original altitude of around 1500m, today the highest point is a mere 325m. I struggle to get my head around some of the huge timescales involved in this process but I can, sort of, visualise a 1500m mountain compared to only 325m, and that’s a lot of erosion taking a lot of time to bring it down.

If you really want a clear understanding, with great illustrations, of the folding process and how that increased the speed of the erosion take a look at the Foundations of Mendip website.

Through the ages the ridge has played such an important role in our heritage; ancient boundaries traverse it, forts were built on peaks, ceremonial sites drew neolithic people from across the country, minerals and stone were exploited, people learned to climb higher and cave deeper. All thanks to the limestone ridge.

Today we try and protect the line of the ridge by encouraging planners and developers to minimise vertical intrusions like buildings to think about minimising light pollution.

To carry on the ceremonial theme to this day we our just about to kick off the Mendip Rocks! programme of events that celebrate the unique geology of the Mendip Hills. There are about 30 events across the next couple of months to entertain families and satisfy the hardcore ‘ologists in the academic world. Get up close and personal in to quarries you can’t normally access, visit the bonecaves (sold out I’m afraid), or go on a caving trip from the comfort of your chair. Discover all the events here.

Read our previous Blogs:
January #mendipwater (PDF Download 62KB)                                July #mendipviews (PDF Download 115KB)
February #mendipplateau (PDF Download 140KB)
March #mendiparchaeology (PDF Download 114KB)
April #mendipchewvalley (PDF Download 104KB)
May #mendipgrasslands (PDF Download 211KB)
June #mendipadventure (PDF Download 219kb)

What Are The Special Qualities Of The Mendip Hills AONB?

Rising from the Somerset Levels are the distinctive Mendip Hills that with the lakes of Chew Valley and Blagdon form the 198sq kms that is the Mendip Hills AONB. The special qualities that create the Mendip Hills sense of place and identity are:

Evidence of human settlement


Dating back 500,000 yrs. Henge monuments, barrows and hillforts through to World War 2 sites are prominent features on the plateau. Romans and Victorians left a mining landscape that nature is reclaiming.

Stockhill Forest and East Harptree Woods are places where you can still see the old mining landscape.

A tough landscape famous for adventure and getting in touch with nature


The geology has created incredible opportunities for caving, climbing and cycling. But the tranquillity allows quieter activities like bird watching and simply walking.

Burrington Combe is a great place to start your adventure.

Distinctive limestone ridge


Windswept plateau punctuated by spectacular dry valleys and gorges, ancient sinkholes and depressions, and impressive rocky outcrops.

Cheddar Gorge probably the single best-known limestone karst feature in Britain.

Sparsely populated plateau


Settlements of Mendip stone along the spring line where the water emerges from the underground. Dark skies give you an incredible view of the stars at night and a sense of tranquillity.

Priddy is the only village on the plateau and sums up the tough character of Mendip.

Diverse and visible geology


Ranging from Devonian to Jurassic in a relatively small area making it one of the best areas in the country to appreciate the relationships between geology, landscape and natural history.

Ebbor Gorge will get you up close and personal to the rocks.

The Caves


For their wildlife, geological, archaeological importance. Avelines Hole the oldest burial site in Britain and Goughs Cave in Cheddar Gorge is one of the most important Palaeolithic sites in Europe and provides a breeding site for Lesser and Greater Horseshoe bats.

Burrington Combe is the safest place to see cave entrances without getting muddy. If you want to go further contact an outdoor adventure company.

The limestone aquifer


Feeding the reservoirs of Cheddar, Chew Valley and Blagdon lakes providing habitats of local and international importance for birds.

Chew Valley Lake is designated a Special Protection Area for bird species.

The Chew Valley


Is the sheltered, farmed landscape with fields divided with hedges, that contrasts the windswept plateau.

Drystone walls


That criss-cross the plateau dividing the farmland grazed by sheep, beef and dairy cattle. The walls are a vital lifeline for wildlife like adders, they are perfect for basking on and make a safe way of moving from one place to another.

Steep south-facing slopes of flower-rich limestone grasslands


Come to life in the summer.

Crook Peak and Wavering Down are spectacular places where you can move along these slopes and look out across Somerset

Ancient woodland combes


Located on the north and south slopes offering varied rich habitats of national and international importance for a wide diversity of wildlife including dormouse and bats.

Step into Kings Wood to get a taste of these wooded combes.

Views towards


The Mendip Hills from Exmoor, Quantocks, the Somerset Levels and Moors and Chew Valley.

Views out

Including across the Severn Estuary to Wales and the Somerset Levels to Glastonbury Tor and the Somerset coast.

Particular combinations of these special qualities form 11 distinctive landscape areas identified in the Mendip Hills AONB Landscape Assessment (1998).

For current work on the AONBs Landscape Character Assessment, Special Qualities and sensitivity studies go to our Planning page.

The special qualities are those aspects for which the area is designated and are the priorities for management.