Special Qualities

June Blog 6/12

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.

What’s on your Mendip Hills Adventure Bucket List?


1. Take a shower in Swildon’s Hole.
2. Soar over the gorge in a glider.
3. Ride the Lumps & Bumps trail in Rowberrow Forest.
4. Stand on the highest point at Beacon Batch.
5. Walk all the Mendip Way.
6. Pony-trek across Pen Hill.
7. Climb Coronation Street**.
8. Scramble around Landslip Quarry.
9. Fast-pack the Limestone Link.
10. Gorge walk up East Twin Brook.

There you go, 10 things you can do on your own (some will need years of practice and specialist kit and some you can do right now), there are also loads of adventures you can have by booking with one of the outdoor pursuit companies in the area. The geology and landscape have given us amazing opportunities for adventure which has also built an important part of our local economy. Protect our landscape and we’re also protecting our community and heritage.

People started visiting the area for adventure from 1850 onwards when ‘tourism’ started thanks to the railways. A clear indication of this growing market was Gough’s Cave in Cheddar Gorge opening as an attraction in 1890. Like today people always want to push the boundaries, from a gentle stroll through a show-cave more adventurous types wanted to go further and deeper. The Mendip Nature Research Committee was the earliest caving club on Mendip and one of the earliest in the country, founded in 1906.

Credit: C Binding

The heritage of caving on Mendip, or should that be under Mendip, is hugely deep and rich. The interest of caving spans age, gender, education and upbringing. From weekend warriors to lifelong academics the interest continues. New caves are being dug continuously (the Mendip cave registry has 2000 entries now) and skills are being handed on and developed, luckily for a young football team in Thailand where Mendip cave-divers played a vital part in their rescue recently. This cultural heritage is directly linked to the geology and hydrology of the Mendip Hills, it’s one of the Special Qualities, one of the reasons this area was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

People are adventurous, we want to go further, deeper, higher or faster. Walking is the most popular recreation type on Mendip. The Mendip Way is a great platform for people to explore their adventurous side; walk it in chunks, walk the west section or the east, walk the whole lot and camp overnight or run all 50 miles in a day! The point is that the Mendip Hills are here for your adventure no matter what that is.

This heritage of adventure is passed on from generation to generation. Young people are taught resilience, determination and teamwork through adventure that hopefully will help their mental health and wellbeing for the rest of their lives. Groups of Duke of Edinburgh award students, staggering under enormous packs, are regularly found clustered around a map on a Mendip path junction debating where they are. These adventures are vital in young people’s development along with family groups riding across Black Down, or seeing how brave they are in the entrance to Aveline’s Hole. The next generation need adventure in their lives, the Mendip Hills are the perfect starting ground.

700,000 people approximately, live within 30 minutes drive of the area and we know that will grow. We’re beginning a variety of research projects to try and understand exactly how many people visit the area. All we know at the moment is that the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a landscape enjoyed by many people for just as many different reasons. Let’s protect them so future generations can have as much fun as us.

**Coronation Street is the highest climbing route in Cheddar Gorge at 370ft. First climbed in 1965 by Sir Chris Bonnington and filmed as a documentary for HTV and shown after the famous soap opera.

Read our previous Blogs:
January #mendipwater (PDF Download 62KB)
February #mendipplateau (PDF Download 140KB)
March #mendiparchaeology (PDF Download 114KB)
April #mendipchewvalley (PDF Download 104KB)
May #mendipgrasslands (PDF Download 211KB)

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.