Perched high above the stunning Cheddar Gorge is the small reserve of Black Rockwith it's grassy slopes and remnants of the stony outcrops of Cheddar Gorge, the dry river valley of Velvet Bottom and the ancient woodland called Longwood. All three nature reserves are owned and maintained by Somerset Wildlife Trust and form a complex of walks and areas to explore outside of the tourist attractions of Cheddar Gorge. Getting away from the frenetic madness of the commercial Gorge, there is a beautiful landscape that is unspoilt and wild.
Parking at the top of the Gorge in a small layby on the B3135, the entrance to the reserve can be missed if you don't know it is there. The walk through Black Rock can be either a circular walk on it's own or can be joined onto a visit to Velvet Bottom and Longwood to give a long and varied afternoon of exploration. Whatever route you choose the paths and routes are clearly colour coded along with the family friendly Hedgehog Trail.
Black Rock Lime Kiln
The first thing to find at Black Rock is the restored lime kiln which was built in 1929. The area was quarried for the limestone which makes up the Cheddar landscape and enabled the formation of the cave complexes running under the hills. The limestone was heated with coal and charcoal to produce lime. Further up the path the remains of the quarry are visible giving an idea of how the rocks were formed. Even in wet weather this area remains dry as the joints in the rocks allow the water to drain into the rivers and caves below the surface.
To get to Longwood from the quarry it is straight path, however the circular route and entry to Velvet Bottom is a turning up the path to the right around the quarry. As you leave the quarry area there is a small meadow, full of summer flowers, creeping their way up the cliffs in a blanket of pink and yellow. Orchids and cowslips cover the bank in May, facing the morning sunshine.
Passing through the gate into Longwood the path forks. Taking the right fork will take you up steps. In May this area is coated in bluebells and wide garlic. The steps are uneven, but stopping to enjoy the bluebells will help with the exercise. At the top there is a bench, perfect for a little break and a seat to enjoy the sounds of this busy woodland.
The path then flattens a little and meanders through the top of the valley, following the wall enclosure of the wood. This has small beech trees and is littered with red campion, garlic and dead nettles. Colour is everywhere and the trees are full of the chatter of small blue tits and great tits.
Eventually the path heads down to the bottom of the valley. In the winter a small stream runs through the centre with stepping stones and lots of mud. Deer can be seen on the slopes of the valley and there are remains of the industry that existed in this valley. At the bottom of the valley the path back to Black Rock is to the left or a longer walk to Charterhouse is to the right. The valley walk follows the stream all the way through back to the walk into the reserve and then it is a gentle walk along the main path back to Black Rock.
A combination of phone and DSLR images!