I reached the foot of the gorge and was beginning to despair of getting a chance to see these caves, when I saw an enterprising farmer who, with true Walding spirit, had decided to open one of his unused fields for parking. He waved me into his field and told me that for a pound I was welcome to leave my wagon there and enjoy the town. He told me that I could see the caverns by taking a tour bus back up the hill.
Accordingly I bought a ticket for the bus, and then waited such a long time in the rain that I began to fear the bus would never make it down through the crush of cars and that, if it did, it would be far too small for the assembled throng. But I was reassured as soon as the bus pulled up. It was large, with seats outside on the top as well as inside, and was decorated as charmingly as any Walding wagon, in reds and purples and blues, with "Cheddar Showcaves" splashed over it in yellow paint, and a startling fire-breathing dragon on the front. I had not expected that the caverns might contain dragons, and became a little apprehensive, but I assured myself that, if the dragon were really dangerous, so many people would not have lined up to attend the tour.
The rain, as if by magic, had stopped as the bus pulled up, and I eagerly climbed the steps to the top, using my coat to wipe off a seat. The bus climbed back up the gorge, and this time, high above the cars and no longer having to guide my wagon, I could really enjoy the impressive view. Once I saw a whole herd of goats, brown and black, running up the hillside above me. I saw that there were caves everywhere, many of them apparently only a few feet deep, but a few looking like they went far back into the hill.
At the top of the gorge, the bus turned and began a slow descent. After travelling a short distance, we arrived at Gough's Cave. Here, the crowd got off the bus and proceeded on foot. Gough's Cave was the first of three caves on the tour. It was wide and high, though a little damp underfoot. I followed the crowd through chamber after illuminated chamber, gazing at wonderful sights. I would hardly have believed such a place could exist if I had not seen it with my own eyes. I am not sure my descriptions can do it justice, but I will tell you a little of what I saw.
All the chambers were as large as cathedrals, and unenhanced except by clever lighting. There was a walkway through the caves, which kept us from tripping or getting lost, but beyond the walkway the caves were as rough as the day they were created. There were side caves going out in all directions and I could see how someone could easily get lost. The ceilings were high, but more impressive was their shape. The cave ceiling was like a series of arches, each about 20 feet high. Between the arches the cave reached much higher, higher than I could see. It gave the cave a somewhat spooky feel; there were so many dark places where something could be lurking. In places the rocks were multi-coloured, and the stalactites and stalagmites as deliberate as sculptures.
Some of the rock formations have been given names. Aladdin's Cave, where stalactites are reflected and multiplied by clear water, is a place of jewels and magic. The water comes from the slow dripping from the stalactites and the surface of the water is so calm that it forms a perfect mirror. It is incredible to think that all the water in these caves has come through hundreds of feet of rock.
Near the back of the cave, or at least of the part they had opened to the public, there is a huge gallery which contains some of the most impressive structures in the cave. In one place a flowing stalactite looks for all the world like a frozen river, tumbling over rocks and flowing over a small waterfall. Another frozen white waterfall, higher and more spectacular, has been made by the fusion of a stalactite and a stalagmite. The tour guide turned off some of the lights and showed us the Black Cat. It is a huge black stalking shadow on the wall, and is actually, they say, the shadow of another cave.
I was told that the caverns were carved by the meltwaters of the last Ice Age. I saw no dragons, but this was hardly surprising, as I was travelling with a large crowd. Dragons are solitary creatures, I believe, and any who lived in Gough's Cave must certainly have moved on by now, or at least moved far underground.
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