Cheddar caves closed to both tourists and cavers

Survey of Gough’s Cave drawn by Andrew Atkinson and Graham Mullan © Creative Commons BY NC SA

The Cheddar caves, owned by Longleat Enterprises Ltd, are currently closed to visitors. Following this, a statement just issued by the Council of Southern Caving Clubs (CSCC) informs cavers that the caves in the gorge on Longleat land are also closed to cavers, although access discussions are now under way with CSCC.

The closure of the caves in the world-famous limestone gorge is a huge blow for the many businesses in the Gorge that depend in large part on the tourist trade generated by the caves who are already suffering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A statement issued by Longleat Enterprises says:

Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic Cheddar Caves and its attractions will be closed for the foreseeable future.

The effect of the pandemic on our operations has been profound. Sadly, we do not envisage the attraction being viable for the remainder of 2020 and there is great uncertainty as to the trajectory of the virus in 2021 and the associated guidance and rules.

With great regret amid the ongoing uncertainty and long timescales involved we have to consider making redundancies, which will affect the vast majority of our staff working at Cheddar.

The number of staff who may be affected by the proposed redundancy is 40 and we will now be entering into a formal redundancy consultation process.

The impact of the closure on cavers was initially uncertain, but Longleat Enterprises have now confirmed to CSCC that, for the moment, there is no caver access to any of the caves on their land. The following statement has been issued by CSCC:

Access to caves in Cheddar Gorge

Further to the decision by Longleat to close the show caves and suspend their operations in Cheddar, they have notified CSCC that with immediate effect caver access to all caves on Longleat property, which includes the whole south side of the Gorge, is no longer available. This includes all caves and digs, and affects sites such as Reservoir Hole, Spider Hole, Gough’s Cave, Long Hole, Great Oones etc.

Longleat are not averse to reinstating caver access subject to an access agreement with CSCC.

Negotiations to formalise an access procedure were started at the request of Longleat a few years ago but were never concluded.

Discussions have recommenced and both parties are hopeful of a favourable and positive outcome. However, in the meantime all the caves are closed.

Longleat will be keeping a presence in the Gorge for maintenance purposes, but this is all. Approaches should not be made to Longleat or any of their representatives as permission to visit any of the caves will be denied.

Graham Price
Conservation & Access Officer
Council of Southern Caving Clubs

Cox’s Cave was discovered in 1837 and opened to the public by local mill owner George Cox the following year, followed by the opening of Gough’s Cave by Richard Cox Gough in 1892. The management of the caves was taken over by the freeholder, the Marquess of Bath, in the 1930s. The caves have remained under the ownership and management of the Longleat Estate and have been an important and high profile part of the local economy since then.