Nestling under the southern flank of the Mendip Hills, Wookey Hole is centred around a huge cave complex carved out by the River Axe which has its source here. It is right on the Mendip Way and has a range of accommodation for walkers unable to make the extra miles today to Wells.
The cave and its associated legend of the ‘Witch of Wookey’ have inspired visitors here for centuries. In 1756, Dr Henry Harrington, physician to the Duke of York, wrote a poem about the witch. It opens:
“In aunciente days, tradition showes,
A base and wicked else arose,
The Witch of Woke high:
Oft have I heard the fearfully tale,
From Sue and Roger of the vale,
On some long winter's night.”
The legend is that long ago a witch tormented the good folk of Wookey Hole. An embittered soul, she was especially resentful of romance and cursed a pair of young lovers. The young man, instead of marrying his love, went to Glastonbury and became a monk. For many years the witch continued to cause mischief to the locals by spoiling their butter, disturbing the livestock and generally being a pain in the neck. Eventually the villagers sent to Glastonbury Abbey for help and the young monk, now more experienced in such matters, returned and after an epic battle with the witch, finally succeeded in using holy water to turn her into stone just inside the entrance to Wookey Hole cave where she can still be seen today.
The cave itself is a series of limestone caverns carved out by the River Axe which flows through the cave system. For seventy-five years cave divers have been exploring deeper and deeper into the cave system and have discovered 25 chambers so far. No-one has managed to travel into chamber 26 and what lies beyond remains unknown.
In 2015 a tunnel was built and now visitors can walk safely as far as chamber 20 and visit parts of the cave which were once only open to the most intrepid of underwater explorers. Wookey Hole Caves are now one of the biggest show cave systems in Europe.
Above ground, a visitor’s complex includes a functioning paper mill, in existence since 1610, where you can have a go at making paper yourself using Victorian machinery.
The Wookey Hole Experience is a less enticing theme-park effort complete with plastic dinosaurs and a 4D cinema. The Victorian penny arcade and mirror maze are fun, but it is really geared up for children.
The Wookey Hole Inn provides an oasis of calm …and local cider and is just along the road from the visitor complex.
North of Wookey Hole and on the Mendip Way is Ebbor Gorge, a steep sided limestone ravine which is now a nature reserve managed by Natural England. Sometimes described as 'mini Cheddar,' the path winds its way down through the steep sided gorge where ferns and fungi flourish in the often-humid conditions of the narrow valley, where the trees tower above you as you walk in the steps of Neolithic ancestors whose flints and tools have been found here. In this quiet and almost eerie place it feels like you are walking back in time.