On Sunday we went to Cheddar. I asked the GPS app on my phone for the quickest route, yet we wound our way there through unnecessarily circuitous lanes. Pretty though.
It probably wasn’t slower than taking the motorway but it certainly made my passengers, Nurse J and Mrs Honeytree, feel car sick. They argued about who should sit in the front seat: but unlike children, their arguments went: “No, no, I’m fine in the back, you stay there.” “No, I insist that we swap, you’ve been in the back long enough.” Until I finally stopped the car and said: “Swap.”
When we finally got there we sought out some lunch at a little cafe that was decorated in twee, vintage style with all manner of old bits and pieces, board games, kitchenalia and pictures. We sat under a shelf of royal memorabilia, presided over by a plate decorated with Charles and Diana’s engagement picture. Not a good omen.
We ordered: Nurse J, some fizzy mineral water; Mrs Honeytree, some vegetable soup; and I, a jacket potato with baked beans. The phone rang: a crisis with some offspring and Mrs H went outside to deal with it. The food arrived, and got cold. It wasn’t very nice. My beans were small and salty. Who would have thought you could get sub standard baked beans? But you can.
So far, so depressing. And on a gorgeous, sunny day as well. Then we went for a stroll around Cheddar, which was mostly road. OK. This is not the village’s fault, after all – it is in a gorge, so it can’t be spread out. But it seemed to be full of tawdry little shops selling souvenirs and even the ‘official’ Cheddar cheese shop was rather disappointing. All the cheese sealed in plastic like at a supermarket and the tasting of the many varieties carefully controlled by an officious little man, who would spear a tiny cube on request from a covered stainless steel bowl, so you couldn’t even see why you would want to try one type rather than another.
What we wanted was something more like the stuff on the left below. What we got was a whole shop full of the stuff on the right. And about seventy labels warning about ‘Health and Safety’ regulations. Lovely. And so they lost our custom.
I tried to stay positive. The complaints of the others were getting to me. I felt responsible for bringing them to this horrible place by way of a journey that had made them feel ill. No, I insisted, it was lovely, cheese was fine sold like this. As a penance, I started getting a sore throat.
We decided quickly to leave and drove up through the gorge, marvelling at the 1950s buildings constructed right into the foot of the cliffs at the bottom. Marvelling, that is, at the planning regulations that allowed such despoilment of a beautiful natural feature. Further up, the gorge got less built up and more beautiful. Climbers abseiled down into groups of admiring observers. Sunlight began to filter into the scenery and eventually we emerged at the top into a completely different landscape from the one we had left behind below.
As I was driving, I couldn’t take any pictures of Cheddar Gorge itself, which is pretty impressive. Next time, I will have to stop and do so. If there is a next time.
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