While the Cotswolds, Cornwall and North Yorkshire are some of the more well-known and most visited Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK, there’s a lesser known and lesser visited AONB in the southeast of England. The Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is one of the most underrated parts of the UK, with stunning walks and landscapes, beautiful towns and villages, well as home to some of the most important archeological finds in the UK.
That’s why the Mendip Hills are a great option for a UK getaway. Whether you’re planning a UK staycation weekend or as part of a longer England road trip itinerary, I want to share this guide to the Mendip Hills, things to do, where to stay and what to see!
Where are the Mendip Hills?
You’ll find the Mendip Hills in England, in the county of Somerset, located in the southeast.
The Mendip Hills are easy to reach, located just over half an hour from Bristol and around 50 minutes from Bath. You can also reach the Mendip Hills from London in around 3 hours by car.
Mendip Hills accommodation ideas
The Mendip Hills are quintessentially English with quaint villages, rolling, green fields and beautiful countryside, so I feel like it’s only right to stay in a cottage, barn or similar unique stay while you’re in the area.
During my trip, I stayed in a traditional farm cottage in Milton, just a few minutes from the town of Wells so I was within distance of shops and amenities. Milton is a beautiful village with the hamlets of upper and lower Milton nearby. Sadly the cottage I stayed in is no longer available, but there are similar places in the same area:
If you’re in search of a quaint cottage, check out the stunning restored farm cottage: Lilac Cottage. The cottage sleeps up to 6 and is just 10 minutes from Wells and Wookey Hole.
If you’re looking for a modern, stylish converted barn with a hot tub and modern amenities, look no further than this stunning Barn Conversion. It comes with onsite parking and it’s a great distance from Wells and Wookey Hole.
Right next door is its sister property, The Bolt. So these are perfect for larger groups if you want to rent both spaces together.
If you’re looking for somewhere a bit more unique, perhaps for a romantic break in the Mendips or a surprise getaway, check out the quirky Hobbit House or the chic wooden lodges at Strawberryfield Park.
If none of those suit, you’ll find countless options for Mendip Hills cottages and accommodation on Airbnb.
Mendip Hills: things to do on a weekend staycation
The great thing about the Mendips is that the area is fairly small, so it’s easy to see a lot in a short space of time. There are plenty of things to do in the Mendip Hills and this list can be used to plan an entire weekend, long weekend or even a day trip.
Cheddar Gorge in the morning
Visiting Cheddar Gorge on your Mendip Hills holiday is a must! But it can get extremely busy, so my advice is to visit first thing in the morning, ideally before 10am.
If you’re staying in the Wells or Milton area like I did, it’s just an 18 minute drive to the Gorge, so I decided to go before breakfast at around 7am, to walk through the gorge road without the traffic and take some photos of the spectacular cliffs and rock formations.
Cheddar Gorge is a deep limestone ravine with a winding road that runs through it and is the biggest gorge in the UK. It’s also home to trails with incredible views as well as caves below ground which are full of stalactites and stalagmites.
If you’re a photographer then I highly recommend visiting in the morning before the attractions open. I came back twice in a day, once to photograph and the second time to visit the Mendip Hills caving and attractions as well as do the walking trails.
I’d recommend this area for adults and families with older children, young children might struggle with some of the walks or attractions.
Visiting the Cheddar Gorge and the surrounding trails is completely free, however the attractions are paid. Parking is found throughout the gorge in parking areas and layby areas which do get busy in peak season, so I’d suggest arriving early in the day if you plan to visit the caves.
Gough’s Cave is the main cave area beneath the Gorge and is historically significant to the archaeological and geographical history of England, as well as being home to the largest underground river system in the country. The cost to visit the caves is £19.95.
There are several attractions in the caves including multimedia experiences and escape rooms. The attraction also holds annual special events throughout the year such as Halloween in the caves, so check the website before your trip for more information.
Explore the history of Cheddar Man
Gough’s Cave is significant because it’s home to the oldest complete human skeleton discovered in England. The skeleton was discovered in 1903 but is believed to date back to the Mesolithic era and is around 10,000 years old. The skeleton is kept in the Natural History Museum in London.
Walk along the top of the Gorge
If you want to enjoy the beauty of Cheddar Gorge but don’t fancy venturing underground, the clifftop walk along the gorge is spectacular and definitely one of the best Mendip Hills walks.
The route is relatively easy although those with mobility issues may struggle with accessing the cliffs. This Mendip Hills circular walk is great for families and is just 4 miles round so shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours.
Starting from Cufic Lane, just before the entrance to the Gorge, you’ll find the start point marked as ‘Cheddar Gorge Walk’ on Google Maps and the trail is shown as ‘Cliff Top Gorge Walk’.
Just watch out for the famous feral goats in the area!!
Visit the underground cave network at Wookey Hole
Wookey Hole is another famous stop for things to do in Mendip Hills, although I would say it’s more suited to families with younger children. Whilst the underground limestone caves are spectacular, the tickets can also include pirate golf, the fairy garden, valley of the dinosaurs, a mirror maze, picnic areas and woodland walks.
You can book tickets online here.
There are whole resort areas in Wookey Hole village, with holiday parks and resorts for short family stays.
Visit the home of Cheddar Cheese
It’s called cheddar for a reason! Although Cheddar cheese is eaten and produced all over the world, it originated in the village of Cheddar in Somerset and is now part of the Mendip Hills AONB.
You can visit the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company to learn about its history in the area and taste some of the famous cheese in the home of Cheddar itself! Cheddar was traditionally made and matured in the caves in the area, as the conditions inside are perfect for maturing the cheese.
You can watch the cheesemakers and learn the process at the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company visitors centre as well as try their cheese at the tasting bar and of course visit their shop to take some original Cheddar home with you!
Explore the beautiful town of Wells
Although I say town, Wells is actually one of the smallest cities in the UK due to Wells Cathedral - strange traditional rules in the UK say that a town becomes a city when there is a cathedral!
Not only is Wells a beautiful city to visit, home to Wells Cathedral, the medieval Bishop’s Palace and the Wells & Mendip Museum, it’s also the film location for the 2007 movie, Hot Fuzz, starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in a village called Sandford.
It’s one of my favourite films and if it’s one of yours too, you’ll be thrilled to learn that you can walk the same streets as Sargent Angel did, see the market square, visit the famous church and church spire, stay in the Swan Hotel and even grab a pint at The Crown pub which is the same pub used for many scenes in the movie itself.
I highly recommend visiting the Cathedral and the beautiful streets surrounding it. Bishop’s Palace, surrounded by a moat and walls is also beautiful to walk through the grounds and the house itself.
See the quirky town of Glastonbury
Just 4 miles from Wells is the town of Glastonbury, mostly known as the home to the annual international music festival of the same name.
Many people think that the festival is just in a random field in the English countryside, but the town itself is well worth visiting.
Glastonbury is full of quirky small shops, handmade goods and unique wares. With plenty of pubs and home to the Somerset Rural Life Museum, it’s worth the short drive out from Wells, even though Glastonbury itself isn’t actually in the Mendip Hills.
In the town centre is the beautiful Glastonbury Abbey ruins with links to King Arthur. Despite being viciously destroyed by the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII in 1536, the ruins still mark a religious site that’s over 1500 years old and is fascinating to explore.
Tickets cost £9.90 per adult on the gate or £8.91 in advance here.
Walk up to Glastonbury Tor
Just outside of Glastonbury town is the Glastonbury Tor, a steep hill with a tower, St Michael’s Tower at the top. The Tor is surrounded by ancient history and legends, some say there is a secret cave to a fairy realm beneath it. Others say the Holy Grail was brought here by Jesus’ Uncle.
Many say Jesus came to Glastonbury as a boy, which inspired the English anthem, Jerusalem, written by William Blake.
Regardless of the stories and legends, the area holds significance for Pagans and Christians which is rooted in the town's history.
The walk up to the top of the tor is short but steep and it can be very windy and muddy. I would advise a good windbreaker and walking shoes.
The area is owned by the National Trust but it’s free to walk up and enjoy.
Enjoy some of the best Mendip Hills walks
There are so many Mendip Hills walk routes and trails, so if you’re looking to spend plenty of time outdoors on your Mendip Hills trip then you’ll have plenty to do.
As well as the Gorge cliff top walk and the Glastonbury Tor, I also recommend the Chew Magna walk which offers beautiful views of the Chew Valley and takes you via the little known prehistoric Stanton Drew stone circles. This circular walking route is around 5 miles and is relatively easy to complete.
I love the walks in the Mendip Hills because there’s many relatively easy Mendip Hills walks which can be completed in just a couple of hours. For information on more Mendip walks, see the Mendip Hills UK website here.
I hope this guide gives you some inspiration for your trip to the Mendip Hills and things to do there, as well as where to stay. UK staycations are often underrated but with more people opting to travel within the country, now is the perfect time to plan your mendip hills holiday.
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