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A Hole Lot of Magic and Adventure in Mendip Hills

Magical caves, bonafide witches, wizards, dinosaurs, fairies, pirates, penny arcades and softplay - Wookey Hole is a child’s imagination poured into Somerset’s hills.

Our children race ahead, excitedly spotting a giant King Kong, fairies and animatronic dinosaurs beneath us, as we walk towards the mouth of the famous caves.

And they are (briefly) shocked into thrilled silence as the tone changes, when we enter the first of the eight, dramatically lit chambers on our cave tour.

The River Axe flows through the caves, so we grip our children’s hands through the sometimes slippery tunnels and walkways as we explore this echoey, subterranean world, which was created millions of years ago when a few rain drops started percolating through Mendip Hills' porous rock.

It feels like an adventure as we wind through mysterious passages, admiring stunning underground lakes, cavern formations and learn about its past inhabitants, which included Neanderthals who carved the walls with flint, now-extinct cave hyenas and Ice Age animals.

We meet the inhabitant our children are most excited about in the first chamber - the famous Wookey witch and her dog, who was turned to stone for scaring the villagers.

The Witch’s Parlour is another jaw-dropping space, and the location for the first ever cave dive as well as famous Doctor Who and The Wicker Man scenes.

For adventurers far braver than us, there is the Wild Wookey Experience, which allows thrill-seekers to crawl, climb and abseil through show caves and hidden passages, exiting via zipwire from the valley rockface.

We opt for gingerly tiptoeing around the caves instead, until we reach the final chamber, which is loaded with famous, cave-aged cheese. Made by Ford Farm cheesemakers, the cheese is carried by hand, two hundred feet underground where it is left to mature. The constant temperature and humidity of the caves offers ideal conditions for storing and ageing cheddar, which takes on the distinctive, earthy and nutty flavours from the atmosphere.

We notice a shadowy, motionless figure in one corner, as we totter through the exit passage and stop for a closer inspection of the statue, which suddenly leaps around, to thrilled shrieks from our children. He introduces himself as the friendly Wookey Wizard, who poses for photos and patiently answers our children’s questions about witches, bats and stalactites.

Blinking at the bright sunshine back outside, we explore the Enchanted Valley - once inhabited by Ice Age mammoths and hyenas and, 2,000 years ago filled with Romans, worshipping Wookey’s natural Spring. It is now a beautiful, landscaped area studded with fairies, elves and unicorns around a peaceful stream.

We’re not sure why there’s a giant, ten meter King Kong model as we leave the valley, but we don’t question things in this deliciously weird pocket of Somerset, and the children delightedly pose for photos beneath him.

In a nod to times when strange creatures roamed this area, we totter through Dinosaur Grove, filled with animatronic, prehistoric beasts, roaring, biting and flicking their tails.

And we find ourselves inside a 4D theatre, where an animatronic bat and the Wookey Witch communicate via a giant, upside-down phone on the wall, before we are led into the 4D cinema for a suitably spooky showing of Scooby-Doo, complete with seat effects and 3D screen action.

Next door, we discover the museum, featuring human skeletons and prehistoric tools found in the caves, incredibly stressful footage of the first cave dive, the legend of the Wookey Witch and a paper making workshop for children, since it’s located inside a former paper making Mill.

There are more than 20 activities included in the ticket price, and we spend a whirlwind five hours trying to cram them all in, from pirate themed “Adventure Golf” outside to an endless succession of experiences inside The Mill.

These include a Mirror Maze - where our children rely on greasy nose smudges to find their way out - a Vintage Penny Arcade, filled with quirky and nightmarish laughing policemen and execution scenes. There’s endless softplay for assorted ages and a vintage, seaside-themed area, complete with carousel. Like the caves, each room is filled with a new surprise for children, from machines which fire out foam balls, a platoon of ride-on cars to a talking, blinking, magic tree.

The Mill also houses a deliciously eccentric, 400 seater theatre and the shows there are also included in your ticket. During the Summer Holidays, the Wookey Hole Circus is performing the brand new Trolls Pop Quiz - an interactive show combining circus acts with pop music.

We are staying at the Wookey Hole Hotel, a biscuit-throw from the famous caves. Fittingly, the hotel's turret is topped with a giant, black witch hat roof, which houses the popular Witch's Hat Suite.

Behind the hotel, tucked in the rolling green hills, are open plan lodges, complete with hot tubs and outdoor decking with views across Wookey Hole Village and valley. All lodge guests receive free tickets to the attraction and hotel guests can enjoy a 10% discount on Wookey tickets.

We leave our cases and obligatory Wookey cheese and gift shop haul in our comfortable hotel bedrooms and head down to the hotel’s restaurant and bar, watching the sun's descent behind the caves, through the windows. And I enjoy an excellent pan-seared salmon with hoisin noodles and vegetables, while the children demolish the kid’s curry, followed by sticky toffee pudding and triple chocolate brownie.

Finally in bed, excitedly chattering about cheese-making witches (their confused takeaway from the experience) the children nod off to sleep alarmingly quickly, after a busy day of cave-bothering, magic and dinosaurs.

And perhaps I’ve been in London too long - offering gold fillings and first borns for an hour in a grubby softplay - but I still can’t quite believe that a whole day of underground and overground adventures costs £17.65 for kids and £21.45 for adults. That is real magic.

Wookey Hole, Wookey Hole Caves, The Mill, Wookey Hole, BA5 1BA. Children’s tickets (3-14) £17.65. Adult’s ticket, £21.45. Senior’s ticket £19.85. Infants (less than 3 years old) go free

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