Leon Troake climbing Cheddar Gorge Hello Great West Way Ambassador! Please introduce yourself: 
I am Leon Troake, Operations Manager at Cheddar Gorge & Caves.

Tell us a little more about what you do on the Great West Way:
We manage and own the south side of Cheddar Gorge which includes a number of caves and the highest inland limestone cliff formation in Britain. Our most famous cave, Gough’s Cave, is known for the discovery of Britain’s oldest, most complete skeleton: Cheddar Man. 

What do you love most about your job? 
Coming to work in one of the most beautiful places in the UK and safeguarding this special place for generations to come.

How did you get started? Has it been a long journey, getting to where you are today? 
I have worked in the outdoor leisure industry for most of my career. I have taught many adventurous activities such as climbing, hill walking and managed large visitor attractions in related industries.  

What achievements are you most proud of?
As a business, we have been on a journey over the last few years of developing and broadening what we offer our guests; seeing the results of this has been fantastic.Cheddar Man, Britain's oldest and most complete skeleton What’s a typical day like for you?
Expect the unexpected! We have a large site which is very diverse, one minute I could be on a rope planning rock safety works, the next I could be with the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty team doing what we can to protect the dormouse population, or, in winter, I could be inside Gough’s Cave chatting to Father Christmas about all the children he’s met that day! 

Do you work with a wider team? If so, tell us a bit about them: 
Cheddar Gorge & Caves has around 50 members of staff before you add all the specialist contractors such as our ecologists. It is the sister attraction of Longleat in Wiltshire owned by Lord Bath. In total, we are a team of over a 1000 who all work together to create an experience for our guests.

What do you find inspiring day-to-day? What keeps the enthusiasm going?
When I come to work on a summer’s day, the gorge is busy with visitors, the sun is shining and everyone is having a great time with their families and friends.

Any interesting or funny anecdotes related to your role or your experiences with visitors that you can share? 
Favorite questions: Where’s the gorge? Is that a goat or a sheep? Is the cheese in the cave real? Are the caves indoors? Can I drive through the cave? Why did they make the cave? Guest looking at the skeleton of Cheddar Man: ‘Is he dead?’

What does slow travel mean to you? 
Where the journey is more important than the destination.

What do you think makes the Great West Way special?
It’s a really great way to travel through time visiting some of the most important historic sites in the country. You can experience everything from the first settlers in the country through to some amazingly vibrant and modern cities such as Bristol.

Do you have any insider tips or advice for travellers who want to experience the touring route ‘like a local’? 
Take a picnic of local cheese, fruit and cider and sit up on the gorge on a warm summer’s evening and watch the sun drop below the gorge and turn the sky all shades of red, yellow and orange.The view from the top of Cheddar GorgeDescribe your perfect adventure on the Great West Way: 
I would love to give steering a narrow boat a go; spending a few days journeying along the canal would be amazing.

What’s your favourite thing to eat or drink along the touring route (can be a meal, a local delicacy or a favourite tipple)? Any cafes, restaurants or pubs you can recommend?
It’s got to be cider and cheese, the land around here coupled with our southern climate makes for excellent milk and apple production and there’s no better way to sample it than in this form!

Are you a city, town or country person? 
I am a country person although I love to spend time in the heart of cities every now and then to enjoy the atmosphere and the buzz.

Are there any English stereotypes or traditions you’d like to set straight? 
People from Somerset are not like Worzel Gummidge

If you could choose one must-visit attraction along the Great West Way, what would it be and why? 
I’d love to go to the Fat Duck in Bray. I’ve watched Heston Blumenthal as I have grown up and now I just want to try some of his food!

What do you think will surprise first-time visitors about the Great West Way? Any secret, lesser-visited spots you’d like to recommend?
The Mendip Hills, full of rich history from prehistoric times, The Romans and the Victorians. As well as loads of unique plants and animals, it’s right on the doorstep of the Great West Way: The Mendips have it all.

What’s your preferred mode of transport: train, car, bus or boat? Why?
Boat, either Kayak or open boat ideally on some moving water. I love the thrill of white water paddling and we are really lucky in this part of the country to have easy access to some fantastic rivers.

Any exciting plans for the future you’d like to share?
Cheddar Gorge & Caves has seen lots of investment over the last few years and this is set to continue in future. The Cheddar experience is evolving so keep an eye on us to see how we are getting on. Stalagmites at Cheddar Gorge
To find out more about Cheddar Gorge and Caves and what you can get up to in the area, take a look at our Bristol and Bath page.

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Cheddar Gorge & Caves
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