Travel: Because they're gorge-ous...

From the Grand Canyon to Cheddar, they're best seen on foot.
Click to follow
The Independent Travel
GORGE-OUS walks are certainly not confined to Crete (see above). The choices range from the awe-inspiring majesty of America's Grand Canyon to our own Cheddar Gorge.

Grand Canyon - US

The Grand Canyon is probably the most striking gorge in the world and with more than 3 million visitors a year, it is certainly the most popular.

The Bright Angel Trail begins at the Grand Canyon Village and winds down to the old Phantom Ranch on the canyon floor. This five-hour walk (one way) saunters past stark and imposing promontories and never-to-be- conquered sandstone pinnacles, allswathed in glaring desert brightness or impenetrable shadow. Most of the trail was laid out by miners more than a century ago along an old Havasupai Indian route. After a few miles and a couple of spooky tunnels, the hitherto sparse wildlife begins to increase - mainly in the form of timid deer, scurrying rodents and boisterous ravens.

Along the valley floor the trail traverses the many sand dunes scattered with cacti to reach the edge of the Colorado River, before plodding on to Phantom Ranch. After a night in the bunkhouse (pounds 15) you begin trudging your way back up. Regular buses travel between the Grand Canyon Village and the city of Flagstaff.

Vikos Gorge - Greece

With its showcase villages and alpine scenery, the Vikos Gorge's beauty is difficult to beat. And with a fair chance of encountering wild bears and even wilder Albanian bandits, it also offers a good dash of excitement.

The path through the gorge begins in the handsome village of Monodhendhri and ends in the pretty village of Megalo Papingo. From Monodhendhri, the path dips down to the river bed, whose stony course it follows, occasionally crossing from one side of the river to the other and climbing the wooded banks.

Soon after you pass the small white shrine of Ayia Triadha, the gorge begins to open out and you encounter the sweet waters of the Voidhomatis springs, just five hours out of Monodhendhri. Another two hours and you arrive at Megalo Papingo, where a room in a tavern will cost pounds 10-pounds 20 per night. At least three buses a week connect the villages with Ioannina, the region's transport hub.

Blyde River Canyon - South Africa

The red rock strata of the Blyde River Canyon, which drops sharply away from the Escarpment and into the Lowveld, has been sculptured by the elements into some highly dramatic contortions. The 40-mile Blyderiverspoort Hiking Trail offers the only way of getting directly from the Escarpment into the canyon.

The hike starts at God's Window, three miles north of Graskop, and works its way north to the Blydepoort Dam. Along the way you will be able to appreciate the area's great diversity of plant life, and stand a fair chance of meeting some of the local hippos, crocodiles, zebras, baboons and monkeys.

Accommodation on the route is provided in the form of four huts which have cold showers, log fires and cooking stoves. As the start and finish of the trail are some 100 miles apart by road, you'll need access to two vehicles to get you there and away.

Cheddar Gorge - UK

Eight miles west of Wells, along the green and pleasant A371, is our own Cheddar Gorge. An impressive limestone phenomenon in its own right, it is also the only gorge in the world that you can walk over, in, and underneath.

There is a bracing two-hour circular stroll from Cheddar village around the rim of the gorge, from where you can really appreciate how it cuts a violent geological gash across the gentle Mendip Hills. Almost 500 feet below, the narrow road and path wind their way through the gorge, from where you will be able to take in the most startling vistas. The white goats which inhabit the gorge seem to thrive on a diet of daytripper's cheese and tomato sandwiches.

Beneath the road and the goats are the Cheddar caves, which were scooped out by underground rivers after the last Ice Age, and subsequently occupied by primitive communities. But the only things they contain today are an impressive array of tortuous rock formations that resemble organ pipes, waterfalls and giant birds, as well as a set of lime blocks known locally as as The Bells which, when struck, produce a range of mellow musical notes. The caves are open daily from 10am to 5pm.