Herefordshire is one of the United Kingdom’s most rural and sparsely populated counties, nestling into Wales on its western border, and with Shropshire to the north and Worcestershire to the east. Its biggest settlement is the charming cathedral city of Hereford. Don’t get it confused with Hertfordshire, to the north of London; Herefordshire is way more rural. Here we’re talking cider making and hop growing country, pretty market towns and picturesque villages. If you like your landscape unspoilt, your history intriguing and your outdoor discoveries plentiful, then this is your county. Here are 15 heartwarming things to do in Herefordshire.
You can’t come to Herefordshire without visiting the cathedral city of Hereford. You’ll find all the customary shopping and leisure facilities in the city centre here. For independent shops, delicatessens and places to eat, head down the little street that runs from High Town to the cathedral. Key products from Hereford include cider, beer, leather goods and cattle, including the famous Hereford breed.
There was once a castle in Hereford that rivalled Windsor in size and scale. It was the base for repelling Welsh attacks, somewhat ironically, as Herefordshire was actually part of Wales for many years. The castle was taken apart in the eighteenth century, and landscaped into Castle Green.
Composer Sir Edward Elgar lived in Hereford for many years; you can find his statue by the cathedral. You can see tribute to a bulldog called Dan, who fell into the River Wye. Dan inspired one of the Enigma Variations, and has been honoured by a wooden statue beside the river.
Right in the centre of Hereford, you’ll find the aptly named Old House, a historic black and white building dating from the 1600s, now home to a museum about life in the Jacobean era. For more recent history, you can visit the Cider Museum. Situated in the old cider factory, it is host to an annual cidermaking festival. The wonderfully named Pomological Archives hold records of old named cider apples and cider production.
Check Out The Mappa Mundi
You can’t miss Hereford cathedral once you’re in the city: just look up. The cathedral is full of beauty in its own right, set on a green that rolls down to the River Wye, and one of the most atmospheric bridges I’ve ever seen, complete with passing places. But the cathedral itself contains something magnificent and important: the Mappa Mundi.
The Cathedral dates from 1079, and includes the famous Chained Library. The Mappa Mundi is a medieval map of the world dating from the 13th century and restored in the late 20th century. It originally hung over the altar in the cathedral. The Mappa Mundi is the work of an ecclesiastic. His medieval selfie is captured in the top right hand corner, depicting a man on horseback attended by his page and greyhounds. During the English Civil War, a prudent decision was taken to hide the map under the floor of the Chantry, and it was later cleaned and repaired at the British Museum.
This is a map of major significance. It’s the second largest of all the old maps, drawn on a single sheet of vellum. It acknowledges that the world is round, and depicts it surrounded by oceans. The top of the map, which represents east rather than north, shows Paradise with a river and tree, and also depicts the expulsion of Adam and Eve. The is also a representation of the Day of Judgement. Jerusalem, Babylon, Rome and Troy are included along with most of the cathedrals of Britain.
Visit Leominster For Antique Splendor
Leominster‘s a market town, north of Hereford, at the confluence of the rivers Lugg and Kenwater. It’s the biggest town in Herefordshire, with a population of around 12,000 people, giving you an idea just how small the settlements are here. Leominster’s got a great reputation as a centre for antiques, with the Antique Market hosting 20 dealers selling antiques and collectables every day. The town is also home to Monkland Cheese Dairy, whose lovely products you’ll find throughout Herefordshire and Shropshire.
The beautiful Leominster Priory was constructed in the 13th century as a Benedictine Priory and is dedicated to St Peter and St Paul. You can also visit Hampton Court Castle, a Grade I listed castellated country house at Hope under Dinmore, some 4 miles south of Leominster.
Explore Life Below Stairs at Berrington Hall
To the north of Leominster, you’ll find Berrington Hall. It’s a neoclassical country house, home to the Elmar Digby furniture collection, some fine paintings, and a costume collection that can be viewed by appointment. You can imagine yourself with a life “below stairs” as the servants’ quarters are open to the public. including a Victorian laundry and a Georgian dairy. The gardens are also open to the public, and feature Capability Brown’s last landscape design. Here you can also see Berrington Pool, a lake with an island, designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Imagine Living In The Manor at Croft Castle
Also north of Leominster at Yarpole is Croft Castle, comprising a castle, church and gardens. Here you have 1500 acres of woodland, farmland and parkland, much of which is available for walks. The Battle of Mortimer’s Cross took place on nearby lands belonging to the Croft family. The building originated as a castle in the 14th century, and has been altered significantly since. It was slighted in the Civil War and is now a stone manor house with a round tower at each corner and a square tower to the north.
Take The Mortimer Trail
The Mortimer Trail runs close by Croft Castle. It’s a waymarked long distance footpath for recreational walks, running from Kington near the Welsh border to Ludlow Castle in Shropshire. The Trail is named after the Mortimer family, whose dominance in the area from Norman times shaped the history and geography of the Welsh Marches.
The 30 mile route from Ludlow Castle bridges the River Teme and then goes through Mortimer Forest. You’ll pass Puckhouse Wood, reputedly haunted by wood sprites, known as pucks. Legend states that a traveller lost in the wood paid for a bell to be rung to rescue travellers from Puck. After crossing the River Lugg and the River Arrow, the walk ends in Kington, Herefordshire.
There are five shorter loops departing from the main trail at different points along the route. This lets you explore surrounding villages and other attractions. Along the way, if you are lucky, you might spot fallow deer, kingfishers, woodpeckers and skylarks. The whole length of the Mortimer Trail is a great mixture of fascinating history – hillforts, castles and battle sites – interesting nature to observe and a great collection of wayside inns in which to refuel.
Ledbury is a market town with a large collection of timber-framed buildings, particularly along Church Street and the High Street. The one that you will probably notice first is the Market House, which was built in 1617 by the King’s carpenter, John Abel. It’s a charming town to wander.
You should stop off at the church of St Michael and All Angels, where you’ll find the painted room with 16th century frescoes. St Katherine’s Hospital, founded in 1231, is a rare example of a hospital complex with the hall, chapel, master’s house, almshouses and a timber framed barn.
If that’s given you a thirst, then why not try out nearby Weston’s Cider, where you can tour the mill and test out the products.
And For Poetry
Elizabeth Barrett-Browning lived in the town spending her childhood at Hope End, and you’ll find a memorial clock tower in her name. Ledbury is also the birthplace of poet laureate John Masefield.
Very important in the town’s calendar is the Ledbury Poetry Festival, taking place over ten days in July. It has become the leading poetry festival in the UK.
Get Off-Road At Eastnor Castle
Nearby Eastnor Castle, built in the 19th century as a revival castle, is host to many events. It has provided the backdrop to films and television series including The Prince and the Pauper, to music videos by Slade and to the challenge series The Amazing Race. The grounds at Eastnor hold the Land Rover test track, and you can try off-roading in the latest models.
Bromyard: It’s Having A Party
Bromyard is another small but perfectly formed market town, also boasting a number of traditional half-timbered buildings, which include some of its pubs. The parish church dates back to Norman times.
Bromyard is home to Nozstock, a festival as large as the town itself. The Hidden Valley Festival runs over three days at the end of July and attracts more than 5,000 visitors. Here you’ll find nine stages, dance arenas, a cinema, a theatre, a comedy stage, a circus and in a brilliant nod to the area, a vintage tractor arena. It’s a family event, so everyone’s welcome.
September sees more festival action in Bromyard with the three day folk festival. It hosts visitors in a campsite, with venues spread over marquees and sites in the town, and is one of the largest events of its kind in the country.
Also in Bromyard, you’ll find Lower Brockhampton, a moated farmhouse beyond Bromyard Downs. This is a farmed estate, owned by the National Trust. The timber framed manor house is surrounded by 1,000 acres of farmland, and 700 acres of woodland. The house was restored in 2010 using traditional wattle and daub.
Ross-on-Wye: Town on the River Wye
Ross-on-Wye is a small market town on the edge of the Forest of Dean, popular for its river scenery. The town calls itself the “birthplace of British Tourism”. Back in 1745, Rector John Egerton started taking friends on boat trips down the valley. The selling point was the immense beauty of the river scenery, the precipitous cliffs and the castles and abbeys. Seekers of the picturesque were entranced. Demand grew quickly, and by 1808 there were eight boats plying the Wye. In a precursor of travel blogging, by 1850 there were more than 20 visitor accounts of the Wye Tour, and the tourist location was firmly established.
The landscape of the town is dominated by the 700-year old parish church of St Mary’s, which contains noted alabaster tombs. There are attractive almshouses nearby. Today the town is known for independent shops, and the market square with a Market House built in 1650. Its upper floor is now an Arts Centre. If you want to enjoy a view over the famous horseshoe bend in the River Wye, try Prospect Gardens, which has views as far as the Black Mountains.
Goodrich Castle: Once The Height Of Castle Fashion
You can also visit Goodrich Castle, described by William Wordsworth as the “noblest ruin in Herefordshire”. Historian Adrian Pettifer described it as “the most splendid in the county, and one of the best examples of English military architecture”. Goodrich controlled the key location between Monmouth and Ross-on-Wye.
Starting its life as an earth and wooden fortification, the castle was expanded significantly in the 13th century. Its concentric structure combined luxurious living with extensive defences. Its success meant that it became a trend-settter in castle design.
Having been held at various times by both sides in the English Civil War, it was finally beseiged by the huge Roaring Meg mortar, and became a ruin. At the end of the 18th century, ruins came into fashion, and Goodrich even provided inspiration for Wordsworth. It is now owned by English Heritage and is open to the public.
Symonds Yat: Take To The Water And The Rocks
Symonds Yat is a village straddling the River Wye, close to where Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire meet. The name comes from a 17th century sheriff of Herefordshire, and yat, the word for a gate or a pass.
The east side of Symonds Yat has hotels and a canoe and activity centre. From here you can take the steep footpath up to Symonds Yat Rock. There is another path and cycleway running along the east bank of the river to Monmouth. On the west side of the river is a large camping and caravan site, a small amusement park, a maze and a butterfly park.
To get between the two halves of Symonds Yat, there are two ferries, pulled by ferrymen using an overhead cable. The only way to make the trip by road is to go the 5 miles upriver to the Huntsham bridge. One ferry is operated by the Saracens Head Inn and the other by Ye Old Ferrie Inn. There is also a suspension bridge over the river built and later refurbished by the Forestry Commission. They request that no more than 6 people cross it at once.
Symonds Yat Rock overlooks a spectacular gorge, and is a great place to spot perigrine falcons, buzzards, goshawks, hobbies and sometimes migrant raptors such as ospreys and European honey buzzards.
In addition to kayaking, canoeing and stand up paddle boarding, on the River Wye itself, Symonds Yat Rapids are a Grade-2 manmade feature for paddlers. There are extensive rock climbing routes at all grades in the deep gorge.
The Malvern Hills
The Malvern Hills is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that extends across Herefordshire, Worcestershire and a small part of Gloucestershire. From the highest summit, you can see across the Severn Valley and to the Welsh Mountains across Herefordshire. I didn’t realise until recently that on a clear day, you should be able to see the cathedrals of Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford.
The Malverns are known for their spring water – allegedly favoured by the Queen – which was initially made famous through the many holy wells on the Hills. The Malverns are also a key wildlife site.
The Herefordshire Beacon is one of the Malvern Hills, and is surounded by a British Iron Age hill fort known as British Camp. The Malvern Hills are beautifully suited to walks, wanders and even just meandering a little way to take the air and enjoy some spectacular views.
The Black And White Villages
You should now know that Herefordshire is full of charming black and white Tudor buildings. The Black and White Village Trail will take you out of the towns to explore a large number of timbered and half-timbered houses. Some are medieval, others more recent.
The trail takes you out through what it describes as “some of the prettiest villages and most beautiful landscape in England”. I wouldn’t argue with that at all; it’s gorgeous. If it were easier to reach, it would be as busy as the Cotswolds, and in its own distinct way, it’s equally pretty. The route is a 40 mile circular trail heading out of Leominster and taking in a number of villages as well as the market town of Kington.
We’re not just talking a pleasant drive either. The villages have gently buzzing and characterful things to offer the visitor, including tea rooms, shops, craft workshops and pubs. If Herefordshire hasn’t already filled you with a massive sense of chill, this should do the trick.
The Black and White Houses And A Dovecote
Not sure what makes up a black and white village? Many of the houses are timber-framed, built from green oak, and with the panels infilled by lath, made up of woven strips of wood and plaster. Panels were limewashed, often tinted by natural ingredients. The concept of black beams is actually pretty recent; in the 16th and 17th century, timbers were normally left to weather naturally, and later covered over with plaster. Fashions are changing again now, and you’ll find some houses with the paint removed from beams to reveal the natural weathered wood.
If you pass through Eardisland, don’t forget to stop off to see its Dovecote. It’s now an information and exhibition centre for the village, as well as being a beautiful landmark. Nearby is England’s oldest, and it has to be said mightily pretty, AA roadside telephone box.
How To Get To Hereford
Hereford has a rail station, and you can reach it via Worcester (from London Paddington), Birmingham (from London Euston or London Marylebone), Manchester, Shrewsbury and Cardiff. If you are taking the train, be aware that it’s not the most frequent service, and the line is at times single track; you’ll have to wait for one train at a time to clear the single track section.
Hereford is connected to the motorway network via the M50 and the M5. You can also travel south from Shrewsbury via the A49. Although every A road is of course a major route, be aware that this is a county whose economy is built on farming, so expect to find farm vehicles and equipment using the roads.
You’ll find Herefordshire’s Visitor Guide here.
While you’re in Hereford, you might like to pop over the border to Shropshire and check out the historic town of Ludlow. Here you’ll find Ludlow Castle, early home of the Princes in the Tower, it’s also one of the best foodie destinations bar none. Bring your tastebuds and a big appetite. And for more English gorgeousness, come and explore neighbouring Worcestershire too.
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