Herefordshire’s cider heritage is an ideal basis for exploring the county on foot
Whether or not you have a taste for cider, it is quite a challenge to avoid the stuff in Herefordshire. But one of the benefits of the county’s vibrant cider industry is that you need plenty of orchards to produce the apples, and these are easy on the eye. Man-made they may be, but they fit snugly into the landscape of the south of the county.
Having made my way up to Marcle Ridge, above the hamlet of Rushall, as part of my exploration of the Herefordshire Trail, I’d noticed several orchards operated by the communities of the small parishes that dot this part of the trail. From the ridge itself, all of 231m high, there are views north-east across the humpbacked Malvern Hills and west towards the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons. To the south, the Wye valley stretches away towards towards the Bristol Channel. The ridge has an important place in history hereabouts: its well-drained, fertile soil has appealed to humans for aeons and the land has yieleded remnants of prehistoric, roman and medieval sites.
The prime apple territory of Marcle Ridge is seven miles west of Ledbury, the market town that represents the official start of the 154-mile Herefordshire Trail, Britain’s newest long-distance trail. The route, officially opened in summer 2005, was devised by members of the Hereford Group of the Ramblers’ Association, using existing public rights of way.
The trail meanders through bucolic countryside, calling at character-filled market towns such as Ross-on-Wye, and villages that doze on while the 21st century passes them by. Flitting back and forth between England and Wales, the landscape moves through wide vistas across rich arable land, apple orchards, hop fields, woodlands speckled with wild flowers, and river valleys. Along the way are pretty, rural churches, castle ruins and other historic features, together with country inns and farmhouses offering bed and breakfast.
Much of the route is way-marked by an apple tree logo – a nod in the direction of Herefordshire’s intimate association with cider. Where the way-marking disappears, the trail book provides instructions of the route, which were, where this author employed them, detailed, meticulous and reliable.
The route can be walked in one continuous journey, which takes around 12-15 days, but given that not everyone will want to do the entire route in one go, the Herefordshire Trail has been divided into 15 roughly equal parts. Car parks near to the start and finish points for each of these sections are clearly highlighted in the trail’s guidebook, as are public transport links.
The trail’s website suggests several interesting circular walks of around 12 to 16 miles. Alternatively, Ross-on-Wye is a good base for walking the sections of the trail on either side of the town – the town is, for example, 19 miles from Ledbury, which would make for a long day’s hike. Instead, I walked out of Ross to the hamlet of Hole in the Wall, close by the river Wye, and then retraced my steps, a walk of around six miles, choosing a stone seat by an ancient oak tree in the churchyard of St Michael’s church in Brampton Abbotts to admire the view of Ross and the spire of St.Mary’s church. Leominister is another option for a there-and-back-again walk, and the path briefly follows the river Lugg, where otters have been spotted and salmon and elver eels migrate upriver from the river Wye.
Just north-west of Ross lies another exquisite section of the trail. At Sellack, peak inside the sandstone church of St Tysilio, almost 800 years old. Thanks to the foresight of its original builders, who located it on rising ground, it has never been flooded by the Wye. It is the only church in England dedicated to this Celtic saint (there are others in Wales, including a church in the memorably, though dauntingly, named village in Anglesey of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch).
The path then crosses a charming suspension bridge over the Wye, which resembles a shrunken version of those that span the river Severn. The bridge is robust but does tend to quiver at even the softest of steps. Underneath, the Wye seems to flow fast in all weathers, and the flat banks make it only too clear why the river is so notorious for breaching its confines. The path then skips back across the Wye again to drop you into the village of Hoarwithy, where an Italianate church overlooks the Wye. Eight miles further on, you come to Kilpeck, with its striking Norman church, almost unchanged for 900 years, with a magnificent archway and 12th-century circular apse. From Kilpeck it is a little less than four miles to Garway Hill, via the remote outpost of Bagwyllydiart, for more outstanding views.
The north of the route is worth exploring too. Brampton Bryan, almost the northernmost point, and close to where the walker crosses the River Teme and the River Clun, is a charming village, distinguished by its ancient yew hedges. Further on, 16 miles from closing the loop back to Ledbury, you come to Bromyard, another medieval market town, which features in the Domesday Book of 1086 and which has retained its medieval street pattern along with several black and white half timbered buildings. Hops feature prominently here too: a stone cider press holds pride of place in the town– perhaps someone, somewhere, was telling me it was time to give in and have a glass of the local liquid.
The Herefordshire Trail is fully documented both on its own website and in a 98-page paperback book (£5.95) available from Tourist Information Centres, bookshops and other outlets along the route.
OS Maps: OL13 and OL14.