Sample a taste of Herefordshire with a short break to this surprising English county
With the pound taking a pounding in the Eurozone there’s never been a better time to holiday at home. And the UK is chock-full of wonderful attractions, as a visit to Herefordshire serves to remind us. At Much Marcle village in the depths of the county’s countryside there’s a 900-year-old manor house that's one of the oldest – and draughtiest – homes in Britain. Hellens is a tangible piece of heritage and history. You can nose about from room to room, see royal memorabilia and grand paintings of the VIPs of the day. But what really brings the place to life is its colourful tales and ghostly legends. The residents often had raunchy and complicated lives, as your guide shares in salacious nuggets in between giving you the lowdown on the antique furnishings.
Were these complications due in part to Herefordshire’s apples, I began to wonder, after taste-testing the full range of brews at nearby Weston’s cider mill and brewery and feeling very light-headed indeed. Exactly the right kind of apples for cider-making thrive in the region, as you’ll learn if you take the tour of Weston’s factory and orchard — while a dray ride and adventure playground keep younger visitors happy.
Weston’s is one of several cider breweries in Herefordshire, but back in the 1700s this heady country liquor was produced on virtually every farm here. In fact, around three million gallons were made each year and part of a farm labourer’s wages was made up of cider.
Herefordshire would claim its cider the best, but battling for the limelight as a reason to visit the county is the 13th-century Mappa Mundi. In Hereford’s red stone Norman cathedral you’ll get to see this, the oldest world map in the country — and one of the oldest in existence. It’s fascinating to look at, and while Europe, Africa and Asia are shown in detail, America and Australia are missing altogether — having yet to be discovered. Soaking up all that history calls for refreshment and we are lucky enough to stumble across The Café @ All Saint’s Church, a short walk from the cathedral. Their fresh baked quiches and cakes melt in the mouth.
We soon discover that as well as being big on booze, Herefordshire prides itself on its beef and local produce. Wandering around the county town, we found the monthly farmer’s market — a display of spicy chutneys, fruit and free-range beef, sausages, beer, cider and wine — in the pedestrianised High Town square. What also struck us was a solitary, three-storey black-and-white house in one corner. It looked out of place among the gaggle of shops. Known as the Old House it may be alone in Hereford town centre, but it has plenty of peers in Weobley, Pembridge and Eardisland. They’re known as the Black and White Villages due to having the highest concentration of black-and-white timbered houses, inns and farm buildings in the country. Thankfully the industrial revolution passed this area by and, because rural traditions continued, the houses remained true to their Tudor design. It’s a spectacle that takes you back in time.
Traditions are all very well, but breaking with them can also be a good thing, or at least that’s the conclusion we come to while visiting Broadfield Court and Vineyard. There’s not a cider flagon in site and despite being one of the most northerly vineyards in the country, Broadfield — formerly a monastery — produces around 29,000 bottles of wine a year. Even more impressive, their sparkling wine has beaten French champagnes in wine-tasting competitions.
You can see the award-winning vines, stroll through the rose garden — designed by famous rose grower David Austin — and take a look at the kitchen garden bursting with vegetables. These end up in the café and, if you time your visit to coincide with Sunday lunch, they are accompanied by roasted Herefordshire beef.
We haven’t, but with the thought of the county’s renowned succulent beef placed firmly in our minds we finish our day with dinner at the Stagg Inn at Titley, near Kington, where chef Steve Reynolds, who trained with Michael Roux, knows just how to cook. And after a few glasses of cider all we have to do is walk a few metres to the homely, country luxury of our room at the Vicarage, a bed and breakfast also run by the folk at The Stagg. Sweet dreams indeed.