Cities, towns and villagesEdit
- 1 Hereford – cathedral city and county town. Hereford enjoys city status by virtue of its cathedral, which was built between 1079 and 1250. The whole complex, set on the banks of the Wye, comprises the Bishops Palace and gardens, Hereford Cathedral School, the Cathedral Close, Cathedral Cloisters and College of Vicars Choral, the Mappa Mundi Museum (containing the earliest known map of the world) and the Chained Library, containing over 50 volumes published before 1500.
In 2014, these five market towns relinquished their traditional markets, which were devolved to a purpose-built livestock market, to the west of Hereford's centre.
- 2 Bromyard – There is a moated Tudor manor house on the Brockhampton Estate.
- 3 Kington – Closest town with accommodation to Offa's Dyke.
- 4 Leominster – Its 17th century community-owned Grange Court is worth visiting.
- 5 Ledbury – Best base camp for visiting the Malvern Hills and Eastnor Castle.
- 6 Ross-on-Wye – The sylvan delights of the Forest of Dean are 5 miles (8 km) south.
- 1 Bishops Frome (pronounced 'Froom') – 14th century church of St Mary.
- 2 Bridge Sollers – Norman church of St Andrew.
- 3 Brinsop – Well-preserved 14th century manor house, used as billeting during the civil war.
- 4 Eardisley – Some of this village's 15th century timber-framed houses still retain traceried bargeboards.
- 5 Fownhope – Attractive 'linear' village with hill connection to Capler Camp. Best Wye viewing point after Symonds Yat.
- 6 Hoarwithy (name means 'winter frost') – Unusual arcaded Italianate church, executed entirely in Old Devonian red sandstone.
- 7 Kilpeck – Its tiny Norman church is renowned for its primitive sandstone carvings, probably executed freehand by local stonemasons.
- 8 Kinnersley – Part-Elizabethan manor house in which Nazi sympathiser Lord Brocket was interned during WWII.
- 9 Leintwardine (pronounced 'Lentwardine') – Remains of 10 acre (4 ha) Roman settlement of Bravinium.
- 10 Moccas – Georgian mansion, now owned by the founder of the LK Bennett fashion empire.
- 11 Monnington-on-Wye – 17th century church "uncommonly complete in structure and furnishings" (Pevsner)
- 12 Pembridge – Its Grade I-listed church has its bell-house on the ground, instead of on top of the church.
- 13 Shobdon – Grade I-listed former priory church with spectacular Rococo interior.
- 14 Richards Castle – Remains of castle connected with the Mortimer dynasty.
- 15 Weobley (pronounced 'Webley') – Has many well-preserved 'black-and-white' houses.
The county is dominated by the course of the River Wye, and is often referred to as the Wye Valley. The Wye is held as one of the best salmon-fishing rivers outside Scotland by fishing enthusiasts. Two sections of this valley are designated as AONBs (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty). The shallows around the river crossing, at Ross-on-Wye, are said to be the best breeding ground of elvers (baby eels). Fifteen bridges cross the river on its 130-mile (210 km) course, the oldest being the city’s five-arched Old Wye Bridge, completed in 1490 and the newest being the Canary Bridge, Rotherwas, now linked to Sustrans’ 5,220 mile (8,400 km) national cycle Network. The city of Hereford has over 17 mi (27 km) of dedicated cycle lanes.
Herefordshire is a largely rural county, the most densely wooded in the West Midlands, with but a few small towns. It is part of the Welsh Marches, a region where the border was fluid for hundreds of years. Most interest is focused on Hereford, the cathedral city and county town.
For centuries, the region was a hotly-contested territory between the adjoining countries of Wales and England, never more so that during the reign of the 8th century King Offa. In 794, Offa is reputed to have ordered the assassination of the 14-year-old East Anglian King Ethelbert, who had been lured to Herefordshire with the offer of marriage to the Mercian warlord’s daughter Alfreda, and the promise of territorial expansion. There's a shrine to Ethelbert (later canonised) close to the Lady Chapel in Hereford Cathedral. Hereford is one of the five administrative burhs which Offa is credited with creating, during his 39-year reign.
The introduction to Sir Nikolaus Pevsner’s 1963 volume on Herefordshire, in his Buildings of England series, begins: "There are not many counties in England of which it can be said that, wherever one goes, there will not be a mile that is not rewarding".
The Battle of the Three Suns
In 1461, at dawn on the morning of the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, the opposing Yorkist and Lancastrian forces were drawn up in the Lugg valley at the extreme north of the county. A heavy mist, rising from the river, caused the refraction of the sun, which appeared to the frightened troops of both sides as three suns. The Yorkists’ leader Edward of March reassured his followers that this was a Biblical sign, depicting the Holy Trinity, and led them to victory. Four thousand died in the battle.
Hunt the Green Man
As well as the famous Kilpeck carving, references to this curious pagan icon crop up in the strangest places across the county. A Green Man is to be found modelled into the Jacobean relief plasterwork of a ceiling at Kinnersley Castle, at Much Marcle's church of St Bartholomew and he is also hiding in the interiors of Hereford Cathedral, Leominster Priory and Dore Abbey. When it was a much rowdier event lasting more than a week, many revellers at the city's May Fair would sport Jack-in-the-Green emblems.
Dating back to 1533, Hereford Bowling Club and Green in Bewell Street is the country's oldest bowls club still on its original site.
Unlike the nearby Cotswolds, Herefordshire’s villages have few romantic-sounding names. Bobblestock, Leominster (pronounced 'Lemster'), Shobdon, and Tupsley are hardly appealing. And the Lugg Valley (from the Welsh Llugwy) only attracts schoolboy humour. The city’s name is thought to be an amalgam of the Anglo Saxon word for a formation of soldiers (‘here’) and ‘ford’, being a safe river crossing. Alternatively, the name could be an anglicisation of the Welsh name Henffordd, meaning 'old road'.
Herefordshire is a growing favourite with tourists seeking a relaxed rural atmosphere coupled with spectacular scenic views. On average visitors stay for three nights. Four grades of overnight accommodation are to be found across the county: full-board hotels (in the city, market towns or in the countryside); bed-and-breakfast establishments; self-catering; and farmhouse accommodation. The latter is extremely popular as it often involves staying as guests of a farming family, experiencing country living at close quarters.
There are six tourist information centres across the county, at Bromyard, Hereford, Kington, Ledbury, Leominster and Ross-on-Wye.
Everyone you're likely to meet as a tourist will speak English. To an outsider, the Herefordshire accent can sound like a blend between West Country and Welsh. There are plenty of villages in the west of the county with Welsh names, and there may be some native speakers left in more remote areas near the border, but the chances of you meeting them are minimal. By contrast, it's not uncommon to hear Welsh spoken among shoppers on the streets of Hereford, since the city is only 18 mi (29 km) from the Welsh border and is the nearest shopping destination of any size for a large number of Mid Walians.
Hereford's railway station is the county's rail hub. Best journey time from the capital is under three hours, a scenic east-west route passing through the counties of Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Worcestershire. There are six trains a day on this route. The most frequent trains (at least once every hour, all day) come in from Birmingham New Street, Cardiff Central, Manchester Piccadilly, Shrewsbury and Worcester. Unfortunately, much of the rolling stock on these lines is pretty ancient. The exception is GWR's sleek new Hitachi train sets for the London run, with coaches as comfortable as Spain's RNFE network. Hereford was the last major English city to be connected to the rail network, nearly half a century after steam locomotion was adopted. Its Grade-II listed Victorian-Gothic station survives and in 2007 was selected as one of Britain’s 100 best stations.
Most visitors to Herefordshire will find it easiest to travel around by car, given the rural nature of the county and the patchy public transport network. The county is only connected to the national motorway network in the extreme south (M50) and there are few dual carriageways. Travel can therefore be a bit on the slow side, but this lends itself to enjoying the scenery and allowing stops in scenic towns and villages en route. Minor roads in the countryside are often winding and narrow (roughly the width of a modern tractor). They are usually lined with high, dense hedges which obscure the view of oncoming vehicles. Drive cautiously, beep your horn on corners and use the passing places - sometimes the nearest one is behind you.
Confusingly, Hereford has three bus termini: one (urban routes) is behind the Tesco supermarket in Bewell Street; one on St Peter’s Square (rural routes); and one behind the former Odeon cinema in Commercial Road (inter-city). Weather protection is barely adequate (no heated waiting rooms) and none have real-time displays.
For the Herefordshire towns of Bromyard, Kington and Ross-on-Wye and smaller villages and places to visit, there are buses. Buses towards Leominster, Ludlow, Kington, Llandrindod Wells, Hay-on-Wye, Brecon and Monmouth leave from outside the Hereford railway station and also stop at the Country Bus Station. Services towards Abergavenny, Merthyr Tydfil, Cardiff, Ross-on-Wye, Ledbury, Bromyard and Worcester and most villages leave from the "County Bus Station" (behind the cinema on Commercial road - about 3 minutes walk from the station).
Visitors to the region would be well advised to carry the number of the regional Traveline bus information service (☏) on their phones. The county council has been talking about building a multi-modal transport hub for more than five years.
There are direct train links from Hereford to Colwall, Ledbury and Leominster. The local train company is Transport for Wales.
- 1 Arthur’s Stone, Merbach Hill, Dorstone, HR3 6AX (west of Hay-on-Wye). Open any reasonable time during daylight hours. A Neolithic dolmen burial chamber on a hill. Free.
- 2 Yat Rock (Symonds Yat), Ross-on-Wye GL16 7EL. A 120 m-high natural rock escarpment with an awesome panoramic view. A forested park area has trails to a high viewpoint with picturesque views of the river.
- There are five Iron Age hill forts inside the county; two most significant are at 3 Capler near Fownhope, and 4 Dinedor south of Hereford. In 2008, contractors building a new road unearthed a 60 m-long Neolithic ceremonial ‘burial path’ linking the Dinedor hill fort with a bank of the River Wye.
- Explore the castles. Herefordshire was, until the late Middle Ages, a battle ground between the Welsh and the English. There are 12 extant castles listed in the county.
- Visit the museums. Across the county there are 13 museums devoted to local history. Five of them are in Hereford, including the Museum Resource Centre, which holds around 1000 works - oils, watercolours and sketches - by the local artist Brian Hatton (1887-1916). There are also the National Trust’s 5 Berrington Hall near Leominster; the 6 Butcher Row Museum in Hereford’s High Town; 7 Bromyard Local History Centre; 8 Hellens Jacobean House, Much Marcle; Hereford Archive & Resource Centre, Rotherwas; 9 Ledbury Heritage Centre; and the 10 Leominster Museum. Five miles northwest of Hereford is Credenhill, headquarters of the British Army's 22 Special Air Service regiment, based at 11 Stirling Lines, named after the regiment’s creator, Colonel David Stirling. In 1980 one of its most famous exploits was the ending of the siege of the Iranian Embassy in London.
- Brobury House terraced Victorian gardens, Bredwardine, The National Trust’s Weir Garden. Swainshill, Hergest Croft Gardens, Kington, Holme Lacy House and gardens, and Brockhampton Park, near Bromyard, are all popular destinations for visitors.
- The county is home to some beautiful religious buildings. It's predominantly Anglican, with the two most popular Roman Catholic places of worship being 12 Belmont Abbey (whose Grade II*-listed Abbey Church was designed by E. W. Pugin, son of A. W. N. Pugin, and consecrated in 1860) and 13 St Francis Xavier. Remains of the 13th century Blackfriars Dominican Monastery survive in Widemarsh Street; the 14th century 14 Church of All Saints is unique in Britain in having an integral galleried cafeteria. On one of the walls of this church is a rare 17th century bread shelf, which provided seven free loaves to be taken by seven of the poorest people of the parish, every Sunday. The county’s churches are rich in diverse architectural styles. To the southeast is the 12th century Cistercian 15 Dore Abbey (the name comes from doré, the French word for "golden"). In the north of the county, the interior of the 16 Church of St John’s at Shobdon has been described as a Rococo masterpiece by the architectural historian Simon Jenkins.
Birds of a feather Dovecotes - impressive structures built to raise birds for the dining table - are hard to spot as they are often tucked away on private estates (doubtless to deter poachers). An especially unusual one, clearly visible from the road, is in the village of Wellington (eight miles north of Hereford): octagonal, with ventilation slots inset into the brickwork.
The impressive 5th-century linear earthworks of Offa’s Dyke (partially exploiting natural contours but almost certainly constructed by enforced labour) runs south to north, beginning at Sedbury, near Chepstow in Monmouthshire and terminating at Prestatyn in North Wales. Nearly 50 mi (80 km) of this 177 mi (285 km) scenic path traverses Herefordshire. Walkers wanting to plan ahead, in terms of overnight accommodation alongside the Dyke, should check the website. It would take an average walker 12 days to walk its entire length. Canine-friendly walks: Castle Green and Churchill Gardens (in the city); Hough Woods, Fownhope and Queenswood Country Park, Dinmore Hill (countryside).
Visitors coming to the county to escape the Covid-19 epidemic couldn’t do better than consider healthy outdoor canoeing on the River Wye. Except in winter, the (non-tidal) Wye is easily navigable as there are no weirs or waterfalls (but respect the swans!). There are three canoe hire centres, the oldest being Wye Valley Canoe and Kayak Centre at Glasbury, near Hay-on-Wye. All the centres offer basic safety training and instruction and will rent you waterproofs, life jackets and helmets. The company estimates that armed with camping equipment it would take about six days to paddle down the Wye (aided by the gentle current) to reach Monmouth. By arrangement they will collect you and your canoe and return you to Glasbury.
The Black Mountains (immortalised in Bruce Chatwin's novel On the Black Hill) dominates the Wye Valley's landscape and on days of good visibility can be seen from Hereford, 25 miles away. The best way to get a bird's eye view of this mountain range is to visit the Black Mountains Gliding Club at Talgarth, west of Hay-on-Wye, which offers gliding experience flights.
The county’s three principal arts venues are Bromyard Arts Centre, Ross-on-Wye’s Phoenix Theatre and Hereford’s Courtyard Arts Centre.
From flowers and cattle to books and films, Herefordshire’s stand-out annual events include the Borderlines Festival (Britain’s largest non-metropolitan film festival), H-Art supported by more than 400 local artists, the Three Counties Agricultural Show, the Three Counties Music Festival (Europe's longest-running annual classical music festival), the Ledbury Poetry Festival, the Ross-on-Wye Beer Festival and Hereford's Food Festival. Each September Kington organises a 4-day Walking Festival. Just over the Welsh border, Hay-on-Wye hosts an annual literary festival, which attracts up to 500,000 visitors. Oldest of all the region's annual festivals is the May Fair, which dates back to 1121. It begins on the first Tuesday of the month, when Hereford's High Town and four adjoining streets are closed to traffic for three days (much to the chagrin of local shopkeepers) to accommodate over 100 food vending stalls, dodgems, mechanical rides and - usually set directly in front of the cathedral - a huge carousel (galloper).
After tourism, Herefordshire's economy is centred on agriculture and fruit growing. Gastronomically, Herefordshire is not in the Premier League. This is a sad state of affairs, given the many outstanding culinary ingredients which are produced throughout the region (Spring asparagus, raspberries, cherries and Monkland's Little Hereford hard cows milk cheese). The Hereford bull is a British breed of beef cattle that originated in the county, with its present form and markings being established at the end of the 18th century. First exported in 1817, the distinctive white-faced bull can now be found worldwide.
Four eateries which deserve mention are 1 Jules Restaurant at Weobley (open Tues-Sat; ☏ ), the 2 Moody Cow, Upton Bishop (Wed-Sun; ☏ ), the Michelin-starred 3 Stagg Inn at Titley (☏ ) and the Michelin-starred 4 The Butchers Arms at Woolhope (☏ ). In Hereford, The Bookshop Restaurant in Aubrey Street and the Italian Cotto on Broad Street are both outstanding.
Many Herefordshire pubs offer a carvery, a traditional English self-service roast lunch with portions of unlimited size. As this form of Sunday eating-out is much favoured by Herefordian trenchermen, pre-booking is advised. By a country mile, the best carvery is the 5 Bunch of Carrots at Hampton Bishop ☏ , which also enjoys the unique distinction, by virtue of its riverside setting, of offering after-lunch walks along the Wye for more than a mile in each direction.
The Copper Kettle, British Camp: for a reviving cup of tea after walking on the Malverns; Hereford's Pizza Express was once the city's main Post Office; and The Nest cafeteria at Trumpet specialises in Scotch Eggs.
The county has 20 vineyards, many of which offer wine tastings.
Cider is extremely popular in Herefordshire similar to the West Country further south. There are nine independent cider and perry makers. Founded in 1880, 1 Westons Cider Mill at Much Marcle is the county’s oldest commercial cider maker, with a Visitor Centre which conducts tours of the cider mills. Sixteen varieties of cider apples still exist.
Together with neighbouring Worcestershire, Herefordshire produces around half of the annual hop requirements of the country’s brewing industry.
There is a new budget Premier Inn hotel in the centre of Hereford. There are nine popular hotels in the surrounding countryside: England's Gate, Bodenham; The Green Man Inn, Fownhope; The Burton Hotel, Kington; The Feathers Hotel, Ledbury; The Verzon Hotel, Trumpet; Brooks Country House, Pengethley; Glewstone Court Hotel and The Royal Hotel at Ross-on-Wye. The 17th century Grade I listed Holme Lacy House Hotel, set in 20 acres (8 ha) of landscaped grounds, is the county's only 4-star hotel. Among the internationally-recognised hotel destinations in the city of Hereford are the award-winning Castle House Hotel, close by the precincts of Hereford Cathedral, and the 19th-century coaching inn, The Green Dragon (refurbished in 2020), where Lord Nelson stayed in 1802.
Herefordshire is a very safe county to visit. The county has very low crime largely due to its rural nature. Be careful in Hereford and rough areas in some towns especially on Fridays and Saturdays where you will see drunk people on the street sometimes.
Though traditional Herefordshire farmers still support the 188-year-old Hereford Times weekly newspaper, the county's many isolated communities have come to rely on BBC Radio Hereford & Worcester for news, weather and traffic reports. Arts and music events coverage is provided by the listings monthly Broad Sheep, while the independent Hereford Voice is a popular on-line news and comment site.
Herefordshire borders the counties of Shropshire to the north, Worcestershire in the east, Gloucestershire to the south east, Monmouthshire in the south west and Powys in the west. If castles are your thing then head into Monmouthshire to see the impressive chain of castles (at Grosmont, Skenfrith and White Castle) which the English built to deter the marauding Welsh. If you prefer a less warlike atmosphere, then cross into Shropshire, the west midlands' undisputed foodie county. Its pretty market town of Ludlow (only 25 mins by train from Hereford) was singled out by John Betjeman as 'the prettiest town in England'. Motor sports enthusiasts should certainly experience the thrills of the world's oldest hill climb at Shelsley Walsh, in neighbouring Worcestershire.