Herefordshire: Medieval Towns, Farming, Cider, and Countryside
Herefordshire is full of pretty medieval villages, market towns, pleasant country walks, and good food on vacation. Agriculture is an important part of Herefordshire's economy and the county is famed for its cider and Hereford cattle.
This article describes some of the highlights of Herefordshire which include
- the Black and White Village tour,
- exploring medieval castles and their gardens,
- one of the oldest surviving medieval maps of the world,
- countryside walks,
- and cider.
Herefordshire is a rural county, so may not be the best place for someone seeking bright lights and clubbing on holiday. But if you're looking for greenery, delicious meals cooked from local ingredients, and long country walks, this area is perfect.
The Old House in Hereford
Where Is Herefordshire?
Remember Herefordshire Is Not Hertfordshire
Herefordshire is not the most well known English county, meaning it is sometimes confused with the more famous Hertfordshire. Hertfordshire is a county to the North of London, and not Herefordshire, which is near Wales.
Map of Herefordshire Showing Key Towns
Market Towns and Villages
Herefordshire has several pretty medieval towns and villages with independent shops to explore. Ross-on-Wye is credited as being the 'birthplace of British tourism', and the subject of the first illustrated tour guide of its kind in 1762. The town of Ledbury is an exceptionally pretty town known for its original 16th century black and white buildings and winner of many "Britain in Bloom" contests. The largest town in the county is Hereford, with around 60,000 people. It is also worth visiting to see one of the largest remaining medieval maps of the world, in Hereford Cathedral.
One of Herefordshire's most famous exports is cider. The most well known brand from Herefordshire is Bulmers, which is sold worldwide. However there are also many smaller cider producers in Herefordshire, whose cider you should be sure to sample. There is even a cider museum in Hereford.
Herefordshire is full of beautiful green countryside to explore. For some ideas of possible walks near you, see Herefordshire council's website for a number of maps to download.
The Black and White Trail
Follow the black and white trail to see some of the prettiest villages in England with tudor style timber framed buildings.
The trail is about 40 miles and is signposted on the roads. This route goes through the villages of Eardisland, Weobley, Pembridge, Eardisley, Dilwyn, Kinnersley, Sarnesfield, Lyonshall, Kingsland and the market towns of Kington and Leominster.
Many of the houses you will see date back to the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries and were built using unseasoned oak timbers filled with lath and plaster. However the woodwork was often left untreated. The practice of painting these houses black and white dates from the nineteenth century.
Black and White Trail Villages Map
Castles and Historic Houses
One of the legacies of English wars with the Welsh are many castles that were built on the borders between England and Wales, which is known as the Marches. Some of these castles are today little more than ruins, others are more intact.
Some of the best Castles to visit are the following:
Goodrich Castle - which dates back to the 11th century, and has some of the finest still surviving examples of medieval architecture. The property is run by English Heritage and a visitor centre with an exhibition explaining the history of the castle.
Wigmore Castle and Longtown Castle were two more medieval castles built during wars with the Welsh. They are also owned by English Heritage, but are now ruins. Worth having a look around if you are going for a walk in the area. Wigmore Castle has a picnic area.
Croft Castle - the current building dates from the fourteenth century, but there has been a building on the site owned by the Croft family since the eleventh century. The castle is still lived in by the family, but it is run by the National Trust and visitors are welcomed to explore the surrounding parkland which includes an iron age fort, and learn about the history of the Croft family inside, and admire the interiors.
Kinnersley Castle - was also a Norman Castle built for defense against the Welsh in the early twelfth century, although little of the original building remains, and the current building dates mostly from the reign of Elizabeth I (in the sixteenth century). The castle is a family home, so is only open for guided tours at limited times during the summer. If you want to visit Kinnersley make sure you look up details of these.
Eastnor Castle - is a stately home built in the style of the local medieval castles in the nineteenth century, but it is still visiting, especially with children as there is lots for them to explore. Eastnor has beautiful gardens with an adventure playground, maze, picnic areas, and walks to run around in. The inside is also open to the public who can view the nineteenth century gothic dining room, medieval armour and fine art.
Please note that many of these castles close over the winter, and are only open to the public between around April to October. You are advised to check opening times before travelling.
Random Fact: Legal Loophole Against the Welsh
It is, to this day, technically legal to shoot a Welshman with a bow and arrow in the town of Hereford. The law allowing it dating from times of war between England and Wales has never been repealed.
Disclaimer: I would not recommend actually doing this, it is very likely that, despite this law still existing, in practice other laws forbidding shooting peoples with bows and arrows are deemed more important by the powers that be.
Hereford Cathedral and the Mappa Mundi
If you go to Hereford, the largest town in the county, visit the cathedral. Hereford Cathedral dates back almost 1200 years. If you are a fan of old maps or a medieval history enthusiast it should be on your must visit list to see one of the oldest surviving medieval maps.
The cathedral is home to the Mappa Mundi, the largest medieval map known to still exist dating from around 1285. The map is 158 cm by 133 cm in size and drawn on vellum, which is stretched out calfskin. It shows Jerusalem at the centre, surrounded by Africa and Europe. (America, does not feature, as the creators of the map would not have been aware of its existence.)
The Magna Carta is one of the most famous historical documents ever. It was signed in 1215 by King John of England and founded the English legal system, and the beginnings of constitutional law, and influenced the constitutions of many countries around the world including the United States of America. Hereford Cathedral own one of only four copies of the reissued 1217 version of the Magna Carta signed by Henry III of England.
The nearest airports to Herefordshire are Birmingham Airport and Bristol Airport. Herefordshire is accessible by train from London, Birmingham, Wales and Manchester. Regular trains stop in the towns of Hereford, Leominster and Ledbury. However the rural nature of the county means that to fully explore, you may need a car. Many of the attractions are not reachable by public transport, although cycling will be an option.