The big idea

Well, Hereford is the most rural frontier city in the country, the furthest English outpost before the border with Wales. And that means it’s seen a lot of action over the years.

But its relative isolation is exactly what makes it so special. Historically a favoured royal hunting ground, and referred to as ‘the King’s Garden’, there’s plenty to do in the great outdoors surrounding this pretty city, as well as stunning vistas and excellent food with real local provenance.

England’s frontier

As a city on the border of Wales you’d expect the place to have enjoyed historic strategic significance, and you’d be right, because as the last English outpost, Hereford has done its fair share of defending against the Welsh and was used as a base for the fighting; not for nothing can you see the remains of hill forts dotting the Hereford Basin, and the scars of the past all around the city itself. And it was an attack by the Welsh that led to the destruction of the church, which the current cathedral replaced.

Outdoor pursuits
With its location on the River Wye and its proximity to some of the loveliest countryside you’ll see, Hereford is truly a city for those who love outdoor pursuits, after all, there’s a reason that it is aptly named‘The University of the Great Outdoors’, with all sorts on offer including kayaking and climbing. And there’s also some great cycling or mountain-biking to be had, loads of other extreme sports, excellent walks, including an annual Walking Festival in June, and some wonderful river activities; it’s also great for painters and photographers, too. And don’t forget you’ve got Symonds Yat on the doorstep and the Brecon Beacons National Park just a short hop over the border in Wales.

Eat, drink and be merry

So, Hereford may be a smaller, fairly rural city, but its name is known far and wide, particularly in the cattle world thanks to the fabulous native white-faced Hereford cattle, thought to be amongst the finest beef producers in the world – and probably the reason that Hereford always had more butchers than average (The Hereford Society Book in the city is the worldwide centre for recording the pedigree). And then there’s the quality of the local produce, especially apples. Which brings us to p Hereford’s flagship drink, cider (and its little brother, perry), which has been made in the area for over 350 years. Originally made on farms to be drunk the following year by thirsty farmhands during busy harvests, there’s now a wealth of producers to visit in the area – many rather like wine producers, making elegant ciders and perries from single apple varieties – a museum and even a (very) relaxing cider trail to follow.


The essence

Nature’s frontier

Who’s it ideal for/how it can make you feel

Hereford’s ideal for outdoors types. Anyone who enjoys being active, from the most gentle amble or laid-back bike ride, to extreme sports and really challenging yourself, this place has a lot to offer. And the backdrop and dramatic vistas of the great outdoors here compare with anywhere in the country.

But equally, it can make you feel relaxed and contented in a Darling-Buds-of-May way; the food and drink are first-class, and the city’s very comfortable with itself.

This is a place then to really unwind, and to re-connect with nature.

The interesting bits in the history:

In the 7thcentury the Saxons settled in the area and it was duly made a seat of the bishop. The name Hereford means simply ‘place where the army crosses the river’, which gives a clue as to the importance of its strategic location in fighting the Welsh; indeed in the 8thcentury there was a battle between the English and the Welsh.

In 794, St Ethelbert was buried at Hereford, which would have meant a great many visitors and subsequent trade for the town (there’s also a lot of evidence that burials were happening near to Castle Green in the centuries before, potentially making the cemetery one of the earliest in use in England).

By 803, a new cathedral was built to replace the earlier ruined church and in the 10thcentury Hereford became a ‘burh’ (a fortified town) to help defend against the Welsh, and as a base for attacks. A castle was also built here in 1050, but just five years later the Welsh attacked once again and set fire to the town.

Following 1066, the Normans settled in the town and set about rebuilding the cathedral and building the Bishop’s Palace. By the end of the 12thcentury, Hereford had city walls, a charter and an annual fair. During this time Hereford’s main industries were the manufacture of wool and leather goods, such as saddles, arrow spacers and clothing accessories.

Hereford castle, by now rebuilt, was becoming much more like a residential palace than a fortress, as Hereford became a favoured Royal base for hunting. The local forests effectively became a royal forest, so impressive were they; add to this the ‘apples, hay and flax’ and everything else that grew in the area and it becomes clear what a natural and plentiful garden Herefordshire really was.
During the 13thand 14thcenturies new royal castles were built in Wales and the role of the city changed once again; no longer on the front-line, Hereford became a centre of supply; being used as the store for grain, salted meat, iron bolts and crossbows. However in the 1400s King Henry IV based himself in Hereford castle, organising campaigns against the Welsh.

The Civil War of the 1600s was an eventful time for Hereford, as it changed hands many times between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians, but by the end, despite Hereford being on the side of the King, the Parliamentarians were victorious. It was also during this time that the wool industry in the town was in decline because of competition from other cities, particularly in the north; however, another trade was coming to the forefront, namely cider-making – something that would become synonymous with the area over time.

Sadly the Castle – once described as ‘nearly as large as that of Windsor’, and ‘one of the fairest and strongest in all England’ – was destroyed in the 1650s, the stones being used for other buildings.

During the 18thcentury many ‘improvements’ were made to the city, which included paving the streets and introducing street lighting, unfortunately it also meant the destruction of all the existing gates; the remains of the castle were flattened into what is now Castle Green. And in 1786 the West Tower of the cathedral collapsed. In the 19thcentury, Hereford continued to grow; it was a flourishing market town with some industry, including brewing and cider making and leather goods. Many churches were built in this period, as well as the Buttermarket, library, museum and suspension bridge.

The 20thcentury saw Hereford’s reputation for cider and cattle grow, and it started to become very popular with tourists thanks to the stunning surroundings.

How to experience what’s different/get under the skin of

Start in the High Street at the famous Old House,;slap bang in the middle of a modern shopping area, this 17thcentury timber-framed building makes quite a startling sight (unsurprisingly it started life as a butcher’s shop. It’s now a museum giving an insight into Jacobean life). Head towards St Peters Square, and you’ll find yourself in front of Shire Hall, modelled on a Greek temple and now a popular venue for concerts (and built on the spot that Hereford Jail used to be).

Pop down St Owen Street to the ornately decorated Town Hall (tours are available – inside there’s the masthead of HMS Antelope, lost during the Falklands War). At the back of the Town Hall (reached via the arch on St Owen Street), cross East Street – home to the Hereford Herd Book Society – and cut through the footpath to Cathedral Close and Hereford Cathedral itself.

Spend a bit of time here, obviously to admire Hereford’s greatest treasure, the Mappa Mundi – the mediaeval map of the World dating from the 13thcentury – in the Chained Library, and one of only four 1217 Magna Carta in the country; but there’s some other little gems like the beautiful Early English Lady Chapel; quite unique, and once described as ‘without par on the continent’. In the grounds of the cathedral look out for the statue of the composer Edward Elgar and his Sunbeam bicycle – he moved to the city at the height of his fame, shortly before being knighted. Now pop down Quay Street (see if you can find St Ethelbert’s well, once famous for its reputed healing waters), and onto Castle Green. Previously the location for the fabulous Hereford Castle, this quiet, tranquil spot is now home to a bowling green; look in the centre of the green for a column celebrating Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar, he was a hugely popular figure in this patriotic city. In front of Castle Green is Castle Pool, originally part of the moat of the castle.
Now cross the River Wye over the Victoria Footbridge, built just over a hundred years ago to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee (there’s little reminders of the patriotic side of Hereford throughout the city), and follow the cycle path, St Martin’s Avenue, until you reach St Martin’s Street. Head down to the riverside down Wye Street. When down by the river look for the wooden carving of a dog called Dan. This was the dog that inspired Elgar when he wrote The Enigma Variation XI (apparently the dog fell into the River Wye, Bar 1; paddled around, Bars 2 and 3; then barked upon getting ashore, Bar 5: brilliant!).

You’ll be humming away now as you cross back over the river on the Wye Bridge turning right down Gwynne Street. Make sure you locate the plaque on the wall down here to Nell Gwynne, ‘pretty, witty Nell’ – famous actress and mistress of King Charles II, allegedly born in Hereford (both London and Oxford also claim this, but Hereford likely edges them out, given her Welsh surname). To the left check out the timber-framed, and very attractive, Bishops Palace, originally built in the 12thcentury.

Go back along Broad Street, and you’ll find the Hereford Museum and Art Gallery. This has got some fascinating stuff in it and tells the story of the city and county well: as a border county, a producer county and the cultural and natural story. Exhibits include a two-headed calf, a two-metre long fish, and a hive of live bees: the front facade alone is a riot of Victorian imagery with a multitude of animals on show.

After this head back up to the High street, take a left onto Eign Street and, at the roundabout, take a walk up Edgar Street. Here, opposite Hereford United’s football ground- scene of the FA Cup’s greatest ever shock when, in 1972, the first non-league club ever knocked out a top flight club- is The Courtyard Centre for the Arts, a vibrant and relatively new arts centre that hosts a range of in-house and visiting performers, in a modern, cool and airy building.

Finally, if we head back to the roundabout and take a right along Eign Street, down there on the right is Hereford’s famous Cider Museum and King Offa Distillery. A chance to try it, buy it, but, most of all, simply enjoy it. And, after all that, why not pick up details of the Cider rRoute and take the chance to explore more of the fabulous countryside, orchards, and great outdoors that this lovely city has on its doorstep?

When to visit

City pics