If there’s one word to describe Herefordshire it’s “unspoiled”. And for once this is no exaggeration. Instead of commuter towns or conurbations there’s just the historic city of Hereford, embedded in rolling farmland and surrounded by little market towns and villages that time forgot.
Black and white half-timbered houses are a Hereford trademark, and almost every village and town has whole streets full of these rustic old buildings that go back to Tudor times or even further. The River Wye is a source of outdoor thrills in summer, while the many castles remind you that relations with Wales, the next-door neighbour, haven’t always been cordial.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Herefordshire:
The medieval Cathedral is top of the pile of things to see in Hereford, not just for its architecture but what it contains: On display inside is the Hereford Mappa Mundi, a medieval map of the world plotted in the 1300s and even pinpointing the Garden of Eden.
The map is on vellum (calf skin parchment) and at 158 cm by 133, it’s the largest document of its kind in the world.
See the Old House, a Jacobean timber-framed house constructed in 1621 and with a museum about Jacobean Hereford inside.
You could also check out the Victorian machinery at the riverside Waterworks, and get acquainted with a county speciality at the Hereford Cider Museum.
A compact market town, Bromyard has many of the things we all adore about rural England: There are lots of flat-fronted or timber-framed houses, particularly on the crescent-shaped Broad Street with its old inns or twee country shops selling a bit of everything.
The main draw in these parts is Ralph Court Gardens a dreamy patchwork of 12 international gardens in the grounds of a Gothic rectory.
There’s certainly a strong community spirit in Bromyard, as you’ll realise from the many festivals organised by volunteers in the summer.
There’s one for marmalade, town criers, jazz and even scarecrows.
But the largest is the folk festival in September, a three-day showcase for traditional English music.
A town with heaps of lovable timber architecture, Ledbury still holds two markets a week at its 17th-century Market Hall.
This was put together in 1653 by none other than John Abel, who was dubbed the King’s Carpenter.
To appreciate Ledbury’s timelessness, saunter along the High Street or Church Lane, where the old buildings press in from the sides of a cobblestone alley.
On this street is the 16th-century Painted Room, inside the council’s offices and with frescos dating to the late-1500s.
The town library is in a 500-year-old building known as the Master’s House, while the Heritage Centre is also in a handsome corbelled house from Tudor times.
On the River Wye and at the southern entrance to the county, this handsome market town has been attracting tourists for more than 250 years.
The word “picturesque” was literally coined by the author William Gilpin to describe the valleys, village and historic ruins in this part of England.
The centre of Ross-on-Wye is strewn with eccentric independent shops selling antiques, tea accoutrements and all sorts of cute household items.
A short way downriver on the Wye is Goodrich Castle, constructed by the ruins in the 12th century but left as an evocative ruin after it was successfully besieged by the Roundheads in 1646. William Wordsworth described this as the “noblest ruin in Herefordshire”.
To get the best out of Leominster all you need is your feet.
There’s an array of beautiful half-timbered buildings to appreciate in this town.
The best of these may be the Grange Hall, Leominster’s former market hall, which was also designed by John Abel and has just come through a sensitive restoration.
Get up close to the beams at the front to see the 17th-century carvings.
Leominster Priory survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries mostly undamaged and warrants a peek for its medieval ducking stool that was once used to punish “disorderly women” by dunking them in ponds or rivers! There’s also no shortage of inspiration for excursions, as the stunning country estates Hampton Court, Berrington Hall and Croft Castle all welcome visitors in the summer.
Minutes from Welsh soil, Kington is a town knitted into an uplifting and verdant landscape of tall hills.
If you’re planning a walking holiday in Herefordshire this town merits a look as it links with five long-distance trails, including the epic Offa’s Dyke Path that spans almost the entirety of the Wales-England border.
You might have something more sedate in mind, in which case Hergest Croft Garden is a restful English country garden that has been a century in the making.
And if you’re visiting with little ones, you can bring them to feed and bond with new little pals, at the Small Breeds Farm Park and Owl Centre.
7. Golden Valley
This is the name given to the valley of the River Dore, which weaves through bucolic countryside east of Wales’ Black Mountains.
This scenery is believed to have inspired the author C.S. Lewis, who visited while writing the Chronicles of Narnia.
There are four sweet old villages to tick off, a couple with riveting vestiges from the distant past to keep you around a bit longer.
Dore Abbey became a parish church after Henry VIII suppressed the monasteries in the 16th century and has architecture and fittings remaining that have been here since the 1100s and 1200s.
Outside Dorstone is Arthur’s Stone, a 5,000-year-old Neolithic dolmen, named after the Arthurian legend of long ago.
The Black and White Village Trail in Herefordshire is a 40-mile route taking in the county’s most endearing timber-framed settlements.
Pembridge is an unmissable stop on the trail and looks almost like Victorian times, let alone the 20th century, never happened here.
There are two almshouses, and all along East Street for instance are pleasingly irregular houses that mostly go back to the 1500s.
If you have time to spare, the Church of St Mary is Grade I listed, and dates mostly to the mid-1300s.
Some of the interior fittings are newer, but still historic, like the lectern and pulpit, which are both from the 1600s.
9. Symonds Yat
In the Wye Valley area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the village of Symonds Yat is adventure central for people planning outdoor escapades in this spectacular part of the county.
The Wye is what many come for, to kayak, canoe or paddle-board on the river, which boils with man-made grade-2 rapids at one spot.
The riverside is very scenic, as the water has hewn sheer limestone walls like Symonds Yat Rock.
So on land this topography gets a thumbs up from rock climbers, while peregrine falcons and buzzards often nest in the small pockets in the limestone.
As for the village, it’s an adorable little community zig-zagging up the steep west bank of the Wye.
There are a clutch of inns in the village, and family attractions close by like the Wye Valley Butterfly Zoo.
This town straddles the border with Wales in the southwest of Herefordshire and is the last Welsh settlement on the Wye just before it arrives in England.
If you you’re a bookworm Hay will be your kind of place as there are more than 20 bookshops in this lovely old town.
Many of these sell first editions, antique books and specialist titles that people travel a long way to get hold of.
Casual readers can pass a happy afternoon hopping from one shop to the next and browsing to their hearts’ content.