“Wherever one goes, there will not be a mile that is visually unrewarding.” Sir Nikolaus Pevsner was clearly impressed, and today’s visitors will also find delights at every turn in the rolling landscape, the pretty villages and the charming market towns. Herefordshire had few natural resources, so the industrial scars that spoil many counties are mercifully absent; the beauty and peace remain relatively intact, and motorists will generally find traffic- free roads. Apples and hops are the traditional crops of Herefordshire, and the cider industry is still a thriving one. The days when almost every farm produced its own cider are long gone, but many of the old mills are preserved on the farms or in museums.
Large areas (over 9,500 acres) of the county are given over to cider orchards, and 63 million gallons of cider are produced here each year - well over half the UK total. The Cider Museum in Hereford is a good starting point for taking the Cider Route, which tours the Herefordshire countryside and includes more than a dozen cider-makers.
In western Herefordshire perry is something of a speciality, It is made in a similar way to cider but with pears instead of apples. Hops have been cultivated in the county since the 16th century and once provided late summer work for thousands of pickers, mainly from the Black Country and south Wales. The industry is considerably smaller now, and mechanisation has greatly reduced the need for manual labour. The poles and wires used to support the hops are a less common sight, but they can still be seen, along with the occasional kiln for drying the hops - the Herefordshire equivalent of Kent’s oast houses. Sheep and cattle are a familiar sight; Hereford cattle are found in many parts of the world, particularly on the American continent.
Industry was never developed to any great extent in the county, partly through the remoteness of the location and the poverty of communications, and the visible traces of its heritage are confined largely to castles (this is Border territory) and churches. The castles were mainly of the straightforward motte and bailey variety, the motte being a tower-topped earthen mound surrounded by a small court, the bailey a larger yard with the stables and workshops and accommodation. Skirmishes with the Welsh were a common occurrence for many centuries, and one of the county’s best- known landmarks, Offa’s Dyke, was built in the 8th century as a defence against the Welsh marauders.
The River Wye rises in the Plynlimon mountains east of Aberystwyth, near the spot where the Severn also has its source. The Wye enters England by Hay-on-Wye and winds its way through some of the most delightful scenery in the whole land, changing mood and direction from time to time and finally joining its original neighbour at the Severn Estuary. The whole of its length offers great touring and walking country, and the Wye Valley Walk, waymarked with the logo of the leaping salmon, follows the river closely for 112 miles, almost half of which are in Herefordshire. The valley was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1971, and the river itself was the first to be recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The salmon logo is, of course, wholly appropriate, as the Wye is a Mecca for anglers. In the 18th century, artists, poets and the leisured classes enjoyed the Wye Tour, a highly agreeable alternative to the European Grand Tour, and three centuries later the car, train and bicycle have brought the charm of the valley within the reach of all.