Herefordshire is one of those English counties that doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves. It is stacked full of historic towns and villages, some dating from the 6th or 7th century; it has beautiful rolling countryside; and its location on the border between England and Wales meant it was strategically important for several centuries of conflict between Anglo-Saxons/Normans and Celtic Welsh principalities.
With its modern history firmly embedded in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest of 1066, it has a legacy of language, culture and architecture that befits an area of the Welsh Marches. The Marches were the western frontier for the conquering Normans, ruled by independent Marcher Lords through military power with barely any control exerted on them by the King.
Walking through the countryside between the Malvern Hills and Ledbury makes for a wonderful journey, and takes you out of Worcestershire and into Herefordshire. The views over the rich, agricultural countryside are magnificent, often with the Malvern Hills as a backdrop. You pass through picturesque villages with ancient buildings and beautiful churches, only to find yourself face-to-face with semi-fortified country houses in the middle of nowhere.
It is a predominately agricultural county and, while it may be famous for its Hereford cattle, it is also the centre of an ancient and renowned cider making industry. The latter, far more interesting to someone who has been walking for several hours under a hot sun.
I headed over the Malvern Hills to the village of Evendine, before cutting across country towards Colwall (home of another spring dispensing Malvern Water). It was in the countryside between the two that I came across Brockbury Hall: the majority of this historic house dates from the 18th century, but parts of it are 17th century. It even has the remains of a former moat. The Hall has been in the same family since the 16th century, much of the family money in the 18th century seems to have come from the West Indies – sugar, rum, slaves?
A short walk from Brockbury Hall is the small hamlet of Colwall, which has a lovely Norman church – none of your towering spires for the Normans, just solid squares. I couldn’t go inside as there was a wedding, but it is a picturesque place. I was heading to Oyster Hill (no idea why its called Oyster, its miles from the sea), from which there are magnificent views all the way to the Black Mountains in Wales. Here you can join the Herefordshire Way, a trail that takes you into the historic town of Ledbury, my final destination.
The surprises hadn’t ended though. As I walked south towards Ledbury I found myself crossing park land. Before I could look at the map, a magnificent walled house emerged out of the trees: Hope End. I didn’t know, but this is where Elizabeth Barrett Browning, one of the most famous poets of the nineteenth century, lived. The beautiful countryside around this area inspired some of her most famous work, including the epic blank verse Aurora Leigh, part of which is set in Malvern. She was married to Robert Browning, no slouch himself when it came to poetry.
After passing through the village of Wellington Heath and some shady woodland, I was suddenly in the outskirts of Ledbury. Ledbury is an ancient and much photographed market town, well worth a couple of hours exploration, but that would have to wait for a refreshing pint of local cider to be poured and drunk…