A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.
This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.
Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.
In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.
This week, the Welsh-English Borders.
Hereford is the county town Herefordshire. The fine cathedral here dates from 1079 and is famous for the Mappa Mundi. This is a 13th century mapped concept of the world drawn onto a Hereford calf skin. With illustrations from bible stories and images of flora and fauna, the world is shown as a circle, with Jerusalem at its centre. Opening the door to the medieval mind, the Mappa Mundi is an incredibly rare and exceptional survival, and is now so fragile, it is kept in a darkened room. Amazingly, it wasn’t always so well cherished. Many Victorians dismissed it as chaotic, barbaric and ignorant.
Hereford’s old bridge dates back to 1490, and despite damage in the 17th century Civil War, is still used today to carry modern traffic.
Much of Herefordshire is farmland, and this part of the world is famous for its pedigree cattle-breeding. Indeed, the county is represented symbolically by the bull. The grass-fed cattle on Watkins farm, for example, are an old Welsh breed known as Ballingham. They have a red body and white face. They are hardy, good-tempered, docile and relaxed. Even the bulls. Herefordshire cattle are renowned for their tender, succulent meat which is nicely marbled with fat to make it extra flavoursome. The meat is hung for up to 25 days. Since the 1850s, Herefordshire cattle have been exported to Australia and USA. Today the meat is marketed as a niche product.
Another fascinating church to visit is the 12th century St Michael’s, in Castle Frome. The carvings on the ancient baptismal font show it crushing evil spirits with depictions of Christ being baptized in the River Jordan. The holy water within is so revered they have had to lock the lid to stop people making off with it!
Herefordshire is also famous for the making of cider and perry. Westons of Much Marcle near the town of Ledbury, is the famous local producer and they maintain their own orchards. Their perry is ‘brewed’ in original Victorian vats which contain up to 40,000 gallons. The variety of pear they use is native to Herefordshire and is called the Parry pear, the trees of which take 30-odd years to grow.
Across the southern borders of Herefordshire in Gloucestershire is the Forest of Dean situated between the River Severn and the River Wye. Unique to this area is a micro ‘heavy’ industry where coal is mined by ‘free miners’. It’s quite an unusual employment situation. Essentially, if you are born within the boundary of the Hundred of St Briavels, and are over 21, and you have worked a year and a day, you can become a ‘free’ miner and take over a ‘gale’ or underground coal area. The right was granted in the 13th century and is preserved by an Act of Parliament. What you mine you can sell. But it can be tougher work than normal mining as you often have to work lying down in tunnels only 30 inches high. Other industries here revolve around iron, ocre and stone. The Dean Forest Heritage Railway features a 4.5 mile track and an unusual engine which can be steered by the back carriage with leverage devices.
North of the forest is a local natural beauty spot called Symonds Yat Rock which offers superb views of the Wye valley on the border of England and Wales while rare raptors circle overhead.
A great pub lunch can be had at the Riverside Inn at Aymestrey in north Herefordshire (HR6 9ST). Or you could try Hereford beef at the Watkins farm hotel, the Castle House, in Hereford itself.
Herefordshire: one of the UK’s great untapped places to visit, and that’s no bull!
Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.
For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com
*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:
- Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
- Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
- Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
- Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
- South coast (Hants/Dorset)
- Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
- South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
- Wales (north & south)
- Welsh Borders (Worcestershire/Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
- Western Midlands (Brum/Warks/Staffs)
- Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland/Hunts)
- Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
- East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
- Yorks (all ridings)
- North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
- North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
- Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
- Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
- Ireland (Northern/Southern)