The prettiest places in Herefordshire: England’s most under-the-radar county

And though Herefordshire is one of Britain’s most sparsely populated counties, the fields are crowded with life: hanging fruit or ripening hops or the famous Hereford cattle, their brown bodies as square as the back end of a London bus. Yet amid the rusticity of it all, there are pockets of enormous sophistication, such as the exquisite Michelin-starred restaurant at Pensons, or the equally chic fine-dining spot that is attached to that ancient inn in Aymestrey. And what makes that stuff work is that everything – the deliciously clever plates of food, the idiosyncratic hotels and the niche distilleries – is rooted like a crab-apple tree in the marchland soil. 

Apples, in all their stupendous variety, are ubiquitous – the quintessential local ingredient, like truffles in Périgord. At Pensons, one of the dishes in the five-course tasting menu consisted of plaice garnished with the tiniest cubes of sour apple and a kind of seaweed salt: completely fabulous. In the National Trust gardens at Brockhampton, the orchards are planted according to the geographic zone of origin – a kind of pomological Mappa Mundi, in fact, where each orchard-continent is ringed with a fence designed to resemble a wooden fruit bowl. There seems to be an experimental cidery down every track. One of the best and most inventive is Little Pomona, owned by former drinks writer Susanna Forbes. ‘Think of it as low-alcohol wine,’ she says of her blended seven per cent ‘table cider’ made from Egremont Russets. ‘Two hundred years ago this was the drink of the nobility; every big house had its cider maker, and a good barrel was as highly valued as Burgundy. We want to be part of the cider renaissance, and we want to share it with people.’

Chessboard table at The Bridge Inn

Forbes is evangelical about Herefordshire and what it has to offer. Everyone who lives here seems to be the same: narrowly patriotic in the nicest possible way. When Herefordians talk about places that are ‘over the border’, they are as likely to mean Worcestershire as next-door Wales. ‘Oh, you’re from off,’ they say to visitors, and seem genuinely bemused that visitors have made the effort to come this far. ‘People think we’re sleepy old Herefordshire, but that’s because this is a place that reveals its attractions slowly,’ says Peta Darnley, owner of Pensons. ‘The county is actually full of crafts- people and clever entrepreneurs, and we have some of the best food and drink in England.’

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