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Episode 33: Herefordshire

Where is Herefordshire?

In our thirty-third episode we talked about lots of interesting places and things in Herefordshire, so here are some pictures and links if you're interested in finding out more.

Black Mountain

The Black Mountains (Welsh: Y Mynydd Du or sometimes Y Mynyddoedd Duon) are a group of hills spread across parts of Powys and Monmouthshire in southeast Wales, and extending across the England–Wales border into Herefordshire. They are the easternmost of the four ranges of hills that comprise the Brecon Beacons National Park (Bannau Brycheiniog), and are frequently confused with the westernmost, which is known as the Black Mountain. The Black Mountains may be roughly defined as those hills contained within a triangle defined by the towns of Abergavenny in the southeast, Hay-on-Wye in the north and the village of Llangors in the west.

Other gateway towns to the Black Mountains include Talgarth and Crickhowell. The range of hills is well known to walkers and ramblers for the ease of access and views from the many ridge trails, such as that on the Black Hill in Herefordshire, at the eastern edge of the massif. The range includes the highest public road in Wales at Gospel Pass, and the highest point in southern England at Black Mountain.

Offa's Dyke

Offa was the King of the Mercians, a warrior tribe from central England, from AD 747 to 796. He had seized power during a time of great unrest caused by friction between Wales and England in the border region. Offa was determined to quell the unruly Welsh and impose his authority, and this he did by building one of the most remarkable structures in Britain.

Sometime during the 780s, Offa decided on the construction of a great earth wall and ditch, or dyke, running from ‘sea to sea’. The work required thousands of men, and each section seems to have been built by people from a different district. The fact that this mammoth undertaking was achieved illustrates the cohesion of the kingdom at this time. The dyke was never garrisoned but would have been manned by relatively small local forces.

Offa died in 796 in a battle against the Welsh. It is believed that he was trying to establish a final link in the dyke to the Irish Sea in the north. After his death his kingdom gradually declined until it was completely crushed by the Viking invasion. The border area, however, remained crucial in British history.

Hampton Court Castle

Hampton Court Castle is a 15th-century castle nestled in the Herefordshire countryside. A perfect day out for all ages, it features a range of highly-acclaimed gardens including numerous herbaceous borders, pleached avenues, kitchen gardens, island pavilions, canals and a 150-year old wisteria tunnel leading to expansive sweeping lawns and a play area. Special events such as falconry and jousting often take place here throughout the summer.

Visitors delight at the 1000-yew maze, with a gothic tower at its centre it offers panoramic views of the gardens and even includes a secret tunnel! The River Walk is home to some of the estate's oldest trees and has some beautiful views looking back to the Castle across the lake.

Goodrich Castle

Standing in scenic countryside above the River Wye, Goodrich Castle is one of the finest and best preserved of all English medieval castles. Boasting a remarkable history and unforgettable views from the battlements, it promises a great day out for all the family.

The life of the castle itself began in the 11th century, soon after the Norman Conquest. Strategically placed along the border, Goodrich remained in royal hands until 1204 – when King John awarded it to the famous William Marshal. Sir William was honoured as 'the best knight in all the world' and made his fame and fortune by winning prizes at tournaments.

When William de Valence, a French nobleman, rebuilt the castle in the late 13th century, he created one of the most up-to-date castles of his day. But sadly, much of the castle was ruined in a siege of 1646, when Parliamentarians attacked it during the Civil War. Parliament used a locally made cannon called ‘Roaring Meg’ to bombard the garrison into submission. The only surviving mortar from the Civil War, Meg is now on display in the castle courtyard. The siege left Goodrich as one of the most picturesque castle ruins in the country.

Wigmore Castle

Once the stronghold of the turbulent Mortimer family, Wigmore Castle was later dismantled to prevent its use during the Civil War. Now it is among the most remarkable ruins in England, largely buried up to first floor level by earth and fallen masonry. Yet many of its fortifications survive to full height, including parts of the keep on its towering mound.

Hereford Cathedral

Hereford Cathedral is the cathedral church of the Anglican Diocese of Hereford in Hereford, England. A place of worship has existed on the site of the present building since the 8th century or earlier. The present building was begun in 1079. Substantial parts of the building date from both the Norman and the Gothic periods. The cathedral is a Grade I listed building.

The cathedral has the largest library of chained books in the world, its most famous treasure being the Mappa Mundi, a medieval map of the world created around 1300 by Richard of Holdingham.

Dore Abbey

Dore Abbey was established in 1147 and was colonised by monks from Morimond Abbey, France. When the monks arrived from Morimond, they found themselves on the border lordship of Ewyas Harold, owned by Robert Fitz Harold of Ewyas, who became the first patron of Dore.  In 1321 Abbot Richard was given a relic of the Holy Cross by William de Gradisson, and it was said that crowds visited the abbey to see this. Lady Matilda de Bohun’s tomb (1318) was also a focal point of the abbey.

Despite these attractions, the house was never a particularly rich one, in the survey of 1535 the net annual income was valued at £101 and the house was dissolved a year later.  In 1633 the owner, Viscount Scudamore, decided to restore what was left of the abbey church and convert it for use as the local parish church. A tower was added, the interior refurbished, a fine Renaissance screen inserted, and windows replaced with seventeenth-century stained glass.  By the late nineteenth century, the church was again in need of attention.

Repairs were carried out by Roland Paul in 1901-09. The medieval presbytery is one of the finest Cistercian survivals in the west of Britain, and the interior dates from the restoration of the church in the early 1630s. The remains comprise the crossing and the liturgical east end of the monastic church, and there are still traces of the nave, and fragments of the claustral buildings.

St Mary and St David, Kilpeck

The Church of St Mary and St David is a Church of England parish church at Kilpeck in the English county of Herefordshire, about 5 miles from the border with Monmouthshire, Wales. Pevsner describes Kilpeck as "one of the most perfect Norman churches in England". Famous for its stone carvings, the church is a Grade I listed building.

The carvings in the local red sandstone are remarkable for their number and their fine state of preservation, particularly round the south door, the west window, and along a row of corbels which run right around the exterior of the church under the eaves.

The carvings are all original and in their original positions. They have been attributed to a Herefordshire School of stonemasons, probably local but who may have been instructed by master masons recruited in France by Oliver de Merlimond. He was steward to the Lord of Wigmore, Hugh Mortimer, who went on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain and, on his return, built a church with similar Romanesque carvings (now largely lost) at Shobdon, 30 miles north of Kilpeck.

Hugh de Kilpeck, a relative of Earl Mortimer, employed the same builders at Kilpeck, and their work is also known at Leominster, Rowlestone and elsewhere. The writer Simon Jenkins notes the influences of churches found on the pilgrimage routes of Northern Europe.

Priory Church, Leominster

The Priory Church is an Anglican parish church in Leominster, Herefordshire, England, dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul. The building was constructed for a Benedictine Priory in about the 13th century, although there had been an Anglo-Saxon monastery in Leominster, possibly on the same site. In 1539 the east end of the church was destroyed along with most of the monastic buildings, but the main body of the church was preserved.

Quatrefoil piers were inserted between 1872 and 1879 by Sir George Gilbert Scott.The building is a grade I listed building. The bells of the church are very rare.There are ten now, but the back eight bells were cast by William Evans of Chepstow in 1755. In 1894, two new bells were cast by John Warners of London.

Sutton Walls Hillfort

The scheduled ancient monument of Sutton Walls is 4 miles north of the city of Hereford and is one of the most famous Iron Age Hillforts in Britain. It lies on the River Lugg flood plain between Sutton St. Nicholas and Marden. Since its excavation by Dame Kathleen Kenyon between 1948 and 1951 it has appeared in nearly every book on the early history of Britain.

Her excavations revealed evidence of settlement and activity on Sutton Walls from around the 3rd or 2nd century BC in the Iron Age until the 3rd century AD in the Roman period.  Her most extraordinary find was a ‘war cemetery’ with twenty-four skeletons, many decapitated, at the west entrance. The Hillfort has traditionally been associated with the palace of 8th century King Offa of Mercia, and linked to the murder of King Ethelbert of the East Angles. 

Arthur's Stone

Arthur's Stone is an atmospheric Neolithic burial chamber made of great stone slabs, set in the hills above Herefordshire's Golden Valley.

Like many prehistoric monuments in western England and Wales, this tomb has been linked to King Arthur since before the 13th century. According to legend, it was here that Arthur slew a giant who left the impression of his elbows on one of the stones as he fell.

Sugar Loaf Mountain

The Sugar Loaf, sometimes called Sugar Loaf (Welsh: Mynydd Pen-y-fâl or Y Fâl), is a hill situated 2 miles (3.2 km) north-west of Abergavenny in Monmouthshire, Wales and sits within the Brecon Beacons National Park. It is the southernmost of the summit peaks of the Black Mountains, with a height of 1,955 feet (596 metres). Sugar Loaf was gifted to the National Trust by suffragette Lady Rhondda.

Croft Castle

Situated on the English-Welsh border, Croft is a quiet, ancient place steeped in British history and politics with a picturesque castle and medieval parkland re-fashioned during the 18th century. Surrounded by 1,500 acres of woods, park and farmland.

The two acre walled garden is a wildlife haven, attracting butterflies, bees, birds and insects. It is the perfect place to enjoy the changing seasons, with daffodils and blossom in spring, roses and wisteria in summer and apples in autumn. 


Hellens Manor

This beautiful historic house in Much Marcle, Herefordshire, is a living monument to much of England’s history. Attractions include heirlooms of Anne Boleyn, the haunted bed chamber prepared for Queen Mary Tudor, the panelled Music Room adorned with its English Renaissance frieze, paintings by Gainsborough, Van Dyke, Peter Lely and Goya, and the fascinating story of Hetty Walwyn.

Hergest Court

At the south-western end of the estate, the fortified manor house Hergest Court, dates from 1267 was built by Hwyel ap Meurig and subsequently occupied by the Clanvowe and Vaughan families. The Banks family bought it in 1912 and it is now owned by Richard Banks (b1965) who has a son Bill (b 1995) and daughter Esther (b1998). 

The house, which can be seen from the bottom of the lawn below Hergest Croft, is reputed to be haunted by a great black hound, ‘The Black Dog of Hergest’, which is believed to be the inspiration for Conan Doyle's 'Hound of the Baskervilles'.

The Wergin's Stone

Photograph by A Brooks

Strange Newes from Hereford

Sir, my kind love and service remembered unto you and your good wife, these are to let you understand of a strange thing which happened in the Wergins upon Wednesday was sennight in the day time about 12. of the clock, a mighty wind did drive a Stone as much as 6. Oxen could well draw six-score, and ploughed a furrow a foote and a halfe deepe all the way it went, and another Stone which 12. Oxen did draw to the Wergins many yeares since, that Stone being farre bigger than the other Stone, was carried the same time a quarter of a myle, & made no impression at all in the ground, but the Water was in the Meadow a foote deepe...there was a man of Mr. Iames Seabornes, which was riding to Hereford, did see one of the Stones going, and as he relates, a blacke Dog going before the Stone, the man was a great distance off and put in a greate feare...

Thus praying to God to mend these miserable times, I cease.

Your loving friend, William Westfaling.

Hereford, Febr. the 23 1641.

from an appendix in Memorials of the Civil War, by the Reverend T W Webb.

Penyard Castle

Penyard Castle lies near the top of Penyard Hill in a 75 acre clearing in the woods. The Castle was possibly built as a hunting lodge by Aylmer de Valence, who died in 1324 and who was also responsible for building Goodrich Castle, and it may previously have been a hermitage used by the monks from Grace Dieu, Gwent.

The remains of a block of buildings stretching north to south can be seen and the remains of an undercroft date from around the later half of the 14th century. It was ruined in the late 17th century when the current house was built in around 1800 which incorporated part of the earlier buildings.

The remains of the house stand on a natural terrace with a scarped enclosure on the south and east sides. These consist of the foundations of a thick wall and various other fragments of walling, including the remains of a small flight of stairs and a doorway with a chambered jamb and two centred head. Part of a ditch is also still visible to the southwest although there are very few signs of the castle or its earthworks.

Marden Church Bell, Hereford Museum

Large Celtic style hand bell, found when a pond at Marden was cleaned out in 1848, near to the church where King Ethelbert was buried, before his remains were removed to Hereford. It is significant as it illustrates the Celtic influences found within the county of Herefordshire.

It dates from the ninth to the eleventh century and is typical of other contemporary bells from Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It would have been used as a hand bell to summon people to church.

Legend has it that a bell of Marden Church fell into the River Lugg, was seized by a mermaid who held it fast. It could only be retrieved in perfect silence using a team of twelve white heifers yoked with yew and mountain ash bands and goads. A driver accidentally called out and woke the mermaid inside the bell who took it back into the river, until it was fished out centuries later.

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