Veggie Places visits Herefordshire


"You are going where for your holiday?" The good thing about Herefordshire is that so few people have heard of it, tucked away as it is on the borders of Wales, without the drama of the Lakes or the appeal of the sea one gets with Cornwall or Devon or the Norfolk coast. It is this reason that I like it so much - it's quiet, even during the peak season, the scenery is superb and within a short driving (or cycling) distance there is so much to do and see you would be hard pressed to fit it all into a fortnight.

We were based just north of Hereford, in Canon Pyon home to the Hermitage and our self catering apartment for a week. A half mile drive up a steepish lane and the majesty of the former Bishop's residence stands before you. Ron and Ritsuko are vegetarian and have run the self catering business for just over a year having bought the property about five years ago. At the side of the Hermitage is their organic vegetable garden and to the side of it a field which is home to their nine pet black sheep. Ron is planning to shear them when he has been taught how to do it. The other side of the fish pond, is the Stable Block and Coach house, converted from, you guessed it, the stables and the former coach house. The Hermitage
The Hermitage
These buildings have been carefully converted with flagstone floors, neutral decor and quality furniture, so it feels like a home from home rather than somewhere that will make do for a week. Both units sleep six, in proper luxury beds and have a sitting out area where you can watch the sheep or listen to the birdsong. There is also a wood burning stove and a good supply of dry wood.

Our apartment has been converted from the original house so has high ceilings and beautiful long sash windows, with a view over the mimosa that was in full bloom when we visited. The kitchen is fully equipped and we had our own hot water and central heating controller, so one could visit here any time of year and be very comfortable. Towels are provided, as are loo rolls, Ecover washing up liquid, tea towels and condiments. A bottle of wine was in the fridge for us, fresh spring flowers were on the table and fluffy white towels awaited us in the bedroom. If it rains all week, we decided, who cares? There is a terrace for enjoying the sun at the front of the building with far reaching views and the agile among us can attempt the pretty walk through the woods to the rear of the property that involve some climbing and the realisation (for me) that one is not getting any younger. View from the Hermitage
View from the Hermitage
Ron has built a tennis court and when we were there he was digging a natural swimming pool that will operate without chemicals. From early next year, he will be offering bed and breakfast in rooms they are converting on the top floor of the Hermitage. On the second night, my daughter and I had our first meal. This is served to you in your apartment. The meal was of gourmet restaurant standard - I eat out a lot - and truly delicious. We had Japanese steamed dumplings with dipping sauce, followed by aubergine stacks in roasted crumb on soft cheese with roasted tomato. This was served with fresh organic salad from the garden. To finish we had coconut sponge served with a passion fruit coulis and creme fraiche. It was so good, we requested another treat for later on in the week.

Our first day was rather chilly, so we visited Hereford, which is a shortish drive, parking in the Maylord centre car park. Nutters is a smallish cafe, friendly but rather cramped inside at lunchtime. The outside patio area is probably really pleasant on a warm day. The soup was vegan, which my daughter chose and I had a mushroom and leek filo pie served with a mixed salad. The items are on display in a cold cabinet and then are heated up for you. The cappuccino I had was very good. Right in the centre of Hereford is the Cafe All Saints. It used to be vegetarian, but the dish of the day was a fish dish. It is an open plan self service cafe with the church on one side and the cafe on the other. Further seating is provided upstairs. A good find for us was the Mousetrap cheese store. All vegetarian cheeses were clearly marked and the assistant was helpful and knowledgeable. A generous slice of Waterloo was demolished by us later on that evening. They have two other branches at Ludlow and Leominster. Fodder health food store is also well worth a visit. They stock a large selection of vegan chilled foods, organic vegetables, Aconbury sprouts and Tyrells crisps (both local). Again, service was friendly and helpful. On Sunday, a much warmer day, we tried the Volunteer pub for their special veggie lunch. A huge nut roast, three roast potatoes, a lake of veggie gravy and six different vegetables served in a side dish, all cooked to perfection would satisfy even the most demanding of appetites. The clientele were a bit new age - spiky red hair, doc martens, eyebrow piercings and attendant dog - and that was just the women - but for lunch it was fine.

Symonds Yat Ferry
Symonds Yat Ferry
We visited the Monkland cheese dairy on Monday. Cheese making is demonstated in the morning - the cheese they make is not veggie - but they have a large cheese counter with veggie options clearly marked and one can choose a cheese from this for their ploughmans lunch. With this came walnut bread, chutney, celery, grapes, sliced apple and a small salad. Home made cake (using free range eggs) and sparkling local apple juice finished us off nicely. It's a sweet little place but probably not much cop for vegans, unless you would be happy with the soup.

We visited Leominster later on. I was a bit disappointed as it seemed to have a run down feel to it. I was directed to the Granary Tea room by the lady at Tourist Information but it was closed; I noticed on their menu that they sell meat dishes, so it must be veggie friendly rather than vegetarian.

On Tuesday, we visited Symonds Yat East. This is one of the most beautiful, unspoilt places in the UK I have ever visited and has changed little since the last time I was there, probably 15 years ago. It was rather overcast, so we parked easily. It cost only three pounds for the day. We had a good coffee in the Saracens Head, situated nearby on the banks of the Wye and then went on a 40 minute river trip with a very interesting live commentary that left from just outside the pub. After an excellent lunch at the Saracens Head - twice baked Abervagenny cheese on a potato and parsnip rosti with roasted cherry tomatoes, served with greens and potatoes as extras - we decided to attempt the hour long walk along the Wye meadow, across the rickety bridge and back the other side, returning on the hand operated foot ferry. Saracens's Head
The Saracens Head
The Saracens Head also has bed and breakfast accommodation and is open all year. When we returned later in the week over the Easter weekend, it was very busy and they had introduced a shorter snack menu, which did not have the appeal of the previous one, so we gave it a miss. We did stop to have a delicious coffee, though.

The Judges Lodging, just north of our accommodation, in Presteigne, is well worth a visit. A sleepy, pretty little town, it is just in Wales. The house is arranged as it was in Victorian times, with an accompanying hour and a half audio tour, starting in the hallway and then taking you through all the rooms, down to the kitchen and the holding cells and ending with the trial in the courtroom of a man caught stealing some ducks. He was found guilty and had to serve six months hard labour. No community service in those days, it would appear. The house is lit with the original gas lights and I can remember that smell (or a similar one) in my grandmother's house from her paraffin heaters. The lady from the visitor information at the house recommended a place for a picnic - we had had the forethought to plan one the day before - and less than five minutes away we came to the Withybeds nature reserve, an ideal place for a short break.

After lunch, we headed off to Hay on Wye, the well known town of books. It has a beautifully situated car park with stunning views over the hills. Hay car park
Car Park with a view
I don't often take photos of car parks, but on this occasion I had to. The Hay Festival in April, attracts thousands of visitors every year. We stopped at Oscars for a coffee, having already had our lunch. Oscars' menu changes daily and they always have home made veggie options. The chef has been there for 12 years so he must be getting something right. The Granary is further down the hill. This is well established too. The emphasis is on tasty, home made food such as you would make yourself. They use organic vegetables when they can and like to use local produce.

A town we really liked was Monmouth, again, not too far away. It's a good place to food shop with an M & S Simply Food, a Waitrose and a selection of interesting independent shops. It is pleasantly situated with the river Wye running through, just upstream from Ross.

Near to our apartment is the Queenswood Country Park. This consists of over 100 acres of parkland and woodland with picnic benches, safe, waymarked trails and an adventure playground, making it ideal for the little ones. Entry is free, so if you have children in tow, it would make a good stopping point. The cafe looked pretty uninspiring however, we didn't even fancy a drink there.

There is plenty going on in the area for those who love the outdoors. Canoeing is excellent, there is mountain biking, rambling, cycling and pony trekking to name just some. For the more sedentary, you could visit Kilpeck Church with its gargoyles, the cider factory at Dunkerton or just take a drive up Golden Valley or go on the Black and White Village Trail.

We were very sorry to leave but both agreed it had been the relaxing, interesting break we had both wanted.

Veggie Places - April 2007

Note: Veggie Places always reviews anonymously, posing as an ordinary customer. If we do divulge who we are, it is always after we have paid in full for food or accommodation.

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