Over the Malvern Hills from Worcestershire, the rolling agricultural landscapes of Herefordshire have an easy-going charm, but the finest scenery hereabouts is along the banks of the River Wye, which wriggles and worms its way across the county. Plonked in the middle of Herefordshire on the Wye is the county town, Hereford, a sleepy, rather old-fashioned place whose proudest possession, the cathedral’s remarkable Mappa Mundi map, was almost flogged off in a round of ecclesiastical budget cuts back in the 1980s. Beyond Hereford, the southeast corner of the county has one especially attractive town, Ross-on-Wye, a genial little place with a picturesque setting that also serves as a convenient gateway to one of the wilder portions of the Wye River Valley, around Symonds Yat, where canoeists gather in their droves.
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The small market town of ROSS-ON-WYE, nestling above a loop in the river sixteen miles southeast of Hereford, is a relaxed and easy-going place with an artsy/New Age undertow. Ross’s jumble of narrow streets converges on the Market Place, which is shadowed by the seventeenth-century Market House, a sturdy two-storey sandstone structure that sports a medallion bust of a bewigged Charles II. Veer right at the top of the Market Place, then turn left up Church Street to reach Ross’s other noteworthy building, the mostly thirteenth-century St Mary’s Church, whose sturdy stonework culminates in a slender, tapering spire. In front of the church, at the foot of the graveyard, is a plain but rare Plague Cross, commemorating the three hundred or so townsfolk who were buried here by night without coffins during a savage outbreak of the plague in 1637.
The Wye River Valley
The Wye River Valley
Travelling south from Ross along the B4234, it’s just five miles to the sullen sandstone mass of Goodrich Castle, which commands wide views over the hills and woods of the Wye River Valley. The castle’s strategic location guaranteed its importance as a border stronghold from the twelfth century onwards and today the substantial ruins incorporate a Norman keep, a maze of later rooms and passageways and walkable ramparts. The castle stands next to the tiny village of GOODRICH, from where it’s around a mile and half southeast along narrow country lanes to the solitary Welsh Bicknor Hostel, which, with the Wye Valley Walk running past the front door, makes a great base (in a no-frills sort of way) for hikers.
From Goodrich, it’s a couple of miles south along narrow country lanes to a fork in the road – veer right for Symonds Yat East, or keep straight for the wriggly road up to the top of Symonds Yat Rock, one of the region’s most celebrated viewpoints, rising high above a wooded, hilly loop in the River Wye. Down below is SYMONDS YAT EAST, a pretty little hamlet that straggles along the east bank of the river. It’s a popular spot and one that offers canoe rental and regular river trips – and there’s a good hotel here too.
The road to the village is a dead end, so you have to double back to regain Goodrich (or Symonds Yat Rock), though you can cross the river to Symonds Yat West by means of a hand-pulled rope ferry, which leaves from outside the Saracen’s Head Inn.