Despite the threatening clouds, there was just enough blue sky to make a sailors trousers. Here in the West Midlands the road rises to greet you, a rich landscape of hop yards, apple orchards, farmland and Bronze Age fortifications. We cycled the border region between England and Wales which is known as the Marches after the medieval armies that used to troop from one castle to another fighting the Welsh.
Herefordshire is picture postcard England. Green fields crossed by slow snaking rivers, pretty thatched roofed Tudor style homes with dovecots and crumbling ancient churchyards full of listing faded tombstones.
I’ve been scrupulous in attending to the maintenance of our bicycles, however, after more than 8000 kilometres they needed some professional attention. We cycled into Leominster just as the rain started. We received a warm welcome from friends Dieter and Christine, nothing like having a couple of Hereford locals to show you around. True to form it rained over the Bank Holiday weekend but not so much that we couldn’t get out and explore the local villages and attractions. Leominster is a sizeable regional centre It seems prosperous, friendly and well healed, I counted at least 3 shoe shops!
While Phill at Leominster cycles was busy servicing our bikes replacing rear cassettes and fitting new chains, Dieter took us on a back roads tour of traditional black and white Tudor villages: Kington, Westonbury, Pembridge , Weobley, Dilwyn and Hay. In Pembridge we spoke to the Vicar who was actually in the process of clearing bats from the belfry!
In between cups of tea and Welsh cakes, Dieter provided a historical context with a humorous local flavour. As tradition rubs up against the modern world, townsfolk support both Hereford United and the Church on their inevitable slide into obscurity and irrelevance.
Strangely, while I’m no fan of the church, Hereford Cathedral proved to be a highlight, dripping in history with its vaulted ceilings , stained glass windows , entombed Knights and bones of saints. As a house of learning and administrative centre, the Cathedral was much more than a place of worship. I came face to face with the original Magna Carta of 1217 which formed the basis of English common law. Written on calf skin, the Mappa Mundi is the oldest surviving map of the world. Its dated from the Middle Ages and is a work of art, a religious icon and historical document dating back to 1285. I was also impressed with the ancient chained library. Which holds what was once the knowledge of the world in heavy dust covered volumes and was something akin to the Internet of the Middle Ages.
On the grounds of the Cathedral was a statue in honour of local boy made good, Sir Edward Elgar. He was a keen cyclist and composer of classical works such as Pomp and Circumstance and Jerusalem
After a few great days staying in a 14th century Tudor Cottage, it was time for one last chicken dinner at the Dukes Head then a lazy stroll around Leominster by night before heading off.
Next stop Ireland.