Eating England: No 13: Herefordshire - Where the cider - and life - is rosy

There's no better time than the season of mists to explore, and feast on, a land of mellow fruitfulness

AN ALMOST tangible feeling of peace hangs over Herefordshire, like an autumn mist. Perhaps it is the soporific effect of the hops grown all around and the cider. There are certain pleasures in this unhurried world, such as a good pint in a quiet pub or a walk above valleys which are silent apart from the occasional tractor and the odd moo. Apples, pears, cider and squashes are some of the treats in season and the county is also famed for its beef and game.

THE WEST of the county is one of the great undiscovered areas of England. Old-fashioned farming predominates and the land is a bulging jigsaw of wonky fields and woodland. Red-brown soil leads to blue hills on the horizon. A ridge walk along the Cat's Back in the Olchon valley gives views right across the county. Park at the picnic site signposted from Longtown to The Black Mountain. A walk to the valley head and back takes an hour-and- a-half. Hay Bluff, just over the Welsh border, is another magnificent area for walking. Hergest Ridge, near Kington, reached by the road to the enjoyable Hergest Croft gardens, is a good walk for views.

Two highlights among Herefordshire's many interesting village churches are the carvings on the Norman church at Kilpeck, which include an unabashed female fertility symbol, and the Arts and Crafts church at Brockhampton, which is filled with carvings and needlework depicting wild flowers, and a handwritten book detailing their uses.

THE BULL'S Head (tel: 01981 510616 ) in Craswall is a delightful old- fashioned shepherds' pub with flagstones and barrels behind the bar. The food is hearty fill-up fodder. If cider is your thing, Hereford has a cider museum (tel: 01432 354207) and a producer worth visiting is Dunkertons in Pembridge (tel: 01544 388653) where they also serve food during the day, and dinners from Thursday to Saturday. A great discovery was their aperitif of perry (pear cider) mixed with the blackberry liqueur, creme de mure. The Pleck (tel: 01568 720307), near Monkland, is a cafe-shop attached to a cheesemaker. They serve their own Little Hereford cheese ploughmans, cakes and cafetiere coffee, and sell other unpasteurised Welsh and English cheeses. Kington, an atmospheric out-of-the-way border town, has many pubs, including the Olde Tavern (tel: 01544 231384), which is rather like being in someone's front room.

ALL SAINTS, in Hereford High Street, used to be a falling-down church of the "bells-and-smells" Anglo-Catholic persuasion. Now, when you walk past, the heavenly whiff is of rosemary foccacia coming from the remarkable All Saints Cafe (tel: 01432 370415), a vegetarian cafe in the heart of the working church. Unrepentantly modern in design, the cafe slots perfectly into the rest of the building, and the whole renovation has been short- listed for a RIBA award. The man behind the food is Bill Sewell, who also set up The Place Below in the crypt of St Mary-le-Bow in London, serving the same style of delicious, unpuritanical, well-sourced food. Sitting in the peaceful roof space, you can have potato-and-smoked-cheddar soup and good bread (pounds 2.25), or a courgette-and-feta filo pie with patatas bravas (pounds 5.45), and a glass of organic apple juice or wine followed by rich brownies. There is a seasonal dinner on the first Friday of the month (pounds 16 for three courses, book ahead). Otherwise, opening times are 8.30am-5.30pm, closed on Sundays. The vicar, the Rev Andrew Mottram, pushed through this brave pounds 1.7m project, part-funded by the Lottery, to keep the building going and to banish the concept of churches as "God boxes". It works.

The Cottage of Content (tel: 01432 840242), in Carey, is a lovely old boozer with good food, a fine wine list, flagstones, hops and garden tables. In season, from May to the beginning of October, they sell particularly tasty and succulent Welsh lamb that has fed on salt-marshes. Thereafter, game comes into season with such dishes as partridge stuffed with apricots, almonds and breadcrumbs served with a wine and juniper sauce. Prices are around pounds 15 for two courses.

The Riverside Inn (tel: 01568 708440), in Aymestrey, takes pride in serving proper meat and good cooking (around pounds 20 for three courses). Jule's Bistro (tel: 01544 318206), in the attractive village of Weobley, is fun and serves gutsy food (around pounds 25 for three courses) and has a good characterful patron.

Restaurants are as thin on the ground in Herefordshire as the population. All Saints and the Cottage of Content, in particular, are special places that do a really good job at a very reasonable price. If you want to spend pounds 30 upwards and get the same value for money, it is worth going just a short distance out of the county to Merchant House in Ludlow (tel: 01584 875438) or the Walnut Tree Inn (tel: 01873 852797) near Abergavenny.

BREINTON FRUIT Farm (tel: 01432 265271) sells 20 varieties of apple and three of pear, with pick-your-own until mid-October. Green Acres farm shop (tel: 01568 797045), in Hope-under-Dinmore, sells organic fruit and vegetables, including a great array of colourful squashes. September Dairy Products (tel: 01544 327561), in Almeley near Kington, has ice-cream and organic meat. Moxley of Tupsley (tel: 01432 265351), to the east of Hereford, rears its own Hereford beef. The Dairy House (tel: 01544 318815), Weobley, produces creamy, sharp yoghurts, and real lactic butter (which sometimes comes embellished with the traditional markings on top, done with the real wooden Scotch "hands"). On 17 and 18 October, there is a Big Apple festival in the Much Marcle area (tel: 01531 670544).

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