Richard D North

Herefordians "invented" Herefordshire cattle - animals as beaut iful as they are delicious
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The Independent Online
When I came to live in Herefordshire, a great and good news editor told me not to bother him with stories of my new home. Herefordshire was the place he liked best in the world. The last thing it needed was advertisement.

He was prone to the feeling, common in admiring outsiders, long-standing residents who are traditionalists, and incomers anxious to defend the quietude they came here to find, that Herefordshire should remain uncelebrated and sleepy.

Still, I have become committed to making Herefordshire as famous as possible. This spring, I won a prize from the Financial Times. It was awarded in memory of the paper's late travel editor, who had always said there ought to be life after journalism, though he - sadly - did not live to see one. The prize was to develop a business plan for a tourism enterprise, and I proposed a scheme to bring tourists to Hereford and show them unreconstructed England. But I don't mean that they will see a backwater.

This county only looks dozy. It has a long tradition of enterprise. Herefordians "invented" Herefordshire cattle - animals as beautiful as they are delicious - in the mid-18th century, and the breed spread all over the world in a way which matched the corporate explosion of the Cistercians (with their sheep during the 12th century) or of Microsoft (with its software in the 20th). We are also the birthplace of the "picturesque", whose view of romantic landscape spawned important aspects of the conservation movement, which is one of the most thrusting businesses of our age.

The place is still bursting with enterprise. Leave aside that we have Bulmers, whose cider is one of the few recession-proof products. The country's chicken McNuggets come from our intensive chicken units; thousands of tonnes of oven-ready chips come from a local farmer. "Our" SAS is, of course, world-class.

In Dunkerton's, we have a clever and brave organic cider firm, with restaurant attached. But it was the instant Medieval timber-buildings, often in kit- form, which are made here - partly from the county's own oaks - which most impressed a party of Japanese, which I helped guide through Herefordshire last month. They had come from Yamagata, an agricultural region, on a study tour to find out if there was life after farming, and were shown the place by Charles Cordle, whose Acorn Activities packages Herefordshire holidays, involving anything from crafts to helicopters, and is unique in the UK, let alone the county.

I have become increasingly struck by the way Herefordshire maintains its sense of isolation and calm whilst being, actually, modern.

We are the most "rural" county in mainland England: a higher percentage of our people lives in rural parishes than in any other county. But Herefordshire's population has been rising steadily since before the war. Many of our parishes have grown at rates of between 10 and 20 per cent in the past decade. This is in line with changing living patterns all over the Western world. Colorado and many other places where modern people show their love of living near sea or snow - or up rustic tracks - can't boast a better growth rate.

But Herefordshire has accommodated the growth with only slight diminution of loveliness. I would even hazard that the young need Herefordshire to be as lively as it is, and perhaps even more so.

We have nightclubs which are as good as any in much more obviously raving places, and we need them. After all, it is not simply the lack of opportunity or housing which drives the young away from the country. The men from Yamagata and Herefordshire could both agree, that it is as much boredom as unemployment which puts the living countryside at risk.