Itinerary: James Chase's Herefordshire

James Chase's Herefordshire

Welcome to my itinerary, a sneak peek into the beautiful county of Herefordshire that I call home. I grew up close to Leominster at Tyrrells Court Farm, the home of fantastic crisps! Surrounded by rich red rolling farmland, Herefordshire is home to some of the best soil in the world, perfect for growing potatoes and a wealth of other crops including cider apples! We've been farming here for over four generations.

It's been wonderful to see the county become home to so many fantastic food and drinks brands, with many top restaurants to boot. Hopefully, in some of these great establishments, you'll come across our gin and vodka, fresh from our farm distillery. Established in 2008, using up potatoes too small to make into crisps or too wonky for supermarkets, we've set out to champion field to bottle spirits. Being based on a farm allows us to distil from scratch, using up to 250 potatoes per bottle! It's so great to welcome folk from all around the world to visit this most beautiful of distilleries, seeing first hand our entire process from field to bottle.

I am incredibly fortunate to live in such a glorious county, and I can't wait for you to visit.

James Chase - Global Brand Ambassador, Chase Distillery, Preston Wynne, Hereford

Summary of James's Itinerary

My tour through the varied and beautiful Herefordshire landscape guides you from the dramatic Black Mountains, the verdant Golden Valley and the gentler hills around the Wye Valley, to the cathedral city of Hereford before venturing into more remote border country, a land of ruined castles, fabulous views and quirky market towns, to reach the beautiful town of Ludlow, just across the border in Shropshire.

Leaving foodie Ludlow, I take you through the lush Teme Valley towards the Malvern Hills into cider country and the timbered town of Ledbury, culminating in a fascinating tour of Chase Distillery. Along the way, I give you a flavour of what to do and see as you travel slowly through this diverse county, highlighting the best places to walk or cycle, a real passion of mine, unearthing some hidden gems that you must not miss, and introducing you to some of my favourite eateries, farm shops and artisan suppliers that I admire.

As a family, Chase have teamed up with the Epicurean Club, so expect to sleep in cosy rooms, eat delicious food prepared from locally sourced produce, and drink beers, wines and spirits hand-crafted in the county on this 6-night/7-day tour through Herefordshire.

The night before you start my itinerary do stay at the Felin Fach Griffin, near Brecon, Powys - an Epicurean favourite.

'A true destination pub, the fabulous daily changing menu and eye-catching bedrooms are really worth the drive.'

Day 1

Surprisingly, having just waxed lyrical introducing my beloved Herefordshire, I kick off my tour just across the border in Powys, at a foodie favourite of mine, the Felin Fach Griffin. For close to 20 years it has been a beacon in the Brecon's for contemporary rooms, a laid-back atmosphere and exciting menus that champion local producers. You can expect a fabulous first night and you're just a few miles from the charming market town of Hay-on-Wye, the first port of call on my itinerary.

Hay-on-Wye is a delightful old market town set on a hill overlooking the River Wye. It is best-known for its literature festival (in May) and bookworms will be in paradise as the town streets brim with around 25 second-hand bookshops, some general and some more specific, such as Murder & Mayhem, which specialises in crime. I must confess, I love bookshops and Hay, so you'll find me whiling away an hour or so in Booth Books on Lion Street when I visit this fascinating little town.

There are plenty of non-book based independent shops too, so explore the network of narrow streets, making sure you stop off at Shepherds Ice Cream Parlour on High Town for a refreshing and delicious sheep's milk ice cream. Hay-on-Wye is also the best spot for hiring a canoe or kayak and paddling peacefully down the beautiful River Wye - head for Wye Valley Canoes at nearby Glasbury; they have a great café too.

If, like me, you love cycling, then bring your bike and head out of Hay-on-Wye and into the Black Mountains on the narrow mountain road to lofty Hay Bluff and Llanthony Priory, a timeless ruined treasure in the Vale of Ewyas, before climbing over the Gospel Pass, the highest road pass in Wales, to savour the stunning views across the lush Golden Valley. Be warned, only serious cyclists should tackle this route….! Likewise, the Black Mountains are more suited to the hardened walker - here you can unwind by escaping into a world of rolling hills, fertile valleys and ancient ridge tracks.

East of Hay-on-Wye the River Dore snakes its way for 10 miles between the sleepy villages of Dorstone and Pontrilas through the glorious Golden Valley, where cornfields, orchards and rich grass meadows are flanked the lofty and dramatic Black Mountains on the west, and gentle hills on the east. Less adventurous cyclists should pedal the peaceful network of lanes west of B4348, following the River Monnow and the Escley Brook through timeless pastoral scenery. Don't miss Abbey Dore's magnificent parish church, once part of a Cistercian Abbey founded in 1147.

If you have time to spare in the afternoon, follow B4347 through the Monnow valley to the picturesque riverside village of Skenfrith. Explore the ruined Norman castle, originally built to defend one of the main routes between England and Wales. A keep occupies the site of the motte and the 13th-century curtain wall also remains.

I would also recommend the short drive south to Abergavenny, a bustling market town on the River Usk and surrounded by spectacular mountain ranges. Its maze of narrow streets recalls the town's past and the Tudor buildings and 11th-century castle are worth a closer look. Feeling peckish, then head for The Chapel on Market Street, a hidden gem and part of an excellent art shop and gallery.

If you're here in September plan your visit to coincide with the fabulous food festival weekend. Hailed the 'Glastonbury of food festivals', Abergavenny Food Festival is a vast celebration of food and drink, featuring demos and talks from the biggest names in the food world, with over 200 stalls selling local produce. A must if you're a food lover and passionate about artisan produce - the next festival is planned for 2021.

Overnight - Kilpeck Inn, Kilpeck, Herefordshire

'Rural local thriving as a contemporary country inn with simple, comfortable rooms, competent modern British cooking, and a passion for local produce'

Day 2

Follow breakfast with a gentle stroll down the lane opposite the inn to see the renowned 12th-century Kilpeck church, described by historian Simon Jenkins as England's most perfect Anglo-Romanesque church. Unchanged since the 1100s, intricate carvings on the south door show the tree of life, dragons and angels, and the outside frieze has some 70 grotesque gargoyles.

Hereford is just a 20-minute drive away and I would highly recommend visiting the superb small Norman cathedral, one of the finest in England, with its forest of pink sandstone columns lining the nave. Treasures include the magnificent chained library, the largest in world containing 1,500 books, each attached to its bookcase with an individual chain, and the famous Mappa Mundi drawn on velum around 1290, making it one of the earliest maps of the world in existence.

My favourite lunch stop is The Bookshop on Aubrey Street just north of the cathedral - an informal eatery run by Dorian and his brother Edwin, serving an excellent daily brunch menu and a steak-led evening menu. A trip to Hereford wouldn't be complete without a trip to The Barrels pub, located on St Owen's Street west of the cathedral. It's where I go for a cracking pint of Wye Valley Beer - you sit amongst students, farmers and lawyers in this most welcoming traditional pub.

Leave Hereford on the A480 and head north west through gently rolling countryside towards Kington and the Welsh border. Lookout for the B4320 and follow signs to Weobley, a picture-book ancient village with an unsurpassed collection of black-and-white buildings with huge timber frames that overhang the streets. The graceful spire of the Norman church dominates the village and the gentle valley in which it lies.

If you are charmed by timbered Weobley, you may like to follow the 'Black & White Villages' tour, following the brown signs to nearby Kinnersley, Eardisley, Kington, Lyonshall, Pembridge and Eardisland, stopping off at a quaint tearoom along the way. You can then join the A4110 and head north into 'Mortimer Country.'

Overnight - The Riverside at Aymestrey, Herefordshire

'Timbered riverside inn close to foodie Ludlow in glorious walking country for its kitchen garden, innovative cooking and cool garden cabin rooms'

Day 3

'Mortimer Country' is a deeply rural area with breath-taking countryside, rolling hills, ancient forests and water meadows, and the rivers Teme, Clun and Lugg are prominent features of this beautiful area. Touring here on foot offers insights into some of the loveliest and least crowded landscapes in Britain. Only by walking can you fully appreciate how the level farmland and gentle hills of England give way to the more mountainous landscapes of Wales. This is rural Britain at its best, largely undiscovered, with winding lanes, sleepy villages and timber-framed cottages lurking behind thick hedgerows.

On Aymestrey's doorstep lie miles of byways and bridleways and you can climb high into this glorious border territory, exploring tracts of woodland and timeless limestone edges - it's my favourite area for walking in the county.

Leave your car at the Riverside and follow your hearty breakfast with a morning walk through Mortimer Forest, following a section of the Mortimer Trail, a waymarked 30-mile walking route linking Ludlow and Kington, to lofty Croft Ambrey Hill Fort. It's ramparts and ditches crown a windswept escarpment and you can enjoy far-reaching views across Herefordshire and the Shropshire and Welsh hills.

If walking is not your thing, then drive the short distance to impressive Croft Castle (National Trust), set in a wonderful spot overlooking the River Lugg below Croft Ambrey Hill Fort. The graceful turreted castle was first mentioned in Domesday Book and it is late medieval in style with 18th-century interiors. The surrounding parkland is well worth exploring as it includes a magnificent avenue of 350-year-old Spanish chestnuts and an attractive walled garden.

Not far away at Shobdon is a hidden gem that shouldn't be missed. Set in stunning parkland, Shobdon Church is a building of astonishing contrasts, so expect the unexpected. The exterior is very plain, but when you walk inside you enter a different world; a world of ebullient rococo and Gothic design that draws its inspiration from the work of Horace Walpole at his London house of Strawberry Hill.

For your fourth night on my inspirational tour, I briefly take you out of Herefordshire again, this time to one of the loveliest towns in Britain's, Ludlow, just a few miles away in Shropshire. From Wigmore (north of Aymestrey) I suggest you follow the winding minor road through Leinthall Starkes and up through wooded hills before dropping down to the River Teme at Ludlow - a stunning drive.

However, if you have the time and the weather is fine, I suggest you loop west and then north on a glorious scenic drive along the wilder Welsh borderlands, taking in Presteigne, where you can visit historic Judge's Lodging; Knighton, where the Offa's Dyke long-distance path was opened in 1971 (Visitor Centre); and sleepy Clun, made famous as one of the 'four quietest places under the sun' in A. E. Houseman's A Shropshire Lad'. B-roads through rolling hills lead you south-east to Leintwardine where you follow narrow lanes east as suggested above to reach Ludlow.

Overnight - Charlton Arms, Ludlow, Shropshire

'Fabulous riverside spot for this revitalised foodie inn offering stunning views of the River Teme from terraces and contemporary rooms - just a short stroll from Ludlow town centre.'

Day 4

Spend the morning strolling the narrow streets and taking in the sights of pretty Ludlow, a harmonious mix of medieval, Tudor, Stuart and Georgian listed buildings. Dominating all is the 11th-century castle built to keep out the Welsh, rivalled only by the huge 15th-century church, where poet Shropshire A.E. Houseman is buried in the churchyard.

In recent years, Ludlow has become a foodie mecca - I love exploring the twice-monthly (Thursdays) Local Produce Market held in the Market Square, which sells a wide range of everyday and specialist food and drink produced within 30 miles of Ludlow. In September the town hosts the famous Ludlow Food Festival, a must stop for any foodie, with the next festival in planning for 2021, and Chase Distillery have had stand at the show since 2008.

In a converted railway shed, you'll find the excellent Ludlow Brewing Company, an artisan brewery that offers tours and you can pick up bottles of brews like Ludlow Best and Black Knight from the shop, plus it also has its own small bar where you can taste before you buy.

Just outside Ludlow at Bromfield is one of the best Farm Shops for miles - Ludlow Farm Shop is one of my personal favourites and their scotch eggs are to die for! It offers a unique food shopping experience where farming, food production and retailing come together under one roof. Buy beef, lamb, Old Spot pork and game reared on the surrounding Oakly Park Estate, and vegetables from the walled garden, as well as produce from local artisan producers. Stock up on goodies to take home or for a picnic as there are some lovely walks from Bromfield. The Clive Arms next door, also owned by the Estate, is part of the Epicurean Collection and offers a delicious lunch menu.

South of Ludlow follow A456 east through the Teme Valley to Tenbury Wells, then climb out of the valley on B4204 into gently rolling countryside to hamlet of Upper Sapey close to the Herefordshire/Worcestershire border.

Overnight - The Baiting House, Upper Sapey, Herefordshire

'Spruced up rural inn high above Teme Valley, popular for good modern British cooking and contemporary rooms. Book a new Meadow Room or one of the smart lodges with hot tubs.'

Day 5

Just a few miles from the Baiting House is Shelsley Wash, a village famous for its Hill Climb, which takes place most Sundays and is a top event for any petrol head. If you're here on a Sunday morning and love cars, then you shouldn't miss this exciting event.

Head south on B4203 through a peaceful landscape where Hereford cattle graze in pastures beside apple orchards (cider country) to Bromyard, a medieval market town with streets lined with half-timbered buildings. Seek out Legges Butchers on Tenbury Road for delicious deli goodies and top-quality meats, most sourced from farms within six miles of the shop.

The real focus of the day is visiting Chase Distillery, our family owned, British field to bottle distillery, creating luxury spirits from our farm at Preston Wynne near Hereford. We set up Chase Distillery in 2008 to challenge the status quo in the white spirits industry. If people are interested in the terroir for their wine or the barrel aging for their whisky, then why shouldn't they be interested in how their gin and vodka have been crafted.

Discover the traditional methods of mashing, fermenting and distilling of the spirits on a tour of the distillery, then taste the award-winning gins and vodkas and browse the distillery shop and take a bottle or two home.

Nearby at Ocle Pychard, Tom Oliver makes some of best ciders and perries in Herefordshire, so do visit (Saturdays 10am-4pm) his Ciderhouse and Tasting Room in the Old Hop Kilns on Moorhouse Farm to taste and buy some cider to take home. Tom's cider and perry is fermented by wild yeasts in small batches, using fresh pressed (mostly handpicked and unsprayed) fruit with minimal intervention. He strives to 'take what the fruit gives', respecting the great heritage and traditions of the past but with an eye to innovating for the future.

Overnight - The Baiting House, Upper Sapey, Herefordshire

Return to the Baiting House, order a Chase cocktail and tuck into smoked haddock scotch egg, lamb rump with shepherd's pie and lamb sauce, and caramelised lemon tart.

Day 6

If you don't have to rush home, I suggest you visit historic Ledbury. With its leaning, half-timbered cottages and narrow winding alleyways, it is for many people the quintessential small English market town. For decent coffee and stocking up on goodies to take home, Ceci Paolo Deli is an amazing place specialising in Mediterranean and Oriental ingredients, plus you'll find a cookware shop, a café-bar, and a bookshop with over 1,000 cookery books.

Near Much Marcle is delightful Hellens House where the years slip away and Tudor England lives again - stone flagged floors, suits of armour, wood panelling and a tale of thwarted love. Adding to the magic is the romantic English Garden incorporating a rare 17th-century octagonal dovecote, a physic garden, a yew labyrinth, woodland and ponds, herb and kitchen gardens.

Alternatively, visit Eastnor Castle, a proper Gothic picture-book castle looming magnificently in a fairy tale setting below the Malvern Hills. Stunning Italianate and Gothic interiors and ground include a deer park, nature trails and an arboretum. Book a unique Land Rover Experience and navigate ravines, gaping ruts and deep water across the Eastnor Estate behind the wheel of some of Britain's most iconic vehicles

Whatever you do, find time for lunch at Three Choirs Vineyard south of Much Marcle, one of Britain's leading vineyards and a must for all discerning wine lovers. The setting is idyllic and the views across the 100-acre estate are wonderful, best enjoyed on the vine-covered terrace of the converted farmhouse. As you look out across the vines, sipping a glass of Pinot Noir Rosé you could be in Burgundy or Tuscany and the Mediterranean-inspired food certainly fits the vibe on warm summer days. Bliss - the perfect finale to my tour of God's own county, Herefordshire.

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