Tales from the Blue Hills
Last weekend saw us heading to Hereford to stay with our dear friend Charlotte. Before we reached the cathedral city enjoying its last night of the three choirs festival we came to Ledbury. I’d been before but I had forgotten.
It’s a dream town. Wrapped in deep secure agricultural wealth , 1500 years of well earned prosperity, no empty and few charity shops. The High Street boasts not one but three high class butchers, an organic green grocer. There are shops devoted to Swedish design, hardware,there is a medieval market place ,labyrinths of cobbled alleys, and of course a parish church which elsewhere is big and old enough to be a cathedral. A fine timbered county hotel The Feathers dominated. There was even a wonderful sweet shop with rows and rows of childhood sucks and chews, once again we went for the liquorice toffees of which they had two types.
But our reverie was brought up cold in St Michaels. A chilling celebration was taking place. For this week one hundred years ago the first battalion of the Herefordshire Regiment disembarked. Young lads, farm boys who should have been harvesting, mainly from around Ledbury and Hereford left The Snaefell,an Isle of Man steam packet and paddled towards that fateful shore. 750 men of the county landed that August afternoon in Sulva Bay. In December when the regiment was relieved only 76 were still standing. It isnt only Australians who mourn the disaster of the Dardanelles.
My mother thinks us long away;
Tis time the fields were mown
She had two sons at rising day
Tonight she’ll be alone.
But if Ledbury was a delight it was trumped the next day when we went North and over the Welsh border to Montgomery. Here was a Georgian county town which the railway and time had deserted. A square so perfect it could almost have been in Umbria. From the ruined castle one could looking east see the whaleback ridge of the Long Mynd and to the North the blue Shropshire hills so loved by Houseman.
Tis a long way further than Knighton
A quieter place than Clun
Where doomsday may thunder and lighten
And little ‘twill matter to one.
The church was a rich Christmas cake of history and artefacts, highlighted by a perfect memorial to Elizabethan worthies complete with the four boys and four girls and the one who died in childbirth. But it was in the tea rooms where we struck a rarer gold.
Welsh rabbit, mature cheddar, corse mustard, rich ale on toast. To die for. Maybe the battle of Montgomery in 1644 by blocking Wales off from the Royalist had swung the Civil War , maybe it hadn’t. We had tasted real rich, nose twitching Welsh rabbit and we were suddenly rose lipped and light footed and there were no brooks too wide for leaping.