Slamming on my brakes, my bike came to a standstill in a country lane shaded by trees. A lone sheep stood in the middle of the road, bordered by 8ft high bushes. Looking left, then right, it baaed with confusion before galloping towards me and scampering up a bank.
‘Baa!’ I said back, pointing in the direction of a farmer’s gate. ‘Go that way!’
With no farmer in sight, my friend and I positioned our bikes away from the gate to clear a path for the sheep to return to the field it had escaped from, then continued on our way.
We were trying out one of Herefordshire’s three new ‘Cider Circuit’ bike routes. The 78km west circuit known as Porter’s Perfection forms a figure of eight, starting in Dorstone before heading north past the villages of Bredwardine and Eardisley and looping around apple and pear orchards. The route continues south down to Pontrilas, returning to Dorstone via Vowchurch and Peterchurch.
After telling Dan Farnworth from the glamping spot By the Wye and Aubrey Fry from Want to Canoe? in Hay on Wye about my plan, I’d seen a few raised eyebrows. ‘The hill up to Arthur’s Stone is a killer,’ warned Aubrey.
Fortunately, the route can be split in two and Drover Cycles in Hay on Wye has a fleet of 100 bikes – a third of which are electric, one of which I opted for. Co-owner Anna Heywood-Skinner provides Ordnance Survey maps; those, along with detailed directions, means cyclists needn’t rely on phone data.
There’s no bike hire in Dorstone, so I chose to start in Hay on Wye, passing fields of cows, baaing sheep and a tractor en route to Hardwicke Church, 20 minutes’ away. From there it was a 40-minute jaunt to Dorstone along lanes bordered with bee-friendly foxgloves, ryegrass and buttercups swaying in the breeze like coral caught in a current. As well as a church, the settlement is home to a village hall, a 12th century pub and a sundial on a patch of lawn little bigger than a double driveway.
With the scent of manure in the air and flies buzzing around me, I wheeled past horses grazing in pastures, fresh roadkill and a pheasant darting through a meadow, its feathers the colour of carrot cake. The ebike’s turbo setting came in handy on the climb to Arthur’s Stone, a 5,000-year-old Neolithic tomb capped by a 25-tonne stone. But despite the extra help, the approach still felt like work – especially when we misread the directions and had to repeat the hill.
With more time I would have liked to have explored the paths that coil through Moccas Hill Wood but instead we powered on for an hour to the 17th century Red Lion Hotel, a former coaching inn in Bredwardine (which rhymes with wine). With my chin shining and my forehead smeared in flies like a windscreen wiper, I stopped for lunch with my friend in its back garden.
Tudor homes nestled among wheat fields lined the A438, which guided us for 25 minutes or so to the family-run Orgasmic Cider Company: the highlight of the route.
‘I’ve been making cider since I was 12,’ said the owner, Steve Layton. ‘But we opened to the public in 1998.’
The orchards, however, date back much earlier – to the 1820s. Today, the 243-hectare farm is made up of three hectares of pear trees, 43 of apple trees and 80 of arable land – the rest is woodland, which the public can explore with permission.
In the shop, visitors are treated to tastings of the farm’s four ciders and two perries before being shown around the factory at the back. I say factory; it’s really just a large shed – the machine to add caps to the bottles does so one at a time, and it’s operated by hand.
Named after an 18th century Herefordshire apple, the Brown Snout Cider was the colour of a winter’s sky in the late afternoon, although it wasn’t to my taste. A sweet 6% golden juice made from White Jersey apples, however, went down well after my cycling efforts.
As well as cider and perry, the shop sells Parton apple juice which tastes like apple pie, and a beetroot blend that helps to lower blood pressure. Local honey, jam, chutney and artwork is also for sale.
The farm is on the southern outskirts of Eardisley, a village fringed with Tudor cottages, some of which have red roses creeping around their front doors and plants for sale on their driveway. From there pedal on to Clifford, then Whitney-on-Wye, home to an artisanal food hall and a pub on the banks of the Wye. A Grade II-listed wooden toll bridge straddles the river.
If you’re not too wobbly on your feet you can take a short detour to Artistraw Cider. Owned by a couple, the orchard specialises in natural cider made only with apples – without the addition of sugar, water or sulphites.
Alternatively, return to Dorstone for a pitstop in Herefordshire’s oldest pub, the 12th century Pandy Inn, which, naturally, serves a range of locally-produced ciders. You can rest there then tackle the southern loop of the circuit or end up back in Hay on Wye like I did, tired and tipsy.
The North Circuit: the Newton Wonder Starting and finishing in front of the cathedral in the city of Hereford, this 79km loop heads north in a clockwise direction via Tillington, Weobley, Pembridge and Eardisland. Highlights include the 17th century manor Luntley Court, Dunkertons Cider Mill, Monkland Cheese Dairy and Butford Organic Cider & Perry, which is home to a 300-year-old cider mill.
The South Circuit: the Redstreak Like the North Circuit, this 95km loop begins and ends at Hereford Cathedral. Heading south in an anti-clockwise direction, this route guides cyclists through Little Dewchurch, Hoarwithy and the market towns of Ross-on-Wye and Ledbury. Along the way you can stop at apple and pear orchards such as Westons Cider, Gregg’s Pit Cider & Perry and Little Pomona Orchard & Cidery, as well as the Black and White House Museum, housed in a timber-framed Jacobean building built in 1621.
Where to stay: By the Wye is a new family-run glamping site with five safari tents and barbecue decks overlooking the River Wye in Hay on Wye. It’s a 10-minute walk from Drover Cycles. Drover Cycles can deliver bikes for free within a 25km radius.
For more information, including maps and detailed directions, visit visitherefordshire.co.uk
Main image: Views from near Arthur's Stone, Herefordshire (Sarah Riches)
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