The Black and White Village Trail, Herefordshire
PUBLISHED: 14:58 26 November 2010 | UPDATED: 16:12 20 February 2013
They're among the prettiest villages in England and the people who love them and live there are safeguarding their future by encouraging visitors to take the trail. <br/><br/><br/><br/>WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRIS POOLE.
They're among the prettiest villages in England and the people who love them and live there are safeguarding their future by encouraging visitors to take the trail.
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRIS POOLE.
Twenty-five years ago, a headmaster from the east of England seeking somewhere to spend his retirement years settled on the village of Eardisley in north Herefordshire. In those days most who lived in the village, and elsewhere in the county, had their roots here. As with so many who were to follow, David Gorvett fell for the charms of our region.
He noticed that although the villages were very beautiful they were doing little to help themselves in a changing world. And he observed one thing they had in common - an unusual concentration of traditional buildings presented in a style known as "Black and White". David was among those who realised that if our villages were to survive change they would need the boost that tourism can provide.
The key to this was marketing. Not in the sense of an aggressive advertising campaign but by finding a way to draw attention to pretty villages for what they are without damaging the communities or their special character. With the help and encouragement of Leominster Town Council, the Black and White Village Trail came into being, researched and written by David with designer Robert Palmer.
With the market towns of Leominster at its eastern edge and Kington in the west the trail describes the black and white villages to be found using a more or less circular route. Some, such as Weobley and Pembridge, are well known. Others like Dilwyn, Eardisley and Lyonshall less so. All have something to offer to visitors. Characterful pubs, tea-rooms and restaurants abound. There are quiet, serene churches to discover. The region has no shortage of stately homes either - Berrington Hall near Leominster, Burton Court close to Eardisland and Kinnersley Castle. Increasingly, artists and artisans are choosing to work and exhibit along the trail.
Polly Miller is an artist working in Kington. She has family roots in the area but came to work and live here seven years ago. She says: "Kington has become home to many artists. It has good shopping and a friendly community feel." Having exhibited widely throughout the region Polly now has a small studio in her Kington home. She is happy to receive callers at The Brick House although it is best to telephone first (01544 230251). Other artists who have chosen Kington include Peter Horrocks (www.peterhorrocks.co.uk) who works with natural pigments on board, Rachel
Ricketts (54 Bridge Street) creates ceramics and bronzes and Gundrada Sheridan at nearby Arrowwood makes sculptures in wood and stone.
Between Kington and Leominster, Pembridge must be the most spectacular assembly of traditional buildings among all the villages. The main street is lined with them. Not all follow the black and white colour scheme. The traditional building method was to use unseasoned oak timbers infilled with lath and plaster or, sometimes, brick. The timbers were left to weather naturally. Relatively recently, in the 19th century, it became fashionable to paint the timbers black and the panels white in part to emphasise the intricate constructions. More recently still some in Pembridge and elsewhere have returned the timbers to a more natural condition and coloured the panels often in natural tones that might more closely echo the 16th or 17th century originals.
Tucked in between the traditional houses in Pembridge is one of the area's best-known galleries. Originally a Victorian chapel, The Old Chapel Gallery has been many things apart from a place of worship - a builder's yard and a home for a rug-maker among them. Twenty years ago Yasmin Strube set about converting it into the centre for arts and crafts that it is today. "Pembridge is an absolute joy," says Yasmin, "business has been steady with people seeking original British-made pieces. We have exhibitions by local and other artists every month. In October we'll do something special to mark our 20th anniversary in Pembridge."
To the south of Pembridge lies Weobley. Sadly, many of the early buildings here were destroyed by fire in 1943. But many remain and this village, perhaps, epitomises our black and white trail. That colour scheme extends to Weobley's mascot - a sculpture of a magpie standing where once there was a row of black and white cottages. Named "Magnus" it has come to symbolise the black and white theme of the region.
Not far from the magpie, potter Mary Kenny has a workshop and gallery in a former cowshed. Mary trained as an artist in London but with roots in the Black Mountains she came back to the area 15 years ago. She now concentrates on fine stoneware and porcelain creating both decorative and functional pieces. "Weobley has everything I need," she says, "bookshop, Post Office, village shop, butcher all in a compact space. Visitors come from miles away to eat at our famous restaurant - Jules in the High Street."
A little further north and east is another jewel - Eardisland on the River Arrow. This is, without doubt, one of the prettiest villages in the country. Traditional buildings cluster around the small bridge over the river that is overlooked by the famous restored dovecote. Bryony Burn makes ceramic vases and stoneware at her studio in nearby Orchard Cottages. "Eardisland", she says, "has lots of people who work from home and there is a good range of ages and backgrounds." Although from nearby Gloucestershire, Bryony trained in Manchester but, she explains: "I wanted a studio where I could be at home and with calm, rural views. Eardisland is so pretty but living here you sometimes forget how blessed we are."
Many of the artists and artisans of the area will be taking part in the Herefordshire's acclaimed annual event h.Art. From September 12 to 20 their studios and galleries will be open for shows and demonstrations.
David Gorvett and his wife are still enchanted with Herefordshire. Celebrating his wife's 87th birthday recently he says: "It's a gem. Sometimes in life you have to look at what is around you as an opportunity and see how to profit from it." The Black and White Village Trail is a fine example of that philosophy and one in which the people of north Herefordshire can rightly take pride.