Pocket Britain

A market town next to the fantastic Eastnor Castle

Ledbury, in Herefordshire, is a classic English market town. Settlements like this are often great places to see traditional Tudor buildings, with their distinctive timber-framed black and white exteriors. Ledbury is no different. In fact, it has so many of them that the place often feels like a gigantic architectural museum.
The most eye-catching example is definitely the 17th century Market House. Bizarrely, it's suspended in mid-air, several metres above the ground. A series of thick wooden columns hold it in place. You can wander underneath it if you like, and look at the underside of the floor. The house was originally used to store grain, but nowadays it's used by the council.
Another local landmark is The Feathers Hotel. In the 450 years since its construction, this building has always been at the centre of Ledbury life. Before it became a hotel, it was used by customs men, merchants and local councillors. It stands just on the road from the Market House, on Ledbury's attractive high street.
However, the title of "prettiest street in town" is hotly contested by a narrow alley called Church Lane. Its cobbles and houses could've been taken straight out of medieval England. If you haven't got one already, it's worth buying a camera just for this. One of the street's 15th century buildings is home to the Ledbury Heritage Centre, a small museum on local history. As well as the various photographs and artefacts, you can attempt to construct a model of the museum itself. This gives an insight into how the Tudor timber framing is put together.
Just a few houses away, you'll find the Butchers Row Folk Museum. The exhibits here are along similar historical lines. There are hundreds of objects on display, like old musical instruments, and smoking pipes made from human bones.
Naturally, Church Lane leads towards Ledbury's parish church, St. Michael's. As you look down the street, its huge tower and spire are framed perfectly by the houses. Unusually, this structure is separate from the main church building. Inside, you'll find several interesting treasures, including remnants from the Civil War.
Just three kilometres out of town, within walking distance, is Eastnor Castle. This is one of Herefordshire's most attractive buildings. It masquerades as an ancient fortress, but don't be fooled. The castle was actually constructed relatively recently, in the early 19th century. It wasn't ever intended to be a proper defensive structure; instead, the battlements and towers were built purely for decorative purposes. In that sense, they do their job fantastically well, as Eastnor cuts an imposing figure.
The rooms inside are similarly opulent. The Great Hall, for example, has a ceiling over 18 metres high, and is filled with old suits of armour. Elsewhere you'll find tapestries, portraits, and other works of art.
The grounds of the castle are well-used throughout the year. There are morris dancers, treasure hunts, theatrical performances and countless other diverse events. Land Rover test their vehicles here, as the terrain is so tricky to navigate. They offer professional driving classes to anyone who fancies a bit of off-roading.
The castle's biggest event is the Big Chill festival. This weekend of music and arts draws in 35,000 people every year. The bulk of the line-up is made up of dance and chill-out artists, but there's also stand-up comedy, and other performances.
Back in Ledbury town, there's another annual event that draws in the crowds. This is July's Poetry Festival, which is the largest in the entire country. It attracts poets from all over the world to read their work. There are also various other talks, workshops, and performances. It's appropriate to hold the festival here, as Ledbury has a proud poetical past. The town was the childhood home of Elizabeth Browning, one of the most famous British poets in history.
Visitor Information
Eastnor Castle is open on specific days during spring and from Sunday to Thursday in the summer holidays from 11am to 4:30pm. Entry costs around £9 for adults, £6 for children. Ledbury, Herefordshire, HR8 1RL. Tel: 01531 633 160

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