Tally ho! Rural rebels enjoy natural beauty hunt set

Martin Whittaker joins the hunt set

Ah Herefordshire, the home of fox hunting and cider!

The very same. The city of Hereford has changed much since it was described by Daniel Defoe as "an old, mean-built and very dirty city". Apparently Defoe much preferred the surrounding countryside, where he discovered the county's abundant orchards and developed a taste for the local cider.

Herefordshire is a beautiful rural county hugging the border with Wales.

Many of its villages still have Welsh place names, testimony to Hereford's history as a frontier town dating back to the 7th century AD, when Saxon settlers fortified it against the marauding Welsh.

Historically the county has been deeply conservative and its people not afraid to stand up for tradition. In Henry VIII's time it dug its heels in and supported Rome, while in the Civil War it was a Royalist stronghold.

And the group of pro-hunting toffs who recently stormed the House of Commons were dubbed the Ledbury Set, after the Ledbury Hunt in Herefordshire, from whence some of them hailed. Despite the ban on hunting, history may yet be on their side. After all, we still have Catholicism and we still have a monarchy.

Could we get back to jobhunting please?

Certainly. Herefordshire has 14 secondary schools - four 11 to18s and ten 11 to 16s - around Hereford and its main market towns: Ross-on-Wye, Hay-on-Wye, Ledbury and Leominster. There are 84 primaries, many of them small village schools, four special schools and three pupil referral units.

Jobs in the county's primary schools are in short supply, mirroring the rest of the country, while at secondary level there are a few vacancies in English and science.

"We are slightly concerned about English and science at the moment, but not in a way that many other areas would be in panic mode," says an authority spokeswoman.

What is the local education authority like?

Herefordshire was traditionally a shire, but became part of the county of Hereford Worcester in local government reorganisation in the 1970s. But Herefordshire people didn't easily identify with Worcestershire and in 1998 it became a unitary authority.

This has made the LEA much more accessible for Hereford's schools, which previously had to deal with offices miles away in Worcester.

Herefordshire is a very small authority and can't offer schools a full range of services provided by bigger LEAs. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in effectiveness. In its last inspection in 2001, Herefordshire was declared an effective local education authority that deservedly had the overwhelming support of its schools. Its schools perform at above the national average in league tables.

The county is very strong on partnerships. "Schools have very good partnerships at all kinds of levels," says a spokeswoman for the authority.

"Partnerships with the community, between post-16 and school sector, and work-based learning providers and schools, as well as between schools themselves."

The authority has also formed Herefordshire In-service Training Federation and runs school centred initial teacher training (Scitts) with its schools, generating a steady influx of new teachers from universities in neighbouring Worcester and Gloucestershire.

Is there much to do when the marking is done?

Fox hunting is no longer an option, but Herefordshire still has a great deal to offer. Its rolling countryside is dotted with villages of black and white Tudor buildings, castles and ancient churches. For those who like walking, the Black Mountains are on one side of the county, the Malvern Hills on the other, plus there's the stunning Wye Valley.

Hereford is more like a large market town than a city. Its most famous asset is its cathedral, home to the 13th century map of the world - the Mappa Mundi. The city has recently opened the Courtyard, a new arts and theatre complex.

And in the wider county you won't go short of the arts. Herefordshire has a surprisingly varied cultural calendar - it's home to the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival, the Ledbury Poetry Festival, and music at the Ross-on-Wye International Festival.

But can I afford to live there?

Houses are not cheap in Herefordshire, but they're still much more reasonable than in the South East. According to the Land Registry, the average detached house costs nearly pound;286,000, a semi is nearly pound;174,000, a terraced house pound;144,000 and a flat or maisonette pound;104,000.

Any famous sons or daughters?

Historic figures include poet John Masefield who came from Ledbury, 18th century actor and stage manager David Garrick and Nell Gwynne, Charles II's mistress, who was reputedly born in Hereford.

Today TV gardener Monty Don lives there, as does singer Roger Whittaker, and John Challis, the actor who plays Boycie in Only Fools and Horses. And let's not forget the SAS, which is based in Hereford.

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