The Red House by Mark Haddon is a novel about what happens when eight very different family members spend a week together at a vacation home in the English countryside. Against the backdrop of Herefordshire, Haddon skillfully weaves together symphony of long-held grudges, fading dreams and rising hopes, tightly guarded secrets and illicit desires, painting a portrait of contemporary family life that is at once bittersweet, comic, and deeply felt. For this edition of the Armchair Adventurer, we take a closer look at the beautiful county that frames this family drama.
Herefordshire is located in England’s West Midlands, along the Welsh border. Traveling there is best done by car—the closest major cities are Cardiff or Birmingham and both are about an hour’s drive. Having a car will be handy as you navigate one of the most rural areas of England, and it’ll allow you to choose from a variety of adventurous accommodations. There are plenty of hotels, of course, but consider renting a holiday cottage, just like the one in in The Red House. You can find a cottage on a farm, nestled in the hills, or overlooking the River Wye!
Now that you’ve got your home base squared away, how about some sightseeing? The beautifully landscaped grounds of Berrington Hall will whisk you back to the 18th century. Tour the interior for a look at the house’s remarkable period furniture, and take some time to walk around the perfectly-maintained gardens. Want to go further back in time? Croft Castle is a 14th century structure with years of history to reveal. Also not-to-be-missed is the Hampton Court Castle and Gardens. This 15th-century castle regularly sponsors child-friendly events, including craft workshops and circus performances.
If you’re in the mood for a different kind of history, consider taking a guided tour of Westons Cider Mill. Herefordshire’s cider-making community has a strong legacy, and the tours at Westons will show you how the traditional beverage is made—from orchard to table! Kids will enjoy the tour, too—and when it’s over, they can meet the shire horses and run free at the children’s play farm house. Real cider fans should also check out the Herefordshire Cider Route, a driving trail that will lead you to some of the county’s best cidermakers.
Of course, a trip to Herefordshire wouldn’t be complete without some time spent in the rich, natural surroundings. There are plenty of opportunities for serious hikers and day-trippers alike. The Malvern Hills have an extensive network of trails suitable for all levels. Offa’s Dyke Path—visited by the characters in The Red House—is also an interesting option, particularly for the historically-minded hikers. The path follows an earthen dyke that was said to be built by a king who ruled the valley from 757 to 796 AD. Although much of the original structure has disappeared, portions are still traceable in the Wye valley.
So—ready to go yet? Make sure you pack your hiking boots and your copy of The Red House. And let us know if you’re planning a vacation (we want pictures)!