ONE Herefordshire farm has a past fought over by Roman legions, Welsh chieftains and Norman lords; now according to its present incumbent it is the most peaceful place on earth.

Fair Oak Farm at Bacton is in solid hands; here the ancient cider-making mill has rumbled back to life after nearly a century.

Now its custodians, Hilary Engel and her journalist husband, Matthew, who settled here a couple of decades ago, have breathed new life into a farmstead dating back before the Norman Conquest.

‘Fair Oak: The Story of a Farm’ has been compiled by Hilary, a book explaining for the first time the famous dramas that took place around it and a who’s who of the people, the characters who once hung their hats here.

“I am not a historian, or a farmer, and I have a very un-scholarly tendency to speculate, and daydream, and jump to wishful conclusions,” says Hilary.

“But after 20 years I have become more and more deeply entrenched in the farm, and wanted to pay tribute to it in this way by recording what I and others have learned about it so far.”

The view across to the Cat’s Back and Hatterall Ridge in the Black Mountains can knock the socks off visitors. In the mill, successive groups of children and grown-ups have marvelled at the workings of the horse-driven cider press while bottles bearing the Fair Oak label have been appreciatively supped far and wide.

Here’s a thing. According to travel writer Geoffrey Moorhouse, who called by soon after the Engels moved in, the look-out point from Fair Oak Farm commands one of the best views in the universe.

Traces of a mill leat could point to a connection with a manuscript charter in Hereford Cathedral Library dating back to the 13th century referring to grants given to nearby Llanthony Priory. Could Fair Oak have been a fulling mill – just over the hill from Abbeydore where the 13th century wool trade was booming.

Fair Oak’s story comes from the names of fields, man-made features left behind and in the artefacts discovered thus far. Hilary Engel’s foray into the past throws up much historic fact, and also gives a flavour to future quests.

Metal detectorists have discovered much of interest, including a 16th century silver-gilt ring engraved with the message, ‘ I lyke my choyce’. Fair Oak Farm’s current custodians undoubtedly echo that sentiment.

*Fair Oak: The Story of a Farm by Hilary Engel is available at £7 from Locks Garage, Ewyas Harold Stores or direct from the author by calling 01981 241210. Proceeds from the sale of this book will go to the Laurie Engel Fund for Teenage Cancer Trust