e do things weirdly here,” head girl Jess Crichard explains on my introductory tour of St Richard’s School. The tiny prep school, located down a drive just off the A44 near Hereford – a drive that the taxi driver describes as “queer”, in the original sense of the word – is individual in the extreme. In Year 8, “the Sixth Form”, there are 16 pupils, in Year 3, five. Walking around the science labs, Jess explains to me that they never fill the desks.
The school is like Malory Towers, but in the middle of the beautiful North Herefordshire countryside. Walking past the laundry room I am told that “the last time one of the students did their own [laundry], they turned the whole thing green”.
St Richard’s is a rabbit warren of outdoor paths, of linking corridors and hidden doors. No sooner do you pass through the new library, with its wall-to-wall books and sofas, than you’re back in the corridor where teachers and pupils alike have been putting together a First World War display. How long has it taken to build? “Too long!”
But we are not here to talk about history, or to wallow in an Enid Blyton fantasy (it’s tempting: at lunch, the children clear our plates; when adults enter classrooms, they stand up. It is terribly, properly, old-fashioned). The school is special, not just for its olde-worlde charm, but because of its equestrian facilities.
Coming along the drive to the main building, alongside the rugby pitch, swimming pool and netball courts, you pass ditches and logs for jumping over. On horseback. The school has its own crosscountry course, and I am here to walk it.
Sally Pearson, ex-point-to-point trainer and mistress in charge of riding, is standing by to guide. She has been here 20 years or so. “We’ve