HERMES, a fibre-fed high-resolution (R = 85 000) échelle spectrograph with good stability and excellent throughput, is the work-horse instrument of the 1.2-m Mercator telescope on La Palma. HERMES targets building up time series of high-quality data of variable stellar phenomena, mainly for asteroseismology and binary-evolution research. In this paper we present the HERMES project and discuss the instrument design, performance, and a future upgrade. We also present some results of the first four years of HERMES observations. We illustrate the value of small telescopes, equipped with efficient instrumentation, for high-resolution spectroscopy.