Call me biased but Malvern deserves a place on the list of best places to travel for a slice of outdoor adventure amidst beautiful scenery. It’s true I grew up here! Also true, I have a life long obsession with the outdoors having played outside most of my life.
I now live half a world away in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, but Malvern has a place in my heart and for good reason. The Malvern Hills draw a line between Herefordshire and Worcestershire. A gem in the crown of protected Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, its sparkle is often out-dazzled by the better known Cotswolds to the east, the Wye Valley to the south-west. Visiting this hidden jewel tucked away in a corner of England and history is a must.
My parents moved from the north of England to Malvern in the 1940’s. Family from up north would wonder what back of beyond my mother and father had moved to when they stepped off the train in Great Malvern. With a current population of 29,626, Malvern may have grown since those days but it hasn’t lost its charm.
Malvern is walking country. Or cycling if that’s your preference! There are many paths to take, from a short walk on the hills, a 9 mile trek along the range, to the more ambitious 36 miles of the Worcestershire Way which includes the Malvern Hills.
Most days, on my frequent visits with family, I walk to the top of North Hill, the most northerly anchor from which to view the sweep of hills and paths stretching to the south. To the east is the pancake-flat floodplain of the River Severn framed by the Cotswold Hills in the distance; to the west, the fields and woods of Herefordshire rolling towards the Black Mountains of Wales on the horizon.
The Worcestershire Beacon, the neighboring hill, marks the highest point at 1,394 feet, and so named for its role as a beacon fire that would have been lit to warn of enemy incursions. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, it was one in the network of beacons dotted along the length of England that warned of the approaching Spanish Armada. A precursor to the emergency alert system on our phones!
The paths from the Beacon continue south along the spine of hills towards the Herefordshire Beacon, the site of British Camp, an Iron Age Hill Fort. Extensive earthen ramparts dug into the sides of the hill approximately 2,500 years ago, make the distant profile of the hill closely resemble some multi-tiered cake from the Great British Bake-Off.
High ground and panoramic views provided perfect conditions for siting easily defended hill forts. Both Herefordshire Beacon and adjacent Midsummer Hill to the South were occupied until the invasion of the superior, well-trained Roman army in 43 AD.
Moving south the hills are gentler in elevation, although densely wooded, challenging even the best map and compass reading skills. The south end of the hills is the least visited and one of my favorite places to walk.
My other favorite is North Hill and my trek every morning! The path I take winds between 2 quarries, gouged into the hillside, where Malvern stone was mined from the end of the 19th century to 1960. Today, trees and shrubs all but cover the scars. Peregrine falcons nest in the quarry every spring. Frequently on the walk I’m treated to aerial acrobatics of hunting falcons or the larger buzzards riding wind currents over the hills.
Ancient tectonic forces sculpted the landscape, crumpling and folding layers to form the hard, erosion-resistant ridge of hills comprising some of the most ancient rocks, at 680 million years, in England.
These rocks are responsible for the quality of Malvern water. Rain water seeps into the fissures and folds, then bubbles to the surface in natural springs scattered along the hills. With very little mineral content the water was famed for its purity and by the mid 1800’s Malvern had become established as a spa town where such famous visitors as Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens came to take the waters.
The first hydrotherapy establishment opened in 1842. The purported success of the water cure can probably be attributed as much to the regimen of fresh air, exercise, copious amounts of water and a strict diet banning alcohol and rich foods, than the health giving properties of Malvern water.
Visitors can collect water from the natural springs and wells built around the water sources at the height of the water cure, although signs posted by the Malvern Hills District Council caution boiling the water before drinking.
It’s rumored the Malvern Hills provided inspiration for many famous composers, writers and poets: Edward Elgar, W.H. Auden, J.R.R. Tolkien, CS Lewis, to name a few.
I rest my case. Visit Malvern and see for yourself! Walk the hills, take in the sights and join the illustrious ranks of those inspired by the views.
And did I mention……. Malvern is the birthplace of Morgan Sports Cars?