About half an hour’s drive south from us lie the Malvern Hills. They’re not very big or extensive– an eight-mile long chain of hills, with a decidedly modest summit of 1,395 feet. Just a few dozen miles beyond lie much more rugged hills, even proper mountains, in western Wales– like this one:
The Malverns were Tolkien’s inspiration for the mountains of Middle-Earth. The composer Edward Elgar, who lived in the area, was moved to write a cantata based in them. Mallory used them as exercise while preparing for his historic trek up Everest. They contain an Iron Age hill fort and some of the oldest-known rocks in Britain. They’re also ideal for a refreshing, energetic morning out, being one of Britain’s Areas Of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
But don’t take my word for it; see for yourself, in these fine views taken by my Mother on a visit in 2008:
We probably take the Bean to Malvern once a month, sometimes more. She’s been going up there since she was six weeks old (we first took her up to the Herefordshire Beacon while Dave and Anya were visiting), in a sling, and then in the backpack, and now, more recently, on her own two feet.
Last weekend she ran from the street in Great Malvern where we parked, up an enormous flight of steps, up a twisting, steep path, and finally met her match on the last ascent just before we reached the grassy uplands. She was panting and complaining: why won’t my legs work? I want to RUN!
There were many rewards for these exertions– and there are many for you, if you decide to go. There are what one writer called “the Godliest vistas in England”. There are many friendly people walking about up there: last weekend it was hordes of thin, tanned, incredibly fashionable foreign exchange students (Italian, naturally), who cooed “Ohhh, Bambina!” at Eve.
You’ll catch the sound of church bells, see kites and gliders and a rotating cast of livestock grazing on the commons. You can stand on the summit and look for distant landmarks: Pen y Fan in the Brecons, the Derbyshire Peaks– even our own local Lickeys. Or you can simply zone out and gaze down at the patchwork of fields and houses and rivers that lie spread out before you, while a breeze buffets you, and the scent from someone’s fireplace drifts up from the valley below.
If you are really pooped, you can pop in to the St. Ann’s Well Cafe, housing a natural spring, for a nice flapjack and a cup of tea. Their soups are also pretty terrific. And yes, the water’s remarkably pure: Malvern has a number of freshwater springs with reputed health benefits. Her Maj reportedly only drinks Malvern water when she’s traveling, and in Victorian times, the town thrived as a destination for various invalids seeking the “water cure”.
The town itself is very pleasing: dominated by the Priory, built shortly after the Norman Conquest, it abounds with Victorian and Georgian hotels offering cream teas, crafty shops and hiking outfitters, and many small cafes which seem to tend towards the crunchy. In the summer, if these are thronged (and they invariably are, if the weather’s nice), you can make do with the cafe at the Waitrose supermarket (Eve recommends the almond croissants).
But really, it’s about the Hills. We’ll probably head back up this weekend. Join us sometime.