First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
‘Some term them the English Alps,’ wrote the traveller Celia Fiennes in her journal for 1696 after viewing the Malvern Hills for the first time. ‘They are at least 2 or 3 miles up and are a Pirramiddy fashion on the top.’
The dust of enchantment may have been in Celia’s eyes when it came to estimating the height of the Malverns – the summit, Worcestershire Beacon, is only 1,395 ft. But there’s no doubt that this dragon-backed, seven-mile chain of miniature mountains dominates both the South Worcestershire plain to the east and the more undulating country towards the Welsh Borders in the west.
The Malverns are less demanding to climb than they seem. A skein of good paths criss-crosses them, and it’s hard to get lost on the hills because they stand up above everything far and near.
We set out from the northern end of the range on a cold, breezy winter’s day. A stony track led steadily uphill through yew, Douglas fir and larch, then further up into gorse and broom.
As we climbed the view opened out east over the red roofs of Great Malvern toward the Cotswolds, a long dark bar in the south. At the top of the track Lady Howard de Walden’s Drive curled away south towards the craggy peak of Worcestershire Beacon. The fabulously rich Lady Howard de Walden had this mountain carriageway built in the 19th century to give employment to local people.
Up on the summit the wind blew like blue blazes out of the valley. We clung to the quartzite crags which have been a thousand million years in existence, a concept bound to make your head spin if the view doesn’t. Black Mountains in the Welsh Borders to the west, Edge Hill nearly forty miles off in the east, the Clee Hills a jagged lump in the north, the Severn Estuary a salmon-pink gleam in the south.
Below Worcestershire Beacon we found the homeward way, a knobbly path along precipitous slopes stained rusty red with last summer’s bracken. Gorse flowers made brilliant golden specks against the dour colours of the winter hills, and the declining sun shot Blakean shafts of silver out of the clouds.
How hard is it? 4¾ miles; moderate/strenuous hill walk; good paths, with some easy ascents
Start: North Quarry car park, North Malvern Road, Malvern WR14 4LT (OS ref SO 771469) – £4.60
Getting there: Rail to Great Malvern station (1 mile). Bus 675/676, Ledbury-Great Malvern
Road: M5, Jct 8; follow signs to Malvern
Walk: Follow uphill track to left of ticket machine. In 600m at post with green, red and blue arrows pointing forward, sharp right (774463) up embanked path. At top, left along Lady Howard de Walden Drive (772464). In 1 mile bear right (769453) up path to summit of Worcestershire Beacon (769452). Continue south round west side of Summer Hill. In ⅔ mile at track crossroads with circular stone marker (769442), sharp left back up stony track. In 750m, at saddle before Worcestershire Beacon by covered bin, fork right (769448) on rutted track. In 300m fork right downhill (771451). In 200m, in low saddle, fork right (771453) across rock outcrop and on. In 300m by bench fork right (772455). Follow track downhill. Just past St Ann’s Well, roadway bends sharp right downhill (771459); cross it here (‘North Quarry’); right along upper track. In 300m, fork left uphill; continue to car park.
Lunch: Picnic, or St Ann’s Well café (01684-560285, stannswell.co.uk)
Open Fri, Sat, Sun 11:30 – 3:30
Accommodation: Mount Pleasant Hotel, 50 Bellevue Terrace, Malvern WR14 4PZ (01684-561837, mountpleasanthotel.co.uk)