Ben Lerwill heads out for a swooping jaunt along the Malverns
Some hill ranges beg to be hiked. Take as a particularly beseeching example the Malvern Hills, a 16km stripe of green peaks stranded handsomely in an otherwise flattish landscape on the Herefordshire/Worcestershire border. They may as well have “DAY WALK, ANYONE?” scorched onto their slopes in massive letters. From end to end the range contains 14 main summits, none of which are especially vertiginous (the highest is just 425 metres) but which, when taken together, have the come-ride-me appeal of a big dipper.
It was with a zap of excitement, then, that I strode out of Great Malvern on a sun‑fuzzed April morning to climb North Hill, the first in the chain. The trees were full of just-bursting buds, the air trilled with skylarks, and before long the hills themselves – some of the oldest rocks in Britain – were laid out ahead of me in ancient formation.
The hills’ swooping, wind-raked contours are known to have inspired everyone from Elgar to Tolkien. By the time I’d reached the third summit, the ineffably scenic Worcestershire Beacon, it was clear why. The name Malvern comes from the Ancient British ‘moel-bryn’, translating roughly as ‘bare hills’, and accordingly the hilltops themselves are mostly covered in little more than grass. It means the panoramas are clear in all directions: to the north you can make out Wyre Forest; to the east the Severn snakes its way through open farmland; to the south Gloucester glints in the distance; to the west lays the Wye Valley and, beyond it, the brooding outline of the Black Mountains.
I rambled on, up and down. There’s no central plateau to the hills as such, meaning there’s plenty of ascent and descent to keep the blood pumping. For a 16km walk, it’s fairly tough. But the summits ticked by in quick succession – Perseverance Hill, Jubilee Hill, Pinnacle Hill, and on, and on – and I found myself a princely lunch spot on Herefordshire Beacon, still rippled with the terraced fortifications of an Iron Age hillfort. The 17th century diarist John Evelyn called the view from here “one of the goodliest vistas in England”, and it’s easy to concur.
There are three road passes through the hills, and the end-to-end walk crosses all of them. It rarely detracts from the hike’s general quietude. At Midsummer Hill I found myself on the site of another ancient hillfort – historians estimate it once held a population of 1,500, but today it was just me. And when I got to walk’s end and perched myself on lonely Raggedstone Hill to wait for return transport, I shared the scene with a hedgehog on a mid-afternoon wander. We both seemed pretty content – that’s the kind of hills they are.
- Begin at North Quarry Car Park – the trail begins at the far side near the ticket machine. Zigzag up to the top of North Hill (you’ll have to leave the path if you want to bag the summit), from where the onward route is obvious.
- After Summer Hill, cross the road at Wyche Cutting. Continue summit to summit (crossing another road at Herefordshire Beacon) until you reach Swinyard Hill. Follow crest of hill until toposcope. Some 100 metres further on, take a path into the woods and follow down until arriving next to reservoir. Turn right at the path’s end, and follow to the grounds of Eastnor Castle. Turn L and continue up Midsummer Hill.
- The last two summits are beyond Hollybush Car Park, so you’ll need to double back if you want to do the full end-to-end.