For anyone considering walking the Malverns, my suggestion would generally be to avoid summer, particularly summer weekends. Lovely hills they may be, with that long undulating ridge and contrasting views east and west, but you’ll never have them to yourself. Mid-week in winter is probably as close as they ever come to what could be considered quiet. Probably the best way to walk them is by starting at either Ledbury or Malvern Link railway station, walking the full length of the ridge and returning to the starting point by rail.
Never one to take my own advice I was up there a few days ago; not a weekend, but the second monday of the ‘industrial shut-down fortnight’ (if that still has any meaning) and slap bang in middle of the school holidays. It was a day for slipping away down some of those byways; the lesser known tracks, little trodden paths, half-hidden among the undergrowth of high summer.
A warm westerly – probably my favourite of all winds – was blowing, gathering strength as the day progressed but not on this occasion, as is so often the case, a precursor to rain. In many ways the wind defines the character of these hills on any given day: a winter north-easterly can carry a bite which might come as a surprise to some, at these relatively modest altitudes; a legacy of its uninterrupted journey from the Ural mountains across the
Another surprise is that at their highest point the hills don’t quite make 1,400 feet. Viewed from the east or, to put it another way, from the direction of the M5, their lift above the surrounding landscape would suggest somewhat greater height. This is possibly the aspect from which they are most frequently observed and there is an exaggerated effect from the way they rise quickly from the low-lying expanses of the Severn/Avon flood plain.
This slightly peculiar geography is also the source of the contrasting views east and west. To the east lie the relatively featureless south and south-east midlands, dissolving into East Anglia beyond. The views west are to the Brecon Beacons, the central Wales plateau and – scanning around a little further north – the hills of south Shropshire.
The hills fall under the stewardship of the Malvern Hills Conservators and receipts from car-parking charges go towards their work. One of their continuing projects is the use of spells of controlled grazing in an attempt to protect and sustain habitat. The beneficial effects of this work show a marked distinction to some of the Shropshire hills, where indiscriminate over-grazing has consigned many hectares of moorland to alternating periods of mud and dust, accompanied by the inevitable erosion issues.