Directional Stone found
in between Beacon Hill and North Hill points the direction to local
highlights (click to enlarge).
Ordinance Survey marker on top
of Beacon Hill (click to enlarge).
Lou on top of Beacon Hill
(click to enlarge). He defends the lines under his eyes as red eye from
the plane trip.
Eugene looking out atop North
Hill; click to enlarge -- in the enlarged picture, you can see the fence
that wards people away from the moat.
Looking westward down at
the valley below Fort Hill (click to enlarge).
Eugene at the top of North
Hill. Click to enlarge.
Mushrooms on Fort Hill
(click to enlarge). If anyone knows what kind of mushroom this is, please
Mushrooms on Fort Hill
(click to enlarge). Same question as above regarding this mushroom type.
North Hill, looking west
(click to enlarge).
Lobby of Royal Foley Arms
Hotel (click to enlarge).
Royal Foley Arms at night
(click to enlarge).
Town of Upper Malvern;
Abbey in background [click to enlarge]
The Malvern Hills, UK
southwest of Birmingham in the UK by car gets you into the English
countryside. As an American, this is the English countryside that
you know from outdoor scenes of the Avengers TV series from the
Sixties. And the countryside, unbelievably, hasn’t changed a bit
since then. One hour’s drive to the southwest of Birmingham
specifically gets you to a stretch of hills called the Malvern
I spent two
separate weeks in the town of Upper Malvern in August and
September of 2008 on
work related business. As an ignorant traveler, the Malvern Hills
caught me off guard and pulled me in as a fan.
Road from Upper Malvern climbs at
45-degree angle, up into the Malvern Hills.
On my first visit to Malvern, Eugene,
a friend and coworker who is Scottish, was gracious enough to
drive us down to one of the Malvern Hills -- British Fort Hill.
Just as we were about to walk up the hill, it started pouring
raining. We went into a local pub and had a pint instead. This was
mildly disappointing to me; having a beer and chat in a pub with
Eugene seemed a more interesting idea than climbing a hill.
In my mind, a hill is a hill -- when
you get up to the top, you look around at countryside; no big
deal. This ended up being my only chance to climb a Malvern Hill
on my first trip there, and I was ignorant to the loss. It had
been a great trip; I had thoroughly enjoyed the English
countryside and the people and the hotel I was at. More on that
On my second trip to Malvern, with
some free time to kill on my first day there, I decided to walk
about town – the town of Upper Malvern, and investigate a street
that seemed to go straight up, 45 degrees.
I figured I’d walk the street to see
what was at the end of it. Within five minutes I was drawn in by the
loud sound of rapidly running water.
I walked up the street further to discover water
from the hill running down the side of the street in a gutter to the side.
The two previous days, before my arrival, had brought heavy rains that had inundated the local
farmlands. Intent to discover the source of this heavy rapids of water, I
continued to climb the 45-degree vertical road. Pretty soon I was walking in a
wooded, enchanted forest of Old England, with rushing water to my right,
climbing climbing climbing up this 45 degree hill.
After 20 minutes uphill walk, expecting to find
a big body of water, I instead found water simply seeping out of the ground
for a 100 foot-area of the road, which by this time had become a grassy path.
Less and less water emanated from the ground until it simply stopped and the trail became dry. So much
water in them thar hills. I guess this is why Jack and Jill went UP the hill
to fetch a bucket of water.
I arrived to the top of the hill, only to find
that it was dwarfed by other higher hills to the left and right and front of
me. What struck me first about the tops of the hills was that they were
bare -- no trees; only grass -- after having climbed up the road through a
thick forest to get to the top. I seemed to be the only person around, and started talking into my video
camera, just before I spotted some people sitting on a bench nearby. I chose
what looked like the tallest hill and went for it. It turned out to be
Beacon Hill, which is indeed the tallest hill of the Malvern Hill chain, at
over 1,300 feet. At the top of Beacon Hill, there is a beacon, and a
navigational marker placed by the famous British Map maker and surveyor,
Ordinance Survey. They use a product I help build so it was like seeing an
Beacon Hill, the tallest
hill in the Malvern Hills (click to enlarge).
Before long I realized I wasn’t nearly only one
of a few people on the Malvern Hills at all -- at 5 pm on a Monday evening --
there were dozens of people, and they popped up here and there out of nowhere. Runners
would run by – three runners ran past, one a
gal with a back pack on! Those are tough hills to run; they are as
steep as you could ask for; any steeper and you would be forced into
climbing the mountain. And the people I saw running by were not your typical
runner; they all looked in top-flight condition; marathoners. For all I
know, some of England's elite runners are up in the Malvern Hills. Perhaps
people come from all over the country to train there. (I’ve since learned
that the British marines do train in the Malvern Hills.) Bicyclists sprouted up
here and there as well. And people walking their dogs.
Sometimes elderly people; hill walkers from the town. People who live in the
area and walk their dogs up the Malvern Hills on a daily basis probably lead
long healthy lives. Hill people. They’ve probably been doing this for
The Malvern Hills make up a long hill chain that
that run some 10 miles north to south. The two hills that I chose between
were Beacon Hill, and the North Hill – the Northern most major hill in the
On day two of my second visit to Malvern Hills,
Eugene again attempted to get us to the top of British
Fort Hill, at the southern most end of the Malvern Hill
chain. With Eugene's car parked in a parking lot just below the hill, we walked up.
This time, the sky was clear after the torrential weekend rains. The path up to
the top of British Fort Hill was steeper and shorter than the path up to
Beacon Hill. The road is driven higher into the British Fort Hill and also
it is a shorter hill than Beacon Hill, therefore the walk up Fort Hill takes
only ten or so minutes. We walked up to the hill, and took a look
about. What makes Fort Hill different than the other hills is that it was
used as a fort by the British in wars against the Romans 2000 years ago. They
dug huge moats into the sides of the hill. Those moats are still in tact and
are still quite steep despite two thousand years of erosion. At
the very top of British Hill, there is a wooden fence, to
serve as a warning and barrier for people not to get too close to that edge. It is an
almost vertical thirty foot drop into the moat at that end.
At the top of British Fort
Hill, part of the Malvern Hills chain in the UK. At the bottom of this
picture is part of the moat dug into the hill.
To stand atop the Fort Hill, with the vastness
and silence of the valley below you and the cold wind whipping at your face
(and the faint smell of wood burning), gives you a feeling of
what leverage the Brits had over the attacking Roman soldiers. You can also understand how various land barrons through the years
leveraged the fort during
local wars. The wind at the top of this hill was quite fierce, and the
temperature some 20 degrees cooler than what it was a short distance
down the hill by the parked cars.
About Jack and Jill – Jack fell down if you
remember, and broke his crown. Walking down the steep path from Fort Hill
you can see how this could have easily happened. Walking down can
actually be harder than walking up the hill if you have flat bottoms to your
shoes. If one fell off the path, they would crash down a 60-degree-angle
Maybe an adult would be able to grab hold of a
tree trunk to stop their fall, but a young child could easily be killed. I
fear something like this must have happened at least once during the
thousands of years that humans have entertained themselves in these hills.
If you ever travel to the Malvern Hills, make sure to keep your young
children at close bay.
After the precarious walk down the hill, we had
another pint in the bar across the road.
Houses of the Holy? No, that
Led Zeppelin album cover was photographed in Northern Ireland. This picture is
taken while climbing near the top of the North Hill, part of the Malvern
On my final night in Malvern Hills, I decided to
climb up North Hill, which juts over the town of Upper Malvern quite
impressively. This time I knew my goal and walked straight up the hill via
the road from
town, and then took on North Hill. These are hills, not
mountains, so if you know what you’re getting into, it is a fun, hard walk
that feels great on the legs. I went up with several layers of clothes on – a
long-sleeved shirt, a hooded jacket, and a sports jacket over that. I knew
from the day before on the top of Fort Hill how cold it could get, even
though it was September and the outside temperature was a warm 70 degrees.
On top of the hill it is 20 degrees cooler, at least it feels that way with
the wicked wind.
The North Hill juts above the
town of Upper Malvern Hills. (click to enlarge).
On this third night of my second stay, the wind at the top of
North Hill seemed even more powerful than the wind on the top of Fort Hill
the day before.
It was whipping fierce, so that you had to hold your camera tight. I kept
thinking about Jack, and how there must have been many ‘accidents’ on these
hills over the course of thousands of years. The stories these hills could
tell. The blood they had seen; not only in battles, but in accidents. And the dense woods that lead up to the hills
would seem the perfect breeding ground for hi-jinx and murder. Although inviting, I don’t think you’d
want to walk up those hills alone at night; someone could easily hide in
those woods and you could easily become prey. If you’ve got a group, and a
flashlight, it must be a fun thing to do. Or maybe by yourself if you bring
along a weapon. You don’t have to worry about bears or wolves; the last wolf in
England was killed in the 1700’s; Eugene told me it's been said that the largest wild animal
is the otter.
You could probably write a book about all of the
‘incidents’ that have happened on the Malvern Hills; tragic accidents,
people found dead of heart attacks, murders, rapes, you name it; I’m sure
the hills are alive with ghosts. I've since learned there were indeed bloody battles, and there were
hangings in the Malvern Hills.
The Malvern Hills are what bring people to
Malvern, but there’s a lot to love about the place besides taking in the
exercise of walking the hills. This is English countryside; winding roads bring
you round about the woods and farmlands, past stone walls and roadside bars,
to little hamlets. Villages like Malvern, Hereford, and Redditch in the area
of Worcestershire offer
quaint little towns with shopping and art galleries and antique shops
and real estate shops and all the things you’d expect in a small English town,
including pubs and coffee shops. Upper Malvern has a theatre and a museum.
What makes England different than, say, small country towns in the US, is
that you’ll find the occasional 600-year-old abbey or medieval castle in
England. And all the buildings are made of brick and stone. Very few
mini-malls. And the only thing open
at night are the Pubs.
Upper Malvern features the existing walls of an
abbey from the 1400’s, which serve as part of its museum. There aren’t as
many old churches as there should be – King Henry the 8th took care of
that. As I understand it, since the church didn’t allow him to divorce his
first wife (Catherine of Aragon) because
she couldn’t bear him a son, and would not recognize his marriage to Anne
Boleyn, he took it out on the Catholic church and sent his army into the
countryside, destroying all the churches; part of the English Reformation of
1533-1540. The stone of their remnants were gobbled up by local people for
use in their houses.
Hotel room at the Royal Foley
Arms looking east over the valley. The rooms at the back of the hotel offer
the quiet view; the hotels at the front of the hotel offer the bustle of the
For both visits to Malvern I stayed at the
Foley Arms hotel, in Upper Malvern. The hotel dates back 200 years, which
doesn’t especially make it unusual in England. The Royal Foley Arms seems to
be a family-run hotel (was actually a Great Western at the time; recently
turned into a JD Wetherspoon) with about a dozen very
cozy and quaint rooms. The comfortable, old English quaintness extends to
the lobby, den, and drawing room on the main floor. There is also a hotel
bar. The food at the Foley Arms is
exceptional -- it is well worth dining at the Foley Arms even if you aren't
staying there. Eugene and I had the dinner special on four different nights, and each
night, the food was plate-licking good. As good a food as I’ve had in England or
anywhere else. The Royal Foleys Arms is allowed to use the term
Royal after the Queen of England bestowed a Coat of Arms on the hotel after
a visit to the hotel in the year 1904. The story goes that she was only supposed to stay a few
days, but liked the hotel so much she stayed three weeks. The Foley Arms
sits on the hillside with a remarkable view of the valley. A block up from
the Foley Arms is the Red Lion Inn, which also serves exceptionally tasty food
and "European" cappacinos and espressos (a richer taste than the
cappacinos at Starbucks), besides a fine selection of local
The Malvern Hills have always been especially known for their
The springs of the Malvern Hills have been providing fresh spring water for
hundreds of years; people used to travel to Malvern for the medicinal uses
of the water.
Fish plate at Foley
Arms; incredibly tasty [click to enlarge; taken with cell camera
English house in the area of Malvern.
The history of the area is quite fantastic. To
drive these roads as I mentioned earlier, puts you into the middle of an Avengers
TV series show;
you play the part of John Steed or Emma Peel. The amazing thing
about England is that high-tech companies and military-affiliated companies
pop up here and there, in un-glamorous, non-ostentatious
buildings interwoven into the fabric of the countryside. It is in the area
of Malvern that the British
Telelcommunications Research Establishment perfected radar at the start
of World War II. The English had their research facilities built in the area
and moved their central government there because it was out of range of German bombers. Troops trained here; again
because they were out of range of German bombers and because of the Malvern
Hills. All of this was fascinating to me since my father, an American
soldier in World War II, was assigned to learn radar (at research facilities
near Philadelphia) and later helped put up radar towers. He always told me
that the British invention of radar had helped us turn the tide in the war,
and we owed a great debt to them. And here I was, 55 years later, ignorantly
traveling through the area where it came to be.
It is said that JRR Tolkien spent much time in
the Malvern Hills, and it is here where he got many of his ideas for his
Lord of the Rings trilogy. C.S Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia)
also, used to walk the Malvern Hills and got ideas for his trilogy there. Edward
Elgar, the composer, used to bicycle to the Malvern Hills from
Worchester, back in the early 1900’s when bicycles were brand new and cars
weren’t about. It is said that the Malvern Hills influenced Elgar's
These days, many a well known actors and actresses appear at
the Theatre in Malvern to give performances and try out material before
talking a show to bigger places like London's West End.
The Malvern Hills are a vacation spot for
the British themselves -- similar to what the Catskill mountains would be to
the typical New Yorker. In the valley to the east of the Malvern Hills you
can find trailer camps. You probably don't find too many foreign tourists in the
Malvern Hills, just as you wouldn't find too many foreign tourists in the
Catskill mountains. But if you're traveling to England, and want to see a
slice of countryside rather than or along with big-city London, then the
Malvern Hills and surrounding area are a great place to go.
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