Pocket Britain

An old spa town next to one of England's prettiest hill ranges

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The Malverns are a ridge of green hills in the West Midlands. They run for just 13 kilometres, but the views from their summits stretch out far and wide, over the Cotswolds, the Severn Valley and beyond.
The slopes are covered in a network of paths and trails, but they're free from the usual signs and markings. This is because - unlike many of England's hills - the public are free to walk wherever they like, whenever they like. Cycling and horse riding is permitted on certain bridleways, and there are also opportunities for fishing, climbing, hang-gliding and other activities.
From most places in the hills, you'll be able to see Malvern town to the east. These views are dominated by the Great Malvern Priory, which towers above the houses. This huge monastery has its roots in the 11th century, and the town grew up around it. The building features some remarkable 15th century stained glass, which is said to equal the displays at York Minster. It was nearly destroyed during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, but the townsfolk saved it in the nick of time. They clubbed together, and bought the priory building for the sum of £20!
Aside from the priory, the only other part of the monastery that's still standing is the Abbey Gateway. Today, it houses Malvern Museum. The building's huge collection of old photographs, fossils and other artefacts tell the stories of Malvern's people and places.
The town's most famous son is undoubtedly the composer Edward Elgar, whose statue stands in the centre of town. His work "Land of Hope and Glory" is so well-known throughout England that it has become something of an unofficial national anthem. Elgar achieved huge success within his own lifetime, performing frequently in both Europe and America. He also received personal audiences with the Royal Family and was honoured with a knighthood. Perhaps his most significant legacy is that he is now seen very much as a standard bearer for English classical music.
Elgar was born in 1857, and at this time Malvern was already a spa town, renowned for its natural spring water! People believed it had miraculous health benefits that could cure a person from illness or disease. At the height of Malvern's popularity, hotels, villas and guesthouses were built at an astonishing rate. Before long over 25% of the buildings in town were lodgings of some sort.
The name Malvern is still synonymous with water, though people are not meant to bathe in it any more. It has become a worldwide brand name of bottled water, with millions of litres sold every year. It's the only water that Queen Elizabeth II ever drinks. Several fountains in the Malvern area dispense it for free, so you can help yourself to as much of this royal favourite as you like.
Another famous local business is the Morgan Motor Company, which has passed down through the Morgan family since it was first formed in 1909. It specialises in traditional sportscars with a classic English look. It's amazing how little the designs have changed over the last century. Of course, the parts under the bonnet are vastly different. Today’s Morgans are state-of-the-art cars that can achieve remarkable speeds. Every one of the vehicles is carefully assembled by hand, and demand is such that new buyers may have to wait a couple of years to get their hands on one.
Malvern's somewhat brief time as the Victorian destination of the moment has left it with an abundance of attractive buildings from that period. Even some of the streetlights are worthy of attention. Legend has it that the author C.S. Lewis was inspired by one of these lamp posts, when he caught sight of it in the snow. The image became a key part of his famous children's book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Visitor Information
Malvern Museum is open daily from April to October daily from 10:30am to 5pm (excluding Wednesdays). Entry costs around £2 for adults, 50p for children. The Priory Gatehouse, Abbey Road, Malvern, Worcestershire, WR14 3ES. Tel: 01684 567 811

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