Worcester; Sunday, 30 April, 2006

The Malvern Hills is one of the wealthiest areas in the country; large mansions line the streets, originally built to house the doctors and visitors who came to the area in the Victorian era to take the water cure. It is also one of the most beautiful places in England with the rounded tops of the hills visible for miles around, and miles around visible from the top of the hills.

Just to make it that little bit more perfect some of the best bits of the hills are directly above the town of Great Malvern (centre of the Victorian water cure craze), which has it’s own station and regular trains from Worcester (as well as Birmingham, Nottingham, London and Oxford). So, at a little before 10:45 I found myself leaving the station and following the signs for the town centre and the hills. The guidebooks state that the quickest way to the top of the hills is the short but steep route up past St Anne's Well. The guidebooks were 50% right, just over an hour later, with my legs, thighs and back in agony I reached the summit at Worcestershire beacon. (I suppose I should add that this is the highest point on the hills at a little over 1300 feet, and I did stop to take quite a few photos, oh, and for about 10 minutes in the Tourist Information Centre to pick up a map, not forgetting the 15-minute refreshment stop at St Anne's Well café!)

Even on a dull grey day with the cloud seeming to be only a few feet above the top of the hills, the views are simply breathtaking. Whilst most of Great Malvern itself is hidden by the hills, the surrounding countryside is stunning, a patchwork of fields, hedgerows and villages. Just visible on the horizon was Worcester, and if I had been on the top of a different hill Hereford should also have been visible.

I started a slow descent back down the hill to Great Malvern, taking nearly 40 minutes to come back down. In the town I visited the small but very interesting museum which tells the history of the area. Up in the hills there is evidence of a large pre-Roman settlement and the museum itself is in the former gatehouse of the priory set during William the Conquerors reign. The museum goes on to explain about the history of the priory, the rise of the Water cure and Great Malvern's role in the modern age (Radar was developed in the area during World War II and its also the home to Morgan cars - The whole of the British owned and built motor industry. Somehow fitting given this was the week that the French owned Peugeot had announced that they were closing their plant down the road in Coventry!)

Having looked around the Priory church (the only other part of the priory to have survived the reformation) and had a spot of lunch I headed back to the station to catch the train on into Hereford.

On first impressions, Hereford looked even more disappointing than Gloucester with the 1/2 mile walk from the station down the side of the bleak ring road into a dreary semi-pedestrianised shopping road. Then you come across the "Old House" a fine example of a 17th Century building still standing in its original location, surrounded by some of the worst that the 20th Century can throw at it (both in terms of architecture and the uniformity of Debenhams, Next, McDonalds, Mobile Phone shop, Starbucks that is the modern British high street). It houses a free museum, which shows what life in the 17th century would have been like for someone living there.

From there I walked to the Cathedral, supposedly very impressive on the inside despite its Victorian makeover on the outside. It is also home to the Mappa Mundi exhibition and Chained Library. Unfortunately, this being Sunday everything closed at 3:30 and I got to the Cathedral at 3:35! Instead I went for a wander around the rest of the city crossing over the river Wye (as in Ross-On- and Hay-On- [Y-Gelli]) and wandering past the site of the former castle (now just a park). It was at this point that I spotted the sign to the "Cider Museum". So on the grounds purely of research I wandered over to have a look.

The museum is housed in the former works of the local Cider company (which has new warehouses just down the road) and has displays on the history of Cider (and Perry) and how it is made. The second part of the museum takes you through the process of making Cider Champaign, the company’s speciality. It is all very interesting made even more by the very friendly and helpful staff... and the free tasting of some of their "stronger" products at the end.

I staggered back to the centre of Hereford and decided it would probably be wise to counteract the alcoholic apple based products with an early diner before heading back to the station and the train back to Worcester.


Cloudy Cloudy
Warm (10-20C, 50-68F)