6 Places to Marvel on the Malvern Hills
6 Places to Marvel on the Malvern Hills
The legendary Malvern Hills in Worcestershire are set in the imaginations of some of our favourite stories.
One of those stories, of course, the Lord of the Rings. The author – John Ronald Reuel Tolkien; otherwise known as J.R.R. Tolkien.
He was the author of my childhood stories, the painter of my childish dreams. He wrote The Hobbit – a singular book about an ordinary person pulled into a journey that allowed others to see his extra-ordinary skills. The dragons, the elves, the dwarves were all a bonus!
The Malvern Hills in Worcestershire was the backdrop to periods of Tolkien’s life – his visits with the author C.S. Lewis as a student from Oxford University and the far-off ‘green hillsides and white mountains’ from his brother’s fruit farm in the Vale of Evesham.
Tolkien never forgot the memories of his life. And he embedded them in a tale of fantasy, conflict, friendship and personal responsibilities. He wrote about dark forests filled with terrifying creatures, of valleys shining with angelic singing, of a countryside full of rural closeness, character and charm.
The Malvern Hills would become his White Mountains - the mountains he described so richly between the kingdoms of Rohan and Gondor. But the Malvern Hills were a part of Tolkien’s story. The source of his imagination. A place of immense beauty, of fresh air, of magnificent views, of a life beyond the cities and towns.
And now they are the perfect playground for our own explorations and imaginations...
1. The Malvern Hills
The Malvern Hills are a paradise for walking. There is plenty of choice too. So whether it's a walk up from Malvern following the Route to the Hills, the 99 steps to St Anne's Well, finding your nose to the Worcestershire Beacon, up on top of British Camp or the following the route along the Worcestershire Way. Or walk your way along the entire length of the Hills for an all encompassing challenge...
There's plenty of ideas on the Visit the Malvern Hills site.
2. Dr Peter Roget's Grave at West Malvern
Ever heard the one about the Thesaurus...
At some point in your life, at school, work or casually sitting down trying to cheat at Scrabble you may have looked at a Thesaurus. A book about words, and the meaning of words. Words that can be expressed using other words.
The most famous of all Thesaurus is Roget's Thesaurus.
They say that he wrote his Thesaurus because he liked many lists. It gave him comfort. That it pacified him in moments of anxiety and trouble. That it created order in his mind. A sense of peace.
‘Dr Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases classified and arranged as to facilitate the expression of ideas and assist in literary composition.’
It was first published in 1852 and put simply, this is a book of words – but words about words.
And what made Roget’s Thesaurus so special? Well because he was the first to call it so. Thesaurus. The man who created Roget’s Thesaurus was a man called Roget. Dr Peter Mark Roget. It was an idea he had begun in 1805 – he was 26 years of age. But it was not until 1852 that it was published. It left him with a lifetime of words to describe, utter, transcribe, report and listen to. Because Dr Roget was indeed a medical doctor.
Born in 1779, the only son of the Rev. John Roget who was a minister in one of the Hugenot churches in London. The curious name hailed from his father’s Swiss family history. Aged just 4 years old when his father died from tuberculosis, the family future was saved because of his mother’s family. His maternal uncle was Sir Samuel Romilly.
Romilly had met Roget’s father as a pastor in church and his sister had gone on to marry Roget senior. Romilly was a hugely interesting and influential man – lawyer, politician, legal reformer, abolitionist and a member of the secretive Bowood circle full of philosophers, reformers and at one point the prime minster. He frequently returned to France, having French parents who had had to leave France.
Romilly considered Peter Roget to be like a son to him. He paid for his education, he opened doors for him, widened his eyes and awakened the young man in new ideas, scientific discoveries and philosophies.
Peter Roget was a gifted young man. He gained his medical degree at Edinburgh University and, after a little help from his uncle, became private physician to the Marquis of Lansdowne. Unfortunately, the Marquis died soon after, but it merely gave Roget time to expand and extend his experiences.
He became a tutor for a time to the sons of a northern manufacturer, took them on a Grand Tour of Europe but became stuck in Switzerland when the French leader Napoleon broke the peace of Amiens and annexed the Swiss state. With swift talking and actions, he managed to remove himself with his charges but his friend remained stuck behind Napoleonic lines for over a decade.
His medical career continued apace. He became a physician at Manchester Infirmary sowing the seeds for the Manchester Medical School. He lectured widely. He moved to London and became Secretary of the Medical and Chirurgical Society of London. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society. He investigated scurvy, dysentery and ill heath at Millbank Prison. He was placed as Chairman of the Commission granted by the King into an investigation into the water quality and water in the city of London. The renowned Thomas Telford was selected as Engineer.
In 1828, the report he wrote was released by House of Commons. Aside from the very many interesting facts and figures, it stated that the water from the Thames was pure, but that as it got closer to the city, it became polluted by waste – suspended within the water. A method of filtration was suggested using sand or sand and charcoal. It also stated that the river Thames had declined in the last decade – specifically destroying fishing between Putney Bridge and Greenwich. At the height of the Industrial Revolution, I’m not sure the key men at the time would have wanted to hear this…
He carried on his medical career until the 1840s including as one of the founders of the London University. He retired in 1840 having lectured freely, published multiple different papers, given medical aid to those who needed it despite their background or income. Roget believed in the Utilitarian principles inspired by Jeremy Bentham. He published works on tuberculosis, epilepsy, the anaesthetic effect of laughing gas, the concern over medical care of prisoners and the idea about the perception of animals. He even witnessed his beloved uncle Samuel committing suicide in 1818.
A polymath – he invented the first slide rule, devised the first shutter and aperture apparatus to view what he considered a ‘Singular Optical Deception’ now seen as prototype for a camera and submitted entries for the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He loved bees, chess and lists.
When he died aged 90 years of age here in west Malvern in Worcestershire, he was working on the 20th edition of his Thesaurus. It was the 12th September 1869.
And yet for all that, we remember his words. His many, many words. Designed to calm, to coax, to control. And we love him for that. So when you see your next thesaurus, remember this man – doctor, healer, reformer, inventor and list-maker.
And here at West Malvern church lies the grave of the great man. Roget himself.
3. Composer Edward Elgar - The Elgar Tour, Elgar's Grave and Elgar's Home at The Firs
Picture this if you will - the sound of Elgar’s Cello Concerto plays out of your headphones or car speakers as you stand at British Camp on the edge of the Malvern Hills; or as you look up from the village where he was born at Lower Broadheath and see the Malverns in view. Or at the countryside around you, the unescapable features of the spa town of Malvern, and of the Cathedral cities of Worcester and of Hereford. For this was all Elgar. These were the backdrops to his life.
Edward Elgar is a bit of a local hero in these parts. You are in Elgar’s England. These were the fields, the skies and the character that made Elgar. The greatest English composer there has ever been.
The Elgar Route is a driving/cycling route that takes you on a casual tour around the buildings, houses, places and outside areas closely associated with the composer Edward Elgar.
There are brown signs highlighting the Elgar Route across Worcestershire and parts of Herefordshire. But, a word of note, some signs date from a previous age and some from another. And there have been different phases of this particular tour of Edward Elgar’s life.
The route can be done piecemeal or in one long jaunt. Places I would suggest to you include:
Elgar’s birthplace – The Firs in Lower Broadheath: now owned and run by the National Trust (so therefore fee-paying to enter) but a visit to the cottage is a must for all Elgar fans. For more information, head over here...
Malvern: take in the town that Elgar knew so well.
Malvern Hills – British Camp: it is an essential part of discovering the Malvern Hills and Elgar’s relationship with it, to climb up onto these hillsides and see what the man saw.
St Wulstan’s Church, Malvern: where Elgar, his wife and his daughter are buried. It is clearly signed with the Elgar Graves. Pay your due respects on this tour of Elgar’s life.
Upton-upon-Severn: a lovely spot with great views of the Pepperpot and the River Severn where Elgar frequently frequented.
Worcester: the great Cathedral city – where there is much to see such as the Cathedral itself where Elgar played and the memorial window lies, the plaque on the High Street where Elgar lived above the music shop or the statue of Edward Elgar himself which faces the Cathedral
There are extra options to include such as Hereford city itself where a blue plaque lies on the corner of Vineyard Road for his house Plas Gwyn or ancient Mordiford village which sits on double bridges outside Hereford where Elgar spent time walking.
If you undertake the Elgar Route, realise this – that this is not about place, or of memorial, but of finding the spirit of the land that Elgar loved. That at the soul of his music were these places. The places he returned to. Yes – this was his home, but it was perhaps also his inspiration and his salvation.
So follow the route, find these places and try to see beyond the place but to the raw materials, the backbone of the land – the river Severn, the Malvern Hills, the Worcestershire/Herefordshire countryside.
For those who have some idea about Edward Elgar, they may cite Pomp and Circumstance, Land of Hope and Glory or indeed his Cello Concerto. But there was more to this man.
Largely self-taught, Edward Elgar gained his initial musical learning from the fact that his father had a musical shop and tuned pianos. The woman who became his wife was probably the single biggest influence on his life: Caroline Alice Roberts. She was known as Alice, and then later Lady Elgar; but Elgar had begun simply as her violin/piano teacher. Alice’s family considered her to have married down, and particularly as he was a Catholic. But Alice remained her husband’s biggest cheerleader. Edward was lost when she died in 1920.
In May 1912, just a month after the sinking of the HMS Titanic in the Atlantic Ocean, Elgar appeared with six other renowned conductor at a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London to pay tribute to the bandmaster and his musicians, eight of whom died when the ship sunk after being hit by an iceberg on its maiden voyage. Henry Wallace Hartley, the bandmaster with his players played as the ship sank around them; their last tune pertaining to be ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee’. Elgar conducted his own Enigma Variations. There were nearly 8,000 people there that day, it was Empire Day, so many came for the occasion including the families of the bereaved musicians, royals and dignitaries. When ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee’ was played, the audience began to cry.
Elgar appeared many times at the Three Counties Festival. He may have moved around the country at various points but he seemed to always return back where he came. After leaving to go to London after his wife’s death, he returned back to Worcestershire and the village of Kempsey just outside in the late 1920s.
Sir Edward Elgar died in 1934 and was buried at St Wulfstan’s Roman Catholic Church on the edge of Malvern where his wife and daughter are also buried. He had come home. His final resting place high on the Malvern escarpment.
His spirit hangs low here. In fact, it probably never left. And when at some point on your journey, you press play on Elgar’s Enigma Variations, on Nimrod perhaps then stop the car on some pleasant view, or some quiet corner and hear Elgar’s soundtrack to his home.
4. Hollybush Common
On the very end of the Malvern Hills lies the lovely Hollybush Common.
A wonderful sight of valleys and hills. This promontory provides a quiet moment to study your surroundings whilst pointing out to yourself Bredon Hill, the Cotswolds, the Severn Valley and beyond.
Once you tiptoe your way around the church built for local workers, take a moment, pull up a folding chair and take the time to breathe in the sights and sounds whilst the sheep graze around you on the common land which dips down to the valley below.
5. British Camp and the Worcestershire Beacon
If there is one essential place to explore on the hills above - it's British Camp with its handy parking and adjacent refreshment. On most days, this place is full of locals and visitors looking for half an hour of fresh air and enchantment by yourself or with friends and family for company.
Experience the stunning views on this high point and if time allows head further along the ridgeline to discover the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Beacons themselves further to the south and to the north.
6. The different sides of Malvern
And after you've worn yourself up on the hills above, take in the different aspects of Malvern - so whether it's classical Malvern Wells, architectural Great Malvern or the busier Malvern Link follow your way into the local businesses of this part of Worcestershire.
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