Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Malvern Hills

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Route: Hollybush, Whiteleaved Oak, Chase End Hill, Whiteleaved Oak, Ragged Stone Hill, Hollybush, Midsummer Hill, The Gullet, Swinyard Hill, Hangman's Hill, Broad Down, Millenium Hill, Herefordshire Beacon, Wynds Point, Black Hill, Pinnacle Hill, Jubilee Hill, Perseverance Hill, Wyche, Summer Hill, Worcestershire Beacon, Green Valley, Sugarloaf Hill, Table Hill, North Hill, End Hill, North Quarry

Date: 21/09/2014
From: Hollybush

Parking: Hollybush / North Quarry
Start Point: Hollybush
Region: The Malverns AONB

Route length: 10.4 miles (17.4 km)
Time taken: 04:30
Average speed: 2.3 mph
Ascent: 1,197m
Descent: 1,294m

Summits on this walk: Many!

The Malvern Hills, though modest in height, have been described as a mountain range in miniature; a walk in the hills is strenuous enough that Mallory walked here in preparation for his ascent of Everest. The Malverns stretch for 8 miles as an undulating ridge orientated north to south, dominating the surrounding countryside. They are formed from some of the oldest rocks in the country, thrust to the surface as a result of tectonic faulting, making them much more resistant to erosion, forming the ridge of hills we can see today. A good friend had devised a walk that would effectively visit every named prominence along the ridge which, despite being only 10 miles long, would require a considerable number of steep ascents.

We kicked off the day with a bit of car-shuffling, leaving a fleet at the North Quarry car park, the end point for the day, before shuttling a number of us south to Hollybush. While not quite the most southerly end of the Malverns, it offers the largest car park and an ideal starting point.

We began with a 'warm up' loop, so to speak, venturing south through the woods on the slopes of Ragged Stone Hill to the tiny hamlet of Whiteleaved Oak, where we amused ourselves with the local community's humourous notice board. The path, still on a southerly course, begins a steady climb up the slopes of Chase End Hill before a final, exceptionally steep climb spits you out on the top. The great expanse of the Vale of Gloucester is revealed in front of you, a vast panorama bounded by the Cotswolds in the distance.
The path through the woods on the flank of Chase End Hill
Ragged Stone Hill
Chase End Hill is the most southerly of the Malverns and no ridge walk would be complete without patting its proud trig pillar and admiring the views that belong to it. It's a fine little hill, that's for sure and a sign of the route ahead. I hadn't appreciated just how steep many of the climbs would be during the day, many of the rivalling this one. Perhaps the steepest is the climb from Whiteleaved Oak to Ragged Stone Hill, the next top on the route.
Trig pillar on Chase End Hill
Retracing our steps back to the village, the path up Ragged Stone Hill does its best to deter you from climbing it. It's tremendously steep, and lasts a good deal longer than the short blast up Chase End Hill. In fact, the path climbs at more or less 45 degrees for over 100m to the top. No mean feat.
Sign marking the way
A steep climb through the woods
Ragged Stone Hill, a hill said to cast misfortune upon anyone unlucky enough to be found in its shadow, provides a fine view of Eastnor Park, the grounds of Eastnor Castle, a 19th Century stately home. Standing proud on the hillside is the Eastnor Obelisk, a monument to notable members of the Somers-Cocks family (the current owners of the estate).
Nearing the top of Ragged Stone Hill
The view over the Eastnor Estate
A look down the ridge of Ragged Stone Hill
Eastnor Obelisk
After the climb up the hill, you have to return to the bottom again to continue the ridge. It's a long, steep route through the woods on the northern slopes dropping down into Hollybush and losing all of the height gained to achieve the top. That would be the continuing theme for the day, much to Sara's despair.

We were now right back where we started, in the car park at Hollybush. After a momentary pit stop it as back to climbing, this time up Midsummer Hill. The path remains in the wooded slopes around on of a number of quarrys before popping out on the ridge to some more exquisite views across the valley of the River Severn to the East.
More steep climbing
The underwhelming marked on the top of Hollybush Hill
Eastnor Castle
View to the north along the Malverns
Midsummer Hill is the site of an ancient hill fort, dating from the Iron Age. There are a number of ancient features right along the ridge, this one being the first prominent one. An odd bus shelter style construction marks to top and a few notice boards explain the fort in further detail. The hillfort is very unusual in that the ramparts enclose two hills (the other being the lower Hollybush Hill) and the intervening valley. It also marks the beginning of the Shire Ditch.

The Shire Ditch is, a ditch that runs the length of the Malvern Hills. It is thought that the ditch was in existence as early as the Bronze age, the discovery made by English Heritage during a survey in 2000. The ditch can be seen from the point level with the Great Malvern Priory all the way to Hollybush Hill which is more than 8km. The spine of the Malvern Hills and the Shire Ditch act as the modern-day boundary between Worcestershire and Herefordshire.

The path continues downhill to The Gullet, a depression in the ridge line and home to the disused Gullet Quarry, a fine location to see the ancient rocks of The Malverns up close. Inevitably, have lost this height, we had to regain it again as the path heads up through Gullet Wood, returning to the Shire Ditch and leading to the top of Swinyard Hill. From here, thankfully, the path remains high for a while, following the Shire Ditch along the undulating tops of Hangman's Hill, Broad Down and Millenium Hill to Hereforshire Beacon, also known as British Camp.
Gullet Quarry
The view from the ridge to the east
The Shire Ditch leading towards Broad Down
Millenium Hill
British Camp
The main Malverns ridge
Black Hill, Pinnacle Hill and Worcester Beacon
The Shire Ditch
Big skies across Worcester and Herefordshire
Strictly speaking, British Camp refers to the Iron Age hillfort atop Herefordshire Beacon, defining the hill's profile. The earthworks are clearly visible lending to the obviosu terraces of the hillside. Folklore states that the ancient British chieftain Caractacus made his last stand here against the Romans, though this is unlikely, according to the description of the Roman historian Tacitus, who implies a site closer to the river Severn.

From Herefordshire Beacon, a very well laid path falls to Wynds Point, one of only three passes through the Malverns. Ideally situated here is a delightful cafe, marking our stop of lunch and a brief respite from the arduous climbing.
The old ramparts on British Camp
Our cafe for lunch
Refreshed, though weighed down by additional cake and biscuits, we began the much longer and less-steep climb along the next section of the Malverns, the tops of Black Hill, Pinnacle Hill, Jubilee Hill and Perseverance Hill. The area between British Camp and Perseverance Hill is among the more popular in the area, a large number of paths and tracks criss-cross the hillside. The views either side remain vast and expansive while each hill along the ridge is hidden by the one preceding it. There is some evidence of round barrows on Pinnacle Hill while Jubilee Hill Jubilee Hill was named by the Malvern Hills Conservators in 2002 in honour of The Queen's Golden Jubilee.
Climbing up Black Hill
Pinnacle Hill
The path leading up Pinnacle Hill
Still with the Shire Ditch, the path climbs up to the summit of Perseverance Hill before dropping down to the Wyche, a narrow pass that separates the central collection of hill from the northern ones. It had been a tiring day and, to top it off, we still had to climb the highest hill of them of all, Worcestershire Beacon.
The top of Pinnacle Hill
The unnamed summit next to Pinnacle Hill
The path leading down to Jubilee Hill
View to the east
The ridge into Upper Wyche
While not overly steep, the previous toil on the ridge made for a laborious climb up to the top, passing over the top of Summer hill on the route. Worcestershire Beacon is the highest of The Malvern hills, reaching 425m in height. It is named after its use use as a site for a signal beacon, used to as part of the chain of warning fires that were lit as the Spanish Armada tried to invade England in 1588. Nowadays, the beacon has been replaced by a toposcope and a memorial to Queen Victoria's diamond jubliee, placed in 1897.
The paved path up Worcestershire Beacon
View back down the ridge
Worcestershire Beacon
The sun hides behind the clouds
A seat with a view
Memorial to Queen Victoria
Trig pillar on Worcestershire Beacon
Finally, the end was in site, the collection of hills around North Hill; Sugarloaf Hill and Table Hill before North Hill itself. The very final prominence of The Malverns is the aptly named End Hill, a small mound the overlooks swathes of land to the south of Birmingham; Worcester in particular being picked out in the sunlight. Mercifully, the climbing was done for the day, as was much of the walking as the quarry car park marking the end was a short distance away, down the slopes of North Hill.
North Hill in the distance
Table Hill
Great Malvern on an interesting toposcope
Toposcope and Table Hill
Climbing Table Hill
Worcestershire Beacon
End Hill
Panorama from North Hill
Great Malvern
One final point of interest is the clock tower, a tall structure guarding a large water tank. Built in the 1800s, the tank was designed to store the famous Malvern spring water for use when supplies ran low, the clock tower was added later. This not only enabled quarry workers to arrive on time, but local residents knew exactly when the quarry blasting would happen twice a day.
The clock tower
The clock tower
Fast forward a century and we were stood in said quarry, now the car park at the north end of the Malverns and our end point after a tough 10 miles. I totally agree with the point I made at the start, the malverns ridge is a challenging walk, mainly due to the number of descents and re-ascents that are required between peaks. Despite this though, you're never very far from civilisation or a suitable resting stop. While we did the entire ridge, it can easily be split into a trio of smaller, easier walks from a variety of starting points, there's an endless number of things to explore.