Malvern Hills

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Malvern Hills in June, looking north

The Malvern Hills are a range of hills in Worcestershire and Herefordshire, with a small area of northern Gloucestershire

The hills dominate the surrounding countryside and the towns and villages thereabouts. The highest summit of the hills affords a panorama of the Severn Valley with the hills of Herefordshire and the Welsh mountains, parts of thirteen counties, the Bristol Channel, and the cathedrals of Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford.

The hills are known for their spring water, whose fame was developed in the 19th century spa town of Great Malvern, a process which culminated in the extraction of the modern bottled drinking water.[1]

The Malvern Hills have been designated by the Countryside Agency as an "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty". Management of the hills is the responsibility of the Malvern Hills Conservators.[2] They give scenic views over both Herefordshire and Worcestershire.

Name of the hills

The name Malvern is from the ancient British language meaning 'Bare-Hill',[3] the nearest modern equivalent being the Welsh moelfryn (bald hill).[4] It has been known as Malferna (11th century), Malverne (12th century).

The Hills

From Perseverance Hill to the Worcestershire Beacon

The Hills run north/south for about 8 miles, in between Great Malvern and the village of Colwall, and overlook the River Severn valley to the east, with the Cotswolds beyond. The highest point of the hills is the Worcestershire Beacon at 1,394 feet above sea level, which is also the county top of Worcestershire.

There are three passes over the hills, the Wyche cutting, the A438 road north of Raggedstone Hill and the A449 road just north of the Herefordshire Beacon, the site of the "British Camp", an Iron Age hill fort at the top of the hill. The site is thought to date back before Christ and has been extended subsequently by a mediæval castle. The extensive earthworks remain clearly visible today and determine the shape of the hill.

A list of the hills in their order from north to south is shown below:

Hill Height (ft)
End Hill 1,079
Table Hill 1,224
North Hill 1,303
Sugarloaf Hill 1,207
Worcestershire Beacon 1,395
Summer Hill 1,253
Perseverance Hill 1,066
Jubilee Hill 1,073
Pinnacle Hill 1,174
Black Hill (north) 1,011
Black Hill (south) 886
Tinkers Hill 700
Herefordshire Beacon (British Camp) 1,109
Millennium Hill 1,073
Broad Down 958
Hangman's Hill 906
Swinyard Hill 889
Midsummer Hill 932
Hollybush Hill 794
Raggedstone Hill (east top) 820
Raggedstone Hill (west top) 833
Chase End Hill 625

A good wide view of the length of the hills can be seen from the M5 motorway, particularly between Junction 7 at Worcester (south) and Junction 9 at Tewkesbury.

View of the Malvern Hills with Little Malvern Priory in the midst


Between 1999 and 2000, the Heart of England Tourist Board carried out a survey of visitors to the Malvern Hills on behalf of the Malvern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership (AONB). Those questioned indicated that the thing they liked most about the hills was "the scenery and views".[5]

[The Malvern Hills form] an island of high ground surrounded by lower lying land, most noticeably to the east. As a result, the [h]ills are clearly visible and easily recognisable from a considerable distance away [and] constitute an iconic feature in the local and regional landscape

The AONB study identified 50 key views from vantage points on the Malvern Hills and from the surrounding area.



Gullet Quarry and Unconformity

The Malvern Hills are formed of some of the most ancient rocks in southern Britain, mostly igneous and metamorphic rocks from the late pre-Cambrian, around 680 million years old.[6] The Malvern Line or Malvern Lineament is the name applied to a north-south aligned lineament which runs through the Malvern Hills and extends southwards towards Bristol and northwards past Kidderminster. It consists of a series of faults and folds which have the effect of bringing old Malvernian rocks to the surface. Being largely hard igneous rocks, they have resisted erosion better than those of the surrounding countryside and result in a striking line of hills of which the Malvern Hills are the most impressive. This line is considered to mark the edge of two terranes – two once separate fragments of the Earth's crust now joined as one – the Wrekin Terrane to the west and the Charnwood Terrane to the east.

The main face of Gullet Quarry shows a cross-section through the Pre-Cambrian rock and exhibits many rock types including diorite, granite, gneiss, schist, pegmatite and dolerite. The evidence of the complex history of earth movement which formed the Hills can be seen by multiple joints, fractures, faults and shears, which make identifying changes in rock types difficult. Mineral deposits such as haematite, calcite and epidote can be seen within these features.[7][8]

There is a tiny cave near the ridge of the hills called Clutter's Cave (or Giant's Cave or Waum's Cave, after the spring which once lay beneath it).[9] The man-made cave has been excavated into pillow lavas. Some of the rounded 'pillow' shapes are still visible around the entrance to the cave.[10]

Malvern water

St. Ann's Well, Great Malvern

The quality of Malvern water is attributable to its source. Malvern Hills are amongst the oldest and hardest rocks found in the United Kingdom, with their geology responsible for the quality of Malvern's spring water.[3]

Malvern water is rainwater and snow meltwater that percolates through fissures created by the pressures of tectonic movements about 300 million years ago when advancing sedimentary layers of Silurian shale and limestone were pushed into and under older Precambrian rock.[11] When the fissures are saturated, a water table forms and the water emerges as springs around the fault lines between the strata. Depending on rainfall, the flow can vary from as little as 8 gallons a minute to over 77 gallons a minute.[12] The water permeates through the rock which, because of its hardness, leaves little or no mineral traces in the water, while at the same time the very fine cracks act as a filter for other impurities.[11]

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Malvern Hills with the British Camp on the left
Iron Age earthworks, British camp
Midsummer Hill fort and Hollybush Quarry
Cattle on the Malvern Hills

The Malvern Hills were designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1959. The designation covers 41 square miles and includes parts of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.[13] The Malvern Hills Conservators played a key role in ensuring that the area of the AONB is larger than that originally proposed.[14]

The Malvern Hills Conservators manage most parts of the Hills and the surrounding Commons, some other parcels of land and many roadside verges according to the Malvern Hills Acts 1884 to 1995. The total area under their jurisdiction is over 2,965 acres.[15]


Flint axes, arrowheads, and flakes found in the area are attributed to early Bronze Age settlers,[16] and the 'Shire Ditch', a late Bronze Age boundary earthwork possibly dating from around 1000 BC, was constructed along part of the crest of the hills near the site of later settlements.[1] The Wyche Cutting, a mountain pass through the hills was in use in prehistoric times as part of the salt route from Droitwich to Glamorgan.[16] A 19th century discovery of over two hundred metal money bars suggests that the area had been inhabited around 250 BC.[16]

Ancient folklore has it that the British chieftain Caractacus made his last stand against the Romans at the British Camp,[17] a site of extensive Iron Age earthworks on a summit of the Malvern Hills close to where Malvern was to be later established. The story remains disputed, however, as Roman historian Tacitus implies a site closer to the river Severn.[18] There is therefore no evidence that Roman presence ended the prehistoric settlement at British Camp, but excavations at nearby Midsummer Hill's hillfort, Bredon Hill and Croft Ambrey all show evidence of violent destruction around the year 48 AD, which may suggest that the British Camp was abandoned or destroyed around the same time.[19]

In 1884, the Malvern Hills Conservators were established through an Act of Parliament to preserve the natural aspect of the hills and protect them from encroachments.[20] However, by this time large-scale quarrying had already begun. Quarry works were set in motion in the 1870s at Tank Quarry and at Little Malvern by Pyx Granite Company. The Hills Conservators lobbied Parliament to pass an Act limiting the exploitation, and although a second Act was passed in 1924 its provisions were largely ineffective. Quarrying continued until 1966[21] and the landscape itself was irrevocably changed.[22]

In 1989, the Act establishing the Conservators was used to prevent the Conservators from rebuilding the café on Worcestershire Beacon after it burned down (and indeed they were advised that they risked prosecution for rebuilding as the original café building was an encroachment on common land.)

In 2000, a £1.3 million project to reintroduce grazing animals to the Malvern Hills and restore part of its historic network of wellheads was given significant backing of National Lottery funds. The Malverns Heritage Project aimed to reintroduce grazing animals as a natural means of scrub management and restore several water features. Members of the public were concerned that by erecting temporary fences on the Malvern Hills the Conservators would be straying from their core duty of keeping the Malvern Hills unenclosed as open spaces for the recreation and enjoyment of the public. Although the conservation officer said any enclosures would be small and temporary there were worries that leisure activities that could be affected and that "the feeling of freedom associated with 'just being' on the Malvern Hills" could be lost.[23][24]

In 2001, the Malvern Hills were officially closed to the public for the first time in history. Walkers were told to avoid the area as part of the effort to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease.[25] As a result of the closure the economy of the Malvern Hills faced serious damage.[26] In 2002 the Malvern Hills were named the most popular free tourist attraction in the West Midlands in a survey commissioned by the Countryside Agency to take the temperature of rural tourism in the wake of the crisis.[27]

In 2006, Worcestershire County Council was awarded £770,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund for restoration work and preservation of the area by fitting cattle grids to roads across the Hills and encouraging local landowners to allow sheep to wander across their land. As part of the Malvern Heritage Project nine water features within the AONB were also renovated.[28]

Sport, leisure, and tourism

The Malvern Hills are home to a wide range of outdoor sports and leisure activities, including walking, mountain biking, horse riding, orienteering, hang-gliding, model aircraft flying, fishing, climbing and diving.[29]

The Worcestershire Way is a waymarked long-distance trail located within Worcestershire. It runs 31 miles from Bewdley to Great Malvern.[30] It is an important recreation resource in the AONB.

The Geopark Way is a long-distance trail of 109 miles which runs from Bridgnorth to Gloucester and passes through the Abberley and Malvern Hills Geopark.[31] The route was devised to highlight geology, landscape and associated heritage.[32]

Cultural inspiration

The Malvern Hills were the inspiration and setting for the famous 14th century poem The Visions of Piers Plowman (1362) by William Langland, who was possibly educated at the priory of Great Malvern.[33] The earliest poetical allusion to the Malvern Hills occurs in the poem: "And on a Maye mornynge on Malverne hylles".[34][35]

Edward Elgar, the composer, was from the area and often walked, cycled, and reportedly flew kites on these hills. He wrote a cantata in 1898 entitled Caractacus, which alludes to the popular legend of his last stand at British Camp. In 1934, during the composer's final illness, he told a friend: "If ever after I'm dead you hear someone whistling this tune [the opening theme of his cello concerto] on the Malvern Hills, don't be alarmed. It's only me."

Composers Herbert Howells and Ivor Gurney used to take long walks together through the nearby Cotswold Hills and the natural beauty of the area, including the magnificent views of the Malverns, was a profound inspiration for their music. Howells dedicated his first major work, the Piano Quartet in A minor (1916), to "the hill at Chosen (Churchdown) and Ivor Gurney who knew it".[36]

The poet W H Auden taught for three years at The Downs School, Colwall, in the Malvern Hills. He spent three years at the school in the 1930s and wrote some of his finest early love poems there, including: This Lunar Beauty; Let Your Sleeping Head; My Love, Fish in the Unruffled Lakes; and Out on the Lawn I Lie in Bed. He also wrote a long poem about the hills and their views, called simply The Malverns.

J R R Tolkien found inspiration in the Malvern landscape. He was introduced to the area by C S Lewis, who had brought him here to meet George Sayer, the Head of English at Malvern College. Sayer had been a student of Lewis, and became his biographer, and together with them Tolkien would walk the Malvern Hills. Excerpts from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were recorded in Malvern in 1952, at the home of George Sayer. The recordings were later issued on long-playing gramophone records.[37] In the liner notes for J R R Tolkien Reads and Sings his The Hobbit & The Fellowship of the Ring, George Sayer wrote that Tolkien would relive the book as they walked and compared parts of the Malvern Hills to the White Mountains of Gondor.[38]

The Tank Quarry on North Hill and West of England Quarry on the Worcestershire Beacon were used as locations in the Dr Who serial The Krotons, starring Patrick Troughton. The serial was broadcast in four weekly parts from 28 December 1968 to 18 January 1969.[39][40]

The Malvern Hills are the backdrop for Penda's Fen, a 1974 British television play written by David Rudkin and directed by Alan Clarke for the BBC's Play for Today series. It tells the story of Stephen, a pastor's son who has visions of angels, Edward Elgar, and King Penda, the last pagan ruler of England.[41] The final scene of the play, where the protagonist has an apparitional experience of the "mother and father of England", is set on the Malvern Hills.[42]

"Malvern Hills" is the third short story in Japanese-British author Kazuo Ishiguro's collection Nocturnes (2009).

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Malvern Hills)


  1. 1.0 1.1 English Heritage. "Malvern Hills". English Heritage. Retrieved 5 January 2011. 
  2. "Malvern Hills Conservators". Worcestershire County Council. Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Smart, Mike (2009). Malvern Hills. Frances Lincoln ltd. pp. 15. ISBN 0711229155. 
  4. Walters, John (1828). An English and Welsh dictionary. T. Gee. pp. 580. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Malvern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty: Guidance on Identifying and Grading Views and Viewpoints". Malvern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). p. 4. 
  6. "The Malvern Hills". Abberley and Malvern Hills Geopark. Retrieved 4 January 2010. 
  7. "Site worth visiting in Worcestershire". West Midlands Geodiversity Partnership. Retrieved 4 January 2010. 
  8. "Gullet Quarry". Malvern Hills Conservators. Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  9. BBC (January 2009). "Malvern Hills - History". BBC Hereford & Worcester. Retrieved 5 January 2011. 
  10. "Site worth visiting in Herefordshire". West Midlands Geodiversity Partnership. Retrieved 5 January 2010. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Jones, Cheryl. Hydrogeology of the Malvern Hills. Malvern Spa Association. Retrieved 5 January 2011 
  12. Blyth, Francis George Henry: A Geology for Engineers (pub. Edward Arnold)
  13. "Designation of the Malvern Hills AONB". Malvern Hills AONB. Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  14. "Designation History Series Malvern Hills AONB". Malvern Hills AONB. Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  15. "About the Malvern Hills Conservators". Malvern Hills Conservators. Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Smith, Brian S. (1978) [1964]. A History of Malvern. Leicester, UK: Leicester University Press. pp. 2, 3, 5. ISBN 0904387313. 
  17. BBC (June 2003). "Malvern Hills - British Camp". BBC Hereford & Worcester. Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  18. Tacitus; Woodman, Anthony John (translator) (2004). "The Annals". Hackett Publishing Company. ISBN 0872205584.  See also Church & Brodribb's translation or searchable text at Internet Archive
  19. Hencken, T. (1938). The Excavation of the Iron Age Camp on Bredon Hill, Gloucestershire 1935-1937. 95. Heritage Marketing and Publications. 
  20. "Malvern Hills Conservators". BBC. Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  21. "Quarries in the Malvern Hills". MIAC. Retrieved 16 July 2011. 
  22. "Tank Quarry Malvern". MIAC. Retrieved 3 January 2011. 
  23. "Straying from duty". Malvern Gazette (Newsquest). 2001-01-19. Retrieved 9 January 2011. 
  24. "Don't fence them in on Malvern Hills". Malvern Gazette (Newsquest). 2002-11-30. Retrieved 9 January 2011. 
  25. "Keep off! Walkers told to shun hills". Malvern Gazette (Newsquest). 2002-03-02. Retrieved 5 January 2011. 
  26. "It can't go on much longer, say businesses". Malvern Gazette (Newsquest). 2002-03-16. Retrieved 5 January 2011. 
  27. "Hills are top for tourists". Malvern Gazette (Newsquest). 2002-02-01. Retrieved 1 January 2011. 
  28. "National Lottery Good Causes". The National Lottery. Retrieved 3 January 2011. 
  29. "Things to do on the Malvern Hills". Malvern Hills Conservators. Retrieved 5 January 2011. 
  30. "The Worcestershire Way". Worcestershire County Council. Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  31. "Geopark Way is officially open to walkers". Malvern Gazette (Newsquest). 2009-05-14. Retrieved 7 January 2011. 
  32. "Geopark Way". LDWA. Retrieved 7 January 2011. 
  33. Burrow, John Anthony (1996). A book of Middle English. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 142. ISBN 0631193537. 
  34. Skeat, W. W. (1886). Langland, Piers the Plowman. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press. ISBN 1437019994. 
  35. Langland, William (1550). Vision of Pierce Plowman. printed by Robert Crowley. 
  36. "Long Remembered Hills". Best of British TV. Retrieved 3 January 2011. 
  37. Carpenter, Humphrey (1977). J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-04-928037-6. 
  38. Album notes ot "J R R Tolkien Reads and Sings his the Hobbit and the Fellowship of the Ring", 1979 (August 1952 recording), pub. Caedmon Records
  39. "Tank Quarry". Dr Who – The Locations Guide. Retrieved 15 January 2011. 
  40. "Doctor Who (Classic Series) The Krotons". BBC Worldwide. Retrieved 24 January 2011. 
  41. "Penda's Fen (1974)". BFI Screen Online. Retrieved 8 April 2010. 
  42. Rabey, David (1998). David Rudkin: Sacred Disobedience: an expository study of his drama 1959-96. Routledge. ISBN 9057021269.