Worcestershire Beacon

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Worcestershire Beacon
Worcestershire Beacon - geograph.org.uk - 1488388.jpg
Worcestershire Beacon from North Hill
Range: Malvern Hills
Summit: 1,394 feet SO768452
52°6’17"N, 2°20’24"W

Worcestershire Beacon, also popularly known as Worcester Beacon, or locally simply as The Beacon, is a hill whose summit at 1,394 feet is the highest point of the range of Malvern Hills that runs approximately eight miles north-south along the Herefordshire-Worcestershire border. The Worcestershire Beacon itself lies entirely within Worcestershire and is that county's highest point.

The steep eastern flank of the hill begins immediately behind Bellevue Terrace, one of the two main shopping streets in the town centre of Great Malvern from where its summit is a brisk 15 – 20 minutes' steep walk by way of St Ann's Well or Happy Valley. It can also be accessed by a short, steep, unpathed climb from Jubilee Drive on the western side, or reached by a more leisurely stroll along the crest of the ridge from a car park near the Wyche Cutting, a mile or so to the south of the town centre.

Toposcope on Worcestershire Beacon, with North Hill beyond

The Beacon affords an extensive panoramic view[1] that includes the Lickey Hills near Redditch, The Wrekin and past Birmingham to Cannock Chase, as well as much of Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, the mountains of the west, the Shropshire Hills and across the valleys of the Severn and Avon to the Cotswolds.

Parts of a dozen or so counties can be seen, and the Bristol Channel, and the cathedrals of Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford.

Wide view looking towards Cheltenham and Gloucester from summit

The hill itself appears to mark the northern terminal of the ancient shire ditch and was used for at least two Bronze Age burials. The 'ditch' seems to have linked Midsummer Hill fort by way of the Herefordshire Beacon.

On the summit is a viewfinder or toposcope, identifying the hills to be seen on a clear day; it was designed by Malvern architect Arthur Troyte Griffith, a friend of Sir Edward Elgar and erected in 1897 to celebrate Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee. It was stolen in 2000 and replaced by Malvern Hills Conservators the same year.[2] The original was returned to the Conservators in 2001.[3]

The name Beacon comes from the use of the hill as a signalling beacon. Lord Macaulay included the Beacon in his poem Armada, which describes the chain of warning fires which were lit when the Spanish Armada attempted to invade England in 1588:[4]

And on, and on, without a pause, untired they bounded still
All night from tower to tower they sprang; they sprang from hill to hill
Till the proud Peak unfurled the flag o’er Darwin’s rocky dales
Till like volcanoes flared to heaven the stormy hills of Wales,
Till twelve fair counties saw the blaze on Malvern’s lonely height,
Till streamed in crimson on the wind the Wrekin’s crest of light.[5]

During the Second World War the Beacon was used as a fire lookout point for air raids on Birmingham and Coventry, and in the latter half of the 20th century it was used regularly as a location for a BBC transmitter relay van for covering horse racing and sports events in Worcester.

In recent years it has been used as a beacon for special occasions such as the millennium night of 31 December 1999 when a large fire was lit as part of a nationwide network of hill top beacons to celebrate the event.[6] A café that had existed on the summit for many decades was destroyed by fire in 1989.[7] The Conservators put a bill through Parliament to obtain permission to build a new one, but the application was refused by the House of Lords and the construction of a replacement was permanently banned by Act of Parliament in the interests of conservation of the area.[8][9]

The hills are mostly igneous and metamorphic rocks from the late pre-Cambrian, around 600 million years old and the Beacon is part of the watershed that permits the rise of the mineral springs and wells of the famous Malvern water that is bottled commercially on a large scale and sold worldwide, and they were responsible for the development of Malvern from a village to a busy spa town in the early 19th century. Hundreds of millions of years of erosion and glacial passage have given the Beacon and its neighbouring peaks their characteristic smoothly rounded features.

The hills are managed by the Malvern Hills Conservators under five Acts of Parliament of 1884, 1909, 1924, 1930, and 1995 whose aim is to preserve the nature and environment landscape of the area and to protect it from encroachments. It is the most popular free tourist attraction in the region and the Beacon is highly popular with walkers with its easily reached dense network of footpaths criss-crossing it and the area has been designated by the Countryside Agency as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.


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