Malvern Hills Loop

The Malvern Hills
By David Somen
Date: Saturday October 9th 2010

The walk:
A 10 ½ mile circular walk on the Malvern Hills, Worcestershire, which has a number of steep gradients but shouldn’t prove too difficult for a regular walker.
Start: Swinyard Car Park
End: Worcestershire Beacon viewpoint and cairn.
Starting at the car park and following the farm track up to the Herefordshire Beacon (British Camp) (1,109 ft) descending to the A449 and then picking up the trail that leads across the spine of the hills, taking in:
Black Hill (south)
Black Hill (north) (1,011 ft)
Pinnacle Hill (1,174 ft)
Jubilee Hill (1,073 ft)
Perseverance Hill (1,066 ft)
Summer Hill (1,253 ft)
terminating at the viewpoint point on The Worcestershire Beacon (1,395 ft). Most of the climb is at an elevated height and therefore does not require each hill to be climbed from its base.
In clear weather there are sweeping views across Hereford and into the Black Mountains of Wales. The return journey takes a lower trail through pleasant woodland, before climbing the British Camp a second time and back down to the car park.
The route is easy to follow with clearly defined and well-made tracks throughout, so hazards such as mud and water are not usually a problem.
The weather can be changeable – particularly later in the year – so it is wise to dress accordingly.

So here I am supping a very nice Starbucks latte and thinking about the Malvern Hills walk Mark and I did two days ago….
The weather forecast promised light cloud with plenty of sun. At 7:15am as I stood outside my house waiting for Mark to arrive it was still too dark to reliably forecast the day’s weather for myself. Mark arrived duly on time. It was really nice to see his smiling face as this was only the second time in far too many years that we had been able to get together, chew the cud, and play catch-up. The 70 minute drive to Malvern passed really quickly. It was fun, informative and interesting, as we continued to catch up on our lives past, present and future. It also became evident pretty quickly that the weather forecast people had got it wrong once again. The day was going to be chilly, overcast and windy. Low cloud cover beckoned.
We arrived at the Malvern Hills around 8:30 am, parked at the Swinyard car park, and changed our shoes for sturdy walking boots. Malvern Day Pic 1 Normally I use two walking poles as I find it takes a lot of the strain off of my knees and gives a bit more zip to my step. On this occasion though I decided one was enough as I would be carrying my Flip Ultra HD video camera on a monopod in the other hand. I have to say though that I missed that second pole and in the future will have to think about how I will carry all of these things. It was interesting that Mark had never used two walking poles before. He normally uses one. When he had a go with two I wasn't totally convinced he was happy with them. Mark commented that he normally uses his walking pole rather like a gentleman's walking stick, lightly prodding the ground as he skips along and not for supporting his weight and balance. This made me smile. I will have to re-educate him.
I set off, relishing the hours ahead (although some people will no doubt say that these are 'just walks', I would point out that, in fact, each and every one of them is 'an adventure!').
From the car park Mark took the lead. He had done this walk on previous occasions and knew the route off by heart. It was good to see him so fit and he reminded me of my walking pal Lloydy, especially when you see a pair of legs striding out in front of you up a steep gradient as they get further and further away. As I told Mark, I have the stamina but not always the speed.
As we climbed my legs and heart reminded me that it had been some months since I had done a sturdy walk. More than once I feared the Anglian Home double-glazed door I'd had built into my chest would break open and spill my burst heart onto the Malvern greenery. The bolts held tight though as we tackled the first climb up and over the Herefordshire Beacon, aka The British Camp, where ancient Iron-age ramparts and earthworks have shaped the hill into a series of terraces.
The fresh crisp air was just what I needed. There is nothing like a walk in the British countryside to revitalise you. Mark was in training and it showed. He plans to do the Three Peaks challenge next year. He made my planned Hadrian's Wall walk sound easy.
After the British Camp we crossed the A449 by the classy looking Malvern Hills Hotel and picked up the track that would lead us directly over the summit of the hills, where today we would reach the highest of them; the Worcestershire Beacon.
The wind, hardly noticeable at ground level, became a bully on higher ground, which made some of the gradients all the more difficult. We slowly ticked the hills off, Black Hill, Jubilee Hill, Pinnacle Hill, and our walk across their switch-back of summits went off without incident. Well, almost.
The pattern became typical of following someone who knows what they are doing but has forgotten the all-important details.
"The next hill is the toughest but don't worry, it's the last one!"
Followed by.
“Oh, did I say that was the last one? Err … I'm sure this one's the last one, honest!"
And so the conversation ran, as we trudged up the ‘last’ hill only to be confronted with another, even higher one ahead. Malvern Day Pic 2
The sun might not have shone but at least it didn't rain. We watched the low moist clouds roll between the hills like drifting ghosts. Sadly, much of the beautiful scenery around the Malvern Hills was blocked from our view, but the task at hand steadied our nerve. I did almost lose my mental grip when a sudden gust of wind took my beloved UKUFONW baseball cap from my head.
The day was saved by a young girl, aged around 14, who took off after it like a hare. I was very grateful to have it returned. Oh to have that sudden energy. Age can be so cruel......

An all too brief respite of water, chocolate, crisps and sarnies and we were on our way again. Mark obviously hadn't heard of the Dave Somen walking break time of one hour + toilet visit as fought for by our brother Mr Scargill. On this occasion I was prepared to bend the rules a little ;-)
The wind was buffeting up on top, proven several times by straps on my rucksack slapping me smartly across the face. I wanted to rip them from their stitches but what strength I had was powering my legs. Talking of equipment; I was interested to see Mark using a hydration pack. I've had one for a few years but never used it. I will dig it out for next time.
Our walking pace and minor refreshment break meant we were making good time. We started our descent down off the hills, taking a track lower down on the western flank of the hills to lead us back to the car. After a long, hard, but above all enjoyable walk it's nice to know that it won't be too long before one can rest those aching sinews. Most walkers will agree that the descent is more painful than the ascent. More stress is put on the knees and ankles and more injuries caused. The Malvern Hills have steps in various places to assist the walker but Mark and I agreed that side stepping the steps and using the natural rise and fall of the landscape was in fact easier. A promise of a cafe with friendly wenches serving tea and coffee back at the A449 spurred us on.
Eventually, after following a long path, the little roadside kiosk greeted us and thankfully it was open!
They were doing a fair trade judging by the numbers of bikers and other walkers who were supping nearby. I took Mark’s order and patiently queued for two teas. A smiling woman behind the counter turned to me.
"Are you being served?"
I responded with my order for two teas, please, but then realised I may have queue-jumped the 6' 4" pony-tailed bloke to my left.
I began to make amends. “Oh sorry, this gentleman is first," I said, indicating the vague figure to my side.
The 'bloke' stepped forward and turned out to not be what I thought.
"LAYDee!!" she shot at me indignantly.
I turned my face away because it took all of my self-control not to have a fit of the giggles. I muttered an apology, stepping away to another part of the counter where I was eventually served. Goodness only knew what Mark was doing, as he was stood right behind me when I made this gaff. Malvern Day Pic 3
[Note from Mark: I was turned away as well, facing the road and trying not to guffaw]
I loved Mark’s comment later on Twitter about her being the 'horsey type'. With all due respect to horsey types, that comment said it all. It wasn’t over either, with hot teas in our hands we crossed the road to a free bench next to another bench with a woman seated upon it.
Mark pointed her out. "I bet that's Horsey Type’s friend". And sure enough, it was.
Horsey Type crossed the road and sat with her friend no more than a yard away from us. I really did think of apologising again but I think it would have made a bad job much, much worse. I'll never forget that moment though. It makes me laugh every time I think of it.
A short but taxing climb back over the British Camp and a pleasant descent along a bracken fringed track and we were back at Marks car with our walking day almost over and better than ten miles completed. The few aches and pains we shared, probably more age related than lack of fitness, were soon forgotten, although later in the day when I stood, sat or walked, my protesting muscles reminded me pleasantly of a brilliant day with an old friend.
Both of us are long time walkers but this is the first time we have ever hiked together.
Long may it continue.

A Flickr gallery of this walk can be viewed here

Offa's Dyke in pictures

Offa's Dyke in pictures

Day 1 - We started from the Severn estuary near Chepstow, the old(new) suspension bridge spanning its wide tidal waters. We would not see the coast again until we reached Prestatyn on the north coast of Wales.

Day 1 - The official starting point for the Offa's Dyke trail is a little disappointing, resembling a discarded lump of concrete (actually a piece of local 'pudding stone') and offering no grand viewpoint to mark the occasion.

Day 1 - Here we dallied briefly, took photographs, videos, consulted guide books and maps, and then set off on the only obvious path available to us - straight inland and away from the estuary.

Day 1 - After Chepstow was left behind we began climbing ever upwards through forested hillsides, emerging at the Devil's Pulpit, a column of sandstone overlooking Tintern Abbey far below.

Day 1 - In a quiet valley near Bigsweir Bridge we rested tired legs amidst an avenue of ancient chestnut trees, living treasures looted from the Spanish Armada as young saplings.

Day 1 - After an unexpectedly challenging day we descended the last slope into Redbrook and the end of the days walking.

Day 2 - Day two commenced and with no surprise at all we headed uphill, onto a gravel track that helped us rise steadily onto the high pasture and open views of The Kymin.

Day 2 - From the Kymin, with its historic monuments and neatly tended lawns, there were far-reaching views westward into Wales, where we would be heading over the next several days.

Day 2 - Following the white acorn signs, we threaded our way through Monmouth's streets until we passed under the towns impressive medieval old gatehouse and over the River Wye,

Day 2 - Beyond Monmouth there was, inevitably, another hill to climb. This one was called Kings Hill and was a relative minnow compared to the others that were to follow.

Day 2 - As the day waned we entered an orchard of cider apples, with its trees arranged in neat orderly rows and the fruit all ready for harvest.

Day 3 - After leaving tiny Llantilio Crossenny we climbed until the views opened up before us, showing us the way into Wales.

Day 3 - We passed the impressive ruins of 12th century White Castle, resisting the temptation to spend time exploring them.

Day 3 - After White Castle we crossed rolling grassy meadows, with the long wall of Hatterrall Ridge getting ever closer - our target for the day.

Day 3 - We passed many fine farmhouses along the way, although some of them were, sadly, abandoned and falling to ruin.

Day 3 - The handsome, whitewashed church at Llangattock Lingoed.

Day 3 - Finally we had to tackle the last climb of the day, at the southern end of Hatterrall Ridge.

Day 3 - From the ridge we could see southwards to distant Brean Down and the sea, eastwards to the Malverns, and westwards across the rolling hills of Wales.

Day 3 - Up and over the ridge, and down to Llanthony Priory and a well-earned rest.

Day 4 - In the morning we were climbing up Hatterrall Ridge again with great views back along the Vale of Ewyas.

Day 4 - Today was going to be spent walking along the high spine of Hatterrall Ridge in disappointingly poor visibility.

Day 4 - The summit of the ridge, wrapped in ghostly vapours, felt more like Mars than Wales.

Day 4 - The ridge finally conquered, we descended Hay Bluff and headed down into the town of Hay-On-Wye for the conclusion of the day.

Day 5 - We walked out of Hay-On-Wye, passing by the rather impressive clock tower in Hay's market square, past its myriad bookshops, and finally left the pleasant town via a road bridge spanning the Wye.

Day 5 - The first few miles took us across flat fields of crops and we began to wonder where all the hills had gone.

Day 5 - We needn't have worried - soon enough the land began to undulate and we found ourselves climbing through steeply wooded hillsides.

Day 5 - A break in the trees afforded us views back to where Hatterrall Ridge, already diminished by distance, etched the horizon.

Day 5 - Stopping for lunch on a hill called Little Mountain we consulted our maps and gladdened our hearts with the hills we had yet to tackle, including Hergest Ridge.

Day 5 - Hergest Ridge was a place of quiet beauty, whispering grass, and wild horses. It was worth the effort involved in climbing it, and provided a nice finale to the day.

Day 6 - We started out from the small town of Kington, which seemed to have managed to retain its old family businesses. It was refreshing to walk along a high street not stamped with a Tesco Express, a Boots Chemist, and a Starbucks. Give me 'Titleys Hardware Store' any time.

Day 6 - The Offa's Dyke path wasted no time in exercising our leg muscles, taking us almost immediately up the side of Bradnor Hill and reuniting us with the earth embankment of Offa's Dyke itself, not seen for a few days.

Day 6 - From Bradnor hill you could stand and admire the rolling hills of Wales fading away into a blue haze as sheep grazed nearby, indifferent to your intrusion.

Day 6 - One of the hidden gems of this section was the vista of East Radnor valley, opening up before us as we began to ascend Bradnor Hill.

Day 6 - Sometimes a nice bit of road walking is a welcome change to grassy tussocks or gravelled paths and so we meandered for a while along a most pleasant B-road, passing several Bed and Breakfast properties that must be a dream to stay in.

Day 6 - This was Offa's Dyke however and a hill is always waiting. This next one was Furrow Hill, the last climb of the day, and similar in nature to Hergest Ridge.

Day 6 - The rolling heights of Furrow Hill were clothed in verdant grass, nibbled short by sheep. A cluster of hardy pines thrived somehow, despite the thin soil and undoubtedly cold winter gales.

Day 6 - The halfway point of the Offa's Dyke path, Knighton, provided a sleepy welcome when we came down from Furrow Hill. Our days walking, and the completion of the southern half of the route, ended at the Offa's Dyke visitor centre.

Day 7 - Setting out from Knighton on (even by Offa's Dyke standards) a hilly day.

Day 7 - Panpunton Hill wasn't one to gently introduce us to proceedings. It was immediately steep and took us up quickly to a height of 400 feet, revealing a good view over the town we had just left.

Day 7 - On a tricky little path, somewhere between Middle Knuck and Lower Knuck.

Day 7 - The view was wonderful from atop Edenhope Hill, and to our relief it was to be the last hill of a day which had demanded over a thousand meters of ascent in total.

Day 8 - Walking down Long Mountain, descending into the Severn Valley to end the day’s route at Buttington.

Day 9 - A profusion of Himalayan Balsam in flower near Maginnis Bridge.

Day 9 - Pausing to sort the route out near Breidden Hill.

Day 10 - A panoramic view from the top of Moelydd Hill.

Day 10 - A change of scenery as we swap windy hilltops for leafy lanes as we approach Candy Wood.

Day 10 - The pretty hamlet of Pen-y-bryn in the Ceirog Valley and the end of the days walk.

Day 11 - The Llangollen Canal: We enjoy the rare pleasure of walking along a canal tow-path.

Day 11 - Soon, we had reached the small but lively village of Trevor. It was filled with people, milling about and enjoying the sudden burst of good weather.

Day 11 - We began making our way north along the tarmac lane, taking a path that is known as the ‘Panorama Walk’ as we strode down the whole length of this valley.

Day 11 - On an imposing hill running parallel to our path the broken ruins of the Dinas Bran castle sprawled drunkenly, looking down upon the timeless valley. It is not an idle boast that our guidebook regarded this part of the walk as one of the wonders of the whole route.

Day 11 - “I think we’re going to run out of tape, before we run out of views,” I told the others as my thumb nudged the record button once more. The valley below had now become shallower and more wooded. It was luxurious with growth and seemed to be bunching up at its far end. The opposite ridge was now flatter and allowing the sight of more distant hills.

Day 11 - We began to climb north on what was now the Minera road. This was a very steep haul with conifer plantations on both sides and banks of ferns immediately around us, bringing us eventually alongside the Cyrn-y-Brain moors.

Day 12 - From the top of Moel y Plas, looking forward to the peaks we had yet to do that day.

Day 12 - On the Clwydian range with the chilly waters of Llyn Gweryd lake below us.

Day 12 - A view from Foel Fenli shortly before we came down from the hills.

Day 13 - That was it really, after all those miles spread across two years it came down to reaching a large rock (another lump of local stone just like the one located in distant Chepstow) and no more walking. Still, we had completed the Offa’s Dyke trail and that was a pleasurable enough thought