Journeys of a Lifetime
The strong winds that blow from the highest point of the Malvern Hills orchestrate their own music and as I stood on the Worcestershire Beacon, the words of Sir Edward Elgar who was born within sight and sound of these ancient limestone hills came to mind, “there is music in the air, music all around us and you simply take as much as you require.” Then there are the magnificent views; to the east, the smooth curve of Bredon Hill and the Cotswolds, to the north Worcester and the Clent Hills, whilst to the west over the shoulders of the Brecon Beacons lie the Black Mountains of Wales.
In the heart of the Malvern Hills, a place of great tranquility and marvelous charm is Colwall Park Hotel. This elegant country house hotel is set in beautiful gardens and there are footpaths leading into the Malvern Hills with their breathtaking views over the surrounding countryside, the Severn and Wye valleys. Just a 3 minute walk from the country train station, the hotel was built in the early 1900’s as accommodation for the racehorse owners at Colwall Race Track which once was one of the prime racecourses in the Midlands but today no longer exists.
Iain Nesbitt and his wife, Sarah, run a tight ship offering delightful comfort and efficient, friendly service. All of the twenty-two bedrooms and suites are individually furnished and decorated, and the staff people provide such excellent service that has been recognized by the AA, and the hotel has received a Courtesy & Care Award for England. In the richly furnished oak-panelled Seasons Restaurant with its 2 AA Rosettes, Michelin 2 Knives & Forks, Good Food Guide and Egon Ronay mentions, you can dine on serious gourmet food. Executive Chef, James Garth has a long history in fine cuisine and he, like so many British chefs, are developing new dishes using lots of local foods in their seasonal menus. “After all” he told me “cuisine will keep changing and moving”. The friendly and popular Lantern Bar features a crackling log fire in the winter and is a lively meeting place for locals and resident alike. Throughout the hotel, Herefordshire food and drink sourced locally, organic lamb, chicken and pork, and fresh vegetables make dining a great treat.
For those like me, they will venture along the glorious country walks, stop where the famous Malvern water gushes from the hillside and fill their bottles from springs dotted around the hills. People come from all over the country to stock up on this absolutely pure water percolated through the hills picking up no minerals- a gift from Mother Nature with no strings attached. During the 1840’s, two doctors, Gully and Wilson realized the efficacy and healing power of this water and opened spas and retreats for the well-to-do and introduced hydrotherapy – the Water Cure – from Austria. Fashionable visitors included Theodore Roosevelt, Lord Tennyson and Princess Mary of Teck, grandmother of Queen Elizabeth 11.
St. John’s Well and its water has been sold to the Coco Cola Company much to the dismay of local citizens, and is now surrounded by high, bleak walls. The Holy Well in Malvern Wells (there are seven Malverns) probably derived its name from the miraculous cures received by people washing in its waters. Above Malvern Priory Church is St. Ann’s Well with its octagonal building and cottage and this is probably where Victorians puffed their way up to after an early morning wrap in wet sheets.
The purity of the water even attracted Benedictine monks to build a monastery in the 11th century although only the gatehouse and Priory Church with its façade of pink, cream and terracotta stone remain. The great Gothic tower was built when William of Normandy was on the throne over nine hundred years ago and the lofty Norman nave still glows in the light streaming through medieval glass windows.
The town of Great Malvern nestles in the eastern skirts of the Malvern Hills amongst grand villas and tree lined avenues. The advent of hydrotherapy cures brought fame and fortune to this little country town and hotels and boarding houses sprung up, but the passage of time playing its melancholy dirge has changed charm into utilitarianism.
Today The Regency bow-fronted library with its Doric columns houses Lloyds Bank; the Baths and Pump Room is a building society, and the Imperial Hotel houses Malvern Girls College. The Winter Gardens are the Malvern Theatres where many first runs from London are performed.
For Georgian elegance the Foley Arms Hotel beckons to those who enjoy staying in a charming and historic setting in the center of town. Built in 1810 as a delightful example of a coaching Hotel when Malvern was becoming an important Spa Town. You step through the revolving doors into spacious lounges with their spectacular views over the Severn Valley across to Cheltenham and the Bredon Hill. Each of the twenty-eight very individually furbished bedrooms, some with four poster beds, all with ensuite bathroom offer superb comfort and service. William Dickie, the executive chef of the rosette-awarded restaurant has done much historical research into traditional recipes. His use of local meats, cheese and vegetables brings people from far and near to enjoy the delicious cuisine in the restaurant, and also the wine and cheese tastings and many elaborate parties.
Nigel and Helen Thomas, are genial hosts and most fascinating to chat with. They have joined forces with Iain Nesbitt from Colwall Park and Cottage in the Wood Hotels to promote Winter Walking Breaks in the Malvern Hills, a delightful way to enjoy the wonderful scenery and the tranquility of that lovely area.
Interesting Places to Visit and Things to Do
In Malvern itself, Chris Titchell at Malvern Country Meals will tell you all about unusual varieties of sausage making including Victorian sausages. He is the proud winner of 50 awards in 5 years. The Great Malvern Priory is a lovely building whose stones change colour with the seasons. It contains excellent collections of English mediaeval glass, and the largest surviving collection of Mediaeval Tiles in the country.
You might like to motor to Kempsey and dine at the Walter de Cantelupe Inn where former Taste of Worcestershire winner will present you with some incredible Pub foods. Then a visit to Worcester Porcelain Museum is a must. I put on a smock and painted a Royal Porcelain plate that now stands proudly on my counter. The Elgar Birthplace Museum in Lower Broadheath is another must. Enjoy looking around the idyllic 19th century cottage he lived in and the artifacts that made up his life. Follow the Wine Trail and visit Tiltridge vineyard to taste some of the interesting wines produced by Mrs. Sandy Barker. A picture of Edward Elgar is depicted on her wine labels.
Drive to Leominster to the Monkland Cheese Dairy where owners Karen and Mark Hindle produce three types of Little Hereford cheese, Monkland, Hereford Sage and oak smoked Little Hereford. You can buy these and other local produce at their three farm shops called The Mousetrap Cheese Shops, and there is a very good tearoom on site.
Wednesday is cheesemaking day open to the public. Another cheese place to visit is Neal’s Yard Dairy in the village of Dorston. Here organic cows cheeses, goats and cows cheeses with herbs, yoghurt, crème fraiche and fromage frais make a full and inviting range. Gold Medal winner at the 2001 British Cheese Awards is Nick Hodgetts Malvern Cheesewrights whose local products include Herefordshire Hop, English Oak Smoked and Whiteladies Goat Cheese suitable for vegetarians, and they are GM free.
Hospitality and gracious living are part and parcel of this truly lovely part of England. So much to see and do including nearby Ludlow where there are more Michelin starred restaurants than any place outside of London. Go, Do It. You will be well pleased!
Main line trains services run from Paddington station in London or via Birmingham to Great Malvern (08457 484950): ( www.nationalrail.co.uk )
By Car: from London it is a distance of 120 miles, from Birmingham 41miles, and 48miles from Birmingham Airport
Where to stay:
Colwall Park Hotel www.colwall.com
Foley Arms Hotel
Worcester Road, Great Malvern
Cottage in the Wood
Where to eat:
Seasons Restaurant at Foley Arms for serious gourmet cuisine
Walter de Cantelupe Inn in Kempsey– delicious pub food plus
Cottage In the Wood for modern British cuisine
Pepper and Oz, 23 Abbey Road, Malvern is a cafe-bar in a former butcher shop serving delicious snacks and great coffee
Places to visit:
Malvern Country Meals
Tel: (01144) 1684 568498
Worcester Porcelain Museum
Tel: 01905 746000
Monkland Cheese Dairy
Neals Yard Dairy
Stratford Upon Avon is a mere 35 miles
The famous book center of Ross On Wye only 18 miles.
Malvern Tourism Information Centre (01684 892289)