Malvern Hill Destress

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I love the Malvern Hills, particularly the walk from British Camp south towards Midsummer Hill.  The huge skies, far-reaching views and complete serenity, particularly early on a Sunday morning are the things that make my heart sing and recharge me.

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Over a year ago my eldest set me the challenge to walk to the top of all the individual peaks.  I have done the majority and I think the only real summit left outstanding is Midsummer Hill.  I have stopped deliberately checking the hills off as the challenge has had the wonderful effect of making the hills familiar to me and giving me a new way to de-stress. I nearly got lost today as I was day dreaming so much that I came to the edge of a hill and realised that there was no path to take me forward.  I had strayed to the side much to the entertainment of a chap feeding his dog blackberries (!) who pointed out the path to me – we agreed that the reason we were on the top of the hills was to forget everything.

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I have found this last year or so that gardening is no longer the thing that I turn to to relax.  I suspect that it has become a victim of over blogging.  When you are conscious that you writing about something on a regular basis you start to feel a pressure to have something interesting to write about and then you lose your enjoyment, as my son said today the garden and blogging had become a job not relaxation. So of course writing about my walks could be a dangerous thing as I don’t want the same thing to happen.  However, I did write about gardening on the blog for some 9 years at least 3 times a week so I think I have a way to go before there is a problem.

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This morning the grass was thick with dew which in the early morning light looked like jewels.  In fact the grass in the photo above looked like some unusual flower from a distance and it wasn’t until I got close that I realised the ‘flowers’ were in fact dew drops. Walking first thing or in the evening means that I often feel like I have the hills to myself and the wildlife is around before it goes quite in the heat of the day.  Today, I enjoyed watching stonechats and at the furthest point of my walk I sat on the top of the hill while house martins swooped around me feeding before they migrate south.

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You can see how strong the sun was even first thing; wonderful after the grey and wet day yesterday.  I think, from the lack of buildings, that this view is looking out towards Herefordshire. I love the feeling of being on top of the world you get when you can see so far into the distant.

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The view back from where I started – my car is just over the hill in the distance and part way down the other side.  One of the things that are great about the Malverns is that you have areas which are open and grazed and other parts that are very wooded, so lots of variety of habitat.   To get from British Camp, that you can see in the distance, to this point, you dip down and walk through a wooded valley before climbing up again on a very rocky path

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And this is the view from lower down British Camp towards the point of the photo above (they should really be the other way round). If you look very carefully at the wooded hill in the distance (Midsummer Hill) you can see a brown mark and that is the summit that I walked to today – it doesn’t have a name.  Midsummer Hill is the last one I really want to climb and my eldest is going to do that one with me as he says it is quite steep and the paths aren’t that clear.

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However, I’m not in a hurry as I have found my favourite walks depending on my mood and how far I want to walk. I can’t believe how lucky I am to live within minutes of these beautiful hills.

Malvern Hills Challenge 9: Chase End Hill

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Today I bagged another of the Malvern Hills – Chase End Hill at the southern end of the Malvern Hills.  This is the very last hill in the chain and reaches a mere 624ft (191m) but I think this walk was my favourite to date.

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We started our walk in Whiteleaf Oak which is a small sprawling hamlet.  I wouldn’t have known where to park or where to start the walk from by luckily my eldest had been camping on the side of the hill a few weeks before so knew exactly where to park.  He was keen to come along as Chase End Hill was the last of the Malverns for him to cross off.  The walk up the lower part of the hill is steady and overlooks sloping fields with horses and wonderful views with the fresh green of new leaves beginning to take over from the gaunt bare branches.  Then you are faced with a short rather steep climb which you can see in the photograph above.

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Looking back up the hill this is the view in front of you which is a little daunting but encouraging as you know you are very nearly there.  It was a surprisingly quick climb.

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As you would expect from the top of any hill the views were wonderful.  Above is looking back along the Malverns to the next in the chain which is Raggedstone Hill and the first I climbed back at the end of May 2015.  If you look very carefully to the left you can just see the Obelisk at Eastnor.  I spent most of the time morning coverting the houses you can see at the base of the hill.

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Looking the other way and you can just spot May Hill near Gloucestershire.  Locally Chase End Hill is called the Gloucestershire Beacon.  I don’t think this is its official name as I can find no supporting evidence for this and the name probably has come about because of the rivalry between the three counties of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, all of which can be seen from the top of the Malverns.  With people living on the side of the hills either living in Herefordshire or Worcestershire it is only natural that the smallest hill should be the Gloucestershire Beacon!

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Whilst the climb up had been nice it was the walk down the other side which was really special, mainly because of the sheets of bluebells whose scent filled the air.  I am used to seeing bluebells on the side of the Malverns but generally amongst the trees and lower down so to see such large colonies in such an exposed location surprised me.

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This part of the walk felt more like walking through some sort of 18th century landscape than a walk on the Malvern Hills.  I have tried to research this hill but there is little information.  However ‘Chase’ is a common name in this area and research shows that it was the name given to the ancient forest which covered this area all the way to the Severn River and out towards Hereford and is recorded as far back as Edward I. The land is inextricably linked with royal history particularly that of the Plantagenents who fought many a battle along the Welsh Marches, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire.  King John is buried in Worcester Cathedral which is no more than 30 minutes drive away and at one time part of the Chase belonged to Anne Neville daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who was key in the War of the Roses.  Anne went on to marry Richard III.  As this is my favourite period of English history I find the associations particularly interesting.

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On the lower slopes heading back down the hill the bluebells were joined by daffodils.  I am convinced these are wild native daffodils, Narcissus pseudonarcissus, or Lent Lily.

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Not the best photograph I know but good enough for me to look it up in my wild flower book and convince myself it is indeed the wild daffodil.  Hardly surprising as we are not far from the Golden Triangle based around Dymock which is home to the Daffodil Way.

All in all a very nice walk.  I only have 7 hills left to tick off but some of them I should be able to do in one walk.  Of course there are many people who walk the length of the hills in one go but I want to make sure I go to the top of each hill and the paths that run the length of the hills often bypass some of the peaks.  I think I have 3 or 4 more walks to do.

For the rest of my Hills reports click on the tab ‘Malvern Hills Challenge‘ along the top of the box in the side bar.

Malvern Hills Challenge 4 – Summer Hill

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It’s some time since I ticked one of the Malvern Hills of my list.  Work has been full on recently leaving me exhausted when I get home but this week I seem to have turned a corner and for the first time in absolutely ages I have had energy to burn.  All the time spent in the office has left me feeling lethargic and in need of some gentle exercise.

Having mumbled to myself for some days now about starting to walk the hills again, this morning I happened to wake early and thought ‘Right, today is the day’.

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It was strange setting out on my own at 8:20 this morning without having to make plans with others (I did leave a note for my son so he knew where I was!). It was strangely liberating and is a sign of how life if changing.  Having brought up two sons on my own I am used to being in charge, being organised, fitting in with a range of other demands,  planning so to just decide to do something is quite weird but wonderful. As you can see few others were as mad as me to go walking on the hills particularly as it quickly became apparent that the mist was lower that I had anticipated. I set out with the  intention to walk to the top of the Beacon, taking in Summer Hill on the way.  I wouldn’t normally stick to tarmac path but given the poor visibility I decided that this would be the sensible thing to do.

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One of the things I am enjoying doing this challenge is the history of the area I am learning from researching things I see.  I smiled when I saw the marker above.  Really a gold mine how ridiculous, it’s probably just a local joke and the main reason for the marker is to show the way to various parts of the hills.  However, research on-line quickly proved me wrong.  Elizabeth I granted a mining charter for the hills although the cynic in me questions whether this was actually because there were precious metals or whether it was part of the royal monopoly on all mining. There was a Gold Mine recorded in 1633 on the spot above but it seems that if there was any gold then it was well below ground.  In the 1720s Daniel Defoe commented that the current generation was too lazy to mine any gold that might exist. More recently in the 1930s a scientific paper identified two sources of gold in the hills namely the red granite and the red granite pegmatite but in 1975 another thesis failed to find traces of gold in any rock samples.  There is now speculation that a well shaft near the old lime kilns is in fact a disused mine shaft but interestingly there seems little appetite for investigating it!

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So back to the walk, as you can see it is quite gentle and sticking to the path meant that my mind wandered and cleared.  Part of the challenge is to help me get fit but it’s also about gaining confidence.  I have a whole raft of adventures I would love to undertake but they all involve leaps of faith travelling to new places, sometimes on my own, meeting new people.  Many people think I am a confident person but this is a misnomer.  I am confident at work in my comfort zone but I have little confidence outside of it.  I am learning to be comfortable with myself more, something I think comes with age, but I need to feel comfortable without my sons as a security blanket. I read somewhere recently that those people who get the most  from life and fulfil their goals are those that are prepared to put themselves in uncomfortable positions and I think this is true. I have had to go through some difficult times over the years bringing up my sons, loosing my sister, loosing Dad but they have all been situations imposed on me.  Now I am in a position where I can drift along through life as I am or I can choose to set myself some challenges – it has to be the latter.

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Around here I saw a Green Woodpecker, identified by its distinctive undulating flight, a flash of yellow-green gave me an additional clue and then the its laughing call, which reminded me of their old English name of Yaffle.

As you can see as I slowly climbed higher so the mist got thicker.  Somewhere up ahead is the Beacon.  I wasn’t completely alone as I did meet two other walkers going the opposite way which left me wondering where they had walked from and what time they had set out!

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It was at this point that I decided that the Beacon would not be achievable today! I wanted to be able to cross another hill off the list so I decided to leave the path and go up to the top of Summer Hill which I knew was to my right.  It isn’t far to the top although by now it was getting quite chilly and windy, causing me to have ear ache; I really must invest in a hat!.

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So this is the top of Summer Hill and somewhere up ahead are stunning views of Malvern looking out across Worcestershire. Summer Hill is 1,253 ft above sea level, some 140ft shorter than the Beacon; so goodness knows how bad the visibility would have got if I had carried on with my original objective.

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The walk down was even easier being downhill and still no sign of anyone else strangely! It was around here that I became transfixed by the cobwebs sparkling among the gorse and bejewelled with dew. Finally, as I neared the car park the sun started to try to break through the mist.

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Some hour and half later I could see the top of the hills from my kitchen window and I briefly wondered if I should have delayed my walk.  But I don’t think so.  If I had waited then I would have lost the spontaneous feeling, I would have been negotiating other walkers and I would have missed the strange magical quality of the misty hills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Malvern Hills Challenge – 3: British Camp

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Its been some weeks since I posted an update on my challenge to climb all the hills that make up the Malvern Hills.  Life has been incredibly demanding and tiring recently with the retirement of my boss of 15 years and a range of meetings one on top of the other at the end of the academic year.  But today some pressure was lifted and my personal future is a little clearer and I feel a sense of contentment returning. But I needed some air, some space and so finally I managed to find time and energy to climb hill number 3

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My youngest son also felt in need of some fresh air and exercise so we decided to cross one of the higher hills off my list – British Camp.  Whilst it is one of the highest in the range, you actually park very near the top so apart from these steep stairs not far from the car park, the climb isn’t that challenging and takes no time at all.  You can understand why it is one of the most popular peaks in the chain.

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I realised that so far my walks have been in the evening and they have benefited from the wonderful evening light on the top of the hills.

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British Camp is also known as the Herefordshire Beacon – the Worcestershire Beacon is at the other end of the chain and is where we enjoyed a wonderful evening during the diamond jubilee and is the summit in the middle of the photograph below.

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The reason the hill is called British Camp is because it is the site of a 2000 year old Iron Age fort and you can start to see the ramparts as you come close to the summit.

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Archaeological digs on the adjacent Midsummer Hill have led the experts to think that this was not just a defensive site but a settlement for around 4000 people for a period of 400-500 years. With the coming of the Romans the site was abandoned although the Romans gave the hills one of its legends.  Apparently the Ancient British chieftain Caractacus made his last stand at British Camp but there are some that dispute this legend since the historian Tacitus’s record of Caractacus’s capture states :

quote Caracticus played his final card and chose a site for a battle so that the approaches, the escape routes, everything, was awkward for us and to his sides advantage. On one side there were steep hills. Where ever approaches were gentle he piled boulders into a sort of rampart. In front of him flowed a river of doubtful fordability and squadrons of armed men were in position on the defences. quote

 

For those who know the area it is hard to imagine that the River Severn would have ever reached the foot of the Hills and even the argument that it might have changed its course is tenuous but it is a nice story.  The legend also says that Claudius was so impressed with Caractacus when he appeared in Rome that he gave him his own villa.

 

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Later there was a Norman motte fortification at the top of British Camp and if you look along the ridge line you will see the Shire Ditch which runs along the hills from North to South

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British Camp also benefits from having the Malvern Hills Hotel adjacent to its main car park.  A great pub with great food which is always popular.

So that’s Hill 3 ticked off the list, not sure which one I will do next.

 

Malvern Hills Challenge – 1: Raggedstone Hill

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In response to my fidgeting the other day my eldest son offered me a challenge – to climb to the top of each of the Malvern Hills.  Now to many people this really isn’t much of a challenge, after all they are hardly the Scottish Munros.  However, I really don’t do enough exercise and have been saying for a while that I need to get fit.  I live on the lower slopes and despite moving to the area in 2000 I have really only been up a couple of the more frequently visit hills; there are 16 hills in total although some of them are almost on top of each other.

So that’s one down, 15 to go and I think the next one will be at the other end of the chain: North Hill.  I went up this hill a few months back as it overlooks my mother’s house and we scattered my father’s ashes here so the walk may be  a little poignant but on that day we didn’t get to the very top so there is something to aim for.  Today I have been to get my resident’s parking permit for the hills, a snip at £3 per year, and some maps so I am all set.

Ghosts of the Past

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We had planned to go for a walk at Croome Park on Boxing Day but like so much else it was closed due to flooding.  So instead we went for a walk on the Malvern Hills which are only a 5 minute drive from us.    I love trees especially at this time of year when their winter skeletons are so beautiful so we parked up at Earnslaw and went for a walk through the woods up to the ridge and back down.  I didn’t fancy getting blown away walking along the ridge.

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We recently discovered that there used to be a grand house just above Earnslaw Quarry and it wasn’t until 1884 that the Malvern Conservators bought up the land on the hills on the order of the government in order to preserve it for future generations and allow the local people use  of the hills.

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I particularly enjoy walking in this part of the hills as you stumble upon old walls that presumably were previously boundary walls or maybe garden features.  It appeals to the romantic in me, the person who was spellbound by The Secret Garden.  The walls also fuel my growing enthusiasm for moss and lichen.

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Since starting to dabble in botanical art I find that I look more closely at plants and I suppose this is also partly due to the amount of photographs I take for the blog.  I find myself drawn to moss and lichen more and more, they are so beautiful and so tactile.  Maybe one day I might find time to try to learn which one is which.

As you can see from the photographs there were not many people, that is until we got to the ridge when it was like rush hour.  I really don’t understand why people stick to the top of the hills, they have so much more to offer.  I agree that the views are amazing; across to the Black Hills of Wales in one direction and to the Bredon Hills in the Cotswolds in the other.  However, for me walking along the tarmac path which leads from the big car parks along the ridge loses the sense of exploration that I used to enjoy as a child walking in the Beech Woods in Finchampstead in Berkshire.  The excitement of sliding down a slope and falling into a pile of leaves, of climbing a tree, of wondering at the vastness and shape of the trees none of these things can be experienced when walking, with everyone else, along a pavement along the ridge.

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From the top we looked out towards Worcester and could see clearly the extent of the flooding.  You can’t usually see the River Severn very clearly from the top of the hills but there was no doubt of its course on Boxing Day and it explained why a visit to Croome Park was a non-starter; even if it had been opened we would have struggled to get to it.

Having admired the view we left the day trippers behind and descended back down the hills through the woods and home.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflections

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This week’s Weekly Photo Challenge is along the theme of reflections.

I was really pleased to see this theme as it made me go for a trip up the Malvern  Hills which are only a 5 minute drive from so that I could visit Earnslaw Pool.  It is a former quarry and very deep.  I love it as there is a wonderful atmosphere about the place.  You can only approach from one narrow end of the pool, the rest is surrounded by high walls from the former quarry.

This weekend due to the cold we have had the pool was frozen although the ice was beginning to melt.  I couldn’t get right to the pool but I took the above photo by the entrance.  I found the process fascinating since when I looked down into the water the reflections of the trees weren’t that clear instead my eyes were drawn through the clear water to the decaying leaves lying on the bottom of the pool.  It was only when I looked at the screen on my camera that I saw that the camera had seen the view differently and really picked up the colours of the sky and trees above.

I also liked the way that the trees growing up the steep side of the quarry seemed to be slightly distorted in the reflection they appear to be growing at different angles which is not the case.

Taking this photograph was an interesting lesson in how cameras work.

 

A Wet Easter

Whilst I have been looking forward to a long weekend in order to potter in the garden and tackle the allotment (note the difference in the choice of verbs!) I have to admit I am relieved we have had so much rain this weekend.

Unlike my gardening friends in the South and South East we are not currently facing a hose pipe ban but needless to say the dryness has begun to tell and the water butts were worryingly empty.  All the talk at the allotment has been about whether the council will turn the water off and what we will do if this happens.  I for one think if the council do turn the water off due to the excessive costs now the site is fully occupied it will  be because of people wasting water through needless over watering  but I will save that rant for another day.

Saturday was a very wet day here in Malvern, although no rain was forecast!! Virtually all day we had that fine drizzle that seems to eat into you without you really realising – I think this is what the Scots call ‘smirr’ well according to Ian Rankin in Black & Blue it is.  It was one of those days that resulted in me pacing around not achieving anything and then getting cross.  I started well with the weekly shop and I painted two doors but then I had the afternoon to fill and I am terrible at doing nothing.  So I sewed.  By the time my youngest came home from work I was desperate for some fresh air so we went for a quick walk up the Malvern Hills.  It had to be quick as the sun was setting and we hadn’t taken a torch!!  (see top picture)

Sunday was a better day.  The sun was shining and I started with a couple of hours at the allotment.  I forgot to say that I had spent a couple of hours there on Friday as well.  Anyway, the allotment is really coming on.  It is beginning to look neat and tidy and there are crops appearing.  I sowed carrots, parsnip, salsify, rocket and some lettuce.  The pakchoi and spinach sown last week has started to germinate.  The peas and broad beans are looking sturdy and all the potatoes are in.  I cleared another bed of last year’s debris, top dressed with some of the free green waste and planted another gooseberry bush.  I have been planting fruit bushes along one side of the plot to make a loose wind break.  Before I left I harvested my very first crop of rhubarb from the site.  I have waited a year to harvest this, letting the plants establish themselves but this weekend I brought home a huge bunch which I made into a crumble.  I also harvested the last of the parsnips and another bunch of purple sprouting broccoli – wonderful.

The weather stayed fine in the afternoon allowing me to plant out lots of recent acquisitions.  With all the rain we have forecast for the coming week I wanted to get them in so they got a good start.  In went two epimediums, a primula, a hydrangea, a peony, some nepeta and lots of digitalis ferruginea which I have grown from seed.

My handiwork is supervised these days by the cat, Maisie, who I consider to be the under- gardener but as you can tell from her expression considers herself the supervisor.  She loves it when we are in the garden, stalking us and becoming quite a distraction.  Sadly I am coming to the conclusion that I may have to give up on having good displays of grasses as she seems to be eating them all but never mind.

Monday and the rain was back – more smirr.  Plans for a visit to the local flea market were curtailed so we ended up going to a DIY superstore.  Not an original idea but we did get some handles we have been meaning to get for months so not a complete waste of a morning and we did have a laugh.  I do miss going out with my sons now they are adults with busy lives so I relish any outing however mundane.  More rain in the afternoon although the greenhouse proved a useful refuge for a while until I ran out of space.  I am going to buy one of those plastic cold frame/grow houses tomorrow.  So I retreated and continued sewing.  I have now finished the second phase of the sewing project – only the bloomers and bonnet to go.  In case you are wondering these aren’t for me but are a replacement set of clothes for a soft toy belonging to my mother which I made her originally some 20 years ago.  It’s the first sewing I have done in years but I am loving it and am all fired up to start dressmaking again.

A wet Easter weekend maybe but a quietly satisfying one.