Cars, Countryside, Speed – whats not to love

I have confessed before my quiet appreciation of the combustion engine. I have often made the excuse that because I have two sons I’ve spent a lot of time when they were little on steam trains and watching motor racing. If I am honest I suspect that I am unfairly blaming my sons as even before they came along I have loved steam trains and motor sport.

This weekend I dragged one of them, with his girlfriend and my mother to Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb which is only about 30 minutes from us buried in the Worcestershire countryside.  As you wend your way through the narrow windy country lanes it seems strange that you are going to a motor racing event; there aren’t even any queues.

Shelsley Walsh has been hosting hill climbs since 1905 and predates Indianapolis, Le Mans and Monza.  It has a unique charm. You can walk around the pits looking at an eclectic collection of cars of all ages and designs, owned and driven by an equally eclectic group of people.

You can stand at the start line and watch each car individually set off on its climb up the 1000 yard track, on a 1 in 6 gradient. If you are feeling energetic you can make your way up the track and view from different points, but only the die-hards make it to the top where it is rumoured there are ice creams!

And for me the icing on the cake is the stunning location with bucolic cows completely un-phased by the strange activities of their neighbours.

 

 

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.

Happy Birthday Your Majesty – From Malvern

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Today is our Queen’s 90th birthday, Happy Birthday Ma’am, and as part of the celebration there have been beacons lit across the country including on Worcestershire Beacon in the Malvern Hills which I live on the lower slopes of.

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The lighting of beacons, although historic, seems to have risen in popularity since the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012.  Malvern went the old-fashioned approach then with a large bonfire which was quite wonderful. Sadly the approach seems to have moved towards gas beacons, probably due to health and safety, and the some of that primeval magic has been lost.  However, there is still something very special in seeing people making their way up the Beacon, the highest point in the Hills at 425m, and coming together to mark a special occasion.

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As 8:30 approached people started moving towards the beacon, a lady sang Land of Hope and Glory and a speech was made by the Lord Lieutenant before the beacon was lit.  We sang the national anthem and Happy Birthday, dogs barked and mobile devices were held aloft in an attempt to take a photo.

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It was a lovely way to spend the evening with my sons and their friends, bumping into people we know.  And as an added bonus I can cross off the Worcestershire Beacon from my Malvern Hills Challenge, especially as we took one of the harder routes up the hill.

Malvern Hills Challenge 7: Perseverance Hill

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Finally a weekend when a walk on the hills first thing was a real possibility and strangely after temperatures all week of -5-2C this morning the temperature was 12C, how very strange.  Since my last walk I have wanted to tick Perseverance Hill off my list as I was annoyed that I hadn’t pushed myself that little bit more last time.  So back to the Quarry car park and arriving at 8:45 it was hardly surprising that the car park was empty.  I find the starkness of the granite stone fascinating.  I am sure someone who knows about geology would be able to tell me lots about these stones but I really just love the colours and forms.

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It’s a gentle walk from the car park along broad pathways.  Despite the car park being empty there was no shortage of runners, walkers and cyclists.  I passed by Jubilee Hill along the lower path (above) and continued onwards from where I left off last time.

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Perseverance Hill ahead and as you can see plenty of people around for first thing on a January morning.  One lady who you can just spot in the distance, motored past me at a fair rate of walking and was positively euphoric at being able to get out on the hills after all the wintery weather we have had.  I did stop and take some photos which is why she is so far ahead but given her likely age she really was inspiring.

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Perseverance Hill is 1,066ft (325m) above sea level and slightly shorter than Pinnacle and Jubilee Hills.  From the top you can look across the edge of Malvern and beyond.  My house is down there. I tried to put an arrow on the photo but haven’t got the patience to do it.  If you follow the railway line from the hill, and look for the two red garage doors near the railway then my house is sort of diagonally between the two red garage doors.

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Moving to your right across the golf course you come to the Three Counties Showground where the RHS Spring Festival will be held in May.

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From the top of Perseverance Hill you look across to the Beacon, in the dip before the Beacon is the Wyche Cutting with car parking, a cafe and a pub.  The walk from the Wyche Cutting, along Perseverance, Jubilee and Pinnacle Hills to the Malvern Hills Hotel, just before British Camp is one of the most popular.  Probably because the walk is pretty easy going with just enough small peaks to make you feel you have achieved something and of course there is a pub at both ends.  It is definitely a walk I can see I will be doing once I have finished this challenge.

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It is one of the benefits of this challenge that I have discovered parts of the hills completely new to me and I really like this area partly because it isn’t too arduous to get to the top of the peaks but also for the trees.  I have had a fascination with tree skeletons since I was a child and I still have some drawing pads with ink outlined trees drawn probably when I was in my early teens.

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I really love the textures and lines of the bare trunks and branches, I can see how this image could easily translate into a drawing.

So that 7 of the 16 named hills completed and ticked off my list.  I think the next ones will be those beyond British Camp going towards Eastnor.  Coming out of the car park I was trying to decide whether to go left or right, it didn’t matter as I have to go round the hills either way, when a posse of some 30 road cyclists appeared all out for their Sunday morning cycle – decision made I went the opposite way!

End of Year View 2015

I thought I would do an End of Year View post instead of an End of Month post so I could see how areas had changed through the year.  Starting with the view up the steps to the shed I am pleased with how the border along the steps has filled out.  At the start of the year there was a Stiga gigantea here but it was a sad specimen and taking up a lot of space.  Removing it last January freed up a lot of space which I have filled with agapanthus, peony and a range of bulbs which need sun and sharp drainage. But I wanted some waftiness up the stairs so late in the year I added some Stipa tenuissima.

The start of the bottom path is one of my favourite places to sit and ponder.  I always think that the photos along here never show it off well but there you go. I want to try to beef up the planting along here, bring in more colour through the year but especially in late summer.

The bottom part of the woodland border looked really good in early Summer but it needs to be improved in Spring especially given that Spring is meant to be the season of interest for shady areas.  This being so I have added lots of narcissus bulbs and I am hoping that next Spring my hard work will be rewarded.

The top of the woodland border has progressed slowly this year; I have to be patient and let plants establish and fill out.  Again I have added narcissus in here and there are signs of them coming through.

The final view I am including is along the grass path.  I started the year umming and arhing about whether to replace the grass with something else but I think the grass is a nice counterfoil to the plants and my cat likes it so ….  I want to improve the planting at the start of the path and have started to do this with the addition of Anemanthele lessoniana and repeated it with one towards the end of the path.  I think it draws the eye but also starts to soft the edges.

So that was 2015 in my garden.  I haven’t decided what view will be the focus of the End of Month View in 2016, it needs to be somewhere that photographs well which isn’t the case with much of my garden due to its smallness and the angles needed.

It has been great that so many of you have joined in with the End of Month View meme in 2015 and I really hope that you have found it useful.  I do hope that you will join in again in 2016 and all I ask is that you leave a link to your posts in the comment box of my post for the relevant month and include a link back to my post in your post.  That way we can all connect.

Best wishes for 2016.

Helen

Malvern Hills Challenge 5 & 6 – Pinnacle and Jubilee Hills

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I keep wondering if I have forgotten something important for Christmas as I seem to have lots of wonderful luxurious free time this week.  After surviving the annual brussel sprout scrum in the supermarket it struck me that there was a beautiful blue sky and the view of the hills from my kitchen window was very enticing.  Time to tick off another hill for my Malvern Hills Challenge and maybe work off the mince pies I have already consumed.

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I’m not approaching the challenge with any sort of plan.  I just set off, park the car in one of the car parks and see where my feet take me.  Today, I dug out my new walking boots – well they were new some 4 years ago but today I actually wore them.  I parked up at Gardiner’s Quarry and followed the path upwards.  I quickly reached the first peak (top photo) and despite the wind blowing a gale and my fingers feeling like ice cubes I decided to see if I could cross off a second summit.

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As you can see the second summit wasn’t too far so very doable. This is Pinnacle Hill which is 357m (1171ft) above sea level.  It was an easy walk, although I needed my beanie and  hood up because of the wind and cold – probably around 5C (41F)

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There’s not much to tell you about Pinnacle Hill except there are two possible Bronze age burrows on the summit and breathtaking views in all directions across to the Bredons in East and the Black Hills of Wales to the West.

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The summit you can see in the distance is the Beacon which I haven’t ticked off my list yet but it is the one hill that I have been up a number of times over the years.   The yellow sticks you can see to the left of the photo are an electric fence which is there to control the sheep.  The Malverns have been grazed by livestock, generally sheep and cattle, for centuries with the exception of when foot and mouth was prevalent.  This being the case walkers are used to having to negotiate gates and keeping their dogs on leads in prescribed areas.

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So having done two summits, why not do another one and in my sights is the lowest of the three hills you can see above.  This is Jubilee Hill, beyond is Perseverance Hill and then the Beacon.  As you can see the Malverns benefit from well established paths so any one can easily access them.

Jubilee Hill was named in 2002 by the Malvern Conservators to mark the Queens Golden Jubilee, and the plaque was unveiled by the Duke of York. The hill is 327m (1073ft) above sea level.

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Having reached the top of Jubilee Hill I pondered continuing to Perseverance Hill but decided that it was probably a little ambitious given this was the first real exercise I had done since October.  Hopefully sometime in the next week there will be another dry day and I can tick Perseverance off the list.

On my return home I consulted my map of the hills and was disappointed to discover that the first summit is not one of the named hills so instead of crossing 3 off the list, I have only crossed 2 off. In fact it is the only unnamed hill on the map below and I feel quite cheated! There are 16 named hills plus this one, so I have 10 to complete if I want to complete the challenge my son has made of go to the top of all the hills in a year.  The deadline is the 29th May 2016 and if I am really lucky he will take me to try to spot some glow worms that he knows the location of somewhere on the hills.

You can access my other reports here

1: Raggedstone Hill
2. North Hill
3. British Camp
4. Summer Hill

 

 

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.