A postcard from...Malvern
PUBLISHED: 14:37 05 August 2019 | UPDATED: 14:37 05 August 2019
Tracy Spiers and her friend Siobhan Adam wanted to enjoy all that Malvern has on offer – and they certainly found to plenty to see and do
It's a town which has a rich history encompassing monastic fishponds, the Victorian water cure, inspirational poets, musicians and writers, secret Second World War research projects, salt-carrying donkeys and Worcestershire Sauce. Malvern is the perfect place to visit if you want to be inspired by culture and beauty. It's also the ideal town to keep fit. And for those willing to stride out and hike uphill, the rewards are so worth it - stunning panoramic views that need to be experienced to be fully appreciated. A camera can capture a picture, but there's nothing like feeling the fresh breeze and being at one with the elements up above it all. I took my lovely creative outdoor-loving friend Siobhan Adam with me to experience the joys of all that Malvern has on offer - and we found a few!
- We park near the town centre and enter the High Street where the impressive landmark of Great Malvern Priory greets us. Founded around 1085, this was home to a community of around 30 monks who grew herbs, vegetables and created fishponds in Priory Park as well as tending the poor and sick. In the 1520s, when Henry VIII closed England's monasteries, local people clubbed together to raise £20 to buy Malvern's church for the town. It was restored in the 19th century using advice from Augustus Pugin, famous for designing the interior of the Houses of Parliament. We spot the grave of Anne Elizabeth Darwin, daughter of Charles Darwin who was buried here in 1851 after being brought to Great Malvern in the hope she would be healed by its famous waters.
- We pass one of Malvern's infamous gas laps which inspired C.S Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and featured in Narnia, and head up to Belle Vue island, which showcases the Malvhina Fountain and celebrates the town's role as a place offering water cures and treatments. The building which is now Lloyds Bank (previously the Crown Inn) was where Doctors Wilson and Gully launched their Water Cure in 1842, treating 350 patients within months. It attracted the famous including Charles Darwin, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Florence Nightingale. Another fact worth noting is Malvern Goldsmiths used to be a chemist shop, owned by John Lea and William Perrins of the Worcestershire Sauce fame. Apparently, they discovered their recipe after leaving a failed experiment to ferment.
- I persuade Siobhan to try the drinking water before I introduce myself to Edward Elgar, considered one of the great English composers who lied in Malvern from 1891 to 1904 and wrote his famous Enigma Variations here. He also taught at The Mount off Avenue Road. A keen cyclist and walker, Elgar was inspired by the Malvern Hills and countryside. His bronze statue, sculpted by Rose Garrard, is positioned so he looks towards the Bluebird Tea Rooms which he loved to visit.
- Incidentally I do heartily recommend picking up a free guide, entitled "Explore Great Malvern: Route to the Hills,'' from the Tourist Information Centre. Since my last visit the town has produced this wonderful booklet and tells some of Malvern's unique stories through a new walking route which connects the town with the hills. In recent months, new artworks, building plaques, pavement studs, decorated benches and information panels have been installed which helps make a trip to Malvern really fascinating. Siobhan and I feel like children again in search for treasure as we discover the story-telling features. I am so enthusiastic, I go and buy a sketchbook and graphite stick from nearby art shop, Colemans of Malvern, and do some rubbings of little brass motifs I find hidden in the stone steps. Also take note of the Unicorn Inn, where C.S. Lewis and his literary friends used to meet up for drinks in the 1950s.
- Before heading upwards, we buy a cappuccino in one of the town's plethora of cafes, notably Abbey Road Coffee. It certainly gives us the boast to climb. We walk past the Priory Gatehouse, the original gateway to the medieval monastery, now Malvern Museum. It's a quaint, informative amenity where visitors can learn all about the town's past in an engaging way and children can dress up as monks, peasants, soldiers and nurses.
- We head up through Rose Bank Gardens, and admire the majestic bird sculptures on show. Since I last visited a skylark made from steel, namely Lark Ascending by Walenty Pytel, has joined the artist's landmark buzzards which he created to mark the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen.
- Rose Bank Gardens were originally the grounds of Rose Bank House, demolished in the 1950s. In 1918, Charles Dyson Perrins, wealthy grandson of one of the Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce inventors, bought the house and grounds and donated them to the town. During the Second World War, this house acted as a social hub where locals mixed with hundreds of scientists brought to the town to secretly work on improve bombing accuracy and develop decoys to deceive the enemy. Their research and radar development made a major contribution and contributed to numerous life-changing inventions including flight simulators LCD displays, touchscreens and X-ray detector crystals used in CAT scans.
- We venture up the 99 steps near the garden entrance to St Ann's Well. On the way, Siobhan rests on one of the decorative benches which looks like a donkey. For centuries donkeys carried salt from the brine springs at Droitwich to South Wales via Malvern and the high pass over the hills. The enterprising 'Donkey women' were so named as they employed children to lead donkeys and their passengers up and down the hills as the popularity of the Malvern Water cure grew. We meander up too and admire the amazing Tolkien-like trees on the way, they have the wow factor and are truly mythical. In 1813 a small house, now St Anne's Well Café, was built around the spring which still flows from an elaborate dolphin-head sprout. For a moment, Siobhan is convinced she'll go down in history as a woman who broke the well, as it stops flowing just as she takes a sip! After a very long minute, it starts up again, and all is well! As it is such a clear day, albeit a tad chilly, we drink in the wonderful views before descending back into town.
- One place perfect for picnics during the summer months is Priory Park which is host to a variety of events including live music, outdoor cinema and festivals. It also includes a children's play area, Victorian band stand, and a duck pond and provides a perfect setting for Malvern Theatres. The town has a strong theatrical and musical tradition. The Assembly Rooms built in 1884, were transformed into a fine theatre and ballroom in 1927 in time for the first Malvern Festival, directed by Barry Jackson and George Bernard Shaw. Today, it is a major artistic centre. In July, there's a choice of watching the definitive 30th anniversary tour of Fame the Musical starring Keith Jack, Mica Paris and Jorgie Porter; Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap; Richard O'Brien's legendary rock 'n' roll musical Rocky Horror Show and Amélie, a new musical based on the much loved five-time Oscar®-nominated film about an astonishing young woman who lives quietly in the world, but loudly in her mind.
- Before we head back home, we visit Great Malvern Station and admire the elegance its Victorian Gothic architecture, notably its cast iron columns and individual steel moulding of flowers designed by Worcester sculptor William Forsyth. Completed in 1863, this station was designed with the wealthier passenger in mind and we pop into what was the private waiting room for local landowner Lady Emily Foley, now a popular teashop. For a moment, we are gentile ladies enjoying our afternoon tea surrounded by William Morris wallpaper and curtains. On the station platform, we spot the entrance of what is known as "the Worm," a tunnel leading to the former Imperial Hotel which later became Malvern St James School. We stand on the bridge later to get a better view of the corrugated iron 'worm' which provided shelter for the 'discerning passenger.'
- Our final stop off is the Three Counties Showground, which has over 250 days of events throughout the year including CountryTastic, RHS Malvern Spring Festival and the Royal Three Counties Show. Coming up in the next few weeks is the popular Malvern Autumn Show and the Three Counties Caravan Show. In association with Westons Cider Mill, Malvern Autumn Show returns on Saturday, September 28 and Sunday, September 29, with expert gardeners battling it out to see who can grow the heaviest or longest veg and be crowned the ultimate vegetable growing champion at the CANNA UK National Giant Vegetables Championship. Other highlights include dog agility, floral displays, vintage village, old-fashioned fairground and spotting familiar faces amongst the crowds, from Carol Klein to Mark Diacono.
- In a few hours, Siobhan and I have learnt so much about this hilly town, which is not only a great place to look around in terms of retail therapy, but in terms of culture, history, beauty, artistic and scientific merit, it has it all. We leave Malvern more informed and definitely a little bit fitter than we first arrived!