We had booked a couple of days away to do a little rambling and for Sue to revisit a few locations that during her childhood she now remembers with great fondness. I thought it would be ideal as a little tester for my knee and foot and so it turned out to be. The weather forecast for our stay was pretty appalling and it was expected to continue throughout the week, but we had chosen comfortable accommodation and phlegmatically we resolved to make the best of it whatever came.
Despite the BBC weather App on our phones prophesising meteorological Armageddon, we woke on the 23rd to a lovely Harborough morning. Light, overcast skies accompanied us all the way to our accommodation; the Colwall Park Hotel located at the foot of the Malvern hills and ideal for hiking as it is near the start of several trails.
After parking up and changing into more appropriate footwear I loaded our route onto my GPS and we set off, fingers crossed that the predicted downpour would turn out to be a false prophesy. As we journeyed ever upward towards the Worcestershire Beacon, the sun came out and the views become increasingly more magnificent.
GPS plotted route
We came across a few other Monday walkers but I am sure that the BBC forecasting had kept all but the intrepid (foolhardy?) away. The early autumn sunshine was tempered by a pleasant cooling breeze, preventing us from overheating on the steeper sections. The air was clear, enabling us to see as far as the Welsh mountains to the west, Clee Hill to the north and Bredon Hill to the east. As we neared the Beacon, ominously dark clouds could be seen building to the southwest. Stopping a while in the lee of the Beacon cairn itself to take photos and eat our packed lunch we engaged in conversation with some fellow summiteers from Utah. They were in the UK for six weeks, and some British friends from Malvern (visible way down below us) had suggested they come up for the views. They were eager to be off the hill by the time the rain clouds arrived. They left us to finish our lunch.
I was heartened that both knee and foot were bearing up well to such strenuous exertion. However, the next section was downhill to Saint Anne’s Well and the knee did not like that as well as it did up! It is thought that St Ann’s Well was used by the monks from Worcester living in a hermitage on the Hills when they were building Great Malvern Priory in 1085. There are references to St Ann’s Well in the 13th Century and on maps of the Foley Estates from 1744, however, St Ann’s Well did not become significant until the 19th Century. There is a café there, but unfortunately, it was not open today! A fabulously atmospheric place to have coffee or perhaps something stronger, maybe even a glass of spring water from the well, though a prominent sign advises against it. I think maybe the warning was created by the café proprietors, keen to preserve the sales of their own refreshments. I tried the water and apart from a faint soapy taste it seemed fine, this has been written several days afterwards and I still have no ill effects (yet).
As we left the Well and continued back along the eastern slope of the hills it began to rain. Much of our track took us under the canopy of the wooded gradient so we were mostly sheltered from the downpour. As we reached a high section that we had trodden earlier that morning it seemed likely that the rain was here to stay. Optimistically we decided to give the sun a chance and deviated briefly to the Wych Inn (the highest pub in Worcestershire with panoramic views towards the Cotswolds), for refreshments and a dry seat. Our planned route was to continue along the eastern slopes to Holy Well and then ascend the hill towards our hotel, but as the cloud closed in and visibility became very limited we opted for the more sensible (and much shorter) return along the path we had used that morning, my GPs logged us as doing a very encouraging 9.75 miles.
After a change into dry clothes, later that evening we opted to return to the Wych Inn (by car) for a meal. Not surprisingly, apart from one other soul, we were the establishment’s only clients. Waiting for what turned out to be a very fine meal Sue amused herself by investigating the history of the pub from its many wall paintings and photographs, at one stage have a protracted conversation with the barman about the shopping opportunities in Ledbury.
That night, our sleep was disturbed by heavy pounding rain and an associated thunderstorm. We woke to yet more precipitation filling the road guttering and overflowing the drains. Breakfast was magnificent, artistically presented and beautifully cooked. I think this hotel is going to receive a favourable review from us!
We had planned to drive to our next accommodation the Throckmorton near Coughton Hall and follow a walk that I had planned a few days earlier, however as the rain didn’t appear as if it would abate, we decided to visit the nearby British Camp and Holy Well that we had missed on yesterdays fore-shortened hike.
It was just a 15-minute drive to the 3500yr old Iron Age hill fort known as the British Camp atop Malvern Beacon. As we parked up, to our delight and surprise the rain stopped and the sun came out. Deciding to risk it we set off to climb the Beacon and were rewarded with a dry ascent and fine views. The site contains a classic layout with clearly defined ditches and mounds and it is obvious why the location was chosen as it would have certainly dominated the surrounding landscape when first built, as it does quite effectively today. We were the only ones venturing to the very top, though a couple of dog walkers were circumnavigating the lowers slopes as we made our way back to the car. This archaeological site is certainly worth more than the cursory visit that we gave it, a particularly good spot for a picnic on a warm summer’s eve.
Moving on, we partly retraced our route to The Kettle Sings, a fashionable English tea room established by Miss Millie Stephens in 1928 and positioned along Jubilee Drive, built to celebrate Queen Victoria. Sue has fond memories as a child of visiting the place after many long walks in the Malverns with her family. Unfortunately, the café doesn’t open on a Monday or Tuesday, so an anticipated coffee wasn’t to be. Sue had to satisfy herself by taking a few nostalgic photos from the outside to send to her sister (currently in China).
With the forecast rain still not making an appearance, our next stop was to a small hidden cottage where the famous Holy Well is located. As with Saint Anne’s Well the water gushes into a small pretty ceramic trough within a small room to the side of a cottage. Earliest records of the Well date back to 1558, but it has achieved fame as being the source of bottled Malvern Water, supposedly the only bottled water that the present queen will drink. I found that it didn’t have the slightly soapy taste of the day before, but neither did it have that regal flavour which I was expecting. There is a small bottling plant located in a garage next to the cottage, not a huge enterprise but if you click on the link you will see that they did take on the might of Coca-Cola and won.
Still accompanied by fine weather we then drove for an hour to the Throckmorton pub in Coughton. Here we had a drink and lunch whilst a short shower passed by. I was intrigued and chose a pulled BBQ Jack Fruit wrap, a vegetarian option and very flavoursome, I would have it again.
Well stocked with calories, we pulled on our hiking boots, powered up the GPS and set off through the fields next to Coughton Hall on what turned out to be a very long and tiring walk. Much of the first part of our route took us along the Millennium Way following the picturesque River Arrow. Though dark rain and heavy clouds scudded across the visible landscape, thankfully none came overhead to dump their load on us. During the entire 4.5-hour walk we came across no other persons, but saw plenty of geese, horses, sheep, cows and muntjac. There were a couple of small hills to raise the heartbeat, but mostly we passed through water meadow and large wooded areas set aside for the shooting of pheasants of which we scared up quite a few.
Our return leg was along the Arden Way trail and it was on this that we both grew weary, muscles and bones protesting at each footfall. We only found a couple of places during the entire ramble to sit and rest awhile, so towards the end it felt like a bit of a slog. Arriving back at the River Arrow we came across a mini-bus full of senior citizens from a nearby residential home. The rather rash driver had attempted to cross the river by way of a ford, which was now in full flood. There was a taxi alongside that I guess was ferrying the unfortunate home. We chatted to the driver and his assistant for a while (the engine was flooded and going nowhere) before crossing the river ourselves by way of a footbridge. We learnt later during our evening meal that this was the second time the same driver had done this, it was certainly hot local gossip!
Arriving back at the Throckmorton, we rested our ailing limbs and drank coffee before changing for dinner down in the pub restaurant. We slept well that night!
We rose for a late breakfast and checked out at 10.30am. We had chosen Throckmorton because of its proximity to Coughton Hall, Sue’s U3A history group is visiting it later in the year, but she didn’t manage to book a place on the trip as they went very fast and we were away. It was less than a 2-minute drive from the pub and we were fortunate in securing a conducted taster tour of the house as soon as we paid our entrance fee.
Our small group of eight followed the knowledgeable volunteer guide from room to room, learning about the history of the Throckmorton family and the various artefacts and artwork on display. Clearly, the Throckmorton’s were survivors throughout history, managing to turn adversity to their advantage. The house is still being lived in by the family, who occupy the whole of the north wing. The care of the house and grounds itself now belongs to the National Trust (see what I mean about opportunists?)
After our guided tour, we again visited each of the rooms to have a further look at the contents of this fascinating snapshot of the lives of well-to-do folk through the ages. Unlike Sue, the thought of spending time wandering around a stately home is less preferential to painting the garage door and watching it dry for several hours, but I really did find it absorbing discovering about this family.
We finished off our visit via the church and the extensive walled garden and of course the gift shop, before driving back to Harborough.
An interesting and varied few days away, surprising in that we managed to avoid the worst of the weather, it must be true that the sun really does shine on the righteous!