‘The Malvern Hills…dominate the surrounding countryside and the towns and villages of the district of Malvern. The highest summit of the hills affords a panorama of the Severn valley with the hills of Herefordshire and the Welsh mountains, parts of thirteen counties, the Bristol Channel, and the cathedrals of Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford’.
Well, not this week they didn’t. We spent a couple of days staying with a friend in a village just a stone’s throw from the Malvern ridge. We were there two days and never saw anything of the hills, shrouded in mist for the whole time. On the afternoon we arrived I took the dog for a walk along the ridge from Malvern Wells, and the next day we all walked up the Worcestershire beacon. On both occasions there was nothing to see – the promised panoramic views lost in dense low-lying cloud. It was certainly atmospheric though, as this slide show of photos I took in the murk confirms.
The Malvern Hills rise abruptly from the surrounding plain because they are are formed out of some of the most ancient rocks in England: igneous and metamorphic rocks from the late pre-Cambrian, around 680 million years ago. Because they are hard igneous rocks, they have resisted erosion better than those of the surrounding countryside. They have been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Compare this view to those in the slideshow!
The Malverns are renowned for the spring water issuing from the ridge. Great Malvern at the foot of the ridge developed as a spa town in the 19th century and nowadays there is a thriving industry producing bottled drinking water.
The Malvern Hills have inspired many writers and musicians. They provided the inspiration and setting for William Langland’s 14th century poem The Visions of Piers Plowman (1362). This is the opening of the Prologue:
In a summer season when soft was the sun,
I clothed myself in a cloak as I shepherd were,
Habit like a hermit’s unholy in works,
And went wide in the world wonders to hear.
But on a May morning on Malvern hills,
A marvel befell me of fairy, methought.
I was weary with wandering and went me to rest
Under a broad bank by a brook’s side,
And as I lay and leaned over and looked into the waters
I fell into a sleep for it sounded so merry.
Then began I to dream a marvellous dream,
That I was in a wilderness wist I not where.
As I looked to the east right into the sun,
I saw a tower on a toft worthily built;
A deep dale beneath a dungeon therein,
With deep ditches and dark and dreadful of sight
A fair field full of folk found I in between,
Of all manner of men the rich and the poor,
Working and wandering as the world asketh.
Some put them to plow and played little enough,
At setting and sowing they sweated right hard
And won that which wasters by gluttony destroy.
Also engendered by the landscape and history of this region is Geoffrey Hill’s prose-poem Mercian Hymns (1971), which juxtaposes incidents from the history of Offa, ruler of the eighth century Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, with memories of Hill’s own childhood in the West Midlands in the 1930s and during the Second World War. This is how the sequence opens:
King of the perennial holly-groves, the riven sandstone: overlord of the
M5: architect of the historic rampart and ditch, the citadel at
Tamworth, the summer hermitage in Holy Cross: guardian of the Welsh
Bridge and the Iron Bridge: contractor to the desirable new estates:
saltmaster: money-changer: commissioner for oaths: martyrologist: the
friend of Charlemagne.
‘I liked that,’ said Offa, ‘sing it again.’
The composer Edward Elgar, who was from the area, often walked on the Malvern hills which inspired much of his music. He lived in sight of the hills for about 55 of his 76 years and routinely cycled around the country and village lanes during that time. There’s an Elgar Trail, taking in various places locally, such as houses he lived in and his grave in Little Malvern.
The Malvern Hills were the backdrop for Penda’s Fen, the 1974 TV play written by David Rudkin for the BBC’s Play for Today. In the film, Stephen, a pastor’s son has visions of angels, Edward Elgar, and King Penda, the last pagan ruler of England. It’s a coming of age story, a meditation on the English landscape and the meaning of Englishness, on paganism, Christianity and Manicheanism, and Elgar’s music. There’s also an Edge of Darkness-type political thriller. The final scene of the play, where Stephen experiences an apparition was set on the Malvern Hills.
During these two days in the heart of the English countryside dramatic events were unfolding elsewhere in the world. On TV back at the house in the evening we watched the Libyan uprising and the deranged TV address by Muammar Gaddafi.
Also strange….yesterday morning, I mentioned to our friend the visit to Kilpeck church last autumn where we saw the Saxon carvings, and I recalled that after I had blogged the visit here I had received a response from someone working in the town hall in Christchurch. So we decided to visit Kilpeck again. On the way there, the car broke down and the rescue truck that came to our assistance came from Christchurch Garage. On the way home we heard the news of the earthquake.