The Malverns are hills above the haze, Edward Elgar and iced ginger meringue. All three are connected and should be essential elements of a day exploring these miniature alps and the genteel spa town at their foot. A dreamlike quality hangs over this corner of England. The Malvern Hills, their fringe of Victorian villas and cotton print inhabitants seem out of time.
For most, the first sight from the M5 in Worcestershire is of a range of hills – nine miles long – rising from the flat lushness of the Severn Plain. The ancients called it moel bryn, the "bare hill", and so it is along the 1,000ft crest.
My day began by the bronze figure of Edward Elgar at the top of Church Street in the centre of Great Malvern. England's greatest composer is looking towards his favourite Bluebird Tea Rooms. Thankfully, the Malverns – the name applies to a string of settlements as well as the hills – does not call itself "Elgar Country", though the composer's inspiration owes much to its landscape.
The tea rooms have not changed much since the great man's time. And June Willams's iced ginger meringue is a sweet to hike a long way for. The only snag is that the Bluebird closes mid-afternoon. If the tea room is one must, two others are St Ann's Well – to taste the famous Malvern Water – and the nave of Priory Church, claimed by some to be "the most magnificent parish church in all England".
The best walking is along the Malvern skyline from North Hill to Wyche Cutting, a six-mile round trip from the town centre. Take St Ann's Road and continue straight ahead up wooded Happy Valley. This track eventually hairpins left, signed St Ann's Well. But keep straight ahead uphill until four rough rock steps ascend on to a balcony path. Turn right and follow the path northward.
It is around here the magic of the Malverns takes hold. At your feet lie the town and the church; beyond stretches the Severn Plain and south is the switchback of the hills, topped by the Worcestershire Beacon. First, continue on the balcony path to the north end of the hills. When you see an old quarry ahead, look for a worn, grassy path leading sharply up to the top of North Hill at 1,303ft.
Once on this bare top, the hard work is over. The way south along the ridge is obvious on clear paths. There is no higher barrier to the east until the Urals, across Russia. Less than half an hour from North Hill should see you at 1,394ft on the Beacon. I carried on to Pinnacle Hill (1,171ft), mainly for the view to British Camp, the dramatic Iron Age hillfort.
On the return leg, seek out the worn path that angles downwards to St Ann's Well, where traces of gold are sometimes found in the water. Taste it yourself before taking the final path down to Great Malvern. The water issues from the mouth of a marble dolphin. Pure, indeed, but I craved another iced ginger meringue.
Malvern Tourist Information Centre (01684 892289). 'What to See in Malvern' by John Winsor, £1.75. Map: Ordnance Survey, Explorer 190, Malvern Hills and Bredon Hill, £5.75.Reuse content