It seems incongruous for someone who lives in the lee of the weather-forecasting Clee Hills to be counted in Worcestershire’s administrative district of Malvern Hills. It is true that I do not need to go far to see The Malvern’s north-south spine, but I rarely get to explore the distant hills on foot.A recent visit was therefore a treat. Thankfully there are myriad paths criss-crossing the hills and these are used by ramblers, dog-walkers, runners and mountain-bikers, visitors and locals alike. The popularity of the hills is a mixed blessing, it is good that they are appreciated, but many feet make footpath erosion a serious problem.
Despite this, walkers are welcomed, and Malvern has an annual walking festival which takes place in late May and early June. Long and short walks are led by experienced guides and special interest walks, for children, for wildlife and for history, are available. Some are very short, more of an amble than a ramble, so don’t be deterred from joining in. This year’s wildlife walks include one for flowers and another for dragonflies, check them out at www.malvernwalking.uk
The hills are designated an area of outstanding natural beauty and, as such,measures are in place to preserve the hills and conserve their special habitats and inhabitants. Intermittent grazing stops the development of scrub and maintains the right conditions for birds, plants and insects. Scarce butterflies rely on the grasses of the rocky, steep slopes of the North Hill. Here can be found grayling, small copper, small heath and green hairstreak varieties. Skylarks, tree pipits, meadow pipits, wood and willow warblers and whitethroats are all birds that breed on the hills. Lesser horseshoe bats roost here.
Plants, too, are reliant on the ecology of the hills.When I visited in March I saw primroses, white and blue sweet violets, wood anemones, wood sorrel and some shocking-pink naturalised cyclamen. Although it is exhilarating to walk the windy ridge and to climb British camp imagining Caractacus defying the Romans, the quiet lower pastures at the foot of the hills can be just as interesting, and it is here that the shyest of plants can be found. The highlight of our walk was an area of steep, light woodland on the western flank of the hills, near to Evendine. From high up, tumbling down past us and on below, came an abundance of wild daffodils. Pale and diminutive, these plants were quietly blooming, well away from the main tracks, getting on with life, as they have surely done for many centuries.
Perhaps the best time to walk the Malverns is in May, when it is not too hot, and swathes of bluebells tint the hill-flanks blue and scent the air with perfume. Then you can take in the view of the stretching Severn plain and see Piers Plowman’s “fair field full of folk”, that is, Worcestershire.