The Malvern Hills are at their most dramatic in the area around the old Victorian spa town of Great Malvern. Head north though, and the hills extend all the way to the River Theme and Ankerdine Hill, near the village of Knightwick.
This northern extension of the Malvern Hills, en route to Ankerdine Hill, is smaller, less dramatic and more wooded. Following the well marked Worcestershire Way, you pass through cider apple orchards, rolling farmland of rye, barley and wheat; you weave between old, picturesque villages with beautiful churches and traditional pubs. All-in-all the Worcestershire Way is a delight.
Eventually, you reach the Three Choirs Way – quite possibly the worst footpath I’ve walked along. If you want rubbish sign posts, decaying bridges, broken stiles, overgrown footpaths (overgrown mainly with stinging nettles) and the miserable experience of people removing directional signs – not to mention building a garden shed to ‘hide’ the footpath – then the Three Choirs Way is for you.
I can read a map and am not easily put off by a bit of footpath adversity, but this walk was a struggle. The local authorities, starting with the the entire elected members of Worcestershire County Council, should be forced to walk the route and declare it fit for human transport. Preferably they should walk it in shorts and T-shirts so they can fully appreciate why stinging nettles aren’t a good companion to outdoor activity.
The Three Choirs Way is so called because it links the ancient cathedral towns of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester, all of which still host annual music festivals. It also passes through Lower Broadheath, the birthplace of composer Edward Elgar – adding some much needed glamour to the route. The landscape you pass through is beautiful, such a shame the footpaths are in terrible condition.
Once you’ve endured hours of torture on the Three Choirs Way, the chances are you’ll manage to reach the River Severn at Worcester. Though, if you ended you somewhere entirely different, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Worcester has a wealth of history, but perhaps its most significant single event came on 3rd September 1651. It was at Worcester that Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army finally defeated King Charles II, who had invaded England from Scotland with an army of Scots soldiers, to try to reclaim the throne his family had lost when King Charles I was beheaded.
The Battle of Worcester raged alongside and over both the River Theme and the River Severn – Charles II used Worcester Cathedral as a vantage point to observe the battle. For the Royalists, it was all in vain. They were routed and the city taken. As every good schoolchild knows, Charles II escaped, hiding in an oak tree in the grounds of Boscobel House. His troops weren’t so lucky, thousands of his Scottish troops were caught and shipped to the West Indies.
I found myself wishing Cromwell would come back and sort out the current Worcestershire County Council in the same manner – although perhaps sending them to a tropical Caribbean island would only discourage them from sorting out their footpaths.