A Day in…Great Malvern

Great Malvern is a mixture of stone and Victorian buildings. Most of it is grand and obvious, Subtlety and modesty were not features when Great Malvern was at its zenith. Fashionable from Victorian times until, perhaps the second world war, Malvern is probably best known for the water that’s bottled there and the fact that the Queen takes it with her wherever she travels.

So is it worth stopping off and spending a day there? I just went to Great Malvern because that’s where the train took me. There is also Little Malvern, Malvern Wells and a station called Malvern Link so be sure you know where you are going.

Located in Worcestershire with hills all around if you are a walker it is an ideal place to base yourself. If your level of fitness is limited to getting up and using the TV controls when the remote is broken, then be warned. Some of the hills are steep. If you walk, for example, from Great Malvern station into the town centre then you will feel the exertion when you get there. Alternatively, there is a bus (no. 44) which runs every 15 minutes. A £2 “plusbus” add-on to your rail ticket could be a bargain. If you do walk, turning right out of the station will take you in the wrong direction and you will wind up in a village called Barnards Green. Don’t be put off. It says something about this part of the world that there are 2 vets, a deli and a cheese shop claiming to have 70 different kinds of cheese. Oh and 2 Chinese takeaways. As you walk back into town, you pass a large 74-year-old oak planted to celebrate the jubilee of George V. On the stone it says 1936 but the jubilee was in 1935. Like much of this area could this be a sign of Great Malvern living in the past. If it is then I’m all for it. The number of bog standard high street shops is few. Here the shops are local and you don’t get the feeling that it’s the same as every high street you’ve ever walked down. Yes, there is a WH Smith, an Oxfam, a Dorothy Perkins and an Iceland but apart from that, it feels like a place where even the shopping is different.

Begin at the station. Here even the signals as you come down the line are old fashioned With Victorian ornate architecture painted in different colours there is a cafe, Lady Foley’s Tea Room which has tables on chairs on the platform itself. Unlike the Pumpkin cafes that seem to be at almost every railway station wherever you are, this place is more like an old worlde tearoom with plates of cakes covered by domes and tea at leas than £1 per cup I’d hardly left the station when a delivery driver said good morning. For the rest of the day, others also smiled and said hello. A mother with two children, all walking abreast moved aside for me. After saying thanks, one child said “you’re welcome” Politeness or taking the Michael? I’d have said the latter except that it was the politeness of the other people there that stuck in my mind. This is a town erupting from the countryside. Along my walk, apples were lying in the verges. You don’t need a fruit shop around here for your five-a-day.

The town is inextricably linked with the composer Edward Elgar and he and his wife are buried in St Wulfstan’s in Malvern Wells.

In the station there is nothing about Great Malvern itself; it all related to other places so the tourist office in the middle of the town was the first port of call. It carries a lot of brochures and the staff was pleasant and willing to talk about the place which was just as well as it was busier than I expected. Busier than many city tourist offices I have been in. After all, everywhere else had been pretty quiet. You couldn’t say the centre was busy. After the hill climb, a pint was in order and I was not alone in my thinking. Outside the Unicorn, is a blue sign saying that C S Lewis (the author of the Narnia chronicles) often met his friends there!

Malvern Priory is celebrating its 925th anniversary this year. As a parish church, it is smaller and less ostentatious than many cathedrals but it also has a feel of being used and appreciated. Inside there is an area with toys for tots to play with. There are areas set aside with chairs for small meetings and quite a large retail area. Two things to look out for are the ceilings. They are wooden and in patterned squares. The other is a collection of tiles on the choir screen. There are over 1200 of them using over 90 different designs. Some are pretty worn but so would you be if you dated back to 1456. Apparently, they are the only examples in Britain of mural tiles.

Don’t forget the museum (it will cost you £2 to get in ) which is entered from under a gateway.

As a base for exploring the Malvern Hills, Great Malvern is ideal. Picturesque hotels, a village feel and lots in the surrounding countryside if you have a car or use your PlusBus pass.