An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is an space of countryside considered to have significant landscape value in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, that has been specially designated as such by the government of the United Kingdom.
It is to such a place that I fix upon sojourning during the July of 2009: flying into Birmingham, then catching a country train to the spa town and civil parish known as Malvern, the centrepiece of Worcestershire county in the West Midlands of England.
Among the thousands who make Malvern their annual vacation destination is me, arrived this particular crisp day in July to suprise a dear friend on her fiftieth birthday. And I am certainly not the first to make such a passage, yield to its natural beauty such that I wish to remain, for archaeological settlements dating back to the Bronze Age show communities have been settling in the area since 1000 BC. And settle into Malvern good folk still do. I myself became smitten with the place…
The town itself was founded in the 11th century when Benedictine monks established a Monastery at the foot of the highest peak of Malvern Hills. Gravestones record details that the priory arose in 1085 from a hermitage endowed by Edward the Confessor, the last king of the House of Wessex who ruled from 1042 to 1066.
Centuries of monastic life finally gave way in the 17th century to a Malvern which had inadvertently fostered a reputation as a health retreat, the restorative properties of its natural mineral water sought by royalty through to the layman. Indeed the natural beauty of the surroundings led to the development of Malvern as a spa, with facilities for invalids and for tourists, seeking cures, rest and diversions.
Throughout the mid 1800’s Malvern attracted a stream of celebrated visitors-patients including Charles Darwin, Catherine, wife of Charles Dickens, Florence Nightingale, Lord Tennyson and much royalty. But it was not only the famous who restored to Malvern. With the extension of the railway from Worcester to Malvern in 1859 came the working class excursionists flocking at numbers of 5,000 per day, to marvel at Malvern’s new-found fame as a spa and area of natural beauty.
But they are not to blame for this stampede, for it is a rare thing in our ever built-up world to be able to cross a charming pathway, cup both hands beneath a percolating spring, fill them with free flowing clean water and quench your thirst…
Malvern water has been bottled and distributed in the UK and abroad from the 16th century. The water is a natural spring water from the hills that consist of very hard granite and limestone rock. Fissures in the rock retain rain water, which slowly permeates through, escaping at the springs which release an average of about 60 litres a minute. The natural untreated water is free of all minerals, bacteria, and suspended matter, approaching the purity of distilled water.
In 1987 Malvern Water gained official EU status as a natural mineral water, a mark of purity and quality. Monarchs seem to love it: Queen Elizabeth I drank it in public in the 16th century; Queen Victoria refused to travel without it, and it is the only bottled water used by Queen Elizabeth II, which she takes on her travels around the world.
I was especially pleased with my enterprising birthday friend the day we decided to trek up the Malverns when she produced two empty drinking bottles from her backpack, thrust them beneath the bubbling spring and filled them with this most wonderous natural resource: clean water.
In addition to those who wish to drink Malvern water till they are drunk, or coo over the town’s spectacular Regency, Victorian and Edwardian architecture, train fanatics will become defeated with one look at the train stations. Architect E. W. Elmslie in 1860 designed the Great Malvern railway station, the very one my country train deposited me at from when I hopped on in Birmingham back in June 2009…