One evening I danced on stage at the famous (at least within Worcestershire) Malvern Winter Gardens. I have scant recall since I was only five years old at the time but the spa town of Malvern is a place to which I return periodically as it makes for a pleasant day out. Nowadays it is heavily populated with retirement properties. One wonders why it is that the elderly flock so readily to a town that clings valiantly to the side of a steep, steep hill. Perhaps it makes them feel closer to heaven. Malvern town has, after all, been referred to by some as ‘God’s waiting room’.
Designated an area of outstanding natural beauty, the Malvern Hills are hugely popular with walkers offering magnificent views and a hundred miles of interwoven footpaths. Sitting at the foot of the hills is the Priory. Originally built as a monastery, it is more than nine hundred years old, though evidence exists to suggest that there have been settlements in Malvern since the Bronze Age.
Many of the gravestones in the adjacent cemetery are covered in moss and lichen and on some the inscriptions are so worn that they can no longer be read. Where they can, they date back as far as the 1700s and the many dedications to children are a stark reminder that that in past centuries life expectancy was so much lower than today. The 1851 tombstone of Charles Darwin’s daughter, Anne, shows that she was just ten years old when she died in Malvern, having been brought here in the forlorn hope that hydropathic treatment would cure her fever. The alleged curative properties of the famous Malvern water (once owned but later axed by the Coca Cola group) were referred to in a poem attributed to the Vicar of Great Malvern as long ago as the fifteenth Century.
For me, the peace of a churchyard creates a feeling that I can only describe as ‘something vaguely spiritual’. Stepping into the Priory visitors are confronted a large message printed on the wall, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream another dream”. It’s a quote from author CS Lewis who attended school in the town. Local legend has it, that on leaving the Unicorn pub one night with Tolkien, he liked the effect of a gas lamp light on the snow and remarked that it could be used in a story. If this is true, then The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – a childhood favourite of mine, was conceived here in Malvern.
As I stand quietly and still in a moment’s contemplation, even on this overcast day, the sun creates a kaleidoscope of reflected colour from the Great East stained glass window – vivid orange, red and purple – on to the pale stone below.
We lunched at the Bluebird Cafe, sitting in the window seat which looks out directly onto the bronze statue of Sir Edward Elgar, composer of Enigma Variations & Pomp and Circumstance (to which Land of Hope and Glory is sung), who lived much of his life in Malvern and who, here in this very cafe, so the story goes, spent many hours taking tea with his great friend Troyte Griffith, a Malvern Architect perhaps best known for … being Elgar’s friend!. Some of the furniture in the Bluebird dates as far back as 1700s. I wonder – could this be a table frequented by Elgar himself?