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AFEW miles south of Worcester, Old Hills is a patch of common land which comprises grassland, scrub and woodland managed by Malvern Hills Conservators.
The hills are tiny, reaching only 65 metres at their highest point, but they offer surprisingly good views.
Like all the other commons near Malvern, Old Hills was once part of the large hunting forest known as Malvern Chase. There are good walks to be had on Old Hills and you could easily spend an hour or two exploring all the options, but there are also plenty of footpaths and bridleways linking the common to the wider countryside.
Old Hills is more colourful than you might expect in January thanks to the silver birches, with their lovely silvery stems, and an abundance of gorse bushes, whose yellow flowers are in full bloom this month.
Also yellow, though tinged with green, are the fallen crab apples which litter the ground in many places, while the red of hawthorn berries and rose hips brightens the scene still further. All these wild fruits provide a valuable source of food for birds, many species of which frequent Old Hills.
Mistletoe is another colourful feature of the common, its bright yellow-green leaves obscuring the bleak wintery appearance of many of the trees.
Old Hills is just a short walk from the river Severn, where Powick Parish Council has established a picnic place at Pixham, where a ferry used to operate across the Severn to Lower Ham at Kempsey.
Mute swans, Canada geese, cormorants, herons and kingfishers are just a few of the bird species here.
Start: Old Hills, off B4424 Upton Road, south of Callow End, grid ref SO829487.
Length: Five miles/8km.
Maps: OS Explorer 190, OS Landranger 150.
Terrain: Pasture, with some arable and woodland; mostly flat.
Footpaths: Excellent, apart from poor waymarking at one point.
Parking: The northern end of Old Hills, close to Pixham Ferry Lane.
Buses: First 363, Worcester to Malvern via Callow End and Old Hills, Mon-Sat only; worcestershire.gov.uk/ bustimetables or for information, call 01905 765765.
Refreshments: Shop and pub at Callow End.
1 Walk along Pixham Ferry Lane. For the first 300m you can use the common land on either side but after that, you will have to take to the lane. Go straight on at a junction with Lower Ferry Lane.
When you reach Pixham House there’s a public footpath on the left (just before the garage) which crosses arable fields and is easily followed to Callow End.
However, you may prefer instead to take a permissive path (ie it’s not a right of way so access can be terminated at any time) which follows the river Severn.
For this path, continue to the end of the lane, where you’ll find a riverside picnic site at the wharf from which the Pixham ferry used to operate.
2 Go through a gate on the left and walk upstream on the permissive path, which runs along the top of a floodbank. When you draw level with Kempsey church, the permissive path comes to an end and you have to turn left. Keep to the right-hand edge through three fields. After meeting the path from Pixham House, proceed a few paces further to a junction and choose the left-hand path, which goes roughly straight on, crossing a narrow field to a gate. The welltrodden path is then easily followed to a lane at Callow End. If in doubt at any point, simply head towards the tower of Stanbrook Abbey.
3 Turn right along the lane, then left past the village shop and left beside the main road.
Cross over after about 100m to take a ‘no-through road’ and follow it to the entrance to Stanbrook Grange.
Go straight on along a muddy track and ignore a stile on the right. Cross another stile ahead (Three Choirs Way) and walk along a tree-lined green lane. Ignore branching paths and follow the green lane to a junction near a timber-framed cottage. Keep straight on along a track, ignoring a path branching left. After passing to the right of Mount Henwick, cross a stile to a junction in a field. Leave the Three Choirs Way and walk along the right-hand field edge.
4 Turn left when you meet a track. Ignore a path branching right and proceed to a T-junction.
Turn left, back to Old Hills, but then immediately turn right to cross a stile into a field, leaving the common again. Walk along the right-hand field edge then keep straight on across a second field.
Go through a gate in the next corner and turn left past Sunnyside. Go through a wooden gate next to a metal one and follow a fenced and hedged path which meets a bridle track by a pond.
Turn left along the track.
5 Take the first path on the right.
Walk along the left-hand field edge then cross a stile to another field. Go diagonally right, heading roughly towards the southern end of the Malvern Hills and specifically towards a pair of telegraph poles on the skyline.
There’s a gate near the poles – don’t go through it, but turn left along a track by the field edge. Go diagonally left when you see a waymark, cutting across the field corner to a stile. Cross the next two fields to return to the bridleway.
Turn left, then soon right. Keep straight on along a field edge, then straight on at a junction, to return to Old Hills. For the most direct route back to the start just go straight on. To see more of the common, however, choose any other route.
Worcester News recommends the use of OS Explorer Maps, your ideal passport to navigating the countryside. This walk is based on OS Explorer 190.