MALVERN Walking Festival returns this year with its biggest and best programme yet.

The nine-day festival, which runs from May 25 to June 2, has walks for everyone from the hardened enthusiast who eats up the miles to walkers who are looking for more gentle rambles. This year’s flagship event is a brand-new 63-mile exploration trail which takes walkers from the Black Mountains to the Malvern Hills in six stages.

Led by Bob Baldwin, the walk takes in features of interest en-route including the historic market town of Monmouth and the spectacular scenery of Symonds Yat.

Another multi-day trek is the Teme Theme Trail which covers 33 miles from Ludlow to Hanley William, near Tenbury Wells, in three days. This walk will be led by Derek Starkey. Back by popular demand is the Worcestershire Way in a Day setting a strenuous pace to cover 33 miles from Bewdley back to Malvern, with a memento for all those who finish.

Also popular are the Malvern Hills End-to-End, the more demanding End-to-End and Back and the 16-mile Ledbury to Malvern – the Hilly Route.

For those who want less strenuous outings, there are chances to explore Mathon’s valleys, Bromyard Downs, the Madresfield estate, near Malvern, and much more.

Dr John Harcup will be guiding visitors around historic Malvern while Peter Smith leads a walk highlighting the town’s artistic connections.

Festival organiser Ray Roberts said: “As always, it’s really popular. Some of the walks were half sold out only a couple of days after we published the programme.

“It attracts walkers from all over the country and beyond. Half of our tickets are sold outside the WR postcode and we’ve had walkers from Australia and America taking part.”

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Tickets and leaflets are also available from the tourist information centre, Church Street, or on 01684 892289.