THE hills that lie just to the north of the Malverns are neither high nor dramatic but they form part of one of the loveliest landscapes in the county, an intricate patchwork of woods, orchards, sheep pasture, bracken-covered slopes and panoramic views across Worcestershire and Herefordshire.

The long wooded ridges of the Suckley Hills dominate the view to the north-west, offering a welcome contrast with the Worcestershire plain to the east. The Malvern Hills rise just to the south, with Bredon Hill and the Cotswolds in the distance. Westward lies Herefordshire, bordered by the Black Mountains of Powys.

The composer Sir Edward Elgar loved this area so much that he rented a cottage at Birchwood every summer from 1898 to 1903. He was living in Great Malvern at the time, working on several compositions and under great pressure to meet deadlines. Though Great Malvern must have been more peaceful then than it is now, Elgar still felt the need to escape to somewhere that would provide real peace and quiet and inspiration. Birchwood Lodge was ideal for this purpose and he chose a south-facing room on the first floor as his study with views along the length of the Malverns to British Camp and beyond. When inspiration wouldn’t come he took long walks in the surrounding woods, orchards and fields or cycled along the traffic-free lanes. He composed some of his most renowned works at Birchwood, including Dream of Gerontius and parts of Enigma Variations.

Elgar’s favourite tipple is said to have been perry, a regional speciality similar to cider but is made from perry pears. It is less popular than it was in Elgar’s day and for a time it looked as though production might cease altogether.

However, it is still made by local producers including Norbury’s and with increased interest in locally sourced food and drink its future is looking more secure.

Another regional speciality is mistletoe, a plant which is in national decline but still fairly common in west Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Somerset. This distribution reflects its need of a mild, humid climate, along with good numbers of softbarked trees in which its seeds can easily be deposited by the birds which eat its berries. This is because it is a semi-parasitic plant which makes some of its own food but takes the rest from its host tree.

Though it favours a range of hosts, an apple or pear tree is near-perfect for its purposes so orchard country suits it well. Winter is the best time to see mistletoe. It can look very striking with its unruly tangle of bright green stems and leaves and its strange white berries. Mediaeval people were in awe of mistletoe and saw it as a magical plant that thrived without roots or any other obvious source of food and even managed to stay green in winter. They believed it could repel witches, cure tumours, break epileptic trances and protect the crop of its host tree. They also considered it a powerful fertility symbol and aphrodisiac, a belief which is echoed in today’s Christmas custom of kissing beneath the mistletoe. The plant is also often associated with the Druids but this seems to be mostly an 18th-century idea dreamed up by an antiquarian, the Rev William Stukeley, who was struck by unproven comments about Druids revering mistletoe in a book written by the Roman natural historian Pliny in the first century AD. He magnified Pliny’s speculation to such an extent that mistletoe worship came to be regarded as the most important aspect of the entire Druidic religion.


1Walk along the no through road signposted to The Norrest, soon turning right on a bridleway by Norbury’s farm shop. Pass orchards and buildings at The Norrest. Ignore branching footpaths and continue straight on past Norrest Wood.

2Turn left on another bridleway which climbs up a slope covered with bracken, gorse and broom and then swings left to enter woodland.

Keep climbing until you reach the top of the hill. Turn right, then immediately left, detour round a house and descend slightly to a lane at Birchwood.

3Turn right then take a path descending left after about 500m.

Reaching a lane, turn left, then very soon left again on a bridleway.

Walk to Batchcomb Farm then take a bridleway on the left which climbs uphill, rejoining the lane at Birchwood Common. Turn right.

4Take the second path on the left, crossing a field and passing a house then going diagonally right before contouring round a slope to the right, passing a walnut grove. Walk through Limekiln Coppice then continue through orchards and fields to meet the A4103 by the New Inn. Cross over and go straight on to reach Crumpton Hill Road. Turn left, walk to a junction and turn left again to return to your starting point.

Fact File

Start: The turning for Norbury’s and The Norrest, off the A4103 between Leigh Sinton and Storridge; grid ref SO764496.

Length: 4¾ miles/7.5km.

Maps: OS Explorers 190 and 204, OS Landranger 150.

Terrain: Moderately hilly pasture, orchard and woodland.

Footpaths: Mostly excellent. Much of the route is along the Worcestershire Way.

Stiles: Six.

Parking: Lay-by on A4103 between Halfkey turn and The Norrest turn.

Public transport: 417 Worcester-Ledbury, Monday-Saturday. For further information visit the website or call 01432 260211.

Refreshments: The New Inn and Norbury’s farm shop.

Please note this walk has been carefully checked and the directions are believed to be accurate at the time of publication.

No responsibility is accepted by either the author or publisher for errors or omissions, or for any loss,

Worcester News recommends the use of OS Explorer Maps, your ideal passport to navigating the countryside. This walk is based on OS Explorer 190 and 204.