Gardening Magazine

Malvern Hills Challenge – 1: Raggedstone Hill

By Patientgardener @patientgardener


In response to my fidgeting the other day my eldest son offered me a challenge – to climb to the top of each of the Malvern Hills.  Now to many people this really isn’t much of a challenge, after all they are hardly the Scottish Munros.  However, I really don’t do enough exercise and have been saying for a while that I need to get fit.  I live on the lower slopes and despite moving to the area in 2000 I have really only been up a couple of the more frequently visit hills; there are 16 hills in total although some of them are almost on top of each other.

I was quite captivated by this challenge.  I like a project, something to work towards and have been missing this recently.  There are lots of changes occurring in my life generally and I really need a distraction but also something that uses a bit of energy as my working day is essentially sedentary.  Working in the garden normally satisfies me with fresh air and gentle exercise but I have increasingly felt a need to look for something else, a new interest, pastime, hobby.  I found myself looking at various courses in all sorts of things from garden history, embroidery, even business management but I really do not want something that requires me to study and certainly not something that involves exams! Nor do I want to do something that requires me to commit to a certain time a week or to attend something regularly such as going to a gym or swimming.  No what I need is a personal challenge that I can dip in and out of as it suits.  The aim is to do all the hills by the end of the year which should be easily manageable. This challenge also has the benefit of encouraging me to go walking which is a habit I would like to get into as I need some regular exercise.
So yesterday evening as it was such a glorious evening and I really didn’t fancy gardening I decided to start the challenge. My eldest agreed to come with me and show me a hill I didn’t even know existed – Raggedstone Hill.  As you will see from the plan above it is one from the southern end of the Malvern Hills and is not a popular hill with the tourist visitors who flock to British Camp or the Beacon.  It is one of the smaller hills with its summit a mere 254 metres. What I hadn’t expected was that it would be covered in bluebells.  The Malvern Hills are known for their bluebell displays but I tend to associate these with the area along the west side of the hills.  Although they were just beginning to go over the bluebells added a wonderful atmosphere to the walk and at some points the scent was quite heady.
Instead of taking the steep walk straight to the top (top picture) we took a more circuitous walk around the outside of the hill slowly wending our way upwards.  The scenery is beautiful.  You walk through woodland and then every so often you come across a clearing as above although you can see that the bracken will soon be filling this space.
Then back into the bluebell woods and the climb gets a little steeper with the ferns increasing until you feel completely engulfed by them but as you can see the summit of the hill is not so far now – well so I thought.
It took a few more twists and turns before we finally got to the top but what a view.  You can see all the way across to the Black Mountains of Wales and we took some time trying to get our bearings and work out what village was what.
Doing a little research on Raggedstone Hill on my return I discovered that it is the subject of a 19th century novel, The Shadow of the Ragged Stone Hill by Charles F Grindod.  According to Wikipedia (so I’m not sure how accurate that is!) the story concerns “a monk of Little Malvern Priory. He has been made a monk against his will, and his main object in life is to avenge his father’s murder of his mother, a deed incited by false accusations made against his mother by a “wicked knight”. The monk disguises himself in borrowed armour, attends a tournament and there kills the knight. Later, he breaks his vow of chastity by marrying a woman who he has rescued from the advances of a “lascivious knight”, and is then falsely accused of killing her father in a duel. He is condemned to crawl to the summit of Ragged Stone Hill once a day as punishment. When the monk can no longer bear the punishment he curses the hill and anyone on whom the shadow of the hill should fall.”  The hill is also the subject of a poem The Ragged Stone by one of the Dymock poets, Wilfred Wilson Gibson and more recently ‘Raggedstone Hill’ is the name of a song by the band Dodgy, written and recorded in the Malverns during 2011.
From the top we could see Midsummer Hill and the escarpment of the private quarry there – Malvern stone has been used for 100s of years for building in the area although I don’t think you can quarry it any more so if you need to repair a wall etc you need to find someone who conveniently has some to spare. Whilst this is the next hill in the chain it won’t be my next hill as my son tells me the climb is even more steep than Ragged Stone.  He knows the hills well often taking his scouts up them or camping out with his friends, indeed last December a group of them camped out overnight on Midsummer Hill despite it being freezing – madness I think!
And so to the descent.  I decided that having gone the pretty and gentler route up the hill that we should take the steep and straight forward descent and there were indeed a few moment when I thought I was going to come a cropper.  However, luckily for us all the paths on the hills are well maintained even on Raggedstone Hill which few visit, in fact we only saw a couple of runners and their dogs the whole time we were there.  Instead we listened to the bird song and put the world to rights. So that’s one down, 15 to go and I think the next one will be at the other end of the chain: North Hill.  I went up this hill a few months back as it overlooks my mother’s house and we scattered my father’s ashes here so the walk may be  a little poignant but on that day we didn’t get to the very top so there is something to aim for.  Today I have been to get my resident’s parking permit for the hills, a snip at £3 per year, and some maps so I am all set.

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