Take a train to visit Great Malvern, then return over its attractive backdrop.
Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 950ft (290m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Streets, railway bed, woodland paths, meadows, 3 stiles
Landscape Suburban, recreational, wooded and pastoral
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 190 Malvern Hills & Bredon HillSO 782457 (Great Malvern Station)SO 756424 (Colwall Station)
Dog friendliness Few off-lead opportunities, must be controlled on ridge
Parking Car parks at both railway stations
Public toilets None on route
1 Out of Great Malvern Station, go ahead and left in 30yds (27m) into Imperial Road (no sign this end). Cross Tiverton Road, turning right on Clarence Road. At the skew junction take Albert Road South. At the end turn left. Beside the railway bridge take a leafy alleyway right, beside Malvern College's grounds. Cross the next road, on to Malvern Common. In 600yds (549m) pass under the railway. Within a mile (1.6km) from here, the railway enters Colwall Tunnel.
2 As the railway line veers right, keep ahead to a road. Turn left for 30yds (27m). Follow a fingerpost closely, through trees to a cinder path. After 500yds (457m) descend wooden steps to cross several golf fairways on a slightly raised, green track. In dense woodland turn left - this track leads to the clubhouse and car park. Go diagonally, to the far side of a white building (waymarker). Cross beside a green carefully - beware golf balls zinging from the right - then another fairway, to reach open fields. A pitted concrete track leads to the A449. Cross this, and the upper road, to a centre-railed path. At the Y-junction turn left. Here you are almost over the Colwall Tunnel, or rather, tunnels.
3 The road becomes a tarmac track, but fork right on to a path before the house ahead. There are many ways on to the Malverns' ridge - this is just one. Follow the path for 275yds (251m) gently uphill and a further 440yds (402m) on the level. At an X-shape crossing, beside a bright green seat, take the upward right fork that zig-zags. Soon, at a second green seat, continue straight ahead, gently up. After 250yds (229m) of rising gently, take a right and zig-zag gently up to another seat. In 175yds (160m) keep straight ahead and up, ignoring a zig-zagging option up left. Dense woodland gives way to bracken and scattered silver birch. After 180yds (165m) ignore a downward right fork. Back into (less dense) woodland, after 140yds (128m) take an acute left turn, finally to meet the ridge path beside some unexpected pines.
4 Turn left, soon leaving the gravel path to attain the visible top. Less than 200yds (183m) beyond it, when a path forks right, turn fully right, down a steep ride, zig-zagging to the B4232 at Gardiners Quarry car park.
5 Take the other tarmac road to The Kettle Sings tea room. Turn left in front of it (fingerpost). In 110yds (100m) reach a multiple marker post. Turn right, descending, following the Worcestershire Way for a short ½ mile (800m) to a clear fingerpost signed 'Colwall Station'.
The presence of spa waters in Malvern had been known for centuries. The seeds of growth were sown in 1756 when a Dr Wall wrote of the waters' benefits. The 1820s saw the opening of the Baths and Pump Room, then the railway in the 1850s brought it to a much wider market. The local architect Edward Wallace Elmslie designed Great Malvern's railway station (1861), considered elegant by the Victorians. Even today the wrought-ironwork of the railway station's mock pillars (actually drainpipes) are maintained in gaudy colours.
It isn't without reason that the Malvern Hills stand above the Worcestershire Plain. At their centre is a hard rock called pre-Cambrian sienite, flanked by softer red marl and limestone. The people who understood this best were the labourers employed by the Worcester and Hereford Railway to dig the Colwall Tunnel. Work started in 1856 at both ends, meeting in 1860. While an advance of 5ft (1.5m) per day could be made through the outer rocks, the ancient rock could slow progress to just a tenth of this. Over its total length of 1,567yds (1,432m) it climbed 58ft (18m). The chief engineer on the project was Stephen Ballard, who, in the previous two decades, had overseen the Hereford and Gloucester Canal.
The brick-lined tunnel was so heavily used by steam locomotives that carriages would emerge with fallen lining bricks on their roofs. This is not the tunnel you ride through today - modern trains take you in a parallel, broader tunnel, built close enough to the original one to use its ventilation shafts by boring linking shafts. Stephen Ballard was buried in his garden at The Winnings in Colwall, above the western entrance to the tunnel. During the Second World War the old tunnel was used to store ammunition. The new tunnel's spoil was redeployed in 1959 to provide hard core for the M50 motorway which runs from Strensham to Ross-on-Wye.
The period 1860-2 was very busy for architect Edward Wallace Elmslie. Besides Great Malvern's railway station he designed the Malvern Link Hotel (at Malvern Link station) and the Imperial Hotel. The Imperial was purchased by Malvern Girls' College in 1919; Malvern Link became a school in the 1870s.
There are several options in Great Malvern. On the route, strategically sited near the popular Gardiners Quarry Car Park is The Kettle Sings tea room, and in Colwall itself is the Crown Inn.