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Elgar country

by
13 December 2013

By Sue Dobson

Where?
Great Malvern shelters on the steep eastern slopes of the Malvern Hills that soar from the broad vale of the River Severn to the rolling redlands of Herefordshire.

Why?
The landscape that inspired Sir Edward Elgar spans wooded limestone ridges, a patchwork of fields and farmlands, wild bracken, and golden gorse. It is wonderful walking and cycling country, and has plenty of attractive towns and villages to explore.

What to see
Thanks to the carriage-driving Victorians who developed routes in the heyday of the Spa, access to the Malvern Hills is easiest around Great Malvern. At the centre of town, a bronze statue of Elgar looks out over panoramic vistas of the Severn Valley.

Norman pillars from 1085 line the nave of Malvern Priory, its soft pink and grey-green stone warmed by light pouring through medieval stained-glass windows - said to be the finest collection in Britain after that of York Minster. More than 1100 medieval wall-tiles curve behind the high altar.

The small but involving Malvern Museum of Local History is housed in the 15th-century Priory Gatehouse, while the modern Malvern Theatres leads out on to Priory Park, where the Swan Pool was originally the monastic fishpond. The park was landscaped for the wealthy Victorian visitors who came for the "water cure". It was a place to promenade among rare trees, such as the tall tulip tree and thorny Judas, the prettily leaved gingko and the handkerchief tree.

With its ornate ironwork and fancy metal decorations, Great Malvern railway station was built to impress the gentry on their arrival at the spa town. On the platform, Lady Foley's Tea Room, complete with stained-glass windows, occupies the former private waiting-room of a local benefactor. Even for weary commuters, this is one railway station well worth seeing.

Where to eat and drink
Converted from a row of cottages on Bank Street, the Nag's Head pub features a huge range of malts and beers, and serves hearty home-made food. The Cottage in the Wood hotel in Malvern Wells offers spectacular views and stylish menus from its aptly named Outlook restaurant.

Near by
In a little house at Broadheath, nine miles from Malvern, is the Elgar Birthplace Museum. He was born there on 2 June 1857, and it looks out towards his beloved Malvern Hills. You can see the desk where he worked, laid out as he used it.

Next door, the modern Elgar Centre displays a wonderful collection of Elgar's manuscripts, music scores, letters, concert programmes, photographs, drawings, personal possessions, and honours that he received. It reveals much about the man, his music, and the people who inspired him.

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