BLUE ‘HARD’ ROUTE
3-4 hours approx
RED ‘MEDIUM’ ROUTE
2 hours approx
GREEN ‘EASY’ ROUTE
1 hours approx
After this year’s SSMM epic the Malvern Hills is now a name that is synonymous with mud, suffering and a little more mud. But Eastnor Park is not the Malverns (and anyway, you’re not allowed to ride there the rest of the year). The Malvern Hills are composed of approximately 45km2 of rounded hills criss-crossed with bridleways. That may not sound big enough for an all-day location but what they lack in square kilometres they make up for in bridleways and vertical (check out the map for contours and green dashes) per mile. The riding here is generally pretty tough in terms of ascending (climbing up from Great Malvern would reward you with a whole amount of pain) and the singletrack varies from flat out ridge lines to steep, switch-back wooded descents. The surface is generally open bedrock (quartzite, if you must know) and in the trees you can be thrown to the ground by nasty, off camber roots combined with rocky steps and gullies. The nature of the surface means it is an all weather area and when other areas are laced with deep, Somme like mud the Malverns are a veritable haven of dry trails. So what more could you want? Tranquillity The Malverns represent a popular location for serious walkers, horse riders and the Sunday pootle crowd, therefore the Malverns are best ridden off peak (off season, mid week, bad weather or at the extremities of the day) to get maximum, uncluttered singletrack. Due to the fantastic weather we had back in May, a bivvy was planned to maximise this off peak period when the Malverns are at their best (and we could maximise ride time). The weather was stupendous and we planned to ride as far as our legs and lights could carry us. A quick nights sleep (after a drink and a nice meal) and then we’d rise with the sun and blast around the rest of the route. A great simple plan.
Arriving from the North we spotted the distinctive silhouette of the cardboard cutout hills towering above the Worcestershire flatlands from miles away (although in cloud they just rear up out of nowhere when you arrive at their base). Commencing from the northern quarry car park (£2.00) the only thing on the cards was up and what an up it was.
Luckily the vertical feet seemed to pass very quickly and with every corner we were rewarded for our efforts with a new vista. We wound our way slowly towards our first summit and eventually topped out after a solid 30 minutes of climbing. A short but fun desent spat us out on the main track and elevated adrenaline and interest levels for the long drag up to the Worcestershire Beacon (the high spot at 425m). As we duelled for the title of ‘King of the Malverns’ the wind picked up and the sun started to move towards the horizon. We stood triumphantly on the trig point with our chests heaving and smiles growing at our achievement with the 360-degree panoramic views surrounding us. We always seem to succumb to a summit photo; hence my portfolio of stupid, happy faced pictures is growing month by month.
To the west we spotted the Black Mountains, Shropshire and the Wyre Forest. To the east, Brendan Hills and the Cotswolds break up the seemingly endless flat lands. Low light and a light mist combine to produce an outstanding graduated landscape effect and it’s easy to understand why this is such a popular spot for anyone who enjoys the outdoors. Due to us spending too much time mucking around we had consequently lost all our body heat and most of the available light, so it was time to switch on lights, get moving and cover some miles. Being at the highest point of the route meant that the only way was down. We considered riding a mean descent that would rid us of all our hard earned height in one fell swoop but we chose the contouring route that gives maximum value for money while still keeping relatively high (besides, it takes in some inspiring singletrack). The descent begins along the ridge, the first pitch is an outright speed fest and avoiding ditches at 30mph by method of a small hop results in extended air travel. A short pull up brings us to the entrance of a sliver of track which rocks and rolls for the best part of 2km. Punctuated by a series of blind rolls and corners, it makes for some seriously exciting moments. However, the lead rider really should show some caution and travel at a speed that is suitable for an area such as this. We were spat out of the track with an interface with Worcestershire’s spikiest bush and appropriate shouts. With rocks flying from our rear wheels we dropped off the ridge and dove down through the treeline. The trail is a beautiful ribbon of singletrack that suddenly morphs into a steep, switchback trial that has 100-degree alpine style corners that take concentration and skill to ride out cleanly and culminates in a small rocky drop into the Upper Wyche Quarry (which is a nice spot for an evening). We gathered to compare stories about the massive descent from the beacon and concluded that it’s a cracker!
As we passed the pub we adverted our eyes as we have at least another hour of riding before we can even consider some liquid refreshment. Yet another meandering climb took us back up. This was punctuated by short steep sections that really got the legs stinging and the heart pumping. The pain endured was rewarded by a fantastically fast ridge top trail with undulations and humps that are too much to resist the call of flight. Two riders of Team Davros flew unexpectedly further, higher and slightly more sideways than they expected due to the speed that it is possible to pick up on the open hard packed trials we were riding. Whoops of excitement and laughter continue all the way up the next climb and into Herefordshire.
Although we had only covered 15km at this point, the lack of flat riding, constant thrashing of the pedals and the intense nature of the terrain has made itself apparent in all our thighs. A good long climb was just what we didn’t want but in all honesty we really had been spoilt up to this point and we needed to readdress the climbing karma. As we sprinted around the archaeological sites that seem to be everywhere at the southern end of the hills, a group decision was made to head for the drink. Unfortunately the drink is located all the way back at the start of the ride. It is possible to manufacture a route that circumnavigates the bulk of the climb but for utmost fun value and pain we return to the Worcestershire Beacon via a more direct and simple route that takes considerably more effort then the descent. In fact it is a real hill climbers’ paradise and the climber of the group was loving it while two of Team Davros were forced to ‘confess’ on a couple of the steeper pitches. This time around the Beacon was simply a point to get breath, lower seats and start the descent as we were tired, it was dark and the beer call was strong. The final descent is a flyer but in the
dark it takes on a whole different persona. Blind rolls were potential plummets into quarries in our minds so we attempted a degree of caution but still ended up screaming down the final sinuous, rooty singletrack with lights just turning yellow. Perfect timing. We stroll in to The Lamb for last orders and free curry. The perfect finish to a great ride.
A short sleep and a very early morning revealed a classic early summer’s scene: slight haze, dew glistening on the grass and superb warm sunshine. It wasn’t an effort to get on the bike when the weather was as good as this. A quick climb back to the Beacon fuelled by strong Swedish coffee and we discussed the differences between the sun rising and the sun setting. We headed off on yet another different singletrack descent that seemed to hug the contours and flow beautifully with some decidedly dicey moments above a big quarry chasm. The finale of the descent is an effortless blast through the trees and we simply hung on and let the bike do its thing. It seemed to go on forever but, like all good descents, it finished next to the car.
Although the route we rode only took in parts of the routes described, that is the beauty of the Malverns; the massive amount of bridleway and vertical per mile. The routes are merely suggestions that take in all the major sights so don’t forget to explore and check some of the hidden details out. It is incredibly easy to navigate (the hills run directly North-South) so pick any route from the smorgasbord of trails that criss-cross the hillside and create loops that will climb and descend, climb and descend and repeat to until your legs will take no more. The all-weather nature of the surface means that it’s a great place to visit rain or shine although in a storm it would certainly feel more mountainous than its size would suggest so always pack appropriate clothing and equipment. The Malverns Hills are a top spot for riding. Pick your time to visit wisely and you will not fail to enjoy yourself.
Great Malvern has plenty of B&B’s and hotels. Log onto www.malvernhills.gov.uk/ for further details
Back on Track located a few minutes walk from the Northern Quarry is the place for local knowledge and bike bits. Check them out at www.backontrack-bikes.com/ or give them a ring on 01684 565777.
We recommend The Lamb in West Malvern as its got a secluded car park, eclectic nature, terrace with a great view and Timothy Taylor on tap!
Apparently the Great Malvern locals can be fond of shiny bikes so make sure you lock your bikes up before and after riding.
Due to the absence of certain trails on the 1:50,000 map, you will need to get hold of the 1:25,000 scale map of this
area.the O.S. Explorer 190 “Malvern Hills”.
Posted on: December 8, 2008