Lately I’ve been thinking you don’t need to go far from home to find other worlds; places where you feel taken out of yourself and far removed from familiar routines. And so it proved last weekend. We crossed the southerly border out of Shropshire, and climbed into the Malvern uplands. On either the hand, east and west, the farming shires of Worcester and Hereford spread out beneath us, Gloucestershire to the south; in every sense, then, the green pastoral heart of England. And it was all thanks to my sister Jo and her chap, Bob, who were kind enough to take us away with them for three nights in Peacock Villa in a quiet wooded corner of the Eastnor Estate.
I should say at once that the cottage did not come with peacocks, but it did have a fine view of an obelisk. And there was silence too. Lots of silence when the pheasants weren’t calling or the woodpeckers drilling. And by night the kind of darkness that allowed you to gaze and gaze at the stars.
When I woke on Saturday morning this was the scene from the bedroom window.
The 5,000 acre Eastnor Estate belongs to descendants of the Somers Cocks family whose antecedents arrived in Eastnor at the end of the 16th century. The family grew in wealth and status during the 18th century, and by 1811 was building for itself a Neo-Norman extravaganza that is Eastnor Castle, a country pile of (deemed) appropriate grandeur for the Ist Earl Somers. The obelisk, which stands on the highest easterly point from the castle displays inscribed highlights of the Somers Cocks family’s political successes and dynastic unions. It also commemorates the loss of a son, an intelligence officer on the Duke of Wellington’s staff who died in 1812 during the Peninsular War (1807-14) (wherein British forces were protecting Portugal during the conflict between Napoleon and Bourbon Spain). If you stand with your back to the westerly face of obelisk you can see the castle and the deer park. On a hazy late March day it all looks more than a touch surreal.
Later that morning we took to the path through Gullet Woods behind the house, climbing ever upwards on well-worn tracks to the Malvern Hills. Our objective, a mile or so along the ridgeway from Swinyard Hill (though after much upping and downing) was British Camp on the Herefordshire Beacon. This magnificent prehistoric cum early Middle Ages site, is a multi-phased hillfort begun in the Bronze Age three and half millennia ago, re-worked and massively ramparted and inhabited in the Iron Age and then, a thousand years on, adapted into a Saxon ring and bailey castle, perhaps by Earl Harold Godwinson himself (the future but short-lived king of England). Next, under Norman rule and during The Anarchy (1135-1153) of King Stephen’s reign, the motte and bailey were refortified and serially occupied by Waleran de Beaumont, 1st Earl of Worcester, and then by his brother, Robert de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Leicester.
At its highest point British Camp stands at 1,109 feet (338 metres), and when you reach it and look out on the ridgeway tracks that snake over hill after hill you know you’ve reached the top of the world; that you’re standing on ground once walked over by prehistoric Celts, that resounded to the drumming hooves of horses as Harold and his men set off on a day’s hunting; that later rang to grim sounds of battle during The Anarchy, and finally to the shouts and hammering of determined demolition in 1155 under King Henry II.
All of which is to say my photos scarcely do British Camp justice, nor show the scale and immensity of the hand-dug Iron Age ramparts, but you can find some stunning aerial views and a detailed survey of the site HERE
A VERY BIG THANK YOU, JO AND BOB
And now for Elgar who loved and lived near these hills during different phases of his life.
If ever after I’m dead you hear someone whistling this tune on the Malvern Hills, don’t be alarmed, it’s only me.
Edward Elgar referring to his Cello Concerto:
See also Ken Russell’s marvellous, if rather dated b & w 1962 film on Elgar, Portrait of a Composer. This is the link to the first of 4 parts. Watch it, if only for the opening sequence:
copyright 2019 Tish Farrell
Linking this to Jo’s Monday Walk
Please pop over there for a marvellously blue-sky excursion.