From our ivy-framed hotel bay window Narnia style gas lamps light the way across rockery gardens and up a narrow flight of steps. If you keep following that path you reach tree and stream lined pathways to the Malvern hills and Middle Earth. Walk straight from the Abbey hotel into the landscapes that inspired CS Lewis and Tolkein. Stroll to world class theatre and cinema, explore pretty side streets, independent cafes and quirky shops.
Welcome to Great Malvern, it’s like stepping into another world.
After checking into our spacious dog and family friendly room at the stunning Abbey Hotel we took a short stroll to the Tourist Information centre to get some inspiration, (and dog biscuits).
Dogs are welcome here and the staff recommended a walk to the Malvern hills and St Ann’s Well cafe, to kickstart our visit, as well as lots of places to visit locally over the weekend.
The Victorian gas lamps are said to have inspired CS Lewis’ opening description of Narnia in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I loved imagining Lewis walking home from a Malvern pub one snowy night with JRR Tolkien and George Sayer and seeing that vision.
Lewis was at school in Malvern for a few years and Sayer was a student and friend of Lewis’ from Oxford that went on to teach at Malvern College. Lewis and Tolkien regularly visited Malvern from Oxford to walk the hills.
I read that after initially struggling with finding a publisher, Tolkein was reinspired by walking with his friends in the Malvern hills, which reminded him of his own visions for Middle Earth. Aren’t you glad he was and kept sending out his manuscript!
It is such a breathtakingly beautiful walk, through the trees, past the gas lamps which feels so much like Narnia, and then onto the hills where you look down on Malvern, its white villa houses below like a toy town.
From the top the views on a clear day must be incredible, but even on a slightly foggy day we were blown away by the 360 views of the landscape. Absolutely inspirational. We had a real sense of achievement at making it to the top too.
On the way back down we passed rugged cattle and wound down back into the trees and back into gas lamps and Narnia land. St Ann’s Well cafe appeared, nestled beautifully in the hills, awash with daffodils, a ring of wrought iron picnic tables arranged around a pond.
We feasted on the most beautiful date cake and tea before following the winding path back down to the hotel, which was such a central, perfect base.
That evening the boys ordered room service, dog sat and watched a movie, while my 11yo and I went to see a show at Malvern Theatre, just a stone throw from the hotel. There are three theatre spaces and a cinema within Malvern Theatre so you are guaranteed to find something to indulge in over the weekend. We picked Mowtown show and it was brilliant fun.
Day Two – Sunday
For breakfast we took it in turns to take the kids down to choose from the breakfast buffet and bring each other breakfast in bed, although you can order breakfast in bed at the Abbey Hotel too. The breakfast room has lovely views of the Abbey, it’s a great way to start the day.
We headed to the Teme Valley Farmer’s market, a lovely surprise and one of the oldest farmers’ markets in the country. The setting was beautiful, between a pub and the river with lots of picnic tables, and the stall holders were so welcoming. There was a lovely mix of food and crafts
We grabbed a delicious haul of bread, cheese, cakes, apple juice, pasties for a picnic lunch. We also bought some beeswax candles and lip balm.
English Heritage site Great Witley was a really pleasant surprise. When I glanced at the website photo that morning I realised lots of the windows were missing and what I was staring at was a ruined mansion house.
Great Witley totally caught my imagination, but more importantly, the kids. I’m sure lots of kids would rather look round a fire ravaged ruin than a posh house. This also gets top marks form the pooches who are generally banned from viewing posh houses.
In the 1890s fashionable society flocked to Witley Court, but it was ravaged by fire in 1934 and fell to ruin. We all enjoyed listening to snippets of the audio as different people – residents, guests and servants bring the building to life with stories of its extravagant past.
Once my 9yo tired of listening he loved running around the old corridors and into the garden and gazing at the huge fountain which fires a staggering 100ft into the air. Must be great fun on summer and windy days, but we were lucky it was still so it fired straight in the air. My 11yo on the other hand surprised me by listening to the audio guide for a good 45 minutes, it really captured her imagination.
The grounds are so pretty and natural play areas imaginative, making Great Witley a lovely place to picnic, play and walk the doggies.
The privately run tea room in the grounds is pretty, serves beautiful cake and the baroque church houses stunning paintings, an organ that was made for Handel and a crypt, this is also privately run, it’s definitely worth ducking in.
Back at the hotel we chilled out before the boys headed out to see Isle of Dogs at Malvern Theatres and the girls ordered room service. We fully intended to put on our complimentary robes and slippers and do facemasks, but forgot the face packs, so instead really enjoyed some television, snacks and snuggling up together.
The hotel don’t allow dogs in eating areas, but were brilliant about bringing room service into the room, despite the fuss when the dogs initially smelt food. Luna is still wary of strange men, but we distracted her with lots of treats. It was a real treat to have all our meals in our room and everything we ordered (nachos, snack platters, greek salad, soup, club sandwich) was beautifully presented and tasty.
What was lovely about this trip was thinking about new ways to do things with and without the dogs in the evenings. It meant we got some quality time one on one with the kids, some chill out time and some culture.
We had a lie in on Monday, then a mooch around Great Malvern which has some lovely craft, home wares, antique and charity shops.
L wanted to stop somewhere for a hot chocolate so we piled into the very accommodating and dog friendly Abbey Road Cafe to take a look at what we had ticked off in their Young Explorer’s Great Malvern guide booklets – I was so impressed by the guides to the town for children and for teenagers.
L enjoyed sticking the stickers to mark the sights she had spotted, G preferred crafting his own thing out of the stickers and masks, but all in all it bought us a more peaceful coffee break.
We found Elgar’s statue, he used to give music lessons in what is now the Post Office and the well, we were fascinated to join the queue of locals filling up large containers of Malvern spring water.
We had a lovely lunch at The Swan Inn, Newland, a brilliantly quirky pub that welcomes kids and dogs. It has the most hilarious tongue in cheek health and safety signage and child friendly policies – but with all the board games, outdoor chess and quirky things to look at, no child is going to want to run amok here anyway. You could always stick them in the stocks if they do – it worked for us.
The food was perfect, dragon pie was a huge hit with Mr A (made with local dragon ale, not real dragons), I loved the vegetarian quiche and the puddings were beautiful.
Sunday afternoon was spent letting off steam on the Easter Egg trail at National Trust Croome. It was a rainy old, miserable day sadly, but we all loved exploring here and I can see it being even more amazing on a drier day – check out my photographer friend Chloe’s sunny day pictures over at Picture taker, Memory Maker.
There are two very different stories at Croome, that of the Croome Court, the former home of the Earl of Coventry, and a wartime story of a second world war airbase.
The black corragated iron wartime hospital complex has been restored to become the visitor centre and museum. So even on a rainy day there is the house and RAF museum to explore and a 1940s themed tea room which is gorgeous. There is an outside canopy sheltered area where visitors with dogs can enjoy tea and cake. You can’t beat National Trust tea and cake, especially on a blustery day.
While the boys walked the dogs, my daughter and I took in a lovely exhibition in the basement of Croome Court that used shoes to tell the house’s stories and played with the wooden model of the house that allows you to see how it has changed over the years. I was fascinated by one room which tells the story of financial loss which led to the silk tapestries on the walls being stripped off and sold.
There is such a gorgeous feeling of space at Croome, you can tell Capability Brown, the expert at making nature look ‘natural’, had a role in it.
Even without the Easter egg hunt there are lots of fascinating sights along the pathways to motivate little legs – ice houses, bird hides, summer houses, follies, statues, hollow trees, tree houses.
We absolutely fell for the magic of Great Malvern and heartily recommend it as a wonderful place for a weekend family break and as very dog friendly.
When it came to checking out of the hotel, nobody wanted to come home. We’re watching the video over and over and wishing we were there.
Need to know
Abbey Hotel, Malvern
Teme Valley Market, The Talbot Pub at Knightwick, Worcester. Second Sunday of the month, 10.30-1.30pm
Witley Court, English Heritage
Croome Court, National Trust
The Swan Inn, Newland
Pin for inspiration:
Disclosure – We were hosted for this trip, all opinions remain my own.