I arrived at the Hollybush car park at the southern end of the Malvern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Worcestershire (SO759369) at 9.30 on Saturday morning. I was joining the Ramblers’ Hereford Group walk led by Marika Kovacs. This would be no ordinary walk because Marika is visually impaired—but she doesn’t let that stop her!
I have explained in previous blogs (here and here) how Marika prepares to lead a walk. First she goes out with her walking companion, Duncan Smart. She records on a dictaphone the route instructions and features along the way, including changes in surface. Then she types it onto a word document and converts it into braille. She tests the route twice more before laminating the braille so that it is waterproof. It is a labour of love—but then she loves leading walks.
The weather forecast for Saturday was not good, heavy showers and strong winds, which may be why no one else turned up. That didn’t bother us. Duncan, Marika and I, assisted by Arthur Lee who met us at various points in his car, did the walk and the weather was not as bad as predicted.
We pretended we had a group with us, and Marika addressed the gathering in the car park.
Then we set off round the western side of Midsummer Hill, and climbed to the summit through which runs the boundary between Herefordshire and Worcestershire.
Marika read her braille and told us where to go. She led this same walk on the morning of the summer solstice, 21 June, setting off at about 4am with 12 walkers—and they had seen a great sunrise.
We took photos of each other on the top, and I exhorted the fictitious group to squeeze up so that they could all fit in the photo—which made us laugh.
On the top is a small shelter; this was traditionally the site from which you could view the summer solstice but now the trees have grown up so you cannot see the sun rise from the hut. You have to move along the hill a bit.
There is a splendid iron-age hill fort on Midsummer Hill and we climbed up and down through the ramparts.
We then walked down to Gullet quarry which ceased working in 1977.
After this we strolled over Berrow Downs and Hollybed Commons, which are grazed by sheep and are part of the land managed by the Malvern Hills Conservators. We came to the mill pond, where we met Arthur and had lunch, accompanied by a host of ducks.
In the afternoon Marika led us across fields and round the side of a wood before climbing to the trig on top of Chase End Hill.
On the way down I noticed that the dustbins outside the houses were labelled Forest of Dean District Council and realised we were in Gloucestershire. In fact dustbins are a good indication of where you are; earlier we had seen Herefordshire and Malvern Hills District ones, showing how we had wandered across county boundaries.
We reached Whiteleaved Oak which is on the boundary of three counties—the same three counties that participate in the Three Choirs Festival
Then we returned to the car park where Arthur awaited us.
Marika’s memory is phenomenal. She often remembered what to do next before reading her braille, including recalling the features on the way such as a change in surface underfoot. Nothing deters her and we scrambled through overgrowth (with Duncan clearing the way with his shears) and over awkward stiles. She is good at bird song and calls too, and we heard lots of twittering blue tits, robins and goldcrests on our walk.
Hereford Group members missed a lovely day, but I enjoyed the select company on the walk and it was well worth my long journey to join Marika, Duncan and Arthur in such splendid and varied countryside.